Saturday, December 27, 2008

WHAT IF IN 2009?

Quite a few weeks ago I was invited to contribute my prognostications for photography in 2009, an annual feature in Shutterbug I usually participate in. In early fall of 2008 what I was seeing of the world, I was loath to say what the next day would bring much less the next year, so I declined to participate as usual. Today with 2009 just a few days hence, I am no more inclined to participate in prognostication of what the future next year will bring. Although I would like to indulge in the hope change could produce, but every time I turn on the TV news or read the newspapers I hear the same prayers to the ideological economic gods that have been worshipped for the last 30 years and brought us to where we are today. Being a poor relation of the media myself, and although I try to serve a useful mission to the community of readers I serve, all but a few magazines today are the communities of people they once were, and now just cogs in a corporate conglomerate wheel that turns only to grind out a bottom line profit. For most whether on-line, on the tube or still on the newsstand, those who are still speaking continue to voice the ideas of the past, and to me it reflects a lost generation in time since 1980, that thankfully came to an end in this last election and economic crash of 2008. To me the question is will the old-fashioned ideal of an editorial purpose be renewed to make what is espoused by those in the media again serve the community of people who are the listeners, the readership of a magazine or will there only principle remain the number at the bottom line of a corporate ledger.

Of course reading this some of you will think I am being too idealistic and old-fashioned. But age for me does afford some perspective, and looking at the history of photography in the roles it has played in society and culture since 1890, I still believe photography’s most significant function was and is it is the folk art of our times. Enthusiast photography is the vehicle of visual expression of the common people recording and preserving what is important to the lives of those ordinary folk who are the community culture of our world. Some say change, like what we are now experiencing, is really opportunity. To many that opportunity is to restore the immediate past they enjoyed, which I find self defeating, putting us back on the same path that took us over a cliff. But the opportunity change provides can also bring progress. But to me that is not some alien new world I would not recognize, but one that conserves the positive human values over a longer history, like the editorial principles that have long served the progress of the people’s interests and are historically associated with names like Pulitzer and H.L. Mencken.

Individuals who only know me casually assume I am a rather radical liberal, but in contemporary connotation that would be misleading, because what I hope for in 2009 is also a conservation of some long established principled values of human society that got lost in the rush to riches during the recent past. For instance digital technology has propelled photography into a progressive new future, but the value of a photograph as a record of the history of human life has not changed. Surely the cell phone camera captures that show up on FaceBook and YouTube are often superficial and adolescent uses of a photograph, but that does not detract from the other extreme of iconic images like Capra’s shot of a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, or the Raising Of The Flag On Iwo Jima, or the little Vietnamese girl fleeing the Napalm bombing of her village; have been photographs that have educated people to a more modern sense that war is a problem, not a solution for humanity. Would there be the help so many have given to Aids victims and the starving children of Africa if it were not for their being photographed and one wrenching picture after another in the media has moved people to give or volunteer.

Between the ridiculous and profane to the inspired, photographs document life and the world we live in. Sometimes I am struck when looking through my archives I find pictures of places that no longer exist as I captured them on film, or people I knew who are no longer with us. I have a personal philosophy that all there is to this life for an individual is the experience of living it. And now getting too old to do many of the things I used to, photographs allow me to remember and re-experience life as it once was, to find an added dimension of living experience that without photographs would not be possible. If anything makes us immortal it is the photographs which have documented and illustrated a life as it has been lived. How cherished are the pictures of loved ones who have too often died young and left us?

The camera’s future is not in the marketplace of tomorrow but in the use we put them to make photographs that become a part of the illustrated story of human life in these times whatever they come to be.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Still not finished reading forum problem posts about “prints too dark” because I was curious if an “LCD too bright” was a problem for many users. Putting that phrase into a Google search got 336,000 replies, not nearly like the 1.9 million “prints too dark” produces though, but significant. Then today a laptop user with the prints too dark problem e-mailed me, and I responded that to get better control and results when doing digital photography editing with a laptop an advantage is to plug into a desktop LCD display, and calibrate and profile it.

But another factor my readers keep me aware of is most of them are digital photographers on limited budgets, not necessarily due to poverty, but more likely because their spouse oversees the budget for toys. So with the TV news full of stories about stores slashing prices it might be a good time to get a new LCD display. In fact I got one recently that is incredibly decent, supports calibration and profiling and has a rather good color gamut for being so moderately priced. It is a 20.1 inch Samsung Syncmaster 204B model, that today I have seen priced from $239 to $269 at on-line stores. When I got mine, I immediately calibrated and profiled it using a 120.0 CD/m2 white point luminance aim point, which required setting the contrast at 48 and the brightness at 100. There is no setting for color temperature, and my aim point is 6500K (gamma 2.2), which is the standard native specification for LCD backlight so the calibration refined that and also fine-tuned gray neutrality. Afterword I checked the result with Chromix ColorThink and found this Samsung 204B performs close to same size pro graphics displays costing 2 to 4 times as much, although the Samsung’s color gamut is just a bit smaller. But, if you want just that bit more “pro” performance, the LGE Flatron 20.1 inch L2000Cp model I previously found to be a best buy in pro-graphics displays, is now available on-line for $401. Why do I recommend 20.1 inch LCD displays? First the viewing area is identical to a 21” Sony CRT, and for some reason all the 20.1 inch LCD displays I have tested have been sharper and reproduce better photographic image detail compared to larger and wider screens. In addition some of the manufacturers who offer super high performance RGB LED backlight LCD displays are in the 20 inch size!

Also from reading all of the “LCD too bright” forum posts, I found many having trouble trying to get their display adjusted and performing well were actually connected to an analog video card. So if you have an older PC with only an analog monitor outlet (no DVI interface connector) you need to modernize your video card. That’s not a big deal, I found ATI Radeon video cards with from 256MB to 1GB VRAM from $39 to $99 at Tiger Direct, just be sure the one you order has a DVI connector for output to an LCD display. The reason is simple, an old CRT is an analog device, a LCD display is a digital device, so it functions more directly, naturally and with greater efficiently if it is getting a digital signal from a digital output video card.

Finally to optimally edit digital photographs with an application like one of the versions of Adobe Photoshop, and to obtain color matched prints that are not too dark, calibration and profiling is essential. For PC users with Windows that too doesn’t have to cost a lot. The DataColor Spyder2 Express has a list price of $79, and may be less at some outlets. Using it is easy and simple, but ignore the instruction to begin with an LCD set at manufacturer defaults - that is too bright. If you get the Samsung the contrast adjustment was ideally set at 48, and I suspect most other LCD displays will provide optimal brightness at something less than 1/2 contrast adjustment.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Not finished, nor ever expect to anytime soon, going back and spending a good part of the weekend reading “prints too dark” complaints and commentary on digital photography forums. It was no trouble finding plenty of examples posted on popular digital photography web sites. What was surprising was the diversity of situations described involving the problem of getting too dark prints, leading to a great variety of speculation as to what was causing the darkness of the prints produced, as well as just as wide an expanse of suggestions of why there is a problem and what fixes might be applied.

A small sample of suggested diagnosis indicated the problem does come from a display that is too bright. Another small group suggested the too dark print is caused by selecting the wrong profile for printing. Of those who identified an LCD display being too bright, a few suggested calibrating and profiling the display while many more suggested just reducing the adjustment of the brightness control. To the average digital photo enthusiast this diversity of the way the problem of prints too dark is experienced and described, as well as the assortment and sometimes weirdly fanciful fixes offered, surely does not indicate a clear and simple understanding of why prints are too dark or what to do about it.

There is a reason for this, and that is the most likely cause may not have any apparent association in time or action with the experience of the problem of dark prints, and there may be other problems involved beyond the primary cause, obscuring and complicating the problem; in other words a user is getting prints too dark and is having another issue with printing that is concurrent in time but functionally not connected to why the prints are dark. The other confusing aspect of this is that the cause of too dark prints in most cases only shows up when prints are made from particular image file sources and using particular printing options - sometimes.

Instead of making this “prints too dark” issue even more mysterious and perplexing let me explain. The primary cause of dark prints is usually a bright LCD display, not directly but indirectly and not printing all kinds of image files, just some and the only when certain methods or workflow options are chosen. In other words LCD displays are too bright, from a little brighter than a CRT monitor to a lot brighter. This fact does not directly cause prints to be output too dark as there is no direct link, or causal path between the display and printer. But LCD brightness does affect on-screen perception of images, and if a photo image for instance is opened in an image editing application and then adjusted for brightness and the file saved, the midpoint setting that results from that brightness adjustment is related to the scale of brightness values of the display. The range of values of an LCD display is greater than the range of corresponding density values in a print so the midpoint setting of the file adjusted for LCD screen brightness is “misplaced” to print a correct or equivalent print density. Think of it this way: take two straws, one longer than the other, then put a pen mark at the midpoint of each straw, equal distance from each end. Then put the straws on end, with one end on a table-top, and the straws side by side. You will see the midpoint marks on each straw will be at different heights from the table top - it is a mismatch of midpoints, as it is a mismatch of midpoints between an LCD display on-screen brightness adjustment of an image and what the midpoint needs to be to obtain a correct, perceptually equivalent, lightness adjustment of print output.

This mismatch of density midpoints never occurred with CRT monitors because the white point luminance was only around 90.0 CD/m2 so the range of brightness values of CRT on-screen images was about the same as the range of density values that can be reproduced by a photo printer. An ideally calibrated and profiled LCD display will have a white point luminance of 120.0 CD/2, which is 25% greater than the range of densities than can be reproduced by a print. While at default manufacturer settings LCD displays can produce white point luminance readings of as much as 300.0 CD/m2 and greater.

Some may say, I have an LCD display and my prints aren’t too dark. That may because they are printing digital camera JPEG files directly without any image editing, or it may be they are printing from files made using a CRT for color correction and editing stored on a CD, or files off the internet, even screen capture prints will reproduce with densities closely matched to what you see on-screen. But then if someone says they do color correct and edit their images on-screen, save the files and then print them and they are not too dark. Well, again they would not be too dark if printed using the “printer driver manages color” setting. Most photo capable printers if the easy, automatic print workflow is chosen, actually color correct, adjust and optimize the file information received automatically as part of the print processing; and if the midpoint is misplaced by using an LCD display for editing, the printer driver corrects for it. But that easy automatic “printer manages color” setting may not be ideal, especially if you want matched color with what is on screen or if the subject of the image is unusual, like a winter, snow covered scene. It is usually only when a photographer is using an application like Photoshop, LightRoom or Aperture that is color managed and selects to print with the application managing color, and printing to a specific printer output profile, that too dark prints result.

LCD displays have many advantages over the old CRT’s they replaced, but their brightness threw an innocent monkey wrench into the works of a color managed print workflow, and maybe a few other unlucky users making prints as well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

“PRINTS TOO DARK”, now I need your help!

First to bring you up to date. Since my workflow article ran in the December issue of Shutterbug, word has gotten around and back to me providing lots of information for a better picture of the problem. I have done more testing, which concluded even for a well color managed system like my own with LCD’s there is some darkening in print results because of color correcting and editing with an LCD with screen brightness set exactly at a luminance of 120.0 CD/m2. I confirmed this by opening some finished scanned image in Photoshop, files done when I had CRT monitors installed and then stored on CD’s that have been printed in the past. These image files look fine in terms of density on my LCD screen, and print as they did in the past achieving the same print density the screen appearance would suggest to expect. I have to assume the reason is that the image brightness midpoint setting in Levels made using a CRT monitor with a white point luminance of 90.0 CD/m2 (which was not changed for this current and test and printing), and the correct brightness of the print is because the brightness range of the CRT closely matched the density range of a high quality inkjet print.

To double check myself, I also opened a recent CD made since I began using LCD displays, and although not a big difference the prints from these images color corrected on an LCD screen, print a little darker. That they print darker confirms what many have complained about, but that my results are a modest darkening, is because my LCD is only 25% brighter than my CRT’s were, and that would only displace the midpoint setting by about half that, so the prints aren’t going to be dramatically darker. But if I were working with an LCD that is at manufacturer default brightness, as some users are, like with iMacs that have produced measured white luminance readings of 300.0 CD/m2, then the midpoint differential or displacement is much bigger, and prints would be consequently very disappointing in being much too dark.

Using some of these same recent LCD color corrected files that print 10-12% darker I identified, to confirm my contention in a recent blog that Soft Proofing does not predict print density, just color matching; I ran the image files through soft proofing and the screen result was a match in density with the original file on screen in PS and lighter than the print result.

This got me thinking, that I and many of you reading this using an Adobe application to print, once you get to the printer drive screen you have the option of saving the “print” you have set up as an Acrobat .PDF file. Being this .PDF file saved instead of making a print on paper has gone through the printer driver, shouldn’t the density of the resulting Acrobat image match the same difference, darker, if that’s what you would get in a paper print? What I am suggesting is that maybe rather than the standard internal Photoshop soft proofing, saving an image through the printer driver as an Acrobat .PDF file could be a better predictor of print output density, and allow photographers to preview print density and avoid wasting paper by making prints that are too dark.

My computer system for printing is rigorously color managed and the darkening of prints because of LCD brightness is slight, so the test Acrobat .PDF files I have produced seem to match paper print densities. But my dark print problem is minimal. So anyone who has a greater “prints too dark” problem, would you please try using the printer driver Save As PDF option and see if the .PDF file opened in Acrobat Reader matches a paper print density or the brightness of the original image file open on-screen in Photoshop, please, please! One note: to make an Acrobat .PDF file as a printer driver option, you need to set Photoshop Color Management in Print window Color Handling to “printer Manages Color”, and if the Source profile is Adobe RGB (1998) the Printer profile should be the same. If you do this experiment in using Acrobat. PDF to produce an image file viewed in Acrobat Reader, and it predicts print density then we can develop a workaround using it to get a paper print correction, and avoid wasting paper and ink on “too dark prints”. E-mail:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


This old saying can be taken as a blessing or a curse, and its origins may be Yiddish or ancient Chinese, but if you are into digital photography the next few years may well be interesting times. Two pieces of news today are indicative of changes ahead. One is relative to my blog post recently about being connected. Apparently the FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a lightening rod of controversy is reported to have backed down on taking a Commission vote on a dubious proposal to auction vacant airwaves to provide a “free” broadband connection capability. Now of course making broadband internet connection more widely available everyone can afford is laudable on the outset; but some of the provisions and the way the proposal was worded in detail gives great pause that public benefit really was the goal of what Martin wanted the FCC to approve.

Regardless, two very powerful members of Congress, Senator John D. Rockeffeler and Congressman Henry Waxman apparently convinced Martin, besides all kind of objections by the communications industry, to not go ahead with a Commission vote. This would allow the next Congress in January to take up the issues involved with hopefully fewer strings and limitations, and more benefit to the people in extending broadband internet access. It would be an encouraging advantage to computer users and digital photography in general to have a wider participation in broadband internet connection, and on so many fronts it is hard to imagine all of the positive activity that could result. On-line photo print services alone could look to a much larger population of potential customers. Individual users could keep their computer systems current with the latest operating system and applications upgrades with much faster downloads than dial-up allows.Almost everyone I can imagine would find a different possibility and advantage.

The other piece of news is that the Obama transition team has had a substantive meeting with the PPofA and The Copyright Alliance, and it seems the new administration will be looking at copyright and intellectual property rights very much with the creative community in mind to engender an environment that protects and encourages creative production. So it looks like my hope that the economic stimulus that is in the works, could very well include a photographic element of some kind. All I can wish is that although these times are surely different from the 30’s it would be such an encouraging reversal of ideology if photography could be again be done with official sanction and support at a public level. I am sure the perspective and aesthetics would be new and distinct, but that we could have more like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange of this generation contributing to a public art culture could be so encouraging. It makes me remember how exciting and uplifting it was to see the Family Of Man photography exhibit that travelled around the country in the 50’s. That exhibit made so many people aware of photographs in a significant way even if not the least interested in photography.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Yesterday there was news of yet another PC hardware maker with a new model that is supposed to run the Apple Operating System, from a company called EFi-X USA you can read about in articles found at:
It was not that long ago that a Florida company, Psystar, tried marketing a PC that would run the Apple OS and ran into strong legal opposition from Apple. So this begs a couple of questions, is there a market for PC hardware that will run the Apple Operating System software; and if so does this indicate a weakness in the Apple Mac computer model line-up?

From a digital photography perspective there are good image quality performance reasons to want to run the Apple operating system, especially if the other alternative is Windows Vista. It is a fact the one tower configuration Apple makes, the MacPro, is expensive, but its speed and capabilities are at a high professional level, and overkill to be sure for most photo enthusiasts. Then the iMac next down in price from the Mac Pro in the current model selections is quickly becoming known for its very bright LCD (it as an all-in-one computer and display) that is a cause of the “prints too dark” problem, and is a problem difficult to resolve. Finally the Mac Mini because it’s not in a big enclosure like a typical PC that has little inside but air, is not seen by many Americans as being a computer to take seriously, a victim of the SUV mentality of bigger is better.

So at least apparently, and I hear there are sales indications, that Apple is maybe missing some computer buyers because there isn’t an obvious mid-level computer in their offerings. In other words because Apple marches to its own drum beat many folk don’t recognize because Apple computers don’t look like a Dell, Apple doesn’t have anything for them they can afford. However my experience with the Mac Mini says otherwise and has been confirmed in experience since I have purchased three of them. One reason for selecting the Mac Mini is because I do digital photography and the monitor/display is as important if not more so than the computer its attached to - I hope that is understood for the obvious reason all digital photo processing is done based on visual perception of the image on-screen. The Mini has to have a stand-alone separate display (that’s extra and can be chosen from many brands), as well as the base price also does not even include a keyboard and mouse. For some, including myself, this can be an advantage if you already have a display, keyboard and mouse that is in good working condition - just add the Mac Mini to what you have.

My first Mini was a Solo Core processor model and its performance was adequate but modest. The two most recent Mac Mini’s I have purchased have the fastest Dual Core Intel processors, 2GB RAM and the largest hard drive offered, and although not as fast and powerful as my Mac Pro surely, there is nothing I do processing digital camera images, with Aperture or Photoshop, making large scans, color correcting and editing, as well as printing done with a Mac Mini that would be accomplished faster or better if I used my Mac Pro. In fact the one advantage I find using the Mac Pro is to run Microsoft Windows in addition to the Apple OS 10.5 Leopard operating system using Parallels 4.0 that supports running alternate operating systems on an Apple Mac in a virtual machine - you can have both the Apple OS and Windows running at the same time. Why? Because I write for Shutterbug readers most of whom still use Windows - I have had no luck converting but a few brave souls to the Mac.

Friday, December 12, 2008


The last two days have been a bleary-eyed ordeal reading as many forum posts as I could on “prints too dark” from a Google search on that phrase, which obtains almost 2 million results. What I was looking for was as complete a picture as possible why people trying to make photo prints were getting unacceptably dark print output. I didn’t get very far into the almost 2 million results before my eyes gave out reading the forum posts, but I did find that a lot of users have discovered the cause of dark prints is an LCD display that is too bright. But confusion reigns when it comes to how to fix the problem, very often involving color management and the idea of using Photoshop’s “soft proofing”. Some forum gurus have been recommending adjusting the display brightness to match the print output, and actually that practical philosophy was used before there was such a thing as Color Management, but it largely precludes color matching using CM and a calibrated and profiled display, if in reality an LCD display can be reduced in brightness to actually match the range of print densities or the CRT monitors of the past. Some users found that instead of having their photo editing application control color, select having the printer driver control color, which with some printer drivers does provide an output print density adjustment and yields satisfactory print brightness results, but the downside is that some printer drivers will automatically adjust print density and others don’t, as well as color matching with what you see on-screen is not usually supported.

So, let’s try and reduce the confusion about “prints too dark”. In most cases those who have guessed it is because their LCD display is too bright are correct! (And I’ll get to how that can be dealt with later). That Color Management is the problem or the solution is really just a bad detour. The reason is that CM only deals with matching colors between devices with profiles, and device profiles don’t have any overall density information in them, so no effect on image midpoint setting that controls the brightness appearance of an image, in a print or on-screen - just color information only. So the use of soft proofing is not a predictor of image density, because the soft proof is being viewed on screen in the brightness range of the LCD display that was used to perceptually adjust the image file data as to how bright or dark the image should appear. The same applies to any on-screen preview image, like in Photoshop CS3 and CS4 that has Color Matching for the preview image in the Print dialogue window, it will give you a look at how the colors will print but will no predict print output density.

There has been some discussion in the forums about the display gamma setting in connection to some schemes to resolve the “print too dark” issue. With Apple recently changing to a display gamma default of 2.2, that 2.2 gamma is now a universal standard, and Apple finally changed probably because internet pictures, like photos in FaceBook don’t look quite right on a display at at 1.8 gamma, as well as the fact that photos on the internet are usually uploaded as JPEG/sRGB images and the gamma imposed by sRGB is 2.2. So, with display gamma default now universally 2.2, using any other display gamma to achieve a less bright display to correct “prints too dark”, could become a problem if the images are uploaded to a web site, or sent to an outside print service. They won’t match the density you saw on screen.

To deal with the high brightness of LCD displays and to also obtain color matching in output users first need to calibrate and profile their LCD display. Ideally using a good hardware sensor that measures the display output is ideal, either an X-Rite i1 Display 2 (or equivalent) and a DataColor Spyder3 Elite are two I can recommend. But if that cannot be afforded, for Apple users in System Preferences/Diplay/ there is a calibration and profiling utility, and any Windows user with any version of Adobe Photoshop will have Adobe Gamma.EXE installed on their system, so learn how and use these utilities. Although some forum posters have claimed setting LCD displays with a white point luminance as low as 85.0 or 90.0 CD/m2, the level of a CRT. I have not found with a luminance level that low that photo image screen quality is acceptable, if it can be done at all with 2.2 gamma. The color management industry recommendation is for color managed functioning set the LCD display white point luminance at 120.0 CD/m2, and from experience i will have to agree. I don’t have a too dark print problem with my LCD’s set at 120.0 CD/m2, but it is still 25% brighter than a CRT, and if prints are still too dark, an inexpensive solution would be to cover the front of the LCD display screen with a neutral density gel. These are available from Lee filters, go to:

Obviously in a blog I cannot take the space to detail a workflow that I have found successful, and I’ve done that already, and it was published in the December issue of Shutterbug on page 68. you can access the article on-line at Shutterbug’s site at:

Note: in the article the Photoshop screenshots illustrating the use of the Transfer Function weere from CS2, with CS3 go to the upper right of the Print window and click on Color Management and then the Output option tag to find the Transfer Function button below.

If you are still needing more Color Management information or help drop me a line by e-mail at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


From the e-mail and forum posts I have read Apple iMac photographer users are having the most difficulty with a too bright screen, and prints too dark. Thanks to one correspondent, Pat Marchitto who alerted me to Phil Corley’s web site
( a solution has been found to lower the screen brightness to calibrate and profile for better print matching.

If you read the page on the Phil Corley website, he states he was getting a whitepoint luminance reading of 300.0 CD/m2 with his iMac (current model) and wanted a third of that or 100.0 CD/m2 in screen brightness. Although that aim point may be ideal for print matching output density, most color management experts indicate, as X-rite recommends a white point luminance of 120.0 CD/m2 for LCD’s. The lower aim point of 100 may work for a new iMac, but for more common, less unique LCD displays, I have found going that low has the price of a deterioration of image color reproduction quality, compared to most LCD displays calibrated to a brightness of 120.0 CD/m2. But that may be beside the point and up to user preference if you can lower iMac screen brightness that much and get away with it otherwise.

The solution is a new version of ColorEyes Display v1.42 that now has direct control for Apple displays (this includes not just iMacs, but all Apple Cinema Displays). The software can be downloaded from their web site at
And, a ten day free trial is offered. In addition a display/monitor sensor is needed to use ColorEyes Display Pro to calibrate and profile a display, and the software supports all current sensors including Spyder and X-Rite i1 Display.

Although I don’t have an iMac or Apple Cinema Display, I did download the ColorEyes Pro software and used it and a Spyder2 to validate the current and recently calibrated and profiled state of my display. The software has good on-line support and relatively easy control just by following on-screen guides and instructions. Even though I could not test the iMac solution specifically, what I was able to determine is the capabilities are there and the software does function as described applied to a current LCD display to my satisfaction.

Personally I find using pro-graphics LCD displays that are calibrated and profiled to a white point luminance of no more than 120.0 CD/m2, which is definitely supported by the ColorEyes Pro application, that I obtain excellent color matching with my printers (custom profiled) and do not experience a “prints too dark” problem. This may in part be due to my work area lighting and its affect on LCD screen perception, which does effect color correction and image adjustment.

In other words accurate and effective display calibration and profiling to a recommended brightness, can reduce if not eliminate the “prints too dark” problem. However in monitoring this issue other printing problems have complicated the matter. So please keep in touch and I will apply my efforts as best I can to finding more solutions - just keep in touch by e-mail at

Sunday, December 7, 2008


A lot was said by the press about the possibility once in the Whitehouse Barrack Obama may lose access to his Blackberry. And more recently as some bits and pieces have leaked out about the plans to provide an economic stimulus and jobs initiative, one of the items recently was to do something about internet access. Anything could be better than what currently exists considering that among the advanced free-world nations the US is way down the list in providing broadband access to its citizens. And as Obama has suggested he will use the internet to be connected to the public to create a more open and accessible administration to Americans that hopefully could enable a greater participation in government by citizens. If nothing else this is also an education issue as it provides access to information for students, a digital highway to a library.

That something needs to be done beyond what the free market offers for connectivity becomes more evident every day. Unless you live in a large urban center. cable service is usually only offered by one company and that kind of monopoly makes people pay twice as much to often get fewer channels and less programming. A few years ago some communities wanted to respond to a need for more affordable broadband access by providing WiFi access, and few have succeeded mostly because their efforts have been sabotaged by the private cable and ISP companies. Why anyone should have to pay for cable TV at all is hard to imagine, just the opposite the advertisers should pay subscribers for having access to people’s homes, especially considering how much programming time is now commercials and how many channels are nothing but one long advertising commercial.

What brought this to mind was a friend who offhand mentioned she would like to get a webcam. I raised an eyebrow and she explained that it would allow her to see and visit with her grandchildren more often. When I mentioned that she would have to get broadband to replace her dial-up internet connection she was crestfallen by that wet blanket thrown on her hopes.

Although very connected myself, I have been a bit of a Luddite about having my own web site, I think mostly because so many photographer’s web sites are just a way to get people to look at their photos. Having been published in magazines for too many years now to count, that is not something I particularly need. But I do get a lot of e-mail from my Digital Help column that indicates some photographers could use some how-to help beyond what I can offer in an e-mail, and that might be satisfied by my eBook on CD. So to make the information about my CD more easily available I created a simple and free web site thanks to Google that describes my Digital Darkroom Resource CD at

In this last election there may be more hope as a result, that rather than a country divided we could become more united. We maybe need to come together to meet the challenges these bad economic times have brought us. One way is to take advantage of being connected in ways we never could in any past crisis, so I am hoping that whatever new programs are offered the idea of making it easier and less costly to be connected through the internet gets all the attention it deserves.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I don’t know if you have noticed on TV, but ads for some new flat screen TV’s are now touting mind boggling figures for contrast-ratio of a million to one. Can anyone see a million to one? Or does it matter in the definition of a talking head’s picture on screen to what the pundit is saying about his crystal ball into the future of Barack Obama’s governance after January 20? Technical specification have been a boon to imaginative marketing mavens ever since cars were described as having horsepower, and the race goes on for who can concoct the most outlandish claims.

Of course there is Consumer’s Report with their labs to measure products objectively and then provide a subjective assessment that is almost as fanciful-- one of my favorite laughs when I sat in an editorial office and got a copy of Consumer’s Report camera issue on my desk, was their “best buy pick” was always some ungainly model that frequently ended up in the dustbin of the history of obsolete products made by companies that soon failed. Does anyone remember Miranda?

Seriously, besides technical specifications that abuse and misuse the trust of people, they also contribute to a misunderstanding of how products in the real world function. This morning I responded to a reader’s comment that a particular scanner he was considering had a “poor” dynamic range specification. The scanner in question does have a dynamic range greater than the density range of any normal film image there is to scan, but it is not as high as some scanners that are 4.0 and greater offered in the recent past. What is not realized is in this case maybe bigger isn’t better, in fact just the opposite. if a scanner’s dynamic range is significantly greater than the density range of the film images being scanned each raw scan will create a file space with a significant amount of space that is blank with no image information at one or both ends of the density scale. This will require that the image data that is present will have to be expanded by interpolation to fill the colorspace of the output file (a Levels optimization correction in Photoshop), to be useful for quality output of a print for instance.

This pressure to sell scanners featuring ever higher dynamic range specifications, also has a potential downside when the scanner is used to scan color negatives which have a much lower density range compared to reversal color transparencies by as much as 2/3rds. Thus the scan data has but a small amount of image information in raw scan output, as would be evident in a Levels histogram, which to fit the output color space must be expanded dramatically in software processing by the scanner driver. Ideally a scanner with just half the dynamic range of contemporary film scanners would probably reproduce better image quality output images if used just for scanning negatives.

Of course consumers do want information upon which they can base a decision as to what to buy. But when specifications are technical and cannot be practically verified by the user, there is a lack of reality regulation and some specifications become not much more than hype, and it actually is a contest of which company exercises the most hubris to inflate figures more than the next. The LCD display market has been particularly obfuscating using all kinds of technical jargon and inflated figures while beyond the measured size are essentially meaningless, the exception being the high-priced professional graphics products most stores don’t even stock. But at the same time if you want to find out if an LCD brand has separate independent controls for contrast, brightness and backlight adjustment or if it has discrete white point color temperature settings, that information is missing or confused with the jargon and hype. So a potential purchaser often cannot determine if a consumer home/office LCD display can or cannot be effectively calibrated and profiled for doing digital photography image processing.

Here unfortunately we live in a free-market world that would not flourish if fettered by regulation it is claimed, but should sellers of technical products not be kept honest and candid about their claims?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Windows 7 Versus Apple Mac????

When I began this blog the last thing I had in mind was commenting on other blogs, but in’s Mary-Jo Foley blog, her plea to Microsoft programmers to NOT make the next Windows too Mac-like, had me laughing and fuming at the same time. ( Especially today after reading in the New York Times David Pogue page with a section on Maintaining The Mac, ( which amounted to almost nothing unless one is paranoid by disposition. I switched from Windows to Apple Mac almost a decade ago and have had virtually no maintenance that needed to be done in that period of intense computer work, compared to it being an almost constant chore before with Windows. But what really got me was what Mary-Jo put in her wish list “fewer UAC prompts, simpler backup and restore, better peripheral handling” which are all current included features of the Apple OS!

There is really no point to plea that Microsoft not make Windows 7 more Mac-like, they tried just that with Vista and missed, with a superficial level of form over function and fancy graphics obscuring a lack of practical functionality. The result has been many have uninstalled Vista from a new PC and replaced it with Windows XP because it works. It’s not the Mac “image” but Apple functionality Microsoft might better emulate.

Microsoft Windows has the bulk of the personal computer operating system business, and as far as I am concerned they are welcome to it. I am sure Apple would like a larger market share, but would that be good for those of us who are Mac users? I use an Apple Mac because it does graphics and imaging better and easier, and as important, it also is not targeted by a reservoir of Microsoft hatred breeding virus attacks. Even if Apple attracted a greater percentage of people doing digital photography, it still would not threaten the business of Microsoft, so enough already - there are real issues and problems that need attention, especially in such threatening time

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Too Quiet On The Western Front

This last month my e-mail in-box has been rather full of messages in response to my article about Print matching on page 68 of the December issue of Shutterbug. The article seemed to hit a raw nerve, and my curiosity as to how extensive the problem is, was more than satisfied when I ran a Google search on “Prints Too Dark”, which elicited 1,930,000 results.

My inherent nature of being a gadfly caused me to make an e-mail message from that Google search result and send it out to many of my industry contacts as well as a few friendly corespondents. My friends answered and not one industry contact replied! I think the ”prints too dark” problem has caught most in the digital photography business off-guard and a little unprepared maybe? However, it seems the diversity of this problem involving all kinds of computers, photo applications and printers, but seems to be exclusive to those using LCD displays and not older CRT’s, confirms the former’s brightness as the culprit causing prints to be made too dark. That almost no one foresaw the much brighter LCD display might lead to a midtone (brightness setting) displacement is rather surprising. But I guess they can be excused because there is no reason why anyone was particularly aware of the fact that a CRT’s brightness range is very similar to the range of reflective values in a good quality photographic print - just someone like myself who has been using densitometers most of my professional life I suppose.

The other reason for the quiet and why the industry has no response is that other than the Transfer Function in the Output options of Photoshop CS, CS2 and CS3, I have not been able to imagine or find any other workaround, except maybe putting a neutral density gel over the front of the screen of an LCD display to reduce its perceptual brightness. That is an unlikely fix because I believe the LCD’s brightness is one of the attractions that has made them a popular selling upgrade. An environment for working with a CRT was often described as cave-like, dark in other words - while an LCD display allows having the room lights at a much more “normal” level.

Interesting though there was once a software package that ColorVision offered called Doctor Pro that supports editing profiles including particularly printer profiles. But sadly it is no longer available and will not run on any of my computers, although I have a copy on an installation CD. It worked rather interestingly by incorporating a Photoshop image adjustment saved as an Action to be incorporated into a profile Doctor Pro edited, with a new version of the profile resulting. Now my curiosity makes me wish I had one of my old computers so I could experiment and see if Doctor Pro’s profile editing would be a solution.

Does anyone else have any ideas how to solve the “prints too dark” problem? Drop me a note at:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Computer Anarchy And Color Chaos

I would guess the casual consumer when confronted with images displayed on computer screens probably assumes there is some color standard involved that regulates what red, blue or yellow should look like that governs the manufacture of these displays. But that is an incorrect assumption as all color reproduction devices are what the industry calls “device independent”. In other words it is a “free market” and a maker of display screens, as well as printers and scanners, in fact any device that reproduces color information, is not held to any standard in terms of the observed color reproduced as the result to the specific RGB computer data sent to or received from the device.

When the World Wide Web as an extension of the Internet was first envisioned a handful of influential companies realized to obtain any color uniformity in color perceived on-screen by individual computer users would require a way to regulate color at the source. The solution of Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard was to limit the gamut of color from the source to that of an average CRT monitor(circa early ‘90’s), in other words the lowest common denominator of color by making the number of possible colors from the source small. The result is the sRGB color space that only contains at most 65% of the color variants possible in a total of 1.7 million different colors a computer can record and reproduce from an 8-bit RGB file.

But even before that there was afoot some schemes to make computers reproduce consistent color called Color Management. At first these were primarily attempts spearheaded by companies like Agfa and Kodak and were proprietary and only useful to regulate color reproduction with the company’s products and software. Then a large representation of computer companies with a vested interest in color reproduction like Apple and Adobe got together and formed the International Color Consortium. Eventually a color standard was agreed upon and both physical print and film targets as well as computer reference files were promulgated. All of this became a widely accessible function for users with Adobe Photoshop version 5.5 which supported Color Management not just between devices on a single system but between computers and all platforms, Microsoft Windows, Apple Computer, and eventually Linux.

Some liken Color Management to being an arcane ritual, too complex and poorly regulated to be easily useful. But in concept it is really a simple scheme. Because computer components are manufactured in an international free market environment, then each display, scanner or printer is device independent and reproduces color uniquely; so the first function of Color Management is the measurement of the device’s color reproduction, which is referred to as calibration. Then the calibration is compared to the ICC color standard, and any differences are written into a text file that is called a Profile, with either an .ICC or .ICM suffix usually. These profile files provide your computer with the specific knowledge (description) of what color each device reproduces. For instance without a calibrated and profiled display your computer is unaware of what colors are on screen you are looking at. In addition to the three types of device profiles, display, input and output, a fourth type of profile is a workspace profile which provides the configuration of color on screen for a color managed application like Photoshop. The workspace profile is standardized like sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998), and when used in an application becomes the source profile for any image file that is generated or open in that application; and if embedded in a file saved from the application, that file then can be opened in any computer with a color managed application and if viewed in the space of the embedded profile, will look the same as it did on the display of the computer that generated it.

The complexity and possible confusion Color Management causes users comes from its implementation in various applications, printer drivers, scanner software and operating systems. In addition very often the installation of a scanner driver, or that of a printer, may result in numerous and often unneeded superfluous profile files being added to the Color folder (Windows) or the Colorsync/Profiles folder on an Apple Mac.

Problems ensue when a user sets up to use color management, for instance in an application like Photoshop, as to which profiles to select for RGB, grayscale and CMYK workspaces, or with a scanner which profile is actually the one to use with a particular model scanner if several have been installed with similar names. With printers it is often even more confusing as there may be a profile for each of the papers the printer supports using. All this is made worse by the fact every operating system when installed loads a bunch of standard generic profile files most users will never need. Sadly, nether printer/scanner companies nor software applications, much less operating systems, provide any documentation that fully identifies the profile files installed and their use or associated hardware. All anyone can do is be diligent in searching out which profiles are necessary and needed in association with your system and hardware, and then move all the rest to a newly made folder and call it Profile Purgatory.