One of the first devices I bought for my office when I started with photography was, in addition to a proper monitor, a calibration device. Editing my photos with accurate colors and brightness has always been a priority for me. And the use of a colorimeter and monitor calibration software is a requirement for achieving those. In this article, I explain how to use such a calibration system.
Without a calibrated display, working on colors and contrasts during photo editing is nothing more than guessing. Especially if you license and print your photos, it should be out of the question that you need to have accurate colors. And although you can never be certain that your images will look the same on the displays of others, that’s out of your control. A calibrated screen still gives you a proper base for photo editing and will make the colors in your photos look good on most displays and in print.
Available Calibration Systems
There are different systems available to calibrate your displays. The most popular options come from Calibrite and Datacolor, and you can achieve an accurate calibration with the devices of both brands. In the featured video, I walk you through the calibration process using the Calibrite ColorChecker Display Pro with the iProfiler Software from X-Rite — now called ccProfiler from Calibrite. If you own a Spyder from Datacolor and use their software, the process will be similar. In addition, there is also open-source software available called DisplayCal, which works with colorimeters from both Calibrite and Datacolor.
With links to equipment and software out of the way, let us quickly talk about other prerequisites. First of all, you also need a good monitor that is able to display a large enough color space. Otherwise, the calibration software will not be able to create a proper profile. At the least, you should get a monitor that’s able to display the colors of the sRGB color space. For most use cases this is sufficient. It’s the standard for web and even many print labs use sRGB. But because wide gamut monitors have become much more affordable in recent years you should consider such a monitor, if you plan to do a lot of photo editing. Once my 10-year-old EIZO monitor finally breaks down, I will certainly upgrade to a wide gamut display.
But even for displays with a large enough color gamut, there are significant differences when it comes to color accuracy and consistency. For notebook displays Notebookcheck is a good resource to find information about the quality of the used displays. For external monitors, the German site Prad has excellent tests, which cover all you need to know to make an informed buying decision. If you open Prad in Chrome, the automatic translation into English language works pretty well.
Assuming you have a good display, a colorimeter, and a calibration software there are two more things you need to do, before you start any calibration: Give your displays some minutes to warm up and disable any automatic brightness compensation option in your system and leave it deactivated.
Quick Monitor Calibration Guide
I’m quite aware that not everyone wants to do the deep dive and watch my 27-minute video about monitor calibration. That’s why I also provide a quick guide. In the screenshot above you see the profile settings I made for my calibration in the iProfiler software. Similar settings are available in DisplayCAL and in the software from Datacolor. For most use cases you only need to worry about the technology type, the white point, and the luminance. All the other settings should remain at their default value.
If you don’t know what technology your monitor uses, this overview of display technologies might help you find out. The most common settings are white led, RGB led, CCFL, and wide gamut CCFL. As white point, 6,500 Kelvin will be the right choice for photographers. In the iProfiler software it is selected via the CIE Illuminant D65 setting. And for the luminance you should go with a value between 100 and 120 depending on the brightness of your editing environment. That is if you work in a normally lit room, which is not too dark.
In general, I would advise against editing in a dark room. We are no longer developing film, we are performing digital editing and I myself prefer to keep my eyes fresh. But by all means, if you prefer a dark room for editing, also adjust the luminance accordingly. You’ll want to go lower than 100 to avoid all your images ending up too dark.
Also, avoid any direct light other than that of the monitor in your direct field of view. For me, soft side light from a large window works well during the day. In the afternoon I will add in some fill light via the BenQ ScreenBar Plus. A dimmable daylight lamp might also be a good investment to keep proper brightness in the room.
Once you have dialed everything in, it can also help to use the app called Lux Light Meter to check the ambient light in the room while you edit. Although it’s not 100% accurate, it can help you to notice changes in your lighting environment so you can compensate for it by adjusting the lights in the room.
Ultimate Monitor Calibration Guide
If you want to know more about the various settings and how to ensure a properly calibrated display over time, then follow me along as I perform a calibration of my EIZO display in the feature video. In this detailed tutorial, I walk you through the complete process and explain every setting I make. In addition to that, I provide tips on how to set up your working environment as well as how to check your color profiles. Especially the last part is important because typically there will be some change in how a monitor displays colors and brightness over time and regular checks and possibly re-calibrations are necessary.
What is your go-to method for calibrating your monitors? Share in the comment section below.