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Color Management: The Heart of a Digital Workflow

digital workflowColor management is a hot topic and perhaps the most complicated subject in all of digital photography. Everyone perceives and sees colors slightly differently. Even for a professional photographer to get the colors just right on a print made in their own office is no small feat with a custom profile and some fine-tuning of the image. Hence, it is no wonder that the switch to digital has been a little troublesome for many photographers and photo editors.

In any digital workflow, color is the cornerstone of everything we do. If are camera can’t record accurate colors and we can’t see accurate colors on our monitors when processing images then things are going to get funky in a hurry. For info on using custom white balances in your DSLR check out my blog post A Complete Digital Workflow. In this post I am going to provide a bunch of links to incredibly useful information, which can help dial in your Color Management.

Will Crockett in my opinion is the man when it comes to color and accuracy. Will has a ton of great information about this topic on his website But after searching for a few minutes I didn’t find any tutorials that really went into profiling your display in excruciating detail so I thought I would offer up an example of profiling a display with the i1 Display 2 monitor calibration device that I published in one of my newsletters several years back. You can find the two page tutorial in my Winter 2007 Newsletter.

A key step in any color management process, and the heart of a solid digital workflow, is calibrating a good quality monitor by creating an accurate color profile. This will save countless hours pounding your head against the wall wondering why you can’t get your prints to look like the image on your monitor. If you have ever walked into an electronics store, like Best Buy, and looked a the wall of TVs and noticed that one had radically different colors than the others just next to it and none of them really had the exact same colors then you know what I am talking about. Your monitor isn’t color accurate even when you pull it out of the box brand new (unless you bought an Eizo). By default it will have it’s own color rendition that may or may not be accurate to any known standard. So what we do when we build a color profile is check what the color rendition on your monitor is and then build a profile (basically a color translation) that adjusts your colors to a known standard.

Years ago, one of the first articles I ever read on was 6 Tips for Creating Better Monitor Profiles. It is still on the Shootsmarter website and it is still as relavant as ever. A few other related blog posts that Will has on the website – and that he keeps up to date are also Recommended Monitor Profiling Kits and Smart Monitor Recommendations. I highly recommend all three of these articles if you do not have a calibrated digital workflow. I also wrote a previous post here on Pixiq about monitors and the Eizo ColorEdge CG243W monitor that I use. In that post there is quite a bit of discussion about color spaces and color management as well. you can read that article here.

Everything we do as photographers in the digital world hinges on a color calibrated workflow. And calibrating and profiling your monitor is at the heart of this. If you don’t have a profiled monitor then the reality is when you process RAW images on your computer you are basically working in your own fantasy world of colors because you have no idea how the colors you are creating relate to the rest of the world.


Color Management is the ability to consistently control the reproduction of color in the digital environment.

Calibration is the process where you measure the color gamut of a particular monitor, printer or scanner and produce a detailed description of this color gamut in the format of an ICC profile.

Of course all of the information I have provided here is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are looking for more information on color management then instead of me picking and choosing pieces of the process to talk about here I would recommend that you get my digital workflow e-book named Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer’s Workflow, which has one of the most in-depth and exhaustive color management chapters I have ever seen anywhere. In that e-book the color management chapter will revolutionize your digital world, especially if you do a lot of in house printing on ink jet printers. I know this sounds like a sales pitch (and it is) but trust me you won’t regret calibrating and profiling your monitor.


If you are interested in developing a complete workflow of your own using Lightroom and perfecting your color management, I would recommend checking out my Lightroom Workflow e-book Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographers Workflow. You can purchase that eBook for the low price of 24.95 on my website.

digital workflow

This e-book presents a complete workflow which includes my in-camera settings, how to determining the optimum white balance and exposure, color management, working with Lightroom and Photoshop, creating web galleries, Noise Ninja and much, much more. A sample table of contents is available for download on my website if you want to see exactly what is covered. The e-books is also up to date and covers the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Michael Clark is an internationally published photographer specializing in adventure sports, travel, and landscape photography. He produces intense, raw images of athletes pushing their sports to the limit and has risked life and limb on a variety of assignments to bring back stunning images from remote locations around the world. A sampling of his clients include: Apple, Nikon, Red Bull, National Geographic, Outside and Outdoor Photographer.