Calibrate Your Monitor!
(If you are looking for an article explaining the different types of LCD monitors on the market, be sure to read Computer LCD Monitors for Photography, by Mark Roberts.)
Digital photographers will spend thousands of dollars, euros, pounds, yens, and many other currencies on the latest, bestest DSLR. Then a few thousand more on some lenses. Then there’s the need for fast cards, a fancy bag, an external hard drive… I get the feeling that many digital photographers forget the very last piece of the puzzle: The monitor.
While it’s true that there are many grades of quality when it comes to monitors, even the most expensive one will be of no use to your photography if it’s not calibrated. Yesterday I bought my first new monitor. For the past 2-3 years I’ve been editing my photographs using my laptop plugged into a 17″ CRT monitor that was being thrown away at my workplace. One company’s trash is another man’s treasure. The reason I didn’t use my laptop’s screen was because its brightness changes depending on the viewing angle. This is common for many laptops, even top end ones, and using these screens to edit photographs can cause them to come out too dark or too bright.
My old-school CRT was easy to calibrate by eye using the image you see on the right, which I also have printed on photographic paper, so comparing the two I was able to adjust the monitor in about 5 minutes. Furthermore, I only calibrated my monitor maybe once every 6 months—that’s all it took. But last weekend I decided to join the 21st century and bought a widescreen 22″ LCD. What a difference! It’s huge and bright compared to my CRT, and it’s a joy to see my panoramas without scrolling from side to side. However, the colour, contrast and brightness out of the box were terrible. I’m wondering if the people working at the factory wear red-tinted sunglasses because the image was way too bright and had a clear blue cast. LCDs are notoriously more difficult to calibrate than CRTs; a truth I found out after spending 30 minutes trying my old techniques with my new monitor. Bottom line: It was impossible.
“Calibrating your monitor will improve your pictures more than a new lens, and at a fraction of the price.”
Raise your hands all those of you who own an LCD screen. Now keep your hands raised those who also own some sort of calibrating software. I bet a lot of you had to bring down your hands, right? Bad boys and girls! After spending so much money on digital equipment it is just plain stupid not to spend a tiny fraction on calibration software. A few months ago I bought the ColorVision Spyder2 Express—actually it was many months ago, but I never used it because my calibration by eye was fine. Can I tell you how glad I was to have it on my shelf today when I installed my new monitor? Very! I cannot recommend it enough. It installed in minutes and the calibration process was automatic. I can’t tell you how long it took because I left it running and went off to dinner. It’s simple, too: you just hang the colorimeter in front of the screen where the program tells you to, then you hit enter and off it goes!
When I came back from dinner I had a confirmation screen telling me it had saved my new settings and asked if I wanted to see a before/after comparison. Wow! Unbelievable difference; the screen had been even bluer than I had thought it was. I am now enjoying true blacks and neutral greys, just like on my old CRT monitor, except I now have a lot more screen real estate.
If you are viewing your photos on an uncalibrated LCD, do yourself and your photos a favour and get yourself some sort of calibrating device. If you shoot JPEGs and think you don’t need it because you don’t do any postprocessing on your photos, think again! How do you know your photos look as good as you think they do? Maybe they only look good on your screen, but on other people’s (using calibrated monitors) they look dull, too dark, too bright, too blue, too red, too… You get the point. Do you ever send your JPEGs off to get printed? Another reason to have a calibrated monitor so the printed photos come out like you expected them to.
If you are now wondering whether or not your monitor is properly calibrated (and if you are, then I achieved my goal) click here, here and here for some online charts that will help you determine how bad your situation is.
Remember: If you’re shooting digital, spending a few $/€/£/¥ will improve the quality of your photographs much more than spending $/€/£1000 (or ¥100,000) on a fantastic lens. You’ll thank me one day.