Craft & Technique - 10
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How to Calibrate your monitor
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One of the most important, yet often overlooked or ignored necessities of digital photography, is monitor calibration. I have heard countless excuses as to why photographers do not calibrate their monitor such as: its too complicated, too expensive, the monitor is brand new and doesn't need it, etc. Yet these same photographers spend countless time and effort struggling with their images because they are unhappy with the output, or worse, clients receive files that have a color cast or tonal range that the photographer was unable to see and therefore control. This article is here to help.

First I need to eliminate the myth that “my monitor is brand new and doesn't need to be calibrated”. Unfortunately this is a bad assumption. Monitor manufacturers love to brag how bright their display is, or how saturated their colors are. When you first plug in your brand new monitor, it sure does look great - very bright and colors that just jump off the screen. Manufacturers intentionally set the defaults of their monitors to be at their brightest with highly saturated colors because they are after the wow factor, and want their monitor to stand out above the rest in a crowded showroom to get you to buy it. While it may look good at first, it is far from optimal in evaluating true color and tonal range.

Other photographers tell me that they use the Adobe Gamma monitor calibration software or similar that allows them to visually adjust brightness and color. Unfortunately these software “solutions” rely solely on software and the users eye to make adjustments - a poor solution when compared to using software and a hardware device that is designed to measure precise color and brightness.

But isn't monitor calibration expensive and complicated? Not really, as the product I use and will explain in this article, the Eye-One Display 2 from GretagMacbeth, is relatively inexpensive at $249, and as you will see, the steps needed to calibrate with it are quite simple. If $249 is out of your range, you may want to look at the PANTONE® Eye-One Display LT at $169, and for the casual user there is the PANTONE® huey for only $89. I have not used either the Display LT or the huey, and the basis for this article is the Display 2, but both products would give much better results than not using any.

Eye-One Display 2 with Ambient Light Measuring Head

The Display 2 (called D2 here from now on) looks like a mouse, can be used on both CRT and LCD monitors, and includes an Ambient Light Measuring Head attachment. This attachment measures the amount and color of the ambient light reaching your monitor. It is important to make sure your monitor is in a location that is not too dark or too bright, as this will effect how your eyes see the monitor, and this attachment will let you know if you need to make adjustments to your room light. In addition, the space behind your monitor should be neutral in color, preferably a medium neutral gray. If you have a colored wall behind your monitor, your peripheral vision will pick up that color and effect the color you see on the screen. One should also use daylight balanced light bulbs for all light fixtures.

I would suggest performing the ambient measurement first, before you calibrate your monitor. Make sure there are no direct light sources shining on your monitor and that it is clean and free of dust. Also it is a good idea to let your monitor warm up for a period of time (up to 2 hours ideally) before calibrating and doing serious color correction. Plug your D2 into an available USB port, and launch the Eye-One Match 3 software. For this article I am using version 3.6.0.

When the Match 3 software is launched, you are presented with a screen from which to choose various devices to profile. As I am going to profile my main LCD monitor, I have that selected, and I also chose the advanced option. Click on the arrow in the lower right to move to the next step.

We will start with measuring the ambient light, so check that box and attach the white measuring head to the D2. For now you can ignore the White point, gamma, and luminance settings, as those have no effect on the ambient light (we will be coming back to this same screen after the ambient light check to then address those settings). Click on the right arrow to proceed. A new screen showing how to place the head on the D2 is shown. Here is also where you calibrate the D2 itself by clicking on the Calibrate button. When done click the right arrow.

Hold the device as shown above and click on the Measure button. Adjust your lights in the room so that the measurement falls within the green, or safe range as shown below. When done, remove the ambient light head.

Normally, if the light is relatively consistent in your room, you will not need to preform the ambient light check very often unless you need to set up lighting for use during daylight and nighttime. Click on the left arrow until you return to the Calibration Settings screen.

Towards the lower right, you will see drop-down menus for White Point, Gamma, and Luminance. The settings I use are recommended for an LCD screen, and may or may not be ideal for a CRT. First I use the Native White Point and a Gamma of 2.2. Even though the native gamma for a Mac is 1.8, we do live in a PC world, so it is just easier to choose the PC standard gamma of 2.2. The luminance setting will determine how bright your screen is. After trial and error, I have come to use a luminance value of 130 - it is slightly higher than the recommended value of 120 for LCD monitors, but I have found that it more closely matches my output than does the 120 setting. Click the right arrow when done. You may notice that your monitor appearance has changed - not to worry, as the software is now disregarding any previous calibration settings and will start from scratch to build a new profile.

Place the D2 on the monitor and position it in the center. A counter weight is provided and attaches to the cable. This weight is placed behind the monitor to counterbalance the D2 and keep it in place. Make sure that the D2 is flush against the monitor and click the right arrow.

You now need to adjust the contrast and brightness levels of your monitor to reach the luminance level you specified earlier. Some monitors may have those adjustments on the front of the display.

For the monitor I am using - a 17 inch Apple LCD - I need to open the computer's System Preferences, then click on Display to bring up the Brightness slider. This monitor does not allow me to adjust the contrast. Click Start to begin reading the luminance level. Match 3 will now take over your screen and perform a series of tests to determine the luminance level. Again, you are looking to match the value you set earlier as close as possible. Once adjusted, click on the stop button.

You are now ready to calibrate. Click on the right arrow, and Match 3 will again take over your screen, flashing various shades of colors and neutrals. After 4 or 5 minutes the calibration will be completed.

Once the calibration has been completed you will be presented with a results screen. Be sure to check the luminance values to make sure the target and current values are close. You can now rename your profile if you wish, and let Match 3 remind you to re-calibrate after a period of time - I have it remind me every 3 weeks. Click on the right arrow, and you are done. The profile is saved and automatically set as the default profile for your monitor.

That’s all there is - pretty simple and straightforward. Just make sure no one changes the brightness level and/or contrast settings, and you will now be viewing accurate color at the optimum brightness settings. Monitor calibration alone does not guarantee that your prints will match the screen, as there are many variables that need to be addressed when printing (some of which I may discuss in a future article), but it does guarantee that you are viewing your images correctly. And that is the first and most important step needed in troubleshooting poor output.


. is a Fine Art photographer who previously wrote an essay for this site titled How to Study Photography Marketing.

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