mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Sunday, 8 January 2006


Colour Management in OSX

After hearing about how I lusted after Bob’s D100 in Japan last November, Anitra kindly splurged on a Nikon D50 for my birthday, and I was re-introduced to serious photography.

After getting some lenses and figuring out the basic components of my workflow (RAW images, iPhoto for organising and Photoshop CS2 for editing), I became interested in colour management, because there was such a difference in what I saw in camera, on the various monitors, and in print.

My first step was a read through Color Confidence, which I highly recommend. I have a good grounding in colour theory, but a lot in the technology that implements it has changed in the 15 years (gulp!) that have passed since I took Physics of Light. This book filled in the gaps, with excellent information on colour calibration, profiling and their use in a colour managed workflow (without being too verbose about it, unlike many others).

Which is how I figured out I had a sudden need for a calibration device. I chose the Gretagmacbeth Eye-One Display 2, and haven’t looked back; it removed the colour cast from my displays effortlessly, everything looks consistent, and I now have a lot more confidence about my results.


Although I’m really happy with the way things look in Photoshop and — both being colour managed, I can see their colours adjusted as I move windows from screen to screen — I’m confused by other applications. In particular, the Finder and iPhoto.

Naively, I had though that once the monitors were calibrated and profiled, they’d be able to reproduce colour consistently. However, a Finder item with blue label on my laptop’s LCD is more of a vibrant indigo on my external Dell LCD, even though both are calibrated and profiled.

In other words, when I take a Finder window with a blue-labeled item from one screen to the other, the blue shifts unaccountably. The really weird part is that if I take a screen shot of that window and then open it in, it doesn’t shift colours, but instead is mapped to the same blue on each monitor.

Apple’s tech note on ColorSync in OSX indicates that some “simple” applications might only color-match to one screen, but when I nominate the external display as the default (and isn’t that a well-hidden preference!) in ColorSync Utility, nothing changes. From this, I deduce that the Finder doesn’t take advantage of ColorSync at all, while does “completely”. Not a huge problem, except that the difference in colours is so obvious.

The other weird thing is that iPhoto doesn’t seem to use profiles either; the colours in a photo aren’t adjusted depending on what display they’re shown on. At best, it’s a “simple” application, but I haven’t yet tried to test that. This is much more disturbing, as iPhoto is, well, a photo application, and if I go to the trouble of profiling my monitor, it should respect and take advantage of that.

Does anybody know anything else about this? I asked the local Genius, but the best they could do was to suggest that I hunt down and pigeonhole someone at MacWorld next week. Maybe the rumoured iLife ‘06 release will bring something better…

UPDATE: Another option just came along; Lightroom. Adobe, please ship it now!

SECOND UPDATE: If I change the default display in ColorSync Utility, then log out and log back in, the strangeness in Finder colours has switched to the non-default monitor; so, it seems that preference works (presumably after re-launching applications, in this case the Finder). Also, iPhoto 6 is out, and it doesn’t seem to be any better, but knowing that the default display preference actually works makes me rest easier.


EvanT said:

Mark, iPhoto does use Colorsync and should respect profiles of monitors. However, there were some major bugs in iPhoto 5.0 through 5.02, such that iPhoto would overwrite embedded Colorsync profiles with a default RGB profile. This should be fixed in iPhoto 5.0.3.

However, there’s still the issue that if you just connect your camera and use iPhoto to import photos, it will likely not set the correct color profile for the imported image (actually, there is a lot of valid debate about what the correct color profile should be for photos coming from cameras, since the color profile is dependent on the lighting/conditions at the instant the photo was taken).

Read the comments on May 31, 2005 at, and July 19 at It seems the general advice is that

a) don’t use iPhoto for any editing of images b) import your photos using the Image Capture utility (where you can assign a profile to any imported images from your camera) c) rely on iPhoto only for cataloging/indexing

Monday, January 9 2006 at 9:28 AM

Gilles Siu said:

Hello ! Many years later… Well, I’m affraid to say so : doesn’t manage multi-monitor profiling any more :’(… And iPhoto (8), well, you know…

Saturday, July 18 2009 at 7:03 AM