In my previous blog on exposing to the right with Olympus OM-D I mentioned shortly the Soft Proofing capabilities of Adobe Lightroom 4.
Here I take another look at Soft Proofing and why this tool in Lightroom is so powerful and important, especially for anyone printing images.
I like to tweak my images to have strong colors. With well calibrated and profiled monitor, reading color picker values and having lots of experience on printing I can forecast quite closely where the limit goes. But not always. One thing to notice is, like here, that Lightroom´s warning colors do not give any advice on how colors would behave in any lesser color space than ProPhoto RGB. Red on bike´s fender and blue on shadows give only a promise of a nicely contrasty image. However, my experience tells that those strong blue and cyan colors are now at least on the verge of being too saturated to be printed.
Enter Soft Proofing
To get a more precise and explicit view on how things really are, I have turned on Soft Proofing. I am going to print this image on Canson Infinity Rag Photographique 310g paper. That´s why I have chosen as Profile: cifa_3800_ragphot310_M... Here "cifa" is short of Canson Infinity Fine Art, "3800" stands for Epson 3800 printer and "ragphot310" is the just mentioned printing paper. Profile name goes on to say that I should use Matte Black ink. This profile is supplied by Canson and is downloadable from their web site at canson-infinity.com. Furthermore the instructions on their web site tell me which Epson 3800 printer driver settings should be used with this paper. I have chosen Perceptual as Intent. There´s a slight difference between how intents Perceptual and Relative render the image with this profile and I like Perceptual better. The choice here is just a matter of taste, and with many images the difference is quite small.
As you can see, there is now a red warning color over most of blue and cyan surfaces and also on some areas having red color, although reds are naturally more difficult to notice here. The histogram has also a very different shape as it shows how the tones are mapped into color gamut of Rag Photographique. Red warning color is gamut warning color and it shows which colors from my image can not be properly mapped into my desired target. The warning goes on if any channel loses definition. While printing with inkjet printers it is not necessarily a disaster if one channel is clipped IF the other two have lots of variation inside the same area. But you are being warned and you need to check what is going on and you must make a decision on what to do.
To illustrate two exmples of possible corrective actions, here I have tweaked the blue range of colors in my image. A drop in saturation, small change in hue and slight lowering of luminance brings blues and cyans quite well inside of gamut. This is done in HSL window. Red colors are of course not affected but let´s forget them now as any correction there would be analogous.
Previous correction affects all blue colors globally in this image. Also those areas which are not at the edge and as a result some predominantly blue areas might turn too pale. By using Adjustment Brush tool you can tweak separate areas. Here I have painted Saturation -35 on the middle of cyan poster. Working with brush tool you can be very subtle and work gradually, and you can combine Saturation, change of color (Temp and Tint), Exposure and all the other sliders with so many ways. Each separate area can have its own correction as needed.
After corrections it is time to print. I printed the above image both as it was and corrected with the above shown HSL tweak. Then I scanned both prints with a flatbed scanner. Here are details from both scans. On the left from the uncorrected and on the right from the corrected print. As can be seen, you can trust quite well the combination of Lightroom Soft Proofing and properly made profiles, like Canson profiles are. The cyan poster was bulging and reflecting the sky. Blue cardboard of kiosk was also bulging, torn and dirty and the fence must have highlights and shadows. The corrected print is a lot more life like.
At first I was quite disappointed with Lightroom 4´s Soft Proofing because CMYK Soft Proofing is not possible there. Now when I have used Soft Proofing habitually with every ink jet print I make, I couldn´t live without. It is one more tool which takes quessing out of equation. I can previsualize even better, actually quite perfectly, how my prints will look like when they come out of the printer. And like I wrote above, it is not a must to force every color always inside the paper´s gamut. Soft Proofing is a tool, not a dictator. It is not forbidden to use overly saturated or clipped colors in prints. Soft Proofing helps you to achieve even that in a controlled manner.