FULL EXPOSURE: The truth about color calibration

August 9, 2016



I have loved photography my whole life. One of the first pictures I ever took was of the sculpture photographed above, taken with a piece of photo paper and an oatmeal box with an itty bitty hole in it (College for Kids was the best!). I evolved from that upcycled project, and I remember when I used my first digital camera; it was a cute little Kodak number that really was just point and shoot. It was seriously that easy, and I successfully photographed half of my best friend’s wedding with it. Even better than its quality was the incredible simplicity of printing. No longer did I need to take a roll, cartridge, or film disc to Walmart or Kmart; I could print them myself at home with the same printer I used to print essay and school projects. It was revolutionary, and it rocked my photographic world.


It was this awesome until I received my first DSLR, a cute ‘lil Nikon D90. She was a workhorse for her miniature size, and her photos blew me away. All the fancy things I remembered from my senior picture sessions where right here, in my hands! Even on my laptop screen they looked pretty good!


Printing, however, was another story.


Every time I would print—and even when I would have an actual print shop do the dirty work—it would be so off from how I had seen it. No matter how much fiddling I did, every color, shadow, and highlight would be wonky.


With the advancement of technology and the corresponding decrease in price, a lot of people have really, really nice DSLRs, meaning they can take pretty good photos for you and your events—be them senior portraits, newborns photos, or even your wedding day. Even better, it has allowed a whole new slew of creative to enter the small business world—yay for free market and competition! We are really living in a great age for artistic expression.


There is something that you, a consumer, should consider when you choose a photographer, however. Just because a nice camera takes a nice picture does not mean it will make a nice print. My hope is that when your friend with the cool Canon or the business owner with the freshly minted Certificate of Assumed Name and shiny new Nikon gives you those digital proofs, you plan is to print them; if things are not correctly calibrated, that perfect image on the screen may just be a darkly colored ink stain on paper. What was delicately outlined online may become a too contrasted image where detail is lost to a cartoonish line. The dreamy haze may become a washout mess…you get the picture (no pun intended, but graciously accepted). 


When you are searching for your photographer, ask them if they are connected to a print shop; this will be a clear indicator on whether or not they have gone through the calibration process. When I say calibration process, I really mean that the photographer has taken the time to be sure they way they see your photos on the screen is near exact as printed. For example, every week I run software that measures the light around my workstation and adjusts my screen to be sure the image I see is what my customer gets, because this process creates a color profile that tells the print shop what they need to know in order to print the image the exact way it was processed. If you are presented with the opportunity to have professional quality prints, you will likely have professional quality proofs, which you deserve regardless of whether your photos were at no cost or were an investment. No matter how much your paid, your memories are priceless, and they all deserve to look like a million bucks.



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At home on the road. Forever-focused on authenticity and the thrilling art of creation; always found in the moments that leave me breathless and in awe. 

After fourteen years as a high school educator, I stepped back through a door I thought was closed. Journalism came back into my life. Armed with a Masters of Arts in Communication, I was again challenged and prepared to tell the stories that would become history, but with a twist: It is now your legacy of love that I document. The tension I seek is that from every tear, smile, laugh, and moment of love on your wedding day. 


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