Color Management for Digital Photographers | Monitor Calibration and Profiling
by Brenda K. Hipsher – July 8th, 2012
This is the second post in a five-part series discussing the circle of devices that we must calibrate and profile in order to exercise color management in a digital photography workflow. If you are only going to do one thing to begin to take control of your color workflow the monitor is the place to start. The reason its so important to have your monitor color managed is because our monitor is our viewfinder in digital photography. We evaluate our files, edit them, and prepare them for sharing or printing by viewing and evaluating the image on the monitor. If my monitor is not calibrated and profiled to an industry standard we simply have no way to know if what I’m seeing on the screen bears any resemblance to what actually exists in the file.
For those of you who say, “It’s not my monitor. My monitor looks fine,” let’s get one little thing out in the open. If you look at anything long enough your eye will do its best to correct the color. Maybe this is why our eyes don’t notice the Kelvin temperature difference in tungsten versus daylight generally. Our eyes are constantly changing and adapting to whatever is going on around us. So the truth is my monitor can look just fine but be way off compared to an industry standard. So if it looks fine to me why do I care if it’s standardized? Well the truth is if you’re never going to share a photo with someone else, you’re never going to make a print, you’re never going to put it into a photo book… maybe you don’t care. But if you’re going to share it or print it then you need to make sure your monitor is calibrated and profiled.
Most monitors come out of the box set to show internet content and movies in the very best light. That means super bright, high contrast, and a little on the cool side. If you want what you see on your monitor to have any relevance to what others with calibrated and profiled monitors are seeing you’ll want to use a color management solution, consisting of an instrument and software, to calibrate and profile your monitor. Generally for photography we set the white point at D65 or 6500 Kelvin, adjust the contrast based about 300:1, and set the luminance to about 100 cd/m2 or measure the ambient light in the working area. Even experts disagree on the “right” luminance level but most everyone agrees on a number between 90 and 120 cd/m2. If you’re printing on your desktop or sending prints to a lab you’ll probably want to stick to about 100 cd/m2.
One of the most common complaints I hear is that prints sent to labs come back “too dark.” This is generally a result of using a monitor that is simply too bright. If your monitor is “cool” or a bit more blue than it ought to be you may be seeing prints from your lab that are warmer than you expect. And of course if your contrast is too high you’re likely to get prints back from the lab that look flat. The reason for these inconsistencies is that without a calibrated and profiled monitor you may be “correcting” your files so they look good on your monitor but you may be pushing them in ways that do not correspond to the lab’s calibration and profiling. In other words, you may be taking perfectly good files and making them not so good. If your monitor is too bright you’ll be darkening the file which means you get prints back that are dark. If your monitor is “cool” or bluish you’ll be adding yellow and red. Your prints are likely to be warmer than you expected. And if your contrast is too high you’ll naturally reduce the contrast in the image on the screen to recover highlight and shadow detail. But if your monitor is not displaying the data in the image file properly you’ll get prints back that are unusually flat, showing no snap with muddy whites and a lack of crisp blacks. The bottom line is that you probably spent time making the file worse not better. This can be avoided by taking just a few minutes to calibrate and profile your monitor at least once per month.
Color management solutions for monitors consist of an instrument that measures and software that drives the instrument. Most of these solutions offer some user defined parameters that allow the user to customize the result based on their particular viewing conditions or output needs. In the very simplest terms possible here’s how they work. The software sends a color at a particular luminance to the monitor. The instrument measures what the monitor produces in response to what the software sends to the monitor. The software evaluates that data and begins to construct a set of correction factors that will allow the monitor to display color, luminance, and contrast as accurately as possible. Current generation X-Rite solutions iterate the profile as it is being constructed. Measurements are made, corrections are applied, more measurements are made using the first application of correction and the result is refined more and more as the process continues. In short, the software knows exactly what it’s sending to the monitor, it reads what he monitor produces, and makes corrections that help the monitor produce a result that is as close as possible to the expected result.
There are several options for monitor calibration and profiling from X-Rite. There are two families of solutions: ColorMunki and i1. Let’s look at ColorMunki first. Two solutions are available for photographers. ColorMunki Display is a newly designed colorimeter ideal for current and future monitor technologies. ColorMunki Display allows you to calibrate and profile monitors and projectors. ColorMunki Photo allows calibration and profiling for monitors and projectors just like ColorMunki Display. In addition, ColorMunki Photo gives you the capacity to calibrate and profile printer, ink, and paper combinations. ColorMunki Photo now comes with Camera Calibration software and a ColorChecker Classic mini target to get you started with camera profiling as well. ColorMunki family solutions are designed to be professional quality solutions that are easy to use with wizard driven interfaces at a very modest investment.
X-Rite’s i1 solutions are powered by i1Profiler software giving you the ultimate in control and versatility with advanced operation modes. i1Display Pro is a newly designed colorimeter the measures up to 5 times faster than conventional colorimeters. The advanced optics and filters combine with i1Profiler software to give you the ultimate solution for monitor and projector profiling. If a monitor only solution is what you need then i1Display Pro is your i1 family solution. The newly designed i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer is available in i1Basic Pro 2, i1Photo Pro 2, and i1Publish Pro 2. Each of these three i1Pro 2 solutions offers monitor calibration and profiling along with projector profiling. In addition i1Photo Pro 2 and i1Publish Pro 2 also offer the ability to profile printer, ink, and paper combinations and come with Camera Calibration software and a mini ColorChecker Classic target to get you started with camera calibration as well.
Learn more about all the monitor calibration and profiling solutions from X-Rite at www.xritephoto.com. If you have a question about any of these solutions then just submit a comment and we’ll do our best to respond to you directly. You can also give us a comment on Facebook at X-Rite Photo or send us a tweet @xritephoto on Twitter. Let your inner Color Perfectionist out and get your workflow color managed by X-Rite.
There are three more installments to go in this series. Read the first post called Color Management for Digital Photographers | An Introduction. And again we would really enjoy your comments here or on Facebook and Twitter.