Digital photography is a joy. Shortly before Christmas I ordered prints from Winkflash, and was appalled at their appearance. It was clear that I had a Color Management issue. I thought color management was analogous to the descriptions of wine. “Apricot with a hint of sunshine”—monitors can’t really be that bad, not if millions are sold every year.

I have been reborn.

An Experiment

But first the history. I got a bad print. Should I have been shooting raw to capture the full dynamic range? Did I goof with some easy white balance or exposure fix in Picasa? Did Winkflash misprint the picture?

Did I shoot the picture wrong?

Well, there is plenty to criticize, especially the bottom of the framing and the shallow depth of field. However, the exposure is decent, and the color is at least plausible.

Should I have been shooting raw?

That picture can never be reshot. Since the picture looks nice on the screen it is clear that truncated dynamic range was not the problem in this print. I had no experience working with raw (NEF, in the case of my Nikon); this experience has encouraged me to learn the value. Soon I will post my lessons of raw, and comments on the tools.

Did I goof with postprocessing?

No. The following picture shows the original and the printed version. I don’t remember the exact fixes I applied, except the obvious cropping. Any contrast stretching or color tuning are nearly invisible.

Did Winkflash misprint the picture?

In summary, yes. But so did Costco and Snapfish. The following section discusses the differences between the developers I compared.

Digital Photo Developers

In the above picture (O) is the original, (S) is Snapfish, (C) is Costco, and (M) is Mpix. I dislike the green and blue posterization and banding around her head from the Snapfish and Costco prints. It looks like she was cut out with scissors and glued on. The Mpix print is a little too desaturated—though I find the effect almost unnoticeable. The Mpix image has no obvious flaws, like the dithering or posterization. The differences between the original and the Mpix photo may appear because my scanner is not calibrated.

The Costco and Snapfish prints are both awful, but notice how different they are too. The Snapfish picture is much bluer, and has coarser dithering. Her skin looks too red in the Costco prints, and too blotchy in the Snapfish prints.

I am confident the relative difference between the three prints can be compared; the comparison to the original is possibly questionable. I scanned the three prints simultaneously so any scanner auto-adjustment would be consistent.