Pro Tips: Monitor Calibration

I’m a photographer with a deep, dark secret: I’m color-blind. For those of you without this particular affliction, allow me to clarify something. It doesn’t mean that I see the world in black-and-white; it just means that I see things a little bit differently. I see colors, and as far as I know, I see all the colors that anybody else does. But I don’t see them quite the same way everyone else does. The bottom line is that sometimes I don’t see a subtle magenta cast or a green shift in my digital image files—so it’s even more important that I make sure to work within a well-balanced color-calibrated workflow.

Even if your color vision is perfect, though, it’s still important to get your act together when it comes to calibration—particularly with respect to your monitor. Obviously I was at a disadvantage before I calibrated my system, but so is any photographer—whether they have functioning color vision or not.

Color calibration is used in my system to ensure that no unwanted colors can sneak their way into my shots; I use manual white balance, custom-tuned to my various studio sources and modifiers. (My favorite softbox, for example, is about 400 degrees-Kelvin cooler than my next favorite softbox.) In your system, however, color calibration may be more for ensuring that throughout the process of input, modification and output, the colors you see are really the colors your client gets.

Whether you work on a Mac or a Windows PC, use an LCD or a CRT display, make high-dollar digital captures or inexpensive film scans—no matter how digital you are—all things digital must be calibrated. Nothing’s more important, though, than your monitor. I’ll even prove it.

Whether you work on a Mac or a Windows PC, use an LCD or a CRT display, make high-dollar digital captures or inexpensive film scans—no matter how digital you are—all things digital must be calibrated. Nothing’s more important, though, than your monitor. I’ll even prove it.

Most of my clients request digital files. I don’t make many prints, so I don’t see what the lab (working on a calibrated system, no doubt) would make of my digital files. The only window into my digital world comes via my monitor. Though it may be almost right out of the box, it won’t be perfect. Ultimately, in the client’s eyes, it’s either right or it’s not. So with a minimal investment—maybe as minimal as $50—I can get the peace of mind of knowing that what I’m seeing, color blindness and all, is what my clients will get when they go to press.

But more than the bare minimum—which is what monitor calibration should be considered—I’m able to go the extra mile and use my inexpensive profiling system to calibrate my scanner, my printer, my laptop—any device that my photos will ever encounter. Since any hardware device or computer conversion reinterprets a photo’s color, contrast and brightness, a profiled system means that all of those devices are working as one, communicating between one another to interpret and reinterpret the colors consistently every time.

In the end, one of the things that make a photographer a professional is attention to detail. Without the pursuit of perfection, you’re just a hobbyist with an expensive habit. Beyond that, most serious amateurs also know the importance of calibration—and they’ll eventually be your competition. So no more excuses, okay? If you’re not working on a calibrated system, do it today. Calibrate everything. You’ll be amazed at the impact it has throughout your workflow, and pleasantly surprised (as I was) at the improvements you’ll see in your digital photos.

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