Have you ever received a print back from the local lab and looked at and thought “‘Meh, I didn’t think it’d turn out like this.” and kept it anyway? Perhaps you thought your screen was messed up or that the camera had done something to it?
You were close! There are many steps to producing a good print. Some of them can be quite personal, like toning or B&W but many of them are technical. The printer usually has what they call an icc profile (short for International Colour Consortium) that describes the properties of a colour space, the range of colours (gamut) that a printer can output.
Most of the consumer labs and even some professional labs can only print based on the lowest gamut possible sRGB (see the image in the post) and that can make your prints look kind of flat, especially if you compare it to on your lovely glowing backlit computer screen. Then, they also change the icc profile that your camera tagged the photo with to match the printer they use which can shift the colours, some go more yellow and some are blue… and if that isn’t enough the paper choice can also add a little character too. There is warm white and cool white paper!
I don’t want to bore you with too many details but I thought you’d be interested to learn what goes on behind the scenes when a photograph is printed. It’s not like printing a document at all… it is actually an art in itself.
My studio is equipped with special overhead lighting, my printer can print at the highest gamut possible (Prophoto RGB), my screen is calibrated and I have a custom icc profile (thanks to a local colour professional, Coast Imaging Arts!) This makes it possible for me to print exactly what I see on my screen! And I get really excited when I get to make prints for people like the Forbergs because I know they are getting the best possible version of the work that we did together to create the images.