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Alan_Coggins

Violin photography and colour matching

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I've got myself into violin photography over the last year and it has turned out to be quite a revelation. Surprisingly I found that actually taking the photographs was easier than I expected - a bit of thought, time and care (and some good advice from some Pegbox colleagues) gave me results that were quite acceptable. But what I wasn't expecting (and what I have found somewhat depressing) were all the problems concerning colour matching. At every step along the way it has seemed to be an uphill battle to try and preserve some sort of accurate colour rendition.

The first problem comes from having no point of reference. I would get access to a violin to photograph for a few hours and then it is gone, mostly never to be seen again. I ended up buying a good photo printer and making my own prints to use as a reference, though mostly I was still working from my memory of the violin's appearance. Occasionally I had the violin here for long enough to match to the actual instrument, so for these examples I know my prints are more accurate.

Then there are all the various colour spaces at my end to worry about (camera, monitor, photoshop, printer). Of course if you have a different calibration then what you see on your monitor could be quite different. And if the images go away to be printed by a third party it's a whole new ball game. There's the pre-press proofs, after which you get to see and adjust the results. But there's even problems here... I found that two prints on different paper viewed side-by-side might look right or wrong depending on the light. Daylight is best of course, but how many books are read in daylight? Finally it goes to the printer and it's a nervous wait to see how it will come out in the end.

It seems to me that any displayed/printed images of instruments are probably going to be very unreliable when it comes to colour accuracy - unless there has been long, diligent and expensive attention to this aspect. I have no experience with film so I don't know if this is particularly inherent problem with digital photography. But it's a sobering realisation to find just how easily it can all go astray.

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Is it possible to take the photos of the instruments with something like a Kodak color chart in the frame and then crop it out after the final proofs are made? Just a thought, I can't imagine taking on such a project and have great respect and appreciation for those that have gone to the trouble to make these great violin books. From the stories I've heard it's definitely a labour of love, not money. Cheers,

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... have great respect and appreciation for those that have gone to the trouble to make these great violin books. From the stories I've heard it's definitely a labour of love, not money. Cheers,

Alan is one of those people - he is speaking from his very recent experience in producing "the" book on Australian violin makers. Having watched him photograph two instruments of ours (in the sense we own them) for the book and corresponded with him during the whole process which is now almost over - I gather I will be flying over the printers on Monday night as we return to Oz from China - I can assure everyone of the diligence and striving for perfection that has gone into it. I detect a slight case of last minute nerves in Alan's posting :) - he need not worry, having read the text and seen some of the photos it is a triumph, AND YOU ALL HAVE TO BUY A COPY. Whatever it cost, it could never repay the time Alan has spend on it.

Regards,

Tim

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Color rendition has always been a problem since the days of 4 color letter press printing. Some of the old books a catalogs which were done by the early 4 color process are extremely inaccurate when compared to the instrument in hand.

With 4 color offset done with digital photography we have come a very long way, not perfect but very, very good. There are so many variables, camera, photographic lighting, paper, printing press and the skill of its operator.

Its seems that digital photography looks great on a monitor but when transferring it to paper, thats where the tricky business begins. It seems that the paper which is commonly used is not quite as bright as the white which is transmitted from the monitor and I don't know if there is a super premium photo paper with a high titanium content for super bright whites. In PhotoShop you can adjust the color content and saturation on the screen, the trick is to get the same balance on paper.

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My wife is an accomplished photographer and uses Kodak Ultra Premium Photo Paper on her Epson printer. Through many years of experience she has learned to make various Photoshop adjustments to get the best out of each printed photo.

Mike

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I did try including a colour card in my earlier photos but found it of little use. And it has to be cropped out at a fairly early stage, before the images get into the hands of others further on in the publication process.

Thanks for the vote of confidence Tim - actually I've been having "last minute nerves" for most of this year. I do feel fairly confident with getting a good result using my own computer, monitor, printer and paper... it's just when you have to hand all your painstakingly careful work over to someone else that it gets to be a lot more of a worry.

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I did try including a colour card in my earlier photos but found it of little use. And it has to be cropped out at a fairly early stage, before the images get into the hands of others further on in the publication process.

Thanks for the vote of confidence Tim - actually I've been having "last minute nerves" for most of this year. I do feel fairly confident with getting a good result using my own computer, monitor, printer and paper... it's just when you have to hand all your painstakingly careful work over to someone else that it gets to be a lot more of a worry.

I mentioned in my "dichric varnish" thread that I thought that my digital camera exagerated certain things about contrast. The dichroic effect is very marked in the photos, but a LOT less so to the eye.

The red pixels seem very much more sensitive than those in the eye.

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If your system is genuinely calibrated (what you see is accurate, and that's also what prints out--there are devices and software that coordinate all of this) it's possible to develop a routine for violin photos that does the same thing every time to cancel out the errors in your lighting/camera setup, since these errors are consistent mis-renditions.

Red is always a problem--most systems are set up to favor skintones, making them less green than they are in real life. If we saw in photos how we really look, most of us wouldn't be happy.

An additional confusion, rearing it's head in John's thread, is how violins look different in different lighting conditions. For violin photos, you have to pick one appearance from the many possibilities.

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If your system is genuinely calibrated (what you see is accurate, and that's also what prints out--there are devices and software that coordinate all of this) it's possible to develop a routine for violin photos that does the same thing every time to cancel out the errors in your lighting/camera setup, since these errors are consistent mis-renditions.

Red is always a problem--most systems are set up to favor skintones, making them less green than they are in real life. If we saw in photos how we really look, most of us wouldn't be happy. ----particularly when naked :)

An additional confusion, rearing it's head in John's thread, is how violins look different in different lighting conditions. For violin photos, you have to pick one appearance from the many possibilities.

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If your system is genuinely calibrated (what you see is accurate, and that's also what prints out--there are devices and software that coordinate all of this) it's possible to develop a routine for violin photos that does the same thing every time to cancel out the errors in your lighting/camera setup, since these errors are consistent mis-renditions.

Red is always a problem--most systems are set up to favor skintones, making them less green than they are in real life. If we saw in photos how we really look, most of us wouldn't be happy.

An additional confusion, rearing it's head in John's thread, is how violins look different in different lighting conditions. For violin photos, you have to pick one appearance from the many possibilities.

Yes, Strado I figured that the camera favored warm colors, red etc. I have a very nice Canon 270 (I think that is what it is called.) It has a million settings and buttons and I never had the heart to read the manual completely and learn how to use everything. Sigh...... But I am going to try things until I can actually see something in various natural lights. If it ain't there, no camera help will satisfy me.

And I don't like tape recordings of my voice either.........

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Red is always a problem--most systems are set up to favor skintones, making them less green than they are in real life. If we saw in photos how we really look, most of us wouldn't be happy.

An additional confusion, rearing it's head in John's thread, is how violins look different in different lighting conditions. For violin photos, you have to pick one appearance from the many possibilities.

Thanks to some early good advice from Michael D I was onto this and cranked back the red saturation a couple of times. But it seems to keep creeping back when other people add their processing to the mix.

I've decided that colour matching involves walking around the house with one item in each hand until I find some lighting that makes them both look the same. :)

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For most of us which watching the great violins from the photo rather the real things. I think it's very useful to get the ideas of the difference between photos and reality , And understand how and why a violin photo was taken like that way .

It's even better to have some professional in this area to demo. and explain in front of you.

I'm in California workshop this summer and great to have Michael Darnton showing us about violin photographing.

I'm less shocking now about the difference of the photo when there are a Strad or Del Gesu infront of me .

And more shocking when I see some so call "very good" antiquing violin!

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I did try including a colour card in my earlier photos but found it of little use. And it has to be cropped out at a fairly early stage, before the images get into the hands of others further on in the publication process.

Hello Alan,

I have been photographing violins a bit and I can feel your pain. I never got as far as publication but color matching even for printing can be a very complicated process.

One of the workarounds that helped me was using neutral gray as a background. Though it is not a perfect solution, I find it so much easier to get more accurate colors to set gray point using gray background. And it will not be croped in the publication, unless you mask it out.

I understand that it is too late for that now and you are not going to start your work from scratch to change the background... but I wonder if you can add a photo of kodak chart (done with the same lighting as violin photos) to the book - so that publishers can color correct for it and than remove the chart from the book just before the final step? If all the photos were photographed and color corrected using the same setup, I would guess that this might work...

Anyways, it's just my thoughts - I am by no means an expert...

Roman

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If you're using Photoshop, there's a very quick way to do a basic color correction: go to levels and double-click the right eyedropper. A color scale will pop up, and you should slide the pointer on the left panel down about 8 points to an almost-white color. Then with that setting, click on the background.

This won't make it white, but will make it neutral (I remove backgrounds by masking--just blowing them out with the white control makes the whole photo too contrasty). Then click the left eyedropper, find the darkest spot in the photo (usually inside an f-hole, or up in the pegbox, and click there. Finally, click on the middle dropper, and click on one of the medium darkness spots on the board.

This sets those three areas, which should be neutral, to neutral. Everything else falls in line with that, as much as possible. Go to hue/saturation/brightness, find red in the drop down box at the top, and crank red saturation back a couple of points. Go back to the original setting in the box, and slide hue about three points to the right, and saturation about 15 points left.

This should get you very close. If you save the settings for those two dialogues, and your lighting is consistent, calling up those two groups of setting should put you in the neighborhood. If your screen is not calibrated, this may not look good on your screen, but it will probably look pretty close on mine.

Every single unadjusted laptop or desktop LCD I have ever seen comes with a very large blue cast. Sometimes this is easy to correct in the screen settings. For calibration by eye, the best thing to use is a black and white picture, believe it or not! Your eye isn't too good at recognizing color casts on color, but it knows when grey isn't grey.

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Somehow black and white pointers in levels never worked for me, although I know that most pro's do it that way... I am just too bad in finding absolute black and white places to click. I don't think it is my monitor - it is calibrated using Spyder3.

What works for me to find blacks and whites is adjusting separate channels in levels using the histogram. On most photos, if you adjust histogram to touch the sides in all channels, it should not have cast, and black and whites will look good. I always have to be more careful with the blue highlights, somehow they never have to be all the way to the right, even when the reds and greens are.

The medium gray sampling I do when converting from raw. I use white balance sampler on gray background. I have also calibrated my camera colors for violins using "camera calibration" menu in photoshop camera raw. My feeling that most problems with reds come from using in camera jpg converters that always has reds popped up by far too much to make photos "pop" :-D. I might be wrong about that though...

Another work around that helps if prints come out with too deep blacks and clipped shadows (even if blacks were not clipped in the histogram). Open levels and adjust the left side of the "output levels" for a value between 4-8 (it is the number in bottom left field).

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For a start, digital cameras have automatic color balance. It's probably the default, too. That's death to color accuracy, as I found out the hard way on landscape photography. It's like in the old days when you sent your film to the drug store and their equipment tried to make all photos average out to an 18% gray card. Presumably you are all beyond that, but I don't see it mentioned.

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It probably is about the camera, as much as the printer.

So, even a "perfectly balanced camera" (and I'm just guessing that such a thing exists outside of a specific printing method) is still only half the battle.

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My Nikon D300 has some similar settings to Photoshop, and I've set them so that the results out of the camera aren't too bad, but you have to know how to get to them, and how to use them. Each camera will be different.

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Funny you should bring this subject up right now, Alan, as we've been working on the idea of a violin 'Pantone' book, and we're at the early stages of putting it together, so it would be useful to have your feedback.

Basically it would be a swatch book covering the whole spectrum of possible violin colours, giving each one a number. When you send your pictures to the printer you can instruct them on the correct shades using the book, and they translate it at their end, so that at least you have some objective reference point. I'd like to think it'll also help people who are copying instruments and trying to achieve particular colours.

Sometimes it feels like a really good idea - we use a primitive version of it in the office for picture checking - and sometimes I worry that it'll be pointless and inaccurate and that in some cases there are so many different areas of colour on a violin that it won't actually help very much.

So I'd be grateful to know what opinion here is, and if you think it would solve your problems, Alan. Well, your colour-matching ones, anyway!

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Wow... interesting idea! But first let me say that I realised after I'd posted my comments (which followed hard on the heels of my instrument photos appearing in the August Strad) that they may have been taken as a criticism of the Strad's treatment of my images. So I should make it clear that I was referring to my book... the Strad photos were fantastic and very accurate.

But back to Ariane's idea... as I mentioned, early on I realised that I needed some point of reference for everyone to work from so I bought an Epson R1900 and did prints of all the fronts and backs of the instruments in my book. This was actually really useful as I sent the whole stack to the pre-press person in Adelaide and he ultimately ended up having to colour-match every one individually. Then his prints went to Hong Kong with the files, and the printer has been able to keep an eye on the quality.

The main problem is that "non-violin" people may be fine with skin tones and so on, but they don't know when a violin goes from a realistic red colour to being "unnaturally" red. But we have all seen such examples and to us they look glaringly wrong. So having some point of reference is a great idea, and much better than nothing at all.

So... I think it is a very worthwhile idea to pursue - let me know if you need any input. As you say there are plenty of different colours on a violin but perhaps you would only need to define one or two areas as a reference point and the rest would fall into place. You could just include another low-res image with a box marking a couple of places and provide their "violin Pantone" reference numbers, and that may be enough to make it all much more accurate.

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So... no other comments about Ariane's idea?

I can see it being useful in many ways, not only when printing images of an instrument. Say, for example, a Famous Viola Player visits Brazil with a Famous Viola. The resident Famous Viola Maker could not only examine and measure the instrument but he could also use his colour swatch book to get an accurate record of the colours in the varnish for later use.

Maybe I'm hopelessly naive and violin colours are just too complex and subtle to be captured in this way. But it seems to be a very worthwhile initiative and if The Strad are willing take it on then then I think they should be encouraged.

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The problem I have with the idea is that the color depends entirely on the light you're using, and the direction you're looking from. I had an interesting experience when the Beare book was in preparation: I was photographing everything at Beare's that I could do in a week, and Mr. B came down as I was taking pix of the tiny del Gesu and Strad. He had a pile of tearsheets about an inch thick to show me, which he said were the various attempts to get the color of the little Strad right, for the book. He'd taken the violin, and used it for direct comparison.

As a result, the photos are some of the most accurate in the book, I think, and yet, they only looked like the violin in one light, held in a certain way, with a few inevitable reservations having to do with color photography. And even then, with the violin in my hands, I could have named several different colors, so which would be designated as the real one?

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Totally agree with you Strado,

Most good violin varnish looks completely different in different lights...and given the curves of a violin surface and angles of view the colour is not easy to get a fix on. .....in reality ... colour swatches will be of no use without a standardised lighting / shooting format....

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