Color Management Series Intro Part 1 - What is Color?

Color Management Series Introduction

Color in Photography is one of the most complex subjects I have yet to wrap my mind around full. In this series of short articles, I will talk about;

  1. What is Color? How is it Defined? Can we Manage it? - Released

  2. Our Perception of Colors - What Affects the Colors we See?

  3. Color Reproduction - on Screen - Can you Control it?

  4. Color Reproduction - on Paper - Color profiles and Paper profiles, oh my!

  5. The Personality of Color - The Effects of Color on Us.

  6. The Absence of Color - The Richness of Black and White.

Why is this important. as visual artists, color is our world. Color is part of our craft. It is a tool in our kit. We need to understand it and know how and when to use it or even when not. As Photographers, Digital and printing colors are something we must learn how to control. Or we might end up disappointed or getting results we can't completely predict. Honestly, this might still happen due to the complexity of color, but together, we can learn to manage it.

Over the next few weeks, I will release the rest of this series.

Stay tuned. Subscribe for notifications. I will not spam you, promise.

Color palette Image

Part 1 - What is Color? How is it defined? Can we manage it?

Let's start here. What is Color? We know objects have three dimensions. We can move them either up and down, right and left, or forward and backward. Color is three-dimensional. When looking at these dimensions, open a single color image in Lightroom, take the sliders to the far extremes, and see what changes this will help with your visual literacy.

RGB 0 Saturation
Original Hue Red Green Blue

Dimension 1 - Hue (color):

When you say this book is red, you are describing the Hue or, as most of us call it, the "Color" of the book.

Simply put, the Color or Hue is how we define the value of light, the color we see by a universally understood name.

RGB - at negative 100 Saturation
RGB - at negative 100 Saturation

Dimension 2 - Saturation: (chroma):

Saturation describes the intensity or purity of a color. If you add gray to any color, it changes the saturation.

Try this in Lightroom; slide the saturation slider to both extremes. Don't worry. You can always reset the image. The results will range from intense color to grayscale.

RGB - at Positive 100 Saturation
RGB - at Positive 100 Saturation

At 100 percent, they have maintained the Hue but are a bit more saturated. But I started with a 100 percent red, so the change is barely noticeable to the eye.

RGB White and Black negative 100
RGB White and Black negative 100

Dimension 3 - Lightness: (brightness, value, tone): A color's lightness is determined by how much white or black you add to the base color.

Try this, move the white and black sliders in Lightroom, and see what you get.

Did you know that without light, there is no Color?

How is the color defined?

RGB white and black at negative 100
RGB white and black at negative 100

Interestingly enough, I have often heard people say black is the absence of color and white is all the colors in one, but the more accurate understanding is.

There are different types of colors. Achromatic colors or neutral colors are black, white, and gray. They have no hue.

There are various color naming systems for colors. But basically, there are ones designed for printing, ones developed for painting media, and ones developed for monitors. So it can get complicated, to say the least.

These Naming systems help us to manage color since what we see is not what others see.

The CIE system is advantageous in seeing a chart of the colors in the spectrum and what different colors spaces or gamuts we can work within. Google CIE gamut chart to see the color spaces visually. It is very mathematical and interesting all at the same time.

On a screen or monitor, you are looking at illuminated light. The phosphors RGB (red, green, and blue) show you colors. A phosphor emits light when exposed to energy. We are looking at illuminated color. How you have the brightness on your screen set can significantly influence how you see the colors on a monitor or phone. Monitor calibration is needed to get colors as accurate as you can. —more on this in part 3.

Screen color differs significantly from printed color. These are surface-reflected colors. In printing from press to high-quality prints, colorants (dyes, inks, toners) and CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) system are used. The paper choice further changes the colors we perceive. Thus the need for paper profiles and soft proof ng. More on this in part 4.

For this discussion, we will talk about the color gamuts or color spaces most used in Photography and Fine Art.

Standard - sRGB was designed for the web; it is a limited color space, but the size covers what most screens can display. Thus the stand rd. Interesting to me is that most printers are capable of printing in far more colors. Yet, most printing houses I have investigated want the exported file in an sRGB format.

In the short version, with 8 bits for each channel, sRGB gives 256 values of Red, 256 of blue, and 256 of gr en. 256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,216 colors. That seems like enough, right?

Adobe - aRGB The Adobe color space extends further into the gamut's green and cyan areas so that they will be more saturated.

Prophoto - Color space is an incredible color space. Except most monitors and most printers can not work with it. It uses 16 bits for each channel verse 8 bits for each channel.

If you don't make a side-by-side comparison, you will not necessarily notice. But if you do, you will.

Can we manage color?

When creating photography, we have color spaces, screen conditions, printers with different color systems, paper types, and the human eye, which affect how we perceive colors. So can we manage color?

We can do our best to manage color, but we cannot control it. The results will be close, but you cannot control on-web or on-screen colors until you get to printing. If you want to print in-house, that will be the closest you will have to full control you can get.

So let's dive into the rest of the topics to tame this Color Monster. Color can be our Friend the more we understand it.


Over the next few weeks, I will release the rest of this series. Stay tuned. Subscribe for notification. I will not spam you, promise.