Color management, why?

OK, let’s talk about color management. Why should we do it? Well, we want to have things consistent. “The primary goal of color management is to obtain a good match across color devices;” says Wikipedia. If you’re by yourself on a single screen computer and nobody touches the buttons, you should be alright. If you add a second screen, problems start. Then you add a printer, another software, a colleague bringing you files, and nothing look the same! That’s why we need color management.

For that color matching challenge, there are 2 different approaches: you can either change the color of the file to look right on your display, or change your displays to show the right colors. There’s a process called calibration, which is about measuring the performance of a display system, that will connect color code values to actual physical colors: then a Color Management System (CMS) will load those profiles and propose options to connect them, and that’s where the fun begins, because there are so many ways, and there’s no truth.

So the main goal is consistency, but there are other reasons why you would want good color management: you want to keep control over your picture, you want precision and you want flexibility so you can change things later one without having to redo or re-render everything. That’s pretty much the reason why OpenEXR was invented. Then you add a layer of complexity, because you don’t “see” anymore the file, there’s another layer of interpretation to shoehorn the high precision data into your display. And then you can add some even more complex concepts to that, we’ll come back to it later.

OK, so now let’s take it back to the why. You want your picture to:

  • look consistent on all devices
  • to be flexible enough for post-processing

That’s where we have to be careful with the word “good”. That’s another philosophical question, what is “good”? is it “right”? Is it “tasteful”? So for our matter, we’ll try to stick to “consistent”, or “consistent with the original intent”. On my recent article on LinkedIn, I took the car seat analogy, now let’s take the rock’n roll band analogy, because we’re on Rockflowers. There’s that joke I like: “How do you get a rock guitarist to stop playing? Put sheet music in front of him!” There’s an article here quite relevant to our problem: what level of understanding do we need to get the what we need at the end? It might be more complex than you think 🙂

Stay tuned.

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