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Tips & Tricks

Soft Proofing In Lightroom | Friend Not Foe

By Kishore Sawh on February 20th 2016

Oh, $%&#. What did I do? The screen’s gone white, and Lightroom keeps asking me if I want to create a virtual copy. What fresh hell is this?”

That’s a common theme of thoughts for many Lightroom users who have accidentally and without knowing, entered into the Soft Proofing ‘module/menu.’ It would be my estimation that the majority of Lightroom users by a country mile, don’t know what Soft Proofing in LR is, nor that they needn’t be intimidated by it. So what is it?

In a nutshell, Soft Proofing is representing on screen, what your destination color space is going to look like, as to have accurate reproductions either on screen or most typically for print. That’s it. It’s a form of calibration if you will. It assists in ensuring that what you see on screen will match what is printed, and that means getting what’s on screen to play nicely within the gamut of the printing/destination color space.

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If your destination/printer has a smaller color space than your monitor, those areas which won’t be represented will show up in soft proofing, at which point you can adjust to either match that profile of the printer, or leave as is and hope that the software at the destination level is good enough to match colors close enough. Relying on hope, though, is a fool’s errand…

Color Theory & Color Spaces Are Key

You likely have an understanding of color theory to some degree, and that is sort of necessary when dealing with proofing and printing. I would propose that color theory is just the understanding of how colors interact, their mixtures and their implementation. It is the broad umbrella under which hue, value, and chroma, and our usage of them, reside. Within the realm of color, theory is color spaces, which is something else you should understand when dealing with soft proofing.

In very basic terms (or more detailed see here), a color space is a spectrum/range of colors that can be represented in an image. As an oversimplified example, imagine a swatch of 100 colors (color space A), and then one of 1000 colors (color space B). If a picture were taken and loaded or printed using color space B, it would have so many more colors with which to render from, so it would look smoother and likely more accurate, whereas color space A would probably look blotchier. That is completely oversimplified especially when you consider that color spaces usually are in the millions of colors.

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Either way, every device and system entwined with display and printing has its own color profile which works within a certain color space. If you have a printer at home, that printer will have its own color profile, and if you’re using a lab or some printing company online, they will often have their own profile for you to download. Often, they’ll come in the form of an .ICC (International Color Consortium), and these days, once downloaded, they sometimes just sort of show up in Lightroom, but of course, can be manually inputted as well.

Once your color profile of choice is within LR, it’s time to use Soft Proofing. Hit ’S’ while within the Develop Module and you’ll see the background behind your image turn white, and the Histogram menu title will change to Soft Proofing, showing the histogram and SP menu below. It’ll look something like this:

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Here’s what those options and symbols all mean:

Note* It warrants saying at this point that even though LR lets you work non-destructively, you’ll be prompted to create a virtual copy to work on, and that’s typically a good idea. Actually, if you begin to work on the image without doing that, you’ll be prompted to hit Create Proof Copy. Now, you CAN make the ‘Original’ a proof copy, which you can still go and revert later on.

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Profile:

A profile is, as discussed above, a description and boundary outline of a device’s color space. Lightroom will default to using the profile of your monitor, but within Soft Proofing, you can choose to simulate the output space via the Profile menu. It should be said here that you should be calibrating your monitor and printer. If you want to know more about that and what system I suggest to use, check out this post – it’s worth it to get it done right.

Intent:

This section, broken down into two options, covers the method of how colors are changed from one space to another.

Within Perceptual, the idea is to “preserve the visual relationship between colors so they are perceived as natural to the human eye, even though the color values may change. Perceptual is suitable for images with lots of saturated, out-of-gamut colors.”

Relative takes the extreme highlights of the source and the destination and compares them, finds the variation, and then shifts all the rest respectively. “Out-of-gamut colors shift to the closest reproducible colors in the destination space. Relative preserves more of the original colors in an image than Perceptual.”

The Simulate Paper & Ink option is one that I’ve never actually been able to choose, as not all profiles actually offer it as an option, but essentially it would simulate the “dingy white of real paper and the dark gray of real black ink.”

The Histogram

In this Soft Proofing Menu, the histogram will change to reflect the simulated color space/ICC. Hitting the little button top left will show you what colors in the image are outside of the display’s color ability by turning blue in the preview area. Hitting the button top right will show you what colors lay outside the capability of your printer/destination by turning them red. If you do find this happens, that some colors are not represented, that’s your prompt to go in and adjust the image so those, like blinkies, don’t appear. When they don’t, you’ll know you’ve brought the colors back into gamut for a match.

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[REWIND: A BREAKDOWN OF COLOR SPACES | YOU REALLY SHOULD HAVE A GRASP ON THIS]

What’s great about this is just how simple and quick it is to use, and how much headache it can save. Printing can be a funny business, is equal part art and science and needs to be treated as such. LR helps you take care of most of the science and math, and you can use your artistic sense from there. For example, if you select the profiles of your destination and on screen the image shifts to be duller, you can see that and then add some contrast or whatever else.

If you like this and want to get to know the parts of Lightroom you don’t know or perhaps get to know parts you think you know and be a Lightroom powerhouse, it’s worth your time to have a look at the Lightroom Workshop Collection.

Sources: Adobe

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joe Perkins

    I know that soft proofing relies on printer/paper icc profiles, which i do use for my color images and i do calibrate my monitor weekly, but with my black and white photos i like to have my prints done on Ilford Galerie Fiber Gelatin Silver paper that the printer uses a laser to expose the paper and then process the photo chemically like tradition negative prints, so heres my question, is there a way to simulate the paper color without specifying a printer profile as well?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Joe, that’s actually a very good question – to which I have no answer, but I will see it out and get back to you.

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  2. Owen Dawson

    so let’s say you output to a given paper profile using soft proofing and the image changes color / contrast. . if you go back and fix the color/ contrast should the image not change in appearance once soft proofing is clicked on again? 

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  3. felix delmante

    Great tips! I just started doing some client proofing using Lightroom through http://www.Format.com and this will help immensely. It seems like there’s so many opportunities with this!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Glad we could be of some help Felix. I use Format myself, too. If you have anything else you’d like to learn or clarify, we’d be happy to help you figure it out. Cheers

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  4. Jean-Francois Perreault

    Funny timing, I was just exploring this feature yesterday!
    I thought I was the only one not using it…

    I wanted to try out the Blurb book feature. I’ve downloaded their ICC profile for soft proofing. Has anyone used Blurb before? Is it good? Reliable?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      With Blurb I’ve heard mixed results, but they’ve been around for long enough for people to rack up both good and bad experiences. If you’re interested in making books they may be worth a shot, but because I’ve seen and held them Artifact Uprising’s offerings are great. Marathon Press just released a new line of Bella Art Print Books which, given their service and caliber, should be brilliant. They are also very competitively prices for the quality.

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    • Colin Woods

      I use Photobook for my books. Here in Canada they are called -wait for it – Photobook Canada, but they work in lots of countries. The software is good and easy to use and the results are good. Keep an eye on their promotions as they regularly have great deals. I usually prepare the book and then wait until a great price comes along. I have a friend who had a book done with blurb and it was awful, quite the worst photo product I have ever seen. He was so disappointed, he’d paid good money for it too.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      See, this is the type of story I hear most often about Blurb, but I hesitate to say anything because I’ve never used them myself, and the one Blurb book I’ve held was years ago, and was given little thought. I just never hear photographer colleagues of an accomplished level use them. That says something…
      Good idea to have the books made and then ready to go when there’s a promotion.

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    • Colin Woods

      It really was bad. He was so proud of his shots (it was me who taught him his basic photography and he has the knack – he got good very quickly) from a trip to a friend’s wedding in north India. He was hoping I would say that it was nice and that all photobooks looked like that (muddy grey blacks, dirty whites and all colours looking like the saturation slider was at -50 with the occasional slider at +100 pic). My silence gave it all away as I tried to find something positive to say.

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    • Colin Woods

      I just had a look – if you go to photobookcanada.com you will see on the top right the Canadian flag and it says ‘Change Country’. There must be 50 countries on their list so you have a decent chance of finding your country.

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  5. Hannes Nitzsche

    Great article, Kish! Easy to understand and follow. Many thanks!

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