What do people see when they look at your work online?

Richard Charpentier Notes from Rich Leave a Comment

There’s the $42,000,000 question.  When someone looks at your photography online are they seeing what you want them to see?  I’m sorry to say, but the answer is probably not.

In order to really accurately match print colors and monitor colors I utilize a ColorMunki Photo.  I profile papers and my monitor.  I actually recalibrate the monitor every two weeks just to be sure.  Fortunately ColorMunki makes it super easy to do and it’s not a very time consuming task.

Being a photographer and fine art reproduction specialist I’ve got to pay close attention to color management.  My clients want their final products to look as close to originals as possible.  And I want to provide the best reproductions possible.

For the hobbyist and serious amateur the question of color management also comes up.  Many photographers that I know from local clubs use some sort of color management platform.  One local club actually has a ColorMunki that gets passed around through the membership.  Great idea!

So, let’s say you have a color management platform and you’re dialed in.  Fantastic.  Let’s also say you’ve got a website showing your work.  Very cool.  Your images are spot on.  Now, does your audience see what you want them to see?  Often the answer is no, and there’s no real way for you to control for that.

When we lose control

The moment that your images hit the web you’ve totally lost control.  Most standard consumers who browse the web have no idea at all about color management.  Often times when they get a new computer they go with the default settings that come with the computer and monitor.  And those settings might not be correct.  In the end what you intended for your audience to see may be way off from your vision.

This whole post concept came from a conversation with a friend who stopped by the new house recently.  I pulled something up on my monitor and he said, “Can’t you brighten the screen a little, it’s a bit dark.”  He was right too, the brightness level was only about 50% of what it could be.  Why?  Because my ColorMunki setup my profile for editing images at home.

I went ahead and adjusted just the brightness to satisfy my friend.  And the moment I did that I threw out my settings for accurately editing images.  The screen was now way brighter than what it should be.  Under exposed images looked properly exposed, properly exposed images looked too bright.  Are you seeing the issue?  If I were to edit on the adjusted monitor, even with a brightness change only, I’ve thrown my accurate print match out the window!

Now ponder the average computer consumer for a moment.  They have dozens of monitor profiles on their computer.  The brightness control is available to be altered simply.  And 9 times out of 10 folks crank up the brightness for videos, image viewing, and of course gaming!  So, what does that mean for the presentation of your work when they happen by your website?  It means they are most likely not seeing what you intended them to see.

Any way to fix this?

To my knowledge, short of crusading across the globe with a ColorMunki and a dream, no.  Color temperature and brightness aren’t going to be spot on, so don’t even expect it.  You just wouldn’t believe how many times portrait clients are slightly disappointed with their images I put up on private galleries for them, but when they come in and see my monitor and prints they’re delighted.  I explain monitor and print calibration to them, and then they understand.

So, in the end what do we do?  Stop sharing on the net?  No, that’s crazy.  Try to make sure that when it comes to clients you can help them review images in the controlled environment of your own studio.  Selecting images solely based on their web viewing experience will not be a service to your clients, so make sure you keep control of the viewing experience!

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