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Optimizing Still Photos For Multimedia

Photographers are always striving to achieve the highest image quality possible. After years of experience, and lots of trial and error, photographers have developed an intuitive sense of how much sharpening to apply for print and how much saturation can be added before the print appears artificial.

We don’t yet have this same background with multimedia. After reading a series of posts on optimizing still photos for use in Final Cut Pro, I decided to conduct my own test to work toward developing an efficient workflow for preparing photos for multimedia use.

I exported a single raw file from Lightroom to Photoshop in the Adobe 1998 color space. The image was resized to 1000 pixels high then converted to sRGB and Apple RGB and saved in both JPEG and TIFF formats. This gave me a series of JPEG and TIFF files in three common RGB color spaces (Adobe 1998, sRGB and Apple RGB).

I added these files to timelines in both Apple Final Cut Express and Adobe Premiere Pro. The sequences were then exported using the built-in rendering engine (Premiere Pro to Flash, FLV; Final Cut Express to QuickTime, Animation Codec). The results were surprising.

In Premiere Pro, the ICC profile for JPEG files appears to have been ignored completely. The sRGB TIFF was the closest match to the original photo and the Adobe 1998 and Apple RGB files showed a significant increase in contrast and a pronounced warming shift.

It appears for TIFF files, the current monitor profile is applied to the image preview instead of the embedded ICC profile. For most monitors, sRGB will be a fairly close match. For wide-gamut monitors, however, this could be a significant problem.

In Final Cut Express, there is more consistency between the JPEG and TIFF files (I couldn’t see any difference), and the monitor profile is still used instead of the embedded ICC profile.

So, the takeaway is that you can reasonably assume that your video project, like the photos on your web site, cannot be effectively color managed for a broad audience. If you want your photos to aim for a loosely defined standard, use sRGB. If you want your photos to look the way they do on your screen, convert your photos to your monitor’s color space. It’s a counterintuitive recommendation (and downright dangerous for print files) but that’s what I’ve seen from the tests.

The sample video files are included below.

Adobe Premiere Pro

Final Cut Express


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