Wide Gamut Color Shifts Driving You Mad?

Wide gamut color shifts. Are you seeing it? Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Let me explain. But before I do, let me point out that this post is from the standpoint of using your images for displaying on the WWW and computer/device displays. It is not intended for a CMYK/ ad printing flow.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this from a relative newbie point of view. I’m not an expert color guy. I don’t have a background in the science of color, display profiling, color management and calibration etc. I’m just a photographer who wants his photos to show on various displays reasonably close to what I produce in my photo editing software of choice. That software is Photoshop and Lightroom.  That’s why I got a wide gamut monitor and a calibrating/profiling device. Note I said reasonably close not exactly. That’s because, unless they are all calibrated and profiled exactly, no two displays on two different computers are going to display an image exactly the same. So, if you post your favorite pic on a website, the colors on that pic are going to vary a bit from person to person depending on what they’re using to view it.

A fellow photographer may be viewing that image on an accurately profiled wide gamut display of their own. The schmo down the street may be looking at it on a computer/monitor that has never been nor never will be calibrated and that is only capable of displaying sRGB. The kid on the other street may be looking at it on a smart phone that may or may not be wide gamut. You get the idea.

What’s the difference between a wide gamut display and a sRGB display? I’m not going to get into all of that, but basically, a wide gamut aRGB display is going to be able to display a broader range of colors than a sRGB display. A good place to begin getting a basic understanding is here. If you really want to dive headlong into the whole color thing, go here  and have at it.

But that isn’t what this post is about. This post is about the very basic head scratching things you experience when you first acquire a wide gamut monitor and for some reason it’s so damned difficult to get answers for. One shouldn’t have to become a rocket scientist to get their head around basic stuff and, indeed, you do not need to become a color management expert. Besides, I’m a photographer, not a freaking color management professional.

Which then brings me to the whole wide gamut thing and the headaches it produced and the struggle I’ve had getting my head around it. I’ve visited various forums, asked various questions, etc. And the one thing that I found out is that people that really know what they’re talking about rarely have a clue as to how to dumb it down to the essentials needed to get from point A to point B. OK, I have my fancy new car, what are the directions to the local grocery store? Do I really need to know how an internal combustion engine works from the ground up?

No.

Which is what this post is about. For color management gurus, this post is ridiculous. For those of you who just got a wide gamut monitor AND properly calibrated it, here you go.

My photos look all wonky when I look at them in xxx!

That’s because what you’re looking at them with is not color managed. Usually they will seem wildly over saturated. The reason being is that, in a nutshell, the non color managed app–like Windows 10 Photos App–will simply incorporate your display’s gamut into the image without any consideration of your calibration or the ICC profile you embedded into the photo when you saved it (you are embedding the profile, right?). However, if you view the image in an sRGB/standard gamut display in the Windows 10 Photos App, it will most likely be largely the same as when you view it in the color managed program you used to edit it; say Photoshop or Lightroom.

If you’re trying to look at an image on a wide gamut monitor in an app that is not color managed, it will look like crap; over saturated crap.

To add to the misery, some browsers are color managed, some are not and some are sort of. For example, Internet Explorer and Edge, from what I can tell, are not color managed at all. I’ve heard that Safari is color managed. Firefox on the other hand is color managed if  you enable it in the settings. Chrome, however, is sort of color managed. What I mean by that is that if you access an image with an embedded ICC profile (You are embedding a profile, right?) it will display correctly. However–this is where the sort of part comes in–if it’s not embedded, it will display the image like Internet Explorer and Edge do; displaying over saturated crap (remember this is if you’re using a wide gamut monitor). Keep in mind that, currently, Chrome has something like 74% of the market share in browsers. That’s a lot. You may think that it’s no big deal because you’re embedding the ICC profile, but there’s a catch. Some websites that you upload your photos to will strip the ICC profile from the image for the sake of saving space. For example, 500px does this. If you have a wide gamut monitor and you’ve spent hours editing a photo to where it looks just right, you save it in sRGB with an embedded ICC profile, and then upload it to, say, Flickr, facebook, and 500px then visit those sites in Chrome to check out your pic, you’ll notice that Flickr and facebook will display as you edited it. But on 500px, it will look like unholy hell. That’s because 500px removed the ICC profile and Chrome chokes. At first glance you might want to rag on 500px for stripping the ICC profile–and I kind of agree–but the issue is really Chrome. Google needs to fix Chrome to behave as a fully color managed browser. A fully color managed browser will default to sRGB when the ICC profile is not present.

Keep in mind, that for those viewing the images on 500px via a non wide gamut monitor will see pretty much what they’re supposed to see in Chrome (or any other browser). It’s just for those who are using a wide gamut monitor.

The takeaway is that the use of wide gamut monitors is mostly the realm of photographers and graphic designers. Such a demographic will most assuredly view images within color managed applications.

Firefox

Firefox, by default, is not set to be color managed. Why is that? Hell, I have no idea. But to set Firefox to full on color managed glory do the following:

  1. Open up Firefox and type: “about:config” without the quotation marks into the URL address bar. Hit enter.
  2. Read the warning and proceed.
  3. In Filter List, type in “gfx.color” again sans quotation marks.
  4. Double click “gfx.color_management.mode”.
  5. Enter 1 in the pop up. Close and confirm.
  6. Restart Firefox.

You now have a fully color managed browser. When using your wide gamut monitor to view images on the WWW, you’ll see them in their color managed glory even if they are without an ICC profile, say on 500px.

Remember, this is IF you’re using a wide gamut monitor. Otherwise don’t worry about it.

The big takeaway

If you’re using a wide gamut monitor:

Calibrate it.

Give yourself access to a fully color managed browser and applications (presumably your photo editing software will be color managed. For example, both Photoshop and Lightroom are color managed).

When saving images, ALWAYS embed an ICC profile.

At that point, don’t worry about it because:

Those viewing your images on a standard gamut sRGB monitor are likely to see mostly what you’ve created no matter what. Beyond that you have zero control over what others are going to use to view your images with.

As I write this, the vast majority of images will be viewed on standard gamut sRGB displays. Save your images to sRGB and then don’t worry about it.

See, it’s not really that complex.

Photographer Shootout

PetaPixel has a throwaway piece advertised as a photographer shootout. OK, maybe not a shootout, but it’s interesting in that they take one model and have four different hugely popular photographers photograph her and put their own twist on it.

The twists really aren’t that much different at first glance; natural light outdoors. As I perused through the results I was struck by something though. All of them except one are post processing fiends. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, though.

The one photog’s photos that really stood out for me, though, were the ones that seemingly had the least amount of post production; those of Joey L. I mean, the dude just kills it. His shots are simple, human, somehow surprisingly meaningful given the circumstances. The others are, like one commenter hysterically yet accurately put it: “His (Joey L.) photos humanized her (at least slightly given the type of shoot) while many of the others seem to just use her as a prop for post-processing.”

Bingo!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing the others, hell, they have gazillions of followers on Instagram.

Permits To Photograph On Public Lands

When I say permits to photograph on public lands I’m talking about federal lands. To be more specific in this instance, BLM land.

As you know, I’ve been doing my Girl In A Skirt sort of kind of project. It’s basically me taking pictures of my wife in various settings while she’s wearing a skirt. Pretty basic, huh? I started it out on a whim when we were in Arches National Park. While there early last spring we thought it would be cool to have her wearing a funky skirt and pose for some shots. It was then that the Girl In A Skirt was born. We’ve got all kinds of plans for the Girl In A Skirt. Those first few shots were very impromptu, but it got me to thinking that it sure would look cool to do some of these shots with a studio strobe. Flash makes everything better.

Plus, my wife is willing. I’m lucky. She’s tall; 5’11” and fit. It’s a perfect learning opportunity with a willing awesome model.

So, then we did some flash shots on the hill just above our house. Like this one:

Girl in a skirt on a mountain top with flash photography

ISO 100, 35mm, f14, 1/200 sec

This one’s pretty cool. Although I used a speed light it was still spur of the moment. We walked up the hill, set up the speed light and popped off some cool shots. Now, keep in mind, I have no intention of selling any photos that I’ve taken. It hasn’t been something that I’ve even thought about. Sure, if someone offered to pay me some cold hard cash to take some photos, yeah, I’d do it. But it’s not even on my radar. Well, to be entirely honest, it would be nice for someone to see enough value in what I do to pay. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he? Frankly, I don’t think I’m good enough. Yet. I take photos because I love it.

Then we got to talking about different locations and the Bonneville Salt Flats came up. Although neither one of us had been out to the Flats before, we both instantly though, Oh, yeah. That would be cool. I did some research and checked out some photos that others had done out there. Yeah, baby. We’re heading to the Bonneville Salt Flats. I talked about that shot a bit on a previous post. I discussed how we set up a 300ws strobe, put out a gear box for my wife to sit on and cooked off some shots. They turned out pretty freakin’ good.

Girl In A Skirt

ISO 100, 50mm, f16, 1/200 sec

At least I like it.

I posted them up on my Flickr page and didn’t really think much more about it. They did get a lot of favs and views which, admittedly is cool. But that’s about it. Remember, I’m just a rank amateur using photography as one means to hang out with my wife and son.

Then in one of the comments on one of the photos, a person mentioned that I may want to look into the permitting requirements vis a vis permits to photograph on public lands. What??? A permit? Permission to take photos on public land? Surely you jest. But then I did some research on it, specifically regarding BLM land and, yes, you do in some circumstances need to purchase a permit to photograph on public lands. Was I crossing into the realm of activity that would require a permit? Looking at the BLM permitting website, and utilizing basic comprehension of the English language, it appears as though I may have done just that. I started a discussion on a photography forum and a few people poo pooed the notion, stating that permits are only required for commercial/professional photographers. But, from the website:

Casual-use activities (i.e., noncommercial activities occurring on an occasional or irregular basis that result in little or no impact to public lands) involving still photography or recreational videotaping do not require a permit.

Still Photography. Public land visitors and recreational, professional and amateur photographers do NOT need a permit to take still photographs unless they will:

  • Use models, sets or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities;
  • Take place where members of the public are generally not allowed; or
  • Take place at a location where additional administrative costs are likely.

Here is how I interpret it. Did I use a model? Well, what is the definition of “model”? Well, this definition in part says:

  • a person or thing that serves as a subject for an artist, sculptor,writer, etc.
  • a person whose profession is posing for artists or photographers.

Now, granted, I’m not paying my wife. Modeling is not her profession. So, in that regard, we may well not be meeting the definition.

However, the sets or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities is what has me thinking. Technically, the light stand used for the strobe and the box on which my wife sits are props as would be a tripod if I had used one; which I do occasionally.

So, a reasonable reading of the language in the permit guidelines clearly indicates that I would need to get a permit to photograph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the manner that I did. That may not be the reality, though. Clearly, a phone call to the BLM local field office is in order which is exactly what I did. But, in the middle of the day, there was no answer. I let it ring 50 times and no answer. I’ll keep trying because I want to get clarification.

So, you may wonder what I will do if in fact I will be required to attain a permit to shoot photos in the manner I did out on the Flats.

That answer is easy. Screw them. I’ll shoot photos as I please and NOT buy a permit. If I get written up, I’ll cross that bridge, but there is no way in hell that I’m buying a permit to shoot photos of my wife for fun.

However, if, by chance, someone were to offer me money to take some cool pics of them on BLM land (I can only dream) then, yes, I would buy a permit even though being required to buy permits to photograph on public lands is, in my opinion, bullshit.