Six Tips for Improving Color Management – Part 2

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Continued from – Six Tips for Improving Color Management – Part 1

White Background for Processing RAW Images

Here’s a secret tip from the pros: When processing from RAW to finish, use a white background (custom canvas color) for prints…

After calibrating your monitor darker (60-70 cd), change your working canvas color to white. White backgrounds can be a little irritating to get used to at first, but the way they drown out the image with surrounding light causes us to naturally compensate by processing our images more lively. This compensation translates well when making a print. Ever since being introduced to this technique years ago by a master printer, my images haven’t lacked that original pop or luminance.

I start my photo development in raw (either in Adobe Lightroom’s Develop module or in Adobe Camera Raw). Either way, I always choose white for my working space background canvas. If you can’t get used to white as your background, a very light grey can also be used. I still find white to be the ticket for mastering prints.

For web images (images made for forums, social media sites, and websites, for example) it’s a good practice to match the color of your working/processing background canvas specifically for your web output. If you go out of your way to match your own Lightroom or Photoshop background/canvas color to their background color while working on your image, you should be able to very get close to spot-on accuracy for each individual output. This can often mean making a different version for each social media site that has a different background color; although, often a slight “levels” tweak will do the trick.

Find out exact background for web

How do you know the exact color of the background of the site to which you am posting? One way is to take a screenshot of the background color and then, in Photoshop, use the eyedropper tool to check the color. A Google search can help you figure out how to do this.

Soft-proof Your Final Images Using ICC Profiles

Soft-proof your precious prints using an ICC profile. For some of you, this may sound a bit like rocket science so I will keep this as simple as possible.

Here are some key steps:

  1. Acquire an ICC profile from your printing lab (or use the ICC profiles that come with your purchased printer).
  2. Place them in the right location on your computer. As an example, I exclusively print on proprietary Lumachrome HD (acrylic mounts) out of Nevada Art Printers and I acquire excellent custom ICC profiles right off their website.
    (A quick web search here can be helpful if you do not know how to put these profiles in the right place on your computer.)
  3. When working on your print in the raw converter (I use and recommend Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw), select the soft proofing checkbox.
  4.  In Adobe Lightroom, after you check this box, you then can make sure the simulate paper and ink box is also checked (in Lightroom, it appears under your histogram after choosing soft proofing).In Adobe Camera Raw, it is less intuitive. You must choose to work in the actual ICC profile while in raw (choose which color space/ICC profile to work in and also select the simulate paper and ink checkbox). How do you do this?
    • Directly under your image there is a workflow options bar.
    • Single click on it to open the workflow options window. This is where you can choose your ICC profile and check the simulate paper and ink.
  • Setting ICC Workflow Options

  • Color Management Options for Prints

After all raw adjustments are made to the image and it is ready for import into Photoshop, return to the workflow options window and put the image back into the color space of your liking (Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, SRGB…). Yes, what color space to work in is another can of worms to open up and talk about!

  • Soft Proofing in Photoshop

  • Soft Proofing Options for Prints: Select Black Point Compensation, Simulate Paper Colors

Also, once you import from Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom into Photoshop, you must again continue to soft-proof until workflow is finished. This is done by going to the upper main pull-down menu and clicking View/Proof Setup/Custom and then choosing Device to Simulate to access the same ICC print profile to simulate. Again, you must check simulate paper color checkbox and have the black point compensation checkbox selected. You can leave everything else at default.

Embed Your Colors Space in Your Images

When you save your print or web photo in Photoshop, make sure to embed your image color space into your image (this is an option when saving an image). This helps some browsers know better how to interpret your image. Images for web are almost exclusively sRGB today.

  • Photoshop “Save for Web” – Embed ICC Profile

  • Photoshop “Save As” – Embed ICC Profile

I work in sRGB for web but I also critically embed the sRGB profile into my image automatically using the Photoshop Save for Web function. When it comes to print, I also embed the color space I work in. This is double insurance that the printer you use will know how to best handle or interpret the image.

What color management workflow do you use? Have you discovered some tips to recreate accurate color across your prints and on your monitor? If so, feel free to share them in the images below

About Author Mark Metternich

Mark Metternich is a native Oregonian now living in Jacksonville, Florida. He has been a full-time professional landscape photographer and avid photography educator for over 14 years and is considered by many to be an expert in this field. Throughout the year, Mark leads many adventurous photography workshops in the US and abroad, creates educational materials (such as as his many highly acclaimed video tutorials in post processing), teaches post processing privately via Skype screen sharing, offers post processing services for photographers including critical gallery photographers, is a freelance writer for a some select photography publications, public speaker to camera clubs and professional groups, as well as produces limited edition fine art landscape prints from his photography.