Colour Correcting Photos for Printing

Have you ever wondered why some photo printing companies are better than others? If you have then the chances are you have come to the conclusion that it is down to the printing equipment that they are using and never thought any more about it, and you would be wrong!

Although the printing equipment is important, most modern photo printers can easily achieve vibrant prints, so why are some photo labs better than others? I’m not just talking about simple calibrations or colour profiles either – I’m talking about two identical photo labs with identical printers and identical files for printing.

Anybody who has regularly had photos printed from different companies knows what I’m talking about. As does anybody who has worked in the photo printing industry. The largest single factor for getting the best result from your photos is not the camera or the printing equipment but the person who operates the printer.

The simple fact is if you took the exact same digital file and had many printing companies print this out then the result would differ significantly with some producing a far better result than others. Why is this? Well, some companies will manually improve the colours and others do not….

Shock, horror! “What are you doing fiddling with my photos?” you all cry. Well the answer to that comes from traditional film developing and processing. Transparencies were always easy – either print them as they are or if they needed adjustment the customer could explain this to you as they could see the colours of the positive image on the transparency. However, negatives were quite different – you couldn’t “see” the negative colours so it was up to the operator to decide what the colours should be. They would make decisions constantly whether to lighten / darken, boost a particular colour or diminish it, enhance the highlights or shadow details etc. and you, the customer, never even knew this was going on all the time. This is why some photo laboratories produced better results than others – the human operator.

So, now that most photographers have switched to digital do you think that this practice still goes on or has it been consigned to the photographic dustbin in the sky? Well, that really just depends on who is doing the printing. If you have an experienced printer then they know what customers like – warm, rich colours with as much detail as possible and they won’t settle for anything less.

On the other hand, if you have never been properly trained to print photos then these people are unable to discern the difference between a good and bad print and just assume that the print from the machine is correct. Oh dear! These days proper training is rarely given to people and they are just unable to tell the difference. Similarly, do not assume that the first print that you have done of a photo is the "correct" one - you should be asking yourself which is the best one?

To illustrate what I am talking about, have a look at the before and after pictures. It all becomes quite easy to see just how much better your photos could be printed in the hands of an experienced operator. All of these photos have been taken with digital cameras and clearly the cameras were not on the best settings possible. Obviously these are extreme examples but considering this is done as a matter of course with any decent printer then you will obtain better results by using them and not another company.