Why and How to Calibrate Your Monitor

Why and How to Calibrate Your Monitor

calibrateMaybe you’re a photographer who has edited photos on your computer but your prints look drastically different than how you’ve edited, and you’re not sure how to fix this.  Or perhaps you’re a photographer, hobbyist or pro, who’s heard about monitor calibration but you’re not sure why you should do this or how it happens.  You’re not alone!  Monitor calibration is an important part of photography, but not everyone knows how to get there…but it’s really easy and this blog will tell you all about it.

First, what is calibration and why should you calibrate your monitor?

When you take a photo, you likely want to see on your monitor an accurate representation of the colors you saw when you took the photo. You may want to do some editing, but a clean, accurate starting point is very important.  Monitors are not generally calibrated to a true and accurate representation of colors, no matter what kind or how new. Most monitors lean to the cool tones right out of the box and are also rather “contrasty.”  This may be pleasing to the eye at first glance, but is not suited to photography and editing.

Monitor calibration will allow your monitor to display accurate color representation.  Additionally, you should calibrate your monitor so that your edited photos that you work so hard for look the same in print as they do on your monitor.  If you do not have a calibrated monitor, you run the risk of having your photos come back from the printer looking brighter or darker than you are seeing them, or with a color shift that you are not seeing (such as more yellow or more blue).  Whether you are shooting photos for clients or for yourself, unexpected surprises in color and luminosity are usually not welcome when you get your prints back.

If you calibrate your monitor, you can correct these inconsistencies and correctly represent colors.  If you’ve done a shoot and have worked hard on your edits, you want your prints to look exactly like the edits you have worked on.  I know that the print I get from the below edit will look just like it does in Lightroom, because I’ve calibrated my monitor.  Read on to find out more details.

Edit from calibrated monitor

How to calibrate your monitor:

Proper calibration is done with a device that is placed on your monitor, and the accompanying software.  Some of the more popular brands include Spyder and X-Rite, with each brand having several different levels of products for varying budgets, skill levels, and needs. Since we cannot be experts on every single one, flip through the product details and reviews.

<< Click here to choose and buy your monitor calibration software. >>

 

Once you buy one of the calibration products, you will install the software, place the accompanying device on your screen (following any manufacturer directions for changing/resetting any settings on  your screen or being aware of the brightness of the room you are calibrating in) and allow the device several minutes to complete its calibration.  Depending on the model you have purchased, you may have a completely automated calibration or you may have more choices for customization.

 

Your monitor will look different.  Don’t panic.

After you calibrate, things will look different. At first, it may look strange.  Most likely it will look warmer to you.  Below are two example shots of what my monitor looks like uncalibrated and calibrated, from the Spyder test screen .

Photos of the screen itself are the only way to demonstrate this, as screenshots will look exactly the same on a monitor.

 

First, the uncalibrated view:

View of uncalibrated screen

 

And then a picture of the calibrated view:  View of calibrated monitor

As you can see from the above, especially notable by the photos in the first row, the calibrated view is warmer.  This may be unusual when you first calibrate, because you may be used to your monitor looking cooler or more contrasty.  This calibrated view is how it should look, and I promise, you will get used to it!

What if you lack funds for monitor calibration?

While introductory calibration devices can be had for under $100, I understand that it can take a bit to save for that.  If you are not able to calibrate right away, there are a couple of options.

These are not ideal solutions, but they are better than using your monitor’s defaults.  The first is to see if your computer/monitor has a calibration routine.  Many computers, both Windows and Mac, have this option, and may also have both auto and advanced modes.  The other option is to have your print lab color correct your prints for the time being until you are able to calibrate your monitor.  Color corrected prints that come from uncalibrated monitors generally come out with very good color, though it will most likely not match your monitor, as your monitor is not calibrated.  Once you calibrate your monitor, you should not need to have your prints color corrected.

Desktops vs laptops for editing:

When it comes to editing, it is ideal to edit on a desktops. Laptops are also good to use as long as you understand that the view, colors, and light change each time you change the angle of the screen.  There are devices that are available to buy for laptops for under $15 that allow you to keep your screen at the same angle at all times for consistent editing.

Bottom line:

Monitor calibration is a necessary part of business if you’re a professional photographer and a plus if you’re a hobbyist.  It’s also extremely easy, and once you do it, you’ll wonder why you waited so long!

Amy Short is the owner of Amy Kristin Photography, a portrait and maternity photography business based in Wakefield, RI.  She carries her camera with her all the time!  You can find her on the web or on Facebook.

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Why and How to Calibrate Your Monitor