Category Archives: color profiles

LA1980: I Build A Book

book cover.

LA1980: book cover.

This post is about  “LA1980: a photo memoir”. Yes, a naked, blatant plug. Bear with me, I’m going to talk about the technical aspects of making this project happen.

Self-publishing a decent proof-quality book has come of age. For any derision about ‘vanity publishing’ I’ll say “demo”. As in musician. How good it looks and reads is up to you. It’s your baby. Treat it with respect, but work it.

Introduction to Self-Publishing

I’d stumbled on in December 2007. The idea was seductive. A closer examination revealed some serious issues.

Blurb uses Booksmart, a proprietary software, as a gating/formatting choke-point. Booksmart  is not easy in the same way a complex program like InDesign is easy. Its a bucket with pre-fab templates you can drag photos into. You have little control over type kerning, formatting, stylesheets, etc. Which are all the tools I need to work with. More study was required. All told,I studied the whole Booksmart/IDCS stuff for about 6 months, read all the posts, FAQs, whining. I got to post some of my own later.

In LA, There’s Always A Backstory

“LA1980” surfaced during an interminable studio-traffic meeting last summer. I’d gotten wise to the ways of the massive organization I worked for, and used the dwell-time to sketch ideas in a notebook. I wanted to do a photo book using images I’d shot between 1979-1982.

I’d shot 100+ sleeved rolls of Kodak 5297 cinema neg stock; which was cheap in those days, and I was broke. The neg would be contact-exposed to the pos stock, and slides happened.

Periodically I would look at the slides, and go “Yipes!” because the color had gone seriously magenta. The prints I made back then were on a particularly putrid Kodak stock—soft, more magenta, muddy. The images went back in the boxes, and slept.


First sign of new life was 2003, when I got a used Nikon LS2000 film scanner. The scans from the slides were awful. The negs offered more hope. It was a toss-up between OK and awful. But it wasn’t good enough yet.

In 2008 I bit the bullet and bought the Nikon LS9000 scanner in order to scan my medium format negs. The Nikon scanning software worked fine with the Mac OS X 10.4. All well and good, until my elderly G4 died, and I had to get into a MacPro.

Now I discovered that I had two scanning software choices: Hamrick VueScan or SilverFastAI. The difference was about $600. Since the Lotto Fairy hadn’t swung by recently, I went with the Hamrick VueScan. HVS has a blunt, unfriendly interface. I also looked at SFAI, and its interface was blunt, and ugly  as well. I spent several weeks steaming in circles getting the hang of HVS. Finally it began to make sense, and I was up and rolling on that.

Building the Beast: One Image At A Time

The only coherent way to find out what I had besides what I remembered, was to literally start at the beginning, and scan every roll. I’d put it off long enough, and it was time to man-up.

  • Using a cast-off lightbox, I’d loupe the roll.
  • Pull an FPO scan of the roll, typically 1400dpi at 4×6″ for starters.
  • Implementing a workable naming convention. Now that I was scanning in bulk, and going back to pull high-rez images, I needed to find them again.
  • color profiles were set to sRGB, the default Booksmart colorspace.

When You Name It, You Can Find It

I’m done naming images, its alphanumeric for me. Names, descriptions, tags etc can all be handled in Adobe Bridge using Command-Shift-I, which brings up the dialog box for naming, tagging, copyrights, etc.

Here’s a peek:

Image browsing in Bridge

Image browsing in Bridge

Image 790700_08_06 is frame 06, from roll 08, from July 1979. Variations are indicated as -1, -2, etc. This will make my life easier every step of the way down the line, especially when I’m preflighting the InDesign doc, and swapping out missed lo-rez images.

All images start as jpegs. After the curves are applied, the psd is saved, jpeg is tossed.


Here is a typical image, in the before and after mode:

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

I scanned close to 1000 images, and had to work fast, smart, and non-destructive. Sometimes I’d recurve an image 4-5 times over the life of the project. I’d see something I’d overlooked the first time.

The Design/Production Workflow

The book was designed using InDesign. This gives me dynamic updates, unique page formatting, typographic specificity, PDF exports; everything lacking in the Booksmart interface.

Pay very close attention to the Blurb specs. They aren’t joking. The following is contingent on your layout being the exact right size, with standard 1/8″ bleed 4 sides.

  • layout all hi-rez images in IDCS
  • page export pages as singles, w/ bleeds, to PDF-x1a
  • open up PDFs as Photoshop PSD (300dpi)
  • save PSDs as Hi rez PNG (300dpi at 100% image size)
  • import PNGs into BookSmart layout
  • upload to site

First proof came back 6 days after sending it. Examined it,

  • looked at binding [OK]
  • color [OK]
  • trims [aggressive to outside margins].

Readjusted live so it was 1/2″ from trim, fixed pages that needed it, re-uploaded it.


I worked on this book 6 days a week, 8hrs a day from Dec 29 to January 21. It was my job when there was no immediately visible work. I decided I needed to get a project up and running that might have a wide/wider reach that would kickstart other opportunities.

The color is OK as a proof. Nothing matches ink hitting paper. However the advantage of creating crossovers with impunity is big fun.

I’m looking forward to my next book.

In The Out-of-Gamut Color Space, No One Will Hear You Scream

red hat ladies

Sh0oting Hoops: A Miniature Basketball Court
Somewhere In the Middle of a Very Large Football Field

The visible light spectrum can contain up to 16,777,216 colors. I say “can contain” because the human eye can detect at most several hundred thousand colors. This is the wide and wonderful world of RGB. By comparison, the 4-color printing space is only about 13,000 colors.

While at the Workbook, I used the analogy of basketball court/football field to describe the difference in the respective CMYK/RGB color spaces. Even those proportions are somewhat misleading, but I had to answer questions very concisely—I worked for a publishing firm, not a help desk.

The Color “F-Chart”

Eternal thanks to my boss Paul Semnacher, who kindly gave this to me.

Behold the Color “F-Chart”, which will help you trouble-shoot color issues in the CMYK color space.


The “F” in “F-Chart” euphemistically refers to “tamper, alter, distort” and so on. Use your imagination.

The primary colors are Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. The secondary colors (Green, Orange and Purple) are created from the primaries, as shown by the circular arrows. Black is not shown on this chart, as it controls contrast and shadow.

The main arrows in the center show where contamination occurs.

  • Yellow dirties Purple
  • Magenta contaminates Green
  • Cyan contaminates Orange

Understanding these three things will solve most color issues in the proof stage.

While we’re here, there are several situations you will rarely see done well in 4-color printing:

  • A clean orange
  • Pure turquoise
  • Iridescent lime green
  • A neutral 4-color grayscale image.
    You’re better off controlling it as a rich-black, (ie 20C and 100K).
    Otherwise it will most likely be greenish. But people still try it, with predictably uneven results.

Out Of Gamut, Out Of Mind?

Sadly, no. Michael Kieran defines gamut as “The total range of colors produced by a device, system or storage medium. A color is described being out of gamut when its position in one device’s color space cannot be mapped into the the color space of another device”. Now we both know.

Common RGB Profiles

Here are some common RGB profiles. I’ve seen documents using all of these profiles—Quark, Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator. Changing the profiles in your monitor, source application (Photoshop for instance) and in your layout program will have a noticeable difference in how color is treated.

  • Apple 1998 is the smallest. However its range is considerably less than Adobe RGB (1998)
  • Adobe RGB (1998) is in the middle. Consider it the convertible currency of color management—it produces good results with most RGB recorders and plays well in the CMYK translation.
  • sRGB was designed for low-end consumer color scanners, digital cameras and inkjet printers. It is inadvisable for high-quality color production because of clipping in the blue-green part of the spectrum. Don’t use it if you are planning on printing it. Or you’re feeling foolishly lucky.
  • Monitor RGB tailors color to the monitor, instead of the other way around. It makes sense in a web application, as it forces the RGB colors in Photoshop to match those in web-design programs like Dreamweaver. Again, this observation is from Michael Keiran. Since the bulk of my experience has been in print production, I cannot verify this absolutely. But I included it as an example of the spectrum of choices in color management.

In conclusion, color is a highly subjective experience. Customers sent target proofs ranging from the workmanlike to the surreal. I saw proofs on everything from cold bright white proofing stock (excellent), through warm off-white Arches paper (love that 5% yellow gain), on down to 24lb Walmart inkjet bond (they were out of paper towels that day). Never mind the sizes. I guess the ReadMe/FAQ was optional. But they all want Perfect Color.

Go figure.

The Case Of The Color-Blind Photographer

color monster

I looked at a lot of files while I was with the Workbook. In a typical year I would be the first person to look at 1200+ pages. Along the way I learned a lot about the way people thought their files looked like. Which brings me to the Case of The Color-blind Photographer.

The customer’s Epson proof had the photographer’s notation on it that it was “not correct, and should be gray-green”, (analogous to Wehrmacht green). Very well.

The Color You Want And the Color That Is

We pulled a test strip on our Epson 4800, and it was not gray-green. Not even close. We even ran an output on the Canon color laser printer. No big difference here either.

what the customer wanted

Now things were getting interesting. The photographer clearly thought their green was a blue-gray-green. A spot-check of the background colorfield showed that the magenta was 42%, with a full 100% yellow and 38% black to really warm things up in a fine slurry.

what the customer provided

I discussed this with the Paul Semnacher, Director of Print Production. He was going to have to make a call to the advertiser and gently probe. He did. The conversation revealed the usual suspects:

  • an erratic low-end printer with an idiosyncratic profile
  • a monitor that wasn’t properly calibrated, and of an unknown vintage
  • customer’s wishful thinking.

The first two items are nominally fixable, but the last item is the most tenacious, and one that is beyond the technical reach of any color or pre-press house. The conversation ended in a draw. We looked at each other. Finally he said “What if the photographer is color-blind?”

Whoa. Then it hit me. Paul’s elderly mother had just had cataract surgery. While she was recovering, she’d woken up on morning, gotten dressed, and noticed a bright yellow sweater on the dresser. She asked who’s sweater that was. Her daughter-in-law said that it was hers. She didn’t believe her…she’d never wear anything that bright.

Of course not. When you have cataracts, bright yellow looks like beige. Which provided a possible insight to our Photographer.

In the end, the photographer came around to the fact that 42% magenta made things very warmed. Paul wrote up the correction to the color house in Singapore to recurve the background closer to the desired color, and everyone went home happy. More or less.