WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) is somewhere between a joke and an outright lie when you're trying to match the image on a red-green-blue emissive display to that in a cyan-magenta-yellow reflection print. In my case, I need images that don't merely look good but would truly convey some sense of the quality of the dye transfer prints they represent. In order to fool the eye into seeing comparable images in both media, I have to manipulate the image data heavily and exploit several quirks of human vision.

1) Eight years ago, I had PhotoCD and ProCD scans made of the original negatives. These days, I do my own scanning with a Minolta Dimage Multi Pro scanner. I always scan the original film, not finished prints, because of the considerable manipulation it takes to produce a screen image that actually resembles a paper print. I need image information that the print doesn't contain.

I import the negative image at about twice the resolution it will appear in the final screen image. You get finer quality if you work on a more detailed file and subsample down to your output resolution than you do making manipulations after subsampling.

2) I set up the dye transfer print I am trying to reproduce on a well-lit easel near my monitor. The light emitted by a computer monitor has a much higher color temperature (that is, it's bluer) than the light that is best for viewing my prints (3000K). Many books talk about matching images using identical light sources. That wouldn't work for this project-- if you view my prints under the same color temperature illumination as you get from your monitor, you'll see a badly distorted set of tones and colors in the print. The goal here is to make the screen image look like the printed image despite the difference in color temperature.

3) I import the raw negative image into Adobe Photoshop or Picture Window (depending upon the kind of adjustments I need to make). In almost every case, I have to crop and rotate the image, modify the contrast curves, alter color balance, and dodge and burn tones. I frequently used the airbrush to alter colors and tones in selected regions. Some of the techniques are more reminiscent of painting than of photographic manipulation!

I frequently select out portions of the image for different alterations from other parts. For example, in the Roses Against Black Stone Wall image, I had to separately manipulate the rose blossoms, the stone wall and the green foliage to make the colors and tones match what was in the dye transfer print.

4) Once the image looks as good as I can possible make it (sometimes after several days work!), I save it and subsample a copy of it down to the final screen size. I apply a bit of unsharp masking (usually 40%, 0.5 pixel wide) to the subsampled image to restore the sense of fine detail.

I set that finished image in a "double-matte" consisting of a very light grey inner matte and a dark grey outer matte. I used very light grey instead of white because it creates the impression of brighter whites in the image itself and produces an effect closer to the tonal values you'll see in the original print. The dark grey outer matte works to "calibrate" the human eye. It provides a set of visual cues that force our visual system to evaluate the screen image on its own, without reference to the lighting and colors of the room the monitor is in. I drop in grey scales for reference and the title and credit line.

6) Finally, I take the files and convert them to JPEG's. JPEG is a lossy compression scheme; my objective was to keep the losses down on the scale of a single pixel or so for a 768 x 1024 final image size (that is, keep them invisible to the casual observer). I inspect the results at 2X and 3X magnification to be sure. I use Ulead SmartSaver (a Windows program) for doing my JPEG compression. It lets me fine-tune the compression settings better than Photoshop, so I get smaller files with the same level of quality.

And that's all it takes (whew)! Merely a day or so of work per image. I think the results are worth it. Go to The Gallery and you can judge for yourself. You'll find detailed instructions there on how to make sure that what you see on your monitor is what I saw on mine.


You can email Ctein at ctein@pobox.com
This material is Copyright ©2004 by Ctein. All rights reserved.