Steps for getting accurate color
The color management system in Lightroom requires no configuration, because Lightroom automatically manages the colors without your having to worry about profile mismatches, which color space the image is in, or what the default workspace is. There may be problems with missing profiles, but this applies only to imported files where a conscious decision has already been made not to color-manage an image. Apart from these rare instances, you can rely on Lightroom to manage the colors perfectly from import through to export and print. However, you do need to give special consideration to the computer display and ensure that it is properly calibrated and profiled before you can rely on it to judge the colors of your images. This is because you want the display to show as accurately as possible what you are likely to see in print. Calibrating and profiling the display is essential, and it does not have to be complicated or expensive. So if you want to get the colors right and avoid disappointments, you should regard the following pages as essential reading.
Choosing a display
The choice of display essentially boils down to which type of liquid crystal display (LCD) you should buy. As with all things in life, you get what you pay for. Because the display is what you will spend all your time looking at when making critical image adjustments, it is pointless to cut corners, just as it is pointless to scrimp on buying anything but the best-quality lenses for your camera. There are different classes of LCDs, starting with the budget-priced screens (such as those used on laptop computers) to large professional LCD displays that offer a high degree of color accuracy and wide color gamut, such as the Eizo ColorEdge and the NEC SpectraView. Both these displays are easy to calibrate and profile, and the large screen size means they are comfortable to work with.
Calibrating and profiling the display
The only truly effective way to calibrate and profile a display is to use a colorimeter or spectrophotometer. It is possible to buy a good device along with the necessary software package for under $250. You can spend up to $1000 on a good-quality display plus calibration package or spend even more on a professional calibration kit that also allows you to measure and build custom print profiles. But if all you want to do is calibrate and profile the display, these more expensive devices do not offer any significant advantages over what a basic colorimeter device can do. Having said that, some software packages can help you build better profiles using the same basic hardware-profiling kit.
There are two stages to a profiling process. The first step is to calibrate the display to optimize the screen brightness and contrast, and to set the desired white point and gamma (Figure 4.1). The second step involves measuring various color patches on the screen, where the measurements made from these patches provide the source data to build a profile. On some of the advanced displays, there may be controls that allow you to adjust the brightness and contrast of the display, as well as possibly some color controls for setting different white points and fine-tuning the color output. These settings can be adjusted during the calibration process to optimize the performance and neutralize the display before making the profile measurements. Most LCDs have only a brightness control that adjusts the luminance of the backlight on the screen. So when running through the preliminary calibration steps, there is often nothing you can adjust other than the brightness, and you simply skip the steps where you are unable to make any adjustments to the display.
Figure 4.1 I normally use the X-Rite Eye-One Photo to calibrate the displays I use at work.
White point and gamma
Apart from asking you to adjust the hardware settings, the calibration software will ask you to choose appropriate white point and gamma settings before you proceed to build the profile. On an LCD, it will not be possible to manually adjust the white point the way you could with a cathode ray tube (CRT) display. You can set a specific white point for an LCD, such as 6500 K, whereas some people may prefer to select the native white point for the LCD they are calibrating.
Matching white balances
People often assume that the goal should be to match the white balance between different displays and viewing light sources. For a side-by-side comparison using a light viewing box, this will be important. But the fact is, human vision is adaptive and our eyes always evaluate colors relative to what is perceived to be the whitest white. In reality, our eyes are constantly compensating and can accommodate changes in white balance from one light source to another. You can edit an image on a display using a white point of 6500 K and check the results with a viewing box that has a white balance of 5500 K, as long as the two are a distance apart.
Whether you are using a Mac or a PC, the gamma should ideally be set to 2.2, since the 1.8-gamma Mac option is really only there for quaint historical reasons. In fact, the Mac 1.8 gamma dates back to the early days of Macintosh computers, long before color displays and ICC color management. Back then, it was found that the best way to get an image viewed on a Macintosh screen to match the output of an Apple black-and-white laser printer was to adjust the gamma of the monitor to 1.8. These days, Adobe programs like Photoshop and Lightroom always compensate for whatever monitor gamma is used by the system to ensure that the images are displayed at the correct brightness regardless of the gamma that was selected when calibrating the display. Setting the gamma to 1.8 instead of 2.2 will have absolutely no impact on the lightness of the images that are displayed in Lightroom. These will be perceived as being displayed at the same brightness regardless of the monitor gamma. However, if you are mainly using your computer for image-editing work, it is best to use a gamma setting of 2.2, as the image tones will be more evenly distributed when previewed on the display. When using the basICColor software described below, you can also select the L* option. The technical reason why this is recommended is because L* uses the luminance tone axis as prescribed in the Lab color space—it’s better because it more closely matches human perception and provides a more linear gray axis.
Steps to successful calibration and profiling
The performance of your display will fluctuate, so it is advisable to update the display profile from time to time. LCDs vary in performance a lot less than CRT displays used to, so you will probably need to re-profile once every month or so only.
For accurate calibration, you first need to decide whether you want to buy a basic device for calibrating the display only or a more advanced device that allows you to create your own custom print profiles. The following steps show how the basICColor software can be used to calibrate and profile a display using a display calibration device such as the X-Rite i1 Photo. Other calibrating software will look different of course, but the underlying principles of calibration and profiling will be the same. Prior to doing a calibration, you should make sure the calibrator head is clean and also ensure that the screen surface is clean and free of dust before making any measurements.
To start with, I set the color temperature. Because you cannot physically adjust the white point of an LCD, it is usually best to select the Native White Point option. But with a good-quality LCD you can set this to a standard setting, such as D65.
Next, I went to the Tonal Response Curve section and selected the recommended L* option. When using other calibration software packages, I recommend selecting Gamma 2.2.
I then set the Luminance/contrast ratio. A maximum luminance of 110–140 candelas m2 is ideal when calibrating and building profiles for a desktop LCD, but this is not an absolute figure and is dependent on the brightness of the ambient light where the display is located. You cannot always adjust the contrast on an LCD, but you can sometimes adjust the computer operating system brightness controls to adjust the luminance brightness of the display so that the measured brightness matches the desired target setting. I was ready to place the calibrator on the screen and start the calibration process.
Since Lightroom was first released, there have been several updates to the core Camera Raw processing that have been distinguished as new process versions. Previously referred to as Process 2003, Process 2010, and Process 2012, these are now known as Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, with the most current being Version 4. The Version 3 and 4 processing is actually more or less identical. The only real difference with Version 4 is the ability to apply Range Masking, along with new, improved Auto masking. All new imported images now use Version 4 and whenever you adjust any Version 3 image it will silently update to Version 4, except where Auto Mask has previously been applied. In such instances (and to avoid confusion), the image remains as Version 3. Essentially, the new Version 4 update makes a distinction between the use of Auto mask and Range Masking to edit localized adjustments. And, it is the lack of compatibility with existing Version 3 images that has necessitated this new version update. For example, if you add a localized adjustment to a Version 4 image, apply a Luminance or Color Range Mask and then convert back to Version 3, you’ll see a change in the image’s appearance as the “Version 4 only” Range Mask will be ignored.
The biggest changes will be seen when converting a Version 1 or 2 image to Version 3 or 4, whereby the Exposure slider in Version 3/Version 4 is both a midtone brightness and highlight clipping control and is essentially a hybrid of the old Exposure and Brightness sliders. The Contrast control is placed just below Exposure and is used to adjust the tonal compression. The Highlights and Shadows sliders are symmetrical in their behavior. They can be used to lighten or darken the highlights or shadows independently, but they don’t affect the midtones quite so much—the midtones should mainly be controlled using the Exposure slider. The Blacks and Whites sliders allow you to fine-tune the blacks and whites at the extreme ends of the tonal range. Another benefit of using Version 3/Version 4 is that all images now have the same default settings. With Version 3/Version 4, raw and non-raw files both have 0 defaults. This makes it possible to share and synchronize settings between raw and non-raw images more effectively. The tone controls are good at handling contrasty images of high-dynamic-range scenes and can be processed more effectively. As camera manufacturers focus on better ways to capture high-dynamic-range scenes, it is important that the raw image-processing tools offer the flexibility to keep up with such developments.
In case you are interested, you can download a PDF from the book’s website that describes in full how to use the older Version 1/Version 2 controls.
Upgrading to Version 4
I will be going into more detail about working with the Version 4 controls shortly, but for now, let’s look at the version update process. Whenever you are editing a photo in the Develop module that has previously been edited in an earlier Version 1, 2, or 3 of Lightroom, a thunderbolt icon will appear in the bottom-right corner of the Histogram panel (Figure 4.2). This indicates that it is an older process version image, and clicking the icon updates the image to Version 4. A warning dialog will appear asking you to confirm the update (you can -click the thunderbolt icon to bypass this dialog). Once updated, you can edit using Version 4. Alternatively, you can go to the Settings menu and choose Update to Current Process. This lets you update single or multiple photos to Version 4. Or, you can go to the Settings ➯ Process submenu and select the process version you want to work with. Finally, if you go to the Camera Calibration panel (Figure 4.3), you can select the desired process version from there. This menu also can be used to revert to a previous Version mode, should you wish to do so.
Figure 4.2 Highlighted here is the process version warning icon in the Develop module Histogram panel.
Figure 4.3 The Camera Calibration panel showing the process version menu options.
Whenever you choose to update to the latest process version, Lightroom will try to achieve as close a match as possible, although it won’t always do so successfully. For example, with images where the Blacks slider has been run up the scale using Version 1 or Version 2, these will most likely appear somewhat different after a conversion, as the Version 3 and 4 Blacks sliders tend to back off quite a bit. You will also see the dialog shown in Figure 4.4. This warns you about the consequences of updating and allows you to select a Before/After view if desired. I think you will be fine choosing the “Don’t show again” option and clicking Update. If you go to the Library module Library menu, you can choose Find Previous Process Photos to create a temporary collection of Version 1, 2, and 3 photos in the Catalog panel.
Figure 4.4 The Update Process Version warning dialog.
I do not advise you to upgrade all your images to Version 4 in one go. For example, I only upgrade my older, legacy images to Version 4 on an image-by-image basis. The way I see it, I was probably happy with the results I achieved previously using Version 1, 2, or 3, so why be in a hurry to update? If I am going to upgrade to Version 4, I would rather do so gradually. And, of course, all newly imported images use Version 4 by default.
Process version mismatches
If you are synchronizing photos and there is a process version mismatch, the Quick Develop panel will look like the example shown in Figure 4.5, where the Tone control buttons appear dimmed.
Figure 4.5 The Quick Develop panel dims the Tone Control buttons if there is a process version conflict.
Camera Raw compatibility
While the Lightroom Develop adjustments are compatible with Camera Raw, it is possible to maintain absolute compatibility between the Lightroom and Camera Raw and Bridge only if you are using the latest versions of both programs. As new cameras are released, or new features are added to Lightroom, Adobe provides updates for Lightroom and Camera Raw. You can usually count on an update being released roughly every three or four months. If you had previously purchased Lightroom 6, you would have been entitled to upgrades up until Lightroom 6.12 and no more. Only Lightroom Classic CC subscribers will have access to updates that appear after this. At the same time, Photoshop customers subscribed to Photoshop CC have had access to Camera Raw updates from 9.1 to 9.12, and they will continue to get updates. When Lightroom Classic CC comes out with new features, only those subscribers will get to see these features. Lightroom 6 perpetual license customers will soon be left with no further upgrade path.
Maintaining compatibility between Lightroom and Photoshop used to be quite tricky, but now that Lightroom is available as a Creative Cloud subscription only, all you need to do is make sure you update your Photoshop CC Camera Raw subscription at the same time you upgrade Lightroom Classic CC. Therefore, when you choose the Edit in Photoshop command ( [Mac] or [PC]), the Photoshop Camera Raw engine will render a pixel image that opens in Photoshop CC as an unsaved Photoshop file. The only time this won’t work is if you have yet to upgrade Camera Raw to match your most recent Lightroom Classic CC update. However, when choosing the Edit in External Editor command ( [Mac] or [PC]), Lightroom Classic CC always uses its own internal Camera Raw processing engine to render a TIFF, PSD, or JPEG image, so in this respect Camera Raw compatibility won’t be an issue.
Editing CMYK images in Develop
Lightroom does allow you to import CMYK images and edit them in the Develop module, although understand that these edit adjustments are taking place in RGB, and any export you make from Lightroom (except for export original) will result in an RGB output. It is not really ideal to use a program like Lightroom to edit your CMYK files in this way. The best route would be to go back to the raw or RGB original, make your adjustments there, and create a new CMYK output from that. You can do this in Lightroom by using the Export dialog to create, say, a TIFF output and incorporate a CMYK conversion Photoshop droplet action as part of the Export process routine (see page 442).