I put off the CMYK conversion for the Highway 89 project as long as I could. I got a good set up straight from the printer will print the book, and the process has been straightforward, if not tedious. Certainly not fun, with some of the compromises that CMYK necessarily forces.
RGB mode describes a process where red, green and blue light are added together, on your retina in fact, to create the yellow, cyan and magenta colors that fill in the rainbow. The CMYK process is subtractive: start with a white light source and use pigments to subtract light that reflects off the paper to your retina. The inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) do a fine job with most skin tones, but there’s no way to use them to get a great royal blue. Pure greens, violets aren’t so pure either. If I were printing a package and needed those colors, I would specify an extra printing of ink for each extra color, at a substantial cost. A cost beyond the dear future readers of the Highway 89 book.
Sometimes it helps just to know what is normal and what is impossible. Every color photographer who prints to CMYK goes through this horror of seeing colors transform from the wide gamut of what is digitally capturable to a narrower range of what is printable. There is some fiddling that can improve the initial CMYK conversion, but when it comes to the amazing Montana sky on a clear night in June, it’s not going to look the same in a slide show as on the paper. Once the books are in people’s hands, they won’t see it, even if I do. What they will see will look dang good. And as I wave good-bye to that neon blue sky, I can only expect the joy of actual completion to book in hand will be more than fair recompense.
Today I finished the CMYKs for all 176 images and 9 maps. The project inches one step closer to four inks on paper.