Digital Photography Editing Tips

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This is a collection of things that are important to know if you spend a lot of time editing your pictures. It is not a complete list, just some things that I've figured out and find useful for sharing (and documenting so I don't forget...)

Color Correction

Go out and buy one of those colorimeters - it's completely worth it, trust me.

Color Correcting Multiple Monitors in WinXP

Windows XP has some color management features built in out of the box, but they're all pretty much useless. One of the useless features is the ability to load color profiles for displays automatically. "Great," you say, "I'll be up and running with pretty colors on my super sexy multi-monitor system in no time!". Then you realize that Windows XP only allows one color profile to be loaded for each physical video controller - so if both your monitors are on one card and you're too cheap to go buy more cards (like me) you're out of luck. "Bah, silly Microsoft," you say, but wait! Microsoft has redeemed themselves with Windows Vista, which allows you to load profiles for each monitor! What's that? Don't want to "upgrade" to the most power hungry OS ever? Me either.

Luckily for us, Microsoft back ported the new Color control panel to XP - probably in an effort to attract more design people away from Mac, but that's a good enough reason for me. You can get it here (If that doesn't work, I'm very sorry, doesn't do permalinks. Try Google-ing it.) After installing that package, you'll have a new control panel applet called "Color" which can manage profiles for multiple monitors, printers, and scanners connected to your system simultaneously.

You'll still have to profile each device with whatever software came with your colorimeter (or the Adobe Gamma program if you don't care how close the colors are). Then you'll need to manually associate the newly created profile with the proper device in the Color control panel. For monitors, don't forget to set the primary display to the display you're trying to meter from or your colorimeter might not work. Happy color correcting!

After the install is complete and your devices are profiled, you may notice that the monitor color profiles are not loaded at boot time. This is because the tool doesn't set up an automatic load of the color lookup tables into the graphics processor - which seems pretty stupid if you ask me, but that's how it is... To fix this, create a new shortcut in the "Start --> All Programs --> Startup" folder that points to:

"C:\Program Files\Pro Imaging Powertoys\Microsoft Color Control Panel Applet for Windows XP\WinColor.exe" /L

Be sure to also remove any color profile loading applications (Adobe Gamma, Logo Loader, etc) from the startup list, as those will fight with the color control panel, and we can't be sure which will prevail.

I've done some basic testing and here's what I've found:

  • If you're using multiple monitors, be sure to apply a profile to each display or the "WinColor.exe /L" command will not work. I have not seen this issue documented anywhere, but that's what I had to do.
  • Restarting or cold starting a dual head system with only one monitor connected does not seem to cause any issues.
  • Hibernation sometimes causes the color profiles to un-load. When this happens, just run the shortcut from the startup menu.
  • Extending the desktop to a monitor which was connected after the "WinColor.exe /L" command was run does not seem to cause any issues. The colors display properly as soon as the display comes online. I've only tested this with 2 monitors profiled - I'm not sure if there are issues when you have more.

For more information about color control in Windows XP, see the readme file (which lives in the install directory and is clearly the most useful document out of all these recommended sources), the homepage of the Color Control Panel Applet (here), and the Microsoft "Pro Photo" website (here).

Color Correction in Linux

Ahh lovely Linux... Good for just about everything except gaming and design work... I've been unable to find any colorimeters that actively support Linux, which is no good - that makes it very hard to color correct Linux systems. But I have a plan to get around this. WARNING: I haven't tried this yet - and even when I do, I'm only doing it on one system. Not a very rigorous test. Here's the procedure:

  1. Using VMWare Server, make a Virtual Machine (VM) which runs Windows XP (for those new to the VMWare product line, Server allows you to create VMs from OS install discs and run the VM on a system. There is also a "Converter" which basically takes a snapshot of a system and creates a VM from it. Either creation method is fine for this task - so long as you have a Windows XP VM and either Server or Player to run it, you're good to go)
  2. Map the USB port with the colorimeter connected to it over to the VM
  3. Run the VM using the local display (i.e. do not connect to VMWare Server remotely - we obviously want to be able to see the VM's screen on the monitor we want to profile)
  4. Install the color profile builder software on the VM
  5. Run the color profile builder to generate a profile
  6. Copy the created profile from the VM back to the Host OS (for those not familiar with VM terminology - the "Host OS" is the operating system running directly on the hardware which "Hosts" the "Guest OS". In this case, the "Guest OS" is the Windows XP VM)
  7. Load the profile into the X configuration or the nVidia driver (for those not familiar with Linux, the "X Server" is the thing in charge of GUI display)
  8. Restart X

This procedure hits several key points:

  1. Uses the hardware we plan on profiling
  2. Uses the driver we plan on profiling (though indirectly through another driver)
  3. Uses the display we want to profile

I've heard of another procedure in which a computer is booted into XP using a boot disc. The profile is captured while the system is only running Windows. Supposedly, this actually works - but I don't have a disc to boot XP live; I've got tons of VMs (because I'm a nerd like that). I found this site which has a fairly recent discussion on the topic.