So, here's a little bedtime story...
We had a major retailer come to us for color management consulting. They do 4 big print catalogs a year, huge. Plus website stuff, etc. They use 6 photography studios, all over the place. Each studio uses a couple of different cameras. They also use uh, was it 4, prepress/offset catalog houses. As you'd guess, the problem was consistency and standardization of files, because for each catalog run they were spending over 600 hours of photoshop time in post, for color adjusting.
I should add they sell gems and jewelry... stuff where color matching is so critical that a piece of really nice stuff can look like costume jewelry really really easy.
They had 3 problems, basically. First, they weren't getting consistent photography "product" from their studios, even within a studio, because of the processing variations. Second, they had different instructions for each prepress group, a big issue because one image may go to several uses. Third, and a result of this all, they just didn't even know what to tell everyone they needed.
Our first step was to get everyone into the same room. All day. We had everything but beer there... (thinking back, that might have made it even easier... note to self...) It really was quite remarkable to have so many people, really good at what they do, trying to answer the same question we're asking here. How should we deliver files?
The prepress guys talked about what they were getting, and what was a problem. The designers and production guys explained their issues, and likewise the photographers. It was really great, and my job was to sit back and let them work it out... herding them towards a solution.
Based on that, our second step was to offer file quality standards, based on what the prepress guys asked for. Those standards are not really rocket science. I'll detail them below.
Our last step was the interesting one. Rather than do a conventional camera profiling process (a notoriously unreliable effort in an open environment like this...) we tried to "characterize" the individual camera processing. Here's the problem... they had Sinar, Phase and Leaf digital backs, with a few assorted brands of lenses and lighting kits to boot. They also has some DSLR cameras, including a Nikon D200 for the web work, and occasional thumbnails in the catalogs. Every camera manufacturer has a slightly different take on how files need to look, and many actually have different "looks" within the software.
Because I had experience with all the software systems, I could go in and standardize how the processor was going to map the colors. This was nothing more, really, than make sure they all were aiming towards a similar contrast, saturation and color "interpretation". (For example, the D200 likes to saturate the red a bit. We just made a processing preset that turned that down a bit.) Even the difference between the colors in Leaf software, between the Valeo and the Aptus needed to be tightened up.
It's a little like dealing with a job, back in the day, where every photographer was using a different film emulsion. Get them all using the same film, and you've saved yourself a bunch of work.
The standards the prepress guys settled on were this:
Calibrated, color accurate display
Adobe RGB 8 bit
Sized to 120% of layout size, if provided. If not, native resolution.
No sharpening (they were emphatic about this, across the board)
Black point for areas that need to hold detail - no lower than 10,10,10
White point for areas that need to hold detail - no higher than 245, 245, 245
It's really basic stuff... but they felt that if the various photographers delivered files that met these, they had enough to work with to make the CMYK, and guarantee color matching on-press. They felt that if we could standardize the look of the different camera platforms, all the better, and that would kick into serious time saving.
We reckon, after all was said and done, and a little fine-tuning and processing education, we saved the client around 300 hours per run. How much is post time running these days?
OK, that's my story. It was a remarkable chance to take the prepress guys, who were saying "we can't work with what you're giving us", and photographers who were saying "just tell us what you want" and a client who was desperate to open up the lines of communication and solve the problem.