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How to Calibrate Your Monitor

A Guest Post by Andrew Mills from Andrew Mills Photography.

Many of us spend a small fortune on our camera equipment trying to get the best quality we can, yet so many of us miss out on an important step that can make a huge difference to our photos.

That step is to calibrate your monitor. You can view the same image on the same computer, and just swap the monitor for another and that image will look different on each monitor you try (even monitors of the same brand and model may not be exactly the same).

As a result, you can’t be 100% sure that your images’ colour balance, hue, contrast and brightness are set correctly. You may be lucky in that your monitor is set up fairly well by default, but this can not be expected.

The image below is a photo of a section of my laptop screen (it is an actual photo, doing a screen grab won’t capture the effect the monitor has). Actually, it’s a composite of two photos – the upper right half is with no monitor profile, the lower left half is with the profile active. As you can see, by default, my laptop screen is a tad too dark and has a horrible blue cast – this is something I had not noticed until I had calibrated it.

Screen compare.jpg

If I edit an image, set its colour balance and brightness and contrast with the uncalibrated screen, I will be unwittingly compensating for that extra blue I see, so I will end up adding yellow, or taking blue away to make it look correct – this means that any resulting prints will have a yellow cast. You will then spend ages swearing at your printer, fiddling with its colour profiles and wasting loads of ink and paper (and money). If you’re lucky, some labs will colour correct images for you – but don’t expect professional labs to do so as they expect you to make sure it’s correct beforehand (unless you ask – they won’t change an image in case they “mess up” and intentional effect).

So, by calibrating your monitor, you are “standardising“ it – any photo you edit on your calibrated monitor should look the same on any other calibrated monitor, and should also print with little or no adjustment, and it should come back from the lab and look as you expected.

So how do I calibrate my monitor?

Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro both have utilities built in where you can do a basic calibration. To be honest, in my experience they are next to useless (but possibly better than nothing). Look in your editing application’s manual to see if it has this built in, and how to use it.

The best option is to get a colorimeter – I use X-Rite’s (AKA GretagMacbeth) i1 (AKA Eye-One) display 2 (supports both PC and MAC), which looks a bit like a computer mouse. Once the software is installed, you plug the colorimeter into a USB slot, fire up the software and place the colorimeter on the screen.

Step 1:

You’ll be asked whether you want “Easy” or “Advanced” – most people will only need “Easy”.

Screen cal step 1.jpg

Step 2:

You’ll be asked what sort of monitor you will be testing – you will have a choice of “LCD”, “CRT” and “Laptop”. Even though your laptop has an LCD screen, you still choose Laptop. Click the right arrow.

Screen cal step 2.jpg

Step 3:

Place the colorimeter onto the screen as shown. Click the right arrow.

Screen cal step 3.jpg

Step 4:

There’s no screen grab for this bit as this is where the software does its thing – it will “find” where the colorimeter is on the screen, then will display blocks of colour for the colorimeter to read and analyse. This will take a few minutes and you won’t be able to use the computer while it’s going on, so now’s your chance to go and have a cuppa.

Step 5:

The software takes the info from the colorimeter and builds a custom monitor profile that will be loaded at startup. You can change the name if you wish, but all you have to do now is click “Finish calibration” or the right arrow to save the new profile.

Screen cal step 4.jpg

And that’s it – the whole process only takes a few minutes and is well worth it. In most cases you will only need to do this once a month, so it’s not a great burden. Although, CRT users may want to calibrate their monitors more often as they tend to vary more with age and environment.

Windows Vista and colour profiles

There is a problem with colour management that affects some people, but not others, in Windows Vista and, it seems, still persists in Windows 7. On my desktop PC I don’t have any problems, but on my laptop the correct profile is not always loaded when it boots, and whenever the UAC requester pops up, the current colour profile is lost.

To counter this, I use LUT Manager to manually load the correct profile.

What else can I calibrate?

The particular model of colorimeter I have only does monitors, which will suffice for most people. But you can build calibration profiles for you camera, scanner and printer. I don’t know of many people who use calibration targets for their cameras and scanners (although there are people who do who need that level of consistency), but if you do a lot of your own printing, especially on non manufacturer specific papers (a HP printer will have its own profiles already included with the printer driver software for its range of papers), then you may benefit from building your own printer
calibration profiles for each paper type.

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