Sunday, 15 December 2013

Screen Calibration... more important that you think!

Hi again readers!

Two blog posts in two weeks... something must be wrong at Sean Farrow | photography HQ...

I'm going to dedicate this blog post to a subject that many aspiring photographers seem to gloss over. One that is of incredible importance when it comes to your own post-processing work. That subject is Screen Calibration.

Have you ever worked on a shot, made it look spectacular and full of colour and life, only to have a large and expensive enlargement made for yourself or even worse, a client, and had the print come back dark, underexposed and lacking that pop you had on your screen? I know I have... and most of you out there will have too. It's quite disappointing and can make you question your technique.

I also see loads of uploads on social media and photo sharing websites from amateur and hobby photographers that are chronically underexposed and have weird colour shifts, especially prevalent in longer shutter speeds where exposure value and luminance become critical. To be fair, the photographers themselves can see no issue with the way the image looks, and it, in most cases, will look spectacular on that screen, but the issue is the screen, not the image it's self.

This phenomena can be attributed to a whole host of factors, most of which we don't need to discuss in this article, but the one factor that I personally think is more important than any is Screen or Monitor Calibration.

In short, this is the process of setting your screen up in such a way that the colours, contrast and gamma settings accurately represent the image from the screen to the end print. There is numerous ways to achieve this, some better than others, but I HIGHLY suggest purchasing yourself a good quality monitor and a calibration kit. Monitors to look out for are anything that uses an IPS (In-Plane Switching) panel. Some companies will be charging an absolute premium price for something that is essentially the same as something half it's price, simply because they market it as a "Photography" monitor, so do your homework.

Then you'll have the companies that advertise (and the people who buy will argue) that their monitor ships to you "Pre-Calibrated"... right... pre-calibrated to what? Like a Dave Chappelle stand-up gig, this cracks me up every time! This might get you in the ballpark, but you're not in the game yet. The lighting and conditions in your workspace are unique to your workspace. This is where dedicated calibration hardware comes into play.

There's a whole host of monitor calibrators out there, and they basically do two main things: 1. They are placed directly on your monitor and sample colour, brightness and gamma readings to create and optimized profile for your equipment, and 2. They can monitor ambient light levels and adjust brightness and contrast accordingly. Some will argue that the 2nd point isn't really needed. I personally find it absolutely essential. It's down to personal preference at the end of the day. The main manufacturers of this equipment are Datacolor with their "Spyder" range, and Pantone with their less costly "Huey" range. I've used both, and can notice little, if any, difference in profiles between the two. I personally use the Huey system and get nothing short of spectacular results every single time! I've not been asked to endorse, and have not received any compensation from either of these companies. This is just my personal findings and opinions.

Once you've installed and calibrated your gear (I won't go into this here, but it's very simple), you'll notice your screen is probably not as bright, or as saturated in the red tones as it once was. This is a GOOD THING. You're screen is now much closer to the values you'll see in your prints, as long as you're soft-proofing with appropriate profiles as you should be, and converting to printer profiles during saving, but that's a subject for a whole other blog entry.

Good luck with all your own calibration and subsequent post processing. I have a feeling you'll find your workflow will be much more consistent from proof to print.


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