Photog Tip of the Week: Color Calibration with cabbey

Today’s Photog Tip of the Week is presented by cabbey, landscape & fine art photographer, and one of SmugMug’s back-end engineers. He’s usually up to his elbows in the code that sends your orders to the labs and your profits to your bank, but this week he’s sharing a tip for all you photographers who want to be sure you’re getting the best possible prints. It’s easier than it sounds, so take a look below.

But it looked good on my screen!

Let’s say you take a picture of your son and the camera does everything perfectly in terms of white balance and exposure. You used Ann’s tips from a few weeks ago to make sure the image is properly exposed, something akin to the image on the left below.

Next, you downloaded that image and loaded it onto your computer. But your computer’s monitor is NOT calibrated, and like many monitors your photo suddenly looks too red and way too bright. As a result, you saw that your image look a bit off, like the middle image below.

To correct this, you fixed it in Photoshop until it looked good again, back to looking like the original image. When you were done, you uploaded it to SmugMug and ordered a print… and received something that looks really dark and weirdly tinted a blueish green color (cyan here), depending on exactly what your monitor came from the factory like, it could be anywhere along the blue to green area of the spectrum:

Why did the lab ruin my image?

They didn’t! The problem is that monitors are generally made for office tasks, not photography. The manufacturers give you the brightest display possible with the most punchy red they can produce.

As a result, any time you process your photos on an uncalibrated display, you’re making your image considerably darker and turning down the red cast, skewing everything towards cyan. The third image above is what your finished photo actually looks like and the lab faithfully printed exactly what you sent them.

Why calibrate?

You’ll get better prints and happier customers the first time and every time without having to fall back on SmugMug’s 100% print guarantee. The top 3 correctable problems that land in our Help Desk inbox are:

1. The prints are too dark

“In my experience, most of the monitors I’ve calibrated, new or old, are about 2 stops too bright.” — Tyree, SmugMug Color Correction Hero

2. The prints have a weird color cast

“That was a white dress!!” — Unhappy Mother of the Bride

3. Their skin looks too red

“Why does my father-in-law look like a lobster?!”— Furious Husband

There is a great help page about return rates that shows what gets returned and why. The top 6 reasons are all solvable by using a properly color managed workflow.

How do I do it?

Exactly how you do it depends on what gear you buy. There are a number of different choices, but the leaders of the pack are: Datacolor’s Spyder and X-Rite’s ColorMunki or i1 line.

In general, you’ll need a colorimeter or spectrophotometer (fancy words, but they basically mean a special device you can put on your screen and plug into a USB port) and a piece of software which usually comes bundled with it. The software will put your monitor through its paces while you have the meter on it, then it uses the information to build an output profile for your screen.

With that resulting profile, any software that cares about a properly color managed workflow can properly display accurate colors on your screen. Since monitors’ color accuracy varies over the lifetime of the display, it’s important to update the profile periodically, at least every month or two. Most of the above programs will remind you when it’s time to re-profile your display.

I usually just kick it off and then go to lunch. When I come back, it’s done and I don’t have to worry about it for another couple of months.

Don’t forget that you can also get a calibration print right here. With that print in hand, you can bring the calibration image up in your editor of choice and see just how much closer a calibrated workflow makes it look on your monitor. The closer it is, the closer your images will be when you’re editing them.

Bay Photo Color Correction: One click to save them all

Pros can always print through Bay Photo, whose color correction services are always done by hand. It costs just a little more but it can save you time at your desk, or headaches if you just don’t feel like fiddling with your computer.

Find that option on the Set Prices area, in the upper right corner of the pricing box.

Go the bargain route

Most operating systems have a sort of “eyeball” calibration you can do that will at least get you started. They aren’t as accurate and they depend on your eyes making decisions, so be aware that this may not work for everyone.

On a Mac, use Spotlight to launch “Display Calibrator Assistant”. (Hit  ⌘⃣–space to get spotlight, then start typing that name.)

Once it opens, just follow the steps:

On Windows, search in the control panel for “display calibration” and, again, follow the steps:

Welcome to the (accurately) multi-colored nirvāna that is a calibrated workflow! Remember that even if you don’t get everything set perfectly, we’ve got a 100% guarantee on every print order and our Color Specialists are always happy to help you out.

— cabbey

New URLs = Better SEO

We love making you famous. We started out giving you NiceNames, then we gave you tons of other great tips on how to get found on search engines like Google.

We’ve rearranged your direct image URLs so that your filenames get tacked on to the end of every direct image link. (These!) This means your images will be more user- and SEO-friendly, but no less secure than before. As long as you remember to give your files descriptive names, you won’t need to do anything to get a little extra Google Juice.

Take a look at the address bar in the example below:

What does it mean?

Here’s what the old image links looked like:

And here’s what they look like now:

As you can see, your domain, Category and Subcategory are unchanged. Now we throw in the Image Key, version number (incremented when you make changes using various our photo tools), then size and the filename.

Your gallery URLs will remain the same (for now!) and any images you’ve ever embedded in forums or blog posts will still work. You’ll only see these minor changes in any new images that you upload and share from here on out.

Find Your Files Fast

We also did this to simplify photo downloads, because now they’ll keep their original filenames. Previously, files were saved under their Image IDs and Keys… which made them difficult to locate if you had a lot of files on your computer.

But now, instead of searching for 964725586_ddnfJ-O.jpg you can scan your desktop for mist-forest.jpg .

How do I know my images are secure?

Look at your URLs and you’ll see the Image Keys. They’re the jumble of random letters and numbers you see in the middle of that link (like “i-3sVwdJM”). Chances of anyone guessing that combo and coming up with a link to your secret, private photos are rare.

Remember that if you don’t want anyone to find your site via your image link,  set your gallery settings to “Hide Owner”. This feature removes any identifying information like your nickname and the filename from that URL. More about using Hide Owner.

Making your galleries unlisted or passworded will, by default, foil Google from finding those images in search results. More about privacy options.

Can I still make custom sizes for my blog?

Of course! You’ve always been able to type in your own dimensions and get a custom image size to fit wherever you’re posting the pic. Now, just be sure to change it before and after your filename, like this:×200/mist-forest-400×200.jpg

As always, we won’t smoosh your pic even if you didn’t get the exact dimensions. We’ll make it fit on the longest side and adjust the other as needed. More info here.

Remember that if you have any feedback or questions about these changes, speak up! We love listening.

Video Improvements and Other Bug Fixes

We made a few important fixes to our videos:

  • Portrait-oriented videos stay upright and don’t get squashed.
  • Full HD videos show the “Save Movie” option in the flyout bar (just like all the other available sizes).
  • Anamorphic videos wont be squished out of their original shape when played.
  • Metadata like camera type is now reported correctly, along with video length and dimensions.

Two improvements in video sharing:

  • Our Get a Link feature for video embeds will use our updated API to deliver smooth, buttery videos on iDevices.
  • You can just copy the URL of your video from the gallery and drop it into your blog. We’ll automatically embed the best-sized video for a proper fit.

And a few other fixes:

  • Smart Galleries will better update content when you upload new photos that match your Rules.
  • Some homepage slideshows were presenting thumbnails of images, but they’ll display the normal-sized pics now.
  • You can get short link for your gallery right from your Share or Owner Share button. If you use our dedicated link shortener, we now give links for SmugMug and Dgrin domains and links for everything else.
  • If you don’t have any Printmarks set up and toggle it to ‘Yes’ at the gallery level, we’ll now prompt you to create one instead of displaying an empty space.
  • You may also notice that when you change a gallery’s name or NiceName in the gallery settings, you’ll see the URL preview update more quickly than before.

Want to Work at SmugMug?

It’s hard work making the best photo sharing site on the planet, but we sure love what we do. Since we’re growing bigger each day, there’s three openings we hope you can fill:

UI Engineer

Smuggers love our trademark smooth, stretchy interface and all the beautiful features scattered ’round your galleries. But this stuff doesn’t happen overnight and we’re still seeking out capable front-end Sorcerers to bring the experience together.

Marketing Designer

Our Marketing team has hit the ground running and it’s high time they snagged their own designer. This tasteful, techie talent will know just how to turn their ideas into HTML and CSS gold.

Support Hero

If you love helping your peers and have been itching for your own tights, now’s your chance! Our incredible customer service is famous around the world and we don’t take that for granted.

View the full specs on these spots (and more) right here on our jobs page.

Think you can help? Drop us a line at and let our HeadHuntress know you’re up for grabs.

What’s in Your Bag? with Landscape and Street Shooter Andy Williams

Do you know all those times when you’re out shooting and you run into another photographer? You sneak glances at their gear to see if they measure up to what you’ve got (or because you covet thy neighbor’s glass.) Don’t worry, we all do it!

Now we’re letting you do it shamelessly and without fear of getting caught. Let’s see what SmugMug’s House Pro Andy Williams of Moon River Photography puts in his bag. Read all the way to the bottom — you may just win something…

I’ve owned lots of gear, but my collection has actually shrunk over the years and now I only keep and carry what I actually use.


Let’s start with the bag itself.  For years and years, I’ve been using the Crumpler Farmer’s Double and I still love it.  It’s my bag of choice for a day trip or short outing. Look for it used, because Crumpler doesn’t make it anymore.🙂

Crumpler Farmer's Double

For longer trips, I’ve recently settled on the Kiboko bag from Andy Biggs’ Gura Gear.  I’ve had the opportunity to try a whole lot of bags – top of the line models from Lowepro, Crumpler, Tenba and Think Tank – and I chose the Gura Gear bag:

It’s super light, made from the same fabric used in America’s Cup sailboat sails!  It’s less than half the weight of the big bags from the other guys, and when you carry it all day that makes a big difference. It holds plenty: two bodies, plenty of glass, accessories and more.  You can even put a 500mm f/4 in it!

The suspension system is awesome, it rides well, and you feel like you’re carrying much less weight than you actually have.  And, it hides when you don’t want to use it.  This bag will easily swallow up 35lbs of gear with room to spare. Everything about this bag screams attention to detail – the way the suspension system tucks away out of sight when you’re not using it, the built-in raincover, the zipper pulls that are glove-friendly. They’re out of stock most everywhere right now, but Andy Biggs assures me that he’s got some really cool stuff in store for his fans really soon.


As a landscaper, this is without a doubt one of the most important pieces of gear I own.  I recently started using the newest carbon-fiber kit from Really Right Stuff, their TVC-23. Expensive? Yup. But the stability of this rig just can’t be matched by any tripod I’ve used (including the top of the line Gitzos). It’s super strong and super lightweight at only 3lbs.  I pair this tripod with the Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead which also supports the lenses that I use regularly (up to 300mm).  I do own the larger RRS BH-55 ballhead for when I need to support a 400mm or 500mm lens. For years, I was using the Gitzo 2530, and what I like about the new RRS ‘pods is their stability, and the way the head comes together with its “Apex Lock” system. It is without a doubt the sturdiest, lightest tripod I’ve ever owned.

For traveling, and lightweight (like backpacking), I also have the Gitzo 1541 and a RRS BH-30 which is a super lightweight combo!  I shoot lots of panoramas, and so a very important piece of my kit is the Really Right Stuff Pano Head, which I use for stitched panos in the landscape.


I admit I’m a bit of a glass snob. I’ll use primes when I can, but I do love a couple of zooms I own.  Let’s go from small to big.

  • First off, the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye zoom – super ultrawide on the full-frame 5DII and for really fun landscape videos on the 7D.  Sharp and reliable!  But… I do have my eye on Canon’s newly announced 8-15mm fisheye zoom though, and expect to be shooting with it this summer.
  • Canon’s 24 f/1.4L Mark II – a fantastically sharp wide angle lens, I’m so in love with this glass that I gave up the supremely sharp Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 for it!
  • For all-around use, I have one of the very first copies of Canon’s 24-105L and it’s a workhorse lens for me.  If I’m out for a day and I can’t take a lot of glass, I’ll grab this.
  • For portraits, I have a couple of excellent choices: Canon’s 50 f/1.2L and Canon’s 135 f/2L. Given enough room, I love shooting portraits with the 135L, it’s one of the sharpest lenses ever, bar-none.  Love the 50mm 1.2 for it’s ginormous lens opening – and it’s my go-to lens for extreme low-light work.
  • More reach?  I’m not the first guy to say that Canon’s 70-200 f/2.8L IS Mark II is a favorite.  I own it, have owned the prior model, and won’t ever be without it.  Super sharp, great IS so you can shoot in low-light when needed.  Fast on the AF.  And yeah, I use it in the landscape, too.
  • Recently, I’ve been using Canon’s newest zoom, 70-300 L IS. It’s not fast (f/5.6 at the long end) but boy is it sharp and what a convenient little package.
  • If  you’re wondering about birds and wildlife: I don’t own really long glass but when I need it, I usually rent a 500mm f/4L or 600mm f/4L from BorrowLenses.  When I travel to Africa for three weeks this October, I’m doing just that!


No surprise here – I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 7D.  The 5D Mark II is a super landscaper’s camera, great performance, high pixel count, HD movies, and more.   When I need a faster frame rate and a bit faster AF, I reach for the 7D.

Funny, I used to be a 1Ds Mark III snob… but I cannot for the life of me figure out why one would buy that camera body at nearly 3x the cost of a 5D Mark II.  Sure, I’m awaiting the rumored 1Ds Mark IV like most Canon shooters, but the sane part of me says, “why”?

(Those of you that know me are probably laughing right about now!)


Guess what?  I own only two, a circular polarizer and a neutral density filter.  I use the CPL when I want to get the best sky possible 90 degrees or so from the sun.  I will also use it in certain circumstances like fall foliage to get richer colors, and of course to lose reflections when shooting water.   I love my 6-stop ND filter, to smooth out the water in a waterfall or running stream in daylight.


On my 5DII and 7D bodies, I add a Camdapter Hand Strap – super comfortable! I always carry my Infrared-converted Canon SD-980IS, camera manuals (you never know!), extra batteries, an intervalometer for timed exposures, a remote shutter release, headlamp, flashlight, shooting gloves for the cold weather, plenty of CF cards, lens cloth, lens cleaner, a mink brush, Giottos mini-Blower,  The Photographer’s Rights, my business cards and a leatherman for when things go wrong.

Everything Else

After I shoot there’s plenty to do!   I use Adobe’s Lightroom 3 (and SmugMug’s awesome built-in uploading), Photoshop CS5, Auto Pano Pro for my stitches, all on an Apple Mac Pro with two 30″ HP Monitors.

Win This MetalPrint

It’s not all work, and no play though. Now that you’ve gotten a close look at my gear bag, here’s your chance to take home something fun (note: Ts and Cs here). Comment on our blog post below and “Like” us on Facebook. One winner will be randomly selected on Monday, April 18 at Noon PDT to win a big and beautiful MetalPrint of this Mono Lake Tufa photo. You can see how it will look on your wall here.

Enjoy (looking into other photographers’ bags) photography,
– Andy


UPDATE! We were totally blown away by the response to this giveaway, so we are sharing the love and randomly selecting THREE Winners!

First place, and the winner of the MetalPrint, goes to Darlene Buck. The two Runner Ups, and the winners of a free year of SmugMug Pro each, are Jordan Van de Vorst and Jenny Sipes. Congrats!! Katherine from our team will be emailing you each shortly with details of your prize.

Thanks to everyone who participated. There is a lot more goodness where this came from, so keep yer eyes on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter for many more giveaways to come.

Photog Tip of the Week: Cleaning Your Lenses with

Today’s Photog Tip of the Week comes from our friends at They’re the perfect service for any photographer who wants to try before they buy, or for getting that special lens rental for a single assignment, event or trip. Best of all, Smuggers get a discount off any rental through ClubSmug. Your loaner arrives brand-spankingly clean, because keeping glass in good working order is a hallmark of their business.

We all know lenses must be kept clean to ensure maximum performance, but what’s the right way to clean a lens? Here at BorrowLenses we do hundreds of these each day, so we have some experience with this subject. Here’s how we do it.

Three things you’ll need:

Compressed air – We use air compressors from Home Depot (<$100) but the smallest compressor you can find is likely up to the task. If you don’t want to splurge on a compressor, there are the ubiquitous cans of compressed air available at any computer store. When using these cans always keep the can level and upright to avoid blowing its liquid propellant onto your lens elements. These chemicals can do weird and potentially harmful things to lens coatings, so please be careful. If you want to avoid chemicals all together, get a bike pump style canister that you pump up then use, or try a simple manual pump like a Giottos Rocket Blower.

Lens cloth – Our favorites are cheap, Promaster-branded microfiber cloths. You’ll notice that some types feel very slick and smooth against the glass and others gain some traction and drag more. We like the kind that has some drag and feels sticky against clean glass.

Cleaning fluid – You shouldn’t need any cleaning fluid except for the most stubborn and difficult cases. Again, we like the Promaster brand because it’s cheap and cheerful. The stuff we use comes in a clear plastic bottle with a pump atomizer spraying attachment.

Your lens is dirty. Now what?

It’s now time to touch the front element of your lens and clean it. If you are worried about rubbing the coating off, don’t be. We’ve never seen it happen, ever.

To clean a lens’ front element all you need is a set of lungs and a lens cloth.

1. Breathe on the lens enough to fog the whole element, then wipe the lens with a good amount of force in a circular fashion. You’ll likely be left with a smudge where your wipe stopped and some junk around the edge where the glass meets the body.

2. Make a little point with the cloth, breathe on the lens again and wipe the edge in one 360+ degree motion. Now you should be left with a mostly clean lens.

3. Now repeat the wipes, but with ever decreasing pressure. The last few swipes should be done very lightly. The trick is to buff the lens, which will pick junk up rather than moving it around forever. Keep rearranging the cloth so that you are using a virgin bit of material and not re-contaminating your almost-clean glass.

4. The final step is examining – and cleaning – both front and rear caps thoroughly before affixing them to your now-clean lens. A dirty cap will undo all your hard work in an instant, so examine both caps closely, blow on them from many angles with compressed air and only when you are certain they are clean can you affix them to your lens. If you use a UV filter, also make sure it is clean before you put it back on.

And with that, we’re finished. If you enjoyed that you should consider working for – You could be cleaning gear all day long and getting paid to do it!

Latest Bug Fixes

A few little things were just released:

  • Our Simple (Java) uploader reports the real number of files that you actually uploaded.
  • The SmugVault JPG previews show the correct orientation of your RAW files.
  • Customers using IE9 to buy a Package won’t see the thumbnails vanish when they go to pick images.


The SmugMug Family