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Photo to Movie Blog

Color Management in Photo to Movie

Posted June 20th, 2010 by Chris

Photo to Movie has always paid extra careful attention to getting colors correct when rendering movies. After all, a deep red or bright blue in your original photo should appear as such in the resulting video, right?

Unfortunately, things are never that easy. With color management, everybody has their finger in the pie and sorting out problems can be difficult.

Color Profiles

First, you need to start with photos that have a suitable color profile attached. Most modern cameras attach a color profile to the photo and you don’t need to worry about this much. If your photo has been processed using 3rd party software, or if it is an older photo without a color profile attached, you may get unpredictable results when rendering your movie.

Monitor Calibration

Next, you need to make sure that your monitor is calibrated, especially if you’re moving photos from one computer to another. Differences in video cards, gamma values, and monitor calibrations can make a photo on one machine appear quite different from a photo on another machine. Monitor calibration helps to minimize this.


Gamma is measure that describes how linear the colors appear on your monitor. The Mac OS gamma has been set to 1.8 with Mac OS 10.5 and earlier. With Windows and Mac OS 10.6, gamma is set to 2.2. The gamma setting can affect how colors are displayed on your monitor. When you’re comparing colors, you need to make sure that you’re looking at them with the same gamma setting.

H.264 and QuickTime Player

Next, you need to check how the playback software you are using affects colors. There is a notable anomaly in QuickTime Player for H.264 files; and since H.264 files are the prominent video format these days, a special explanation and workaround is necessary.

When QuickTime Player displays H.264 video, it inexplicably washes out the colors. This happens with all versions of QuickTime Player at the time of this article. We suggest the following for H.264 video: Use a player that displays H.264 video correctly. Examples are VLC media player or Nice Player. Both are cross platform and available for free.

For those of you not convinced of QuickTime Player’s problem, try rendering your Photo to Movie movie to a video file using the ‘Animation’ codec. Now load it in QuickTime Player. It will look perfect. Now use QuickTime Player Pro to render to H.264. Open the resulting file in QuickTime Player. You’ll notice the colors are washed out. Now open the same H.264 file in VLC and you will see it looks perfect.

Final Display

Ultimately you will be displaying your video on a DVD player, computer monitor, television, overhead projector, or website. Each of these mediums will have different display characteristics. The best thing to do is to try to do end-to-end calibration. This means that you should not spend too much time tweaking intermediate color problems; but instead concentrate on fixing the display on the final medium on which you want to display your movie.

Make your initial evaluation of colors on the end medium; that way you don’t get caught up chasing problems that are just caused by things like monitor calibration, gamma, or player calibration.


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