You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away
— Paul Simon
I’ve been getting a lot of really interesting feedback on my photo work lately…The switch to the full-frame Nikon D600 has really made an impact on the quality of my images, as have several upgrades to the glass I’m using to capture them. Much of the feedback is about vibrance of the colors, with folks either loving my penchant for rich, slightly over-saturated images, or feeling it’s not naturalistic.
Truth be told, it depends a lot on the subject; I don’t create a lot of black & white images these days, and when I do it’s because the subject is screaming for monochrome, like this image that I shot at the Lake Merritt “Love Our Lake Day” celebration earlier this summer.
A lot of the subjects I shoot are events that demand snappy color…Street Festivals, Roller Derby, Cosplay. These are subjects that make me want to return to my roots, and look for the deep, saturated colors and heightened sense of brighter, and better, than reality that I used to get with Kodachrome. (So yeah, now do you get the video? See what I did there?)
I’ve been shooting digital images exclusively for about the last 8 years and nothing, and I mean nothing, could make me go back to the photochemical-based photography that was my world since I took up the craft as a kid. While I realize there are a lot of photographers out there who really dig the whole film/darkroom/stinky chemical experience, someone would have to have to pry my DSLR and Lightroom/Photoshop combo from my cold dead hands to make me go back to that paradigm…But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some pretty fond memories of the ‘good old days’, and Kodachrome is one of them. Kodachrome 25 (ASA) and my old Nikon FM (a camera that I had for close to 20 years) gave me some of the most beautiful, and memorable, images from back-in-the-day. Alas, Kodak has taken my Kodachrome away, and stopped manufacturing the film, but it’s alright, I can just simulate my own in Adobe Lightroom.
I’m just worried that a whole generation is going to grow up not being able to appreciate that Simon & Garfunkel tune because no one will know what the hell Kodachrome is, or was. Sad. Let’s take a minute…And we’re over it.
My more tech-dorkier friends want to know how I manage color…I’ve been doing it with the X-Rite i1Display 2 monitor calibration puck, and the X-Rite Color Checker Passport, which I wrote about a while back.
The old i1Display 2 was showing it’s age, so I just upgraded to the i1Display Pro, which is a very cool little unit that can be used for both monitor calibration and projector calibration, plus it also provides ambient light compensation.
(Okay, speak English, Doug…)
Basically, after color-calibrating your monitor with the i1Display Pro, you leave it plugged-in in front of your monitor, where it periodically (or on demand) checks for changes in room light levels, and automatically re-builds your monitor profile to accommodate to the different light levels so your monitor calibration remains constant…Pretty neat, huh?
Color is my life…Well, no, not my life, just something that I’m really into, and obsess about. There is nothing more irritating than sending your photo or video out into the world, and seeing your beautiful image looking like crap on someone’s $99 flat screen from Bernie’s Online Computer Supply and Cheese Emporium. In the end, it’s really kind of a crapshoot as to what people see on their device, but if you calibrate your monitor, and profile your cameras, at least you know the color is accurate when it leaves your desktop…Which is about the best you can do.
Camera profiling? What? That’s the other part of the magic. Using the X-Rite Color Checker Passport, you take a picture of it (see below), and pull it into whatever tool you are using to process your photos (I’m showing a stand-alone tool from X-Rite for creating profiles…If you’re using Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture you can build the profiles from within those environments.) The X-Rite software, or plug-ins, builds a camera profile that is good for a particular set of lighting conditions…
Example, I recently took some photos at a Marian Call concert. I shot my color reference (the Color Checker Passport) from where she would be performing, and created a camera profile for those lighting conditions and my Nikon D600. The profiling software basically guarantees that as long as my monitor is calibrated, I will be seeing the same colors on the screen that I see on the Passport. I still have to white balance…But using the upper section of the Passport, with it’s color and gray scale reference, along with two rows of white balance targets that allow you to warm up, or cool down, your image, it’s a snap (and although most cameras today do a great job of auto white-balancing, this comes in really handy in crappy lighting conditions, such as a convention hall.)
So it’s still not quite Kodachrome, but using this basic system, I can be assured that what I’m seeing when I shoot, is what is being displayed on my monitor, and that if I color correct something so that it looks good on my computer, it will also look good on another monitor calibrated to the same standards. It’s impossible to control what the world at large sees, but when I send something off to a printer with an embedded color profile, I can be reasonably assured that my prints will come back looking very similar to what I had intended and, as an artist, that is key.
Best of all, the complete system costs under 300 bucks at Amazon.com, and if you’re going to make the investment in a good DSLR, and quality lenses, it’s worth the investment in making sure your images are consistent with your creative vision.