Thursday, August 25, 2011

X-Rite: The Only Way to Look at Color

As a photographer who has made his reputation on shooting color, I bought a Sony Artisan monitor back in the days of CRT's (cathode ray tubes).  Then, one day, I wanted to see my images BIGGER.  And, as Sony was no longer supporting the software and the display was getting darker and greener, I bought a 30" Apple Cinema Display.  The very first time it booted up, I realized just how far off my Artisan had been.

But how far off was my new, out-of-the-box Cinema Display?  I wanted to know, because there is a phenomenon called “chromatic adaptation” which refers to the eye’s ability to automatically compensate for light sources of different color temperature.  Chromatic adaptation allows our eyes to maintain the appearance of objects under different light sources.  So just because an image on the monitor looks OK doesn't mean that the image is being correctly displayed at some predetermined color temperature, brightness and contrast.  In other words, "chromatic adaptation" is great...but not if you're a photographer.

i1 Pro on the left, and its baby brother, the new i1 Display Pro on the right
Enter a company called X-Rite, whose scientific knowledge about color measurement goes back a long way.  I found out that the solution to all my problems was a device called an i1Pro, and that I could get a package of hardware and software that allowed me to not only calibrate my monitor, but to also calibrate my projector when I do lectures, and to make custom paper profiles using the i1Pro's capability to measure reflected light.  You see, the i1Pro is called a "spectrophotometer."  But when I travel, the large size of the i1Pro becomes an issue. And, it needs to be coupled to a large base (see above) to make light measurements when profiling my projector.  

What I hoped for was that X-Rite would make a smaller, lighter calibration device.  If they could do that, I'd accept not being able to also make profiles for paper.  Such a device is referred to as a "colorimeter."  Apparently, a lot of other photographers wanted the same thing.  So as part of their nearly two-year long project to update their profiling software, which resulted in i1 Profiler (currently version 1.1.1), they decided to make a cute little sibling to the i1Pro.  No, they didn't call it "Mini-Me."  Enter the i1 Display Pro—a fantastic, small, lightweight color calibrator that can be used to calibrate monitors, as well as projectors.  But you can't generate paper profiles with it.

i1 Display Pro resting against the LCD screen to take measurements
What is gratifying to me is that the i1 Display Pro is the first calibration device I've ever used that is virtually "plug and play."  OK, I know.  Photographers work, and X-Rite knows that. So they've built an automatic workflow into i1Profiler that  takes you step by step through a predetermined workflow.  Not that you can't change just about any parameter you can think of, including white point, luminance, contrast ratio, and a new one to me—flare correction !
i1Profiler software's workflow is designed for one thing—holding your hand during calibration 
X-Rite has made a clever diffuser that stays in place went you want to measure your viewing area's ambient light. It can also swivel back and lock in place so that the optics can rest against the surface of your LCD.  They've thoughtfully placed a thin layer of foam on the measuring surface, and included a small but effective counterweight which acts to hold the i1Display Pro in place for measurements.
The diffuser remains in place to measure ambient light, or swings away to calibrate your monitor
It is hard for me to imagine any photographer shooting with a professional grade digital camera and not calibrating their monitor.  Even if a monitor was perfectly pre-calibrated from the factory, it might not be calibrated to the settings you need or want. And, it would be subject to all sorts of variables.  And monitor "profiles"—the pieces of "instructional" software that are soul of the calibration process—are only accurate for a very short period of time.  Depending on how critical you are about color, you might want to recalibrate each and every day!
With the i1Display Pro in place, the i1Profiler software begins making a monitor profile

The engineers at X-Rite have thought of the little things.  The i1 Display Pro is threaded on the bottom so it can be mounted on a tabletop tripod or stand while calibrating your projector. Despite its small size and weight, when coupled with the new i1 Profiler software the i1 Display Pro does its job quickly and efficiently, and in my experience makes very accurate profiles.  For the first time I have a very small, lightweight, fast, accurate calibration device that I can unplug from my computer, throw into an attache case, and bring with me to my next lecture. 

The bottom of the i1Display Pro is threaded so it can be mounted on a stand
If I have one small complaint, it's that I wish X-Rite had figured out a way to make the USB cord fully detachable so it's user-replaceable.  After months of use, it may break, and for now that would mean sending it back to the factory.  But at less than $250 it's the least expensive investment you can make in the peace of mind that comes with knowing the colors you are looking at are as accurate as the current state of the art.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Trip to Another World

                                                                                                             © Eric Meola 2011

Late one November morning in 1992 as I stood in my studio in lower Manhattan, a thought kept nagging at me—I had always wanted to photograph polar bears.  The evening before I had convinced myself that the time wasn't right.  The workshop to photograph polar bears had just a couple of openings, but as much as I tried to convince myself, I couldn't make up my mind.  Heads I go, tails I don't.  That morning, though, I kept asking myself "If now's not right, when is?"

Within minutes I changed my mind, got on the phone, called United Airlines, threw some clothes into a bag, along with film and batteries, and grabbed a taxi just outside the building.  And then I hit a wall of midday traffic like I had never seen before.  I was on my way to Churchill, Manitoba—a day, an overnight, and several connections from JFK airport.

I had just returned from Hawaii, I was exhausted, I had a huge assignment in less than a week, I was poorly packed, and...well, I just kept thinking about all the negatives.  It was the first time I would be photographing with a group, and not just any group.  Several world class nature photographers would be on board the "tundra buggy".  What would it be like to travel in a group, in close quarters, seeing the same things everyone else was seeing, photographing the same polar bears in the same landscapes?  

Two days later, as the buggy made its way across the ice and snow to Hudson Bay, and everyone was shooting out the side windows, I opening the back door and stepped out onto a platform to get my thoughts together.  Christ, it was cold!  Then, far in the distance, I spotted three polar bears crossing the deep blue ice drifts, and behind them a veil of fog and mist rising off the bay was lit up with the golden glow of sunrise.  I shot an entire roll as the bears slowly approached, getting closer and closer.  It was a special moment in a spectacular landscape, and now I had my answer: it was possible to travel in a large group and yet be in your own world, to see the same things but do your own thing, to be alone but talk the talk and to make my own images while enjoying this other-worldly place together.
                                                                                       Arctic fox on the ice © Eric Meola 2011

In September of 2012, I will be returning to the Arctic along with Arthur Meyerson, as a team of photographer-instructors.  The workshop leaders for this 2012 Arctic Voyage, will be photographers John Paul Caponigro and Seth Resnick.  This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to join us in two weeks of photographing and exploring some of the most remote and majestic areas of the far North, from Spitsbergen to Greenland, with our final destination in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Two weeks with great instructors, photographing fjords, polar bears, icebergs and puffins.  Two weeks of exploring some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth along with some of the most unique creatures on Earth, and two weeks of having fun while learning first hand from people who love to teach and who love to make your photographic dreams come true.