When or If You Need to Calibrate Your Screen

It’s not often I get asked a question that has no real answer. This question revolves around Computer Screen Calibration. More to the point whether you need to do it or not. Screen Calibration has its place but does it belong at your place? Here’s my take on whether to do or not to do. I personally don’t calibrate a laptop screen but will if its a screen for a desktop. Laptops get used under different light sources while a desktop usually gets used in the same room at around the same time. It’s all about consistancy.

Most LCD Screens are set up in the factory too bright and too contrasty. So a new screen needs to have the Brightness and Contrast knocked back a peg or two. This can be done with either Adobe Gamma Software or a Monitor Calibration Device. So the question here is do you buy the monitor calibration gizmo or not. Quite simply put no, not for this job. The Adobe software is usually all you will need if you just want to set up a monitor. However if your intention is to photograph/scan and print at home then you may well want to purchase the calibration device. To make matters worse screens change over time and change depending on how long thay’ve been on for. If you decide that calibration is needed, be prepared, it’s not a one off job.

Taking your own photos and then printing them at home is what I refer to as a closed system. You are in control of the whole process. If you are getting inconsistant results from your closed system then calibrating or controling all aspects of the process is a must. You’ll notice I said all aspects. This is everything, from the camera screen to the computer screen(s) through to the printer and even the scanner all need to be able to “See” the same thing. To do this a Calibration Device is required to handle the computer screen(s) and scanner/printer  AND you have to maintain this calibration on a regular basis. Each paper type and ink combo needs to be checked and reset on a regular basis. Your scanner needs to be able to scan consistantly and your camera’s LCD screen needs to be set to look as close to your computer screen as possible. I warned you, it’s not a one off job!

The moment you step out the door to print at your local chemist or photo store, on line or whatever, you are no longer in the “closed system” and your calibration means SQUAT. You now need to reset your output according to the lab you are using. They do not have to print to your liking, you have to modify your file so when its printed, the print is to your liking. I’ll put it this way, the lab is callibrated by a multi million dollar prcessing company that maximises the consistancy of their closed system, who are you to ask them to change, just so your purple flower is the exact shade of purple that you remebered but your camera failed to capture.

I not going to leave you here without a solution, I’m not that nasty. The simple solution is to find an image that best represents what you like and have it printed on both gloss and matte paper. Take these prints home and look at them in the same area that you will view the images normally at home. When you buy paint you don’t paint a sample on the wall at the store, you do it in the room you’re about to paint, so you can see what it looks like at home. Same with deciding on how your photos look, it has to be at home, in a normal environment.

If the print looks too dark then, when you’re at the store next, lighten the print on the machine if it’s too light then darken it. You can try to lighten or darken your file at home but you have to guess the amount required. At least in the store the amount of Light/Dark you apply is the same each time. over time you’ll understand the system and work with it.

With colour its a little trickier. Unless you are a colour expert and know how much to add or take away from Red, Green or Blue to correct a slight colour balance dont even try it. This can open up a whole other can of worms. One thing I will say is that cameras do not and will not capture as many gradients of colour as a human eye can. The printer can not reproduce as many colours as the camera can see. This is due to the different amount of information each capture device (your brain, the camera’s sensor and the paper) can handle. So that bright green dress with the yellow flowers and the red trim that Aunt Mary wore to the wedding wont quite come out as you remembered it.  This is normal. This is how it is. Calibrating your screen is not something that seems all that important unless you are in total control of your workflow. There are other factors involved and too many other areas that can influence the outcome.

I would also suggest that you talk with the person who manages the Lab you will be using and find out if they have any suggestions on how best to print the images. After all they see the end result from more cameras than you will ever see. If they are good at what they do they’ll be able to say that print A will come out too dark or print B will be too light and needs a contrast tweak.  Don’t get upset that your precious image that you spent hours and hours editing comes out all wrong, because its your fault, not theirs. The printing machine can only do so much and the person operating it is no longer the one in control of the quality of your print. You are. No one else.

This is a topic that is bound to upset some people and make other people think twice. Remember this is only my opinion. I own a Monitor Spyder and PhotoCal Software. I’ve calibrated over 20 computers for myself and other people. I know the difference it can make if you want to control everything. I also know how pointless it is if you print at the local chemist and not the local Pro Lab. So do you need a Monitor Calibration Device? Probably not, but some of you will still go buy one and try it out for yourself. Have fun. But I warned you.

Feel free to ask more questions about this topic. Just ask the question in the comments section and I’ll answer them as they appear. In the mean time.

Happy Shooting.

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