Wait…do you calibrate?

Wait…do you calibrate?

Have you ever sent off your photos to the local pharmacy or the big box store, only to get back a box full of prints that are way too dark? Do you wonder why your prints do not match what you see on your computer monitor? Did you get an awesome new photo printer for a gift, and all your prints are annoyingly dark? Have you ever posted an image to social media and everyone whines about it being underexposed? What is going on here, lets talk about it…

The problem lies in control…

When you edit an image on your computer and send it to me or post on social media, you do all your adjustments based on your computer monitor’s settings. When you hooked up your computer, did you adjust the brightness, contrast or color saturation on your monitor? Before you edited your image, did you give your monitor half an hour to warm up first? If your monitor’s brightness is turned way up, and you adjust the exposure of your image based on that, when you post it online, or send it to a client, they are going to tell you that it looks dark. The problem is, the image looks fine on your monitor – so what is the solution?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been scrolling through a photography forum online and see a post from someone who is frustrated with their portrait editing. Often the images are overly warm or overly cool (too orange or blue), and the first thing I always ask is what monitor calibration they are using. Starting with a known good source for adjustments is the key to resolving your color and exposure woes. This is especially important when sending out images to be printed – because that’s costing you money.

Buying a monitor calibration tool is not as exciting as going out and getting a fancy new lens or other piece of gear, but it is a necessary tool for delivering quality images, whether it is to a client or just posting for your friends to see. I likely don’t have to tell you any of this, if you are reading this article it is probably because you have gotten comments on social media or had bad print experiences, lets get this problem fixed.

This is just to fix color issues, right?

Not at all. The system I have outlined in this article will help you resolve brightness and contrast issues as well. Don’t be surprised if you see odd color casts and unnatural skin tones also be automatically fixed.

My color management workflow

Yeah, sounds sexy right? Color Management! I can’t think of anything in digital media creation or photography that is so important, but so overlooked. I use a two-step method – first I calibrate my monitor monthly (the software reminds (nags) you to do this.) and second, I use a color checker when I am taking images to ensure proper color capture.

Look at all the colors…

Spyder 5PRO: https://amzn.to/2KTmKP6

There are a bunch of options available on the market today for calibration, but I personally use and have had good luck with the Spyder calibration system from DataColor. I have used this system since version 2 and been very happy with the hardware, and even more importantly, the software. DataColor does a good job of keeping the calibration software current.

In the photo

X-Rite Color Checker Passport: https://amzn.to/2PelFSB

When you are out shooting, the light is constantly changing. Especially when shooting outdoor portraits, you never know when an odd color cast will creep into the images taken during your photo session. Light can bounce off anything, and often you get so wrapped up in taking the photos, that you miss a potentially session ruining color cast coming off something around you. Therefore, I use a color checker passport from X-rite. All the awesomeness of this product comes from the software. You include the color checker in the first image of the session, export that to a DNG in Lightroom and the software builds a profile and adds it right to Lightroom automatically. All you do is select the profile and sync that to your images and you are starting with perfect colors. It also helps correct contrast and other gamma related issues.

Each time I get a new piece of gear, I make a profile for it. I recently picked up a cost-effective (cheap) strip softbox, and when I started taking photos with it, I quickly found out that the manufacturer uses a whitening agent in the front diffusion panel for the softbox. This whitener shifted all the colors in my images to blue a bit which I found very annoying. I took a photo with the color checker in it, and built a profile in about two minutes. When I use this softbox, I just choose the profile and it automatically removes the blue color cast for me.

How can you be sure it looks good on my monitor?

You have calibrated your monitor, and checked your colors, does that mean your image will look good on every monitor it is shown on? Unfortunately, no. Once you post your image, or send it out to a client, you have no control over what device they will be viewing it on. You can wager that it will likely be uncalibrated as well. I think about it this way: if my monitor is off and I edit my image to my bad monitor then send it to you to view on your bad monitor who knows what the result will look like. If I can control at least one part of the equation, then I can be reasonably assured that the image will look good on one of the devices my end audience will see it on.

But what about my prints?

When you view an image on your computer monitor, you are seeing your image backlit. When you are viewing a print of that same image on paper, you are seeing the reflected light coming off the paper to your eyes. This is an inherently different way of looking at the same image. The image on the paper is going to be darker regardless of calibration, in this case you need a different kind of calibration, for print proofing, you need a Spectrophotometer, like the one included with the X-Rite i1Studio Photography (EOSTUDIO) Color Calibration Target, Spectrophotometer & Software Set. It is a more expensive option but is an all in one solution, including the hardware to calibrate your monitor, your printer and the color checker for your camera.

X-Rite i1Studio Photography (EOSTUDIO) Color Calibration Target, Spectrophotometer & Software Set: https://amzn.to/2Pe55CB

This is one of those subjects that is very easy for me to veer off into tech and geek out about the quality of reflected versus backlit light, but we will leave it here for now. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on any of the social media link below – good luck and happy calibrating!

I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to contact me on any of my websites or on social media.
My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/
My Bodyscapes project: http://www.bodyscapes.photography/
My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/
Instagram and Twitter: @nedskee