Stephen Johnson Tutorial: Monitor Calibration and Viewing Lights

 

Monitor Calibration

Hardware calibration of your monitor is an absolutely essential step in asserting control over your digital photography. Unless you are calibrating your monitor, the very portal through which you are viewing your files is out of control, therefore showing you unknown and probably unreliable information.

Monitor calibration is usually a two to three step process, folded into what appears to be a single stream by most software. The first step the software will normally go through is to try to get the monitor into the state you desire in terms of white point (like 6500k) and brightness, it will then create a look-up table (LUT) to modify the display characteristics into your desired appearance, with the final step being to profile that new state. In most packages, the process goes something like this:

  1. Plug-in your sensor (colorimeter or spectrophotometer) and launch your calibration software.
  2. The software might then ask you to do a dark calibration on the sensor to measure it's signal with no light striking it.
  3. You then have to select a white point, I generally have chosen 6500 kelvin (D65) as a good even if slightly cool match to most daylight. A gamma curve number is usually then needed, with 2.2 having become the standard.
  4. A monitor with RGB Gain control can then allow you to custom tune the behavior of your display to as near 6500k as possible. without such gain control, you have to live with whatever starting point you have. A DDC enabled monitor should automatically adjust to your selected white point through the calibration software using a USB connection controlling the monitor.
  5. The software will display and measure a series of neutrals and colors to figure out its current condition. It will then create a custom LUT to skew it further into your desired state.
  6. The software should then measure another series of patches on the screen to profile this new state of your monitor and give you the opportunity to custom name the profile. It should save the profile into your profiles folder and set your monitor to use that profile. Display control panels on your computer can be used to double check that this has been done.
  7. Many packages have profile verification procedures which also should be used.

i1 Display screen

Calibration Software/Hardware Packages are available from many sources. The two I commonly use are:

Basic Monitor Recommendations

  • Capable of at least real display of the Adobe RGB Color Space
  • DDC Enabled monitors are available from NEC and Eizo.

Viewing Lights and Print Inspection

When inspecting your prints, you should view them next to your monitor's display of the file, illumined by lights that match the white point of the way you calibrated the monitor. If as I do, you selected 6500k as your monitor white point, then you should purchase 6500k viewing lights to inspect your prints.

These lights could take the form of a special viewing booth like those available from GTI, special lamps like those from Solux, or normal desk lamps with specific color temperature compact fluorescent bulbs. I've picked up some ok quality bulbs from ordinary stores like Costco and Walgreens. The lamps must say 6500k (or whatever white point you are using), not just some generic term like daylight. Westcott Lighting sells more spectrally accurate 5500k bulbs for a slightly warmer rendition.

viewing light

viewing light

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Last updated on April 25, 2013 . Mail comments to: info@sjphoto.com
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2010 by Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.