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Photography tip - Monitor Calibration

 31st Oct 2010

Adam-ScoreyThis month I'm handing the reins to Adam Scorey, editor of Digital SLR User Magazine, to take us through some of the basics for monitor calibration and why we should do it regularly.

Monitor Calibration
Talking is good, or so Bob Hoskins used to say for those old BT television ads. But it's only good to talk if you speak the right language. It's the same with computers, printers and digital cameras.

Contrary to popular belief, they don't always speak the same 'language'. Take outputting a print, for example.

You spend a good deal of time taking the perfect landscape, adding your ND grads, a self- timer and mirror lock-up, chose the hyperfocal distance to get optimal depth-of-field for the lens. Next you process your image to straighten it, remove any annoying distractions and perhaps add some sharpness, only to find when you print it out that it looks awful ­ and then there is the paper.

What you need is to get your camera, PC, monitor and the printer all speaking the same 'language'. But how?

The first step, apart from the initial realisation, is to calibrate your computer monitor. Now, I can envisage many of you now going a little weak at the knees and your eye's glazing over at the prospect - this sounds more IT than creativity ­ but it can make a significant difference to how you view and print your images.

But why bother? Well, firstly you will be starting down the road of continuity with your images, so you get you expect to. Secondly, it will help you start to understand this 'language' and how you need to manage your workflow more carefully. It will eventually also enable you to work more quickly and confidently ­ and waste less paper!

But how?
There are options within both Microsoft and Mac that allow you to do some basic calibrations, but these are simplistic and not tuned to your camera ­ - but can be effective.

You will need to adjust your monitor's black point and white point, or gamma (brightness of colours), so you can see deep black and bright whites. It's a common mistake to have monitors turned up too bright to make colours look nice and bright, because then prints will come out dark.

Colour balance is important to ensure your colours aren't leaning to particular colour hue. Bit depth is important too; the larger the number the greater the amount of tones and softer the blend of the colour tones will be. ­ 24-bit (monitor rendition, not the photos themselves) is the ideal to be working in for photographers.

All of these steps are a bit trial-and-error as it will involve adjusting your settings, making a top quality print and holding it to the screen to check accuracy ­ or for your preferences of course - ­ and then adjusting and repeating for correction.

This can be costly and time consuming. Where  problems do arise is if you have an old or cheaper monitor and you have limited options open to you. It may be worth, if you are constantly having problems, investing a bit more cash in something that will give you better results ­ but this may mean also upgrading your graphics card too.

monitor calibrationA dedicated calibration tool
Carrying out a simple monitor calibration may well be enough for most photographers. However, a much more accurate, though more costly option, is to buy a dedicated monitor calibration tool, such as a Pantone Huey, ColorMunki or a Datacolor Spyder 3 Pro, to name but a few.

These devices work by installing software that, by following few steps, enable you to set your screen to an industry standard ­ (usually Adobe 1998 for photographers or sRGB for the web).

The device itself reads the values produced by your monitor (LCD or CRT) and adjusts them accordingly, automatically. They are all pretty simple to install and use, and once bought monitor calibration can be done regularly, which it should be anyway.

Hopefully now you can start to see how interconnected colour workflow is, and how much it depends on each link in the chain, from shooting your original image, computer monitor and eventually your printer. They all be 'talking' to each other and by setting them up correctly you'll ensure they're talking the same language.

Yes, it can be complicated, but your choices will largely depend on how technically accurate you want to be with your final output. A good many printers work perfectly out of the box. Just don't be afraid to have a go.

Monitor Calibration Tips

  • Let you screen warm up be fore performing calibration - ­ 15-mins should do
  • Avoid harsh reflections on the screen as this will lead you to alter the brightness and contrast too high. ­
  • Always work in a darkened environment. The monitor should be 20% brighter than the rest of the room.
  • Only use calibration hardware in 24-bit colour mode (if your monitor / graphics card has it), 16-bit doesn't have really have enough tones to calibrate for photos.
  • If you have Adobe software it comes with Adobe Gamma to adjust calibration, or you can download something like QuickGamma ­ - but don't run both together.
  • Some Apple Mac screens don't have a gamma adjustment as the screen is adjusted automatically to the lighting conditions - ­ you'll need to adjust the ambient light accordingly
  • Don't use the internet to calibrate your screen if you want to print, the web uses sRGB which has a smaller colour profile and is often too bright.
  • Download test images and open them in your image editing software.
  • Calibrate your screen regularly, say once every month or so.
  • Check out an excellent website, www.epaperpress.com for some excellent and detailed advice on monitor calibration

Well we hope you've enjoyed Mr Scorey's wisdom. He's been around photography pretty much all his working life and Jayne and I are delighted he's going to be working with us over the coming months.

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Till next time - happy shooting and best wishes...