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Michael Wayne Plant

When did you first understand the importance of color to the photographic process?
I learnt the hard way, in 2002, I was asked to retouch a series of fashion spreads, for a very good photographer friend of mine, that he had done in Hong Kong for a German magazine. The first time that I saw one of magazine spread’s that I had retouched and it came back with really bad colour’s. The cyan was off and the total black was to high, so the ink had not dried on the paper properly as it was being printed so it created ripples in the paper. He eventually forgave me for this, however it was a huge problem, as it was a mass-market magazine with a print run of approximately 200,000 copies. I haven’t made that mistake since. A lesson learned the hard way is a lesson well learned.

What is the most important aspect of color management that an aspiring photographer should know?
Get the brightness of your monitor set correctly, if you are printing and your prints are to dark, this is telling you that your monitor is most likely to set a too bright.

Give an example of the ways in which a solid knowledge of color management (or an accurate color environment) helped you – on a project? In a consultancy situation?
If I am working in a photographic studio I want to keep colour consistency across images that I make. To do this, I use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to get one image that I can use to check my colours and set my white balance with. I do this by making Raw images and though the use of either Adobe Lightroom or more recently Capture One Pro. I get the image with the ColorChecker Passport and set the white point, I then synchronize all the images from that particular light set up, so that they are all colour balanced with the same white balance and tonality. I can repeat this easily on a complex photo session whenever the lighting conditions change. On commercial location photography assignments, if I am using my laptop and tethering I will calibrate my laptop (using my X-Rite i1 Display Pro) and leave it in that spot for the rest of the session, so that I have consistency of density and colour when evaluation images, this is especially helpful if a client is present, as it allows them to see what I am doing without having to guess. Once back at home I will work on my images with a separate attached monitor to my laptop, which is always calibrated.

Why are you committed to using X-Rite products?
Because they deliver, they allow me to have accurate and consistent colour and the correct amount of density in my digital images.

I find them easy to use and set up this helps when I am have to calibrate a mac suite (computer room) full of 14 monitors, as it speeds up the process. I like their reliability and I have come to depend on them to get accurate and consistent colour and density in my work.

How important are the latest color management tools in today’s industry?  Why?
They are very important and as computer manufacturers update their operating systems, it is important to have a company that supports their products, so that your hardware does not become obsolete to quickly.

As technologies change, it helps to be on top of the latest developments in this area even though it sounds boring if you and your workflow is not correctly calibrated your images are not going to look there best. That is important to me and I believe important to so many photographers.

What does the (near) future hold for the photo industry, in your opinion? Do you think color management will be more or less important – why?
I believe that as monitors improve the differences that you can see in your images are only going to become even more apparent, so by having your digital workflow (including colour management) you are showing your work as you intend it to look.

How is color management related to your artistic process?
I made a decision in about 1999, to work exclusively in colour and when I moved to digital, I decided that this was even more important to the way that I see the world. The world is in colour and I want my images to be off the world, while there is a whole history of Black and White documentary photography and its associated ideas of truth, etc. I decided that colour is important to how something looks and feels. If we accept that each era has a look, Documentary of the 1930’ was black and white, The 1990’s was colour neg, the 2010’s are digital and colour. Digital has now been around long enough that it has developed it’s own aesthetic, this is what I use. I for a while like many photographers, used to add film grain to images (with a filter) to make them look like I was still using film, but I realised after a while, that this was not how we are seeing the world now, so I stopped. If I do not manage my colour properly it does not reproduce properly either online or in print. This is why it is important for me to manage my colour within my images.

Do you see color management as an advantage for saving money?
Most definitely, as it means that I do not have magazines wanting to do expensive reprint runs (which they don’t do often), more likely they will not use you again as a photographer because you can’t control your images for their printing presses. So it is not just about saving money it is also about how you earn your money and what quality of digital file you are happy to supply your client with.