Your monitor is more important than you think

A Color Management Quick-Dive from a Master Printmaker

Digital photography hit the scene early this century and the world has never looked back. How surprising is it then that twenty years later, we are still getting it wrong?

Taking the photograph is just the beginning of the photographic workflow. We used to call it “developing and printing” in the old days but apart from the tools used, not much has changed.

Remember this?

Something so fundamental to a properly trained photographer managed to tear the internet community apart, due to misinformation.

Let’s start with color management.

Every photographer has heard of it but not many consider it necessary.

Let’s approach it from another angle, maybe something equally familiar to everyone – music.

Just as we expect professional musicians to know how to tune their instruments and be in sync with one another, photographers are expected to do the same. Where the music fails, photos can fail too.

For photographers, that point of failure is not our camera but our monitor.

For us photographers, that point of failure is not our camera but our monitor – the main device we use to view and edit our image – our eyes into the digital realm.

If calibration is not the first step in your workflow, everything after that WILL be wrong. Images edited on uncalibrated monitors can look under or overexposed, show the wrong color, show the wrong skin tones on the subject, have a lost details in highlight/shadow areas, show a different of contrast, etc…

All your hard work is guaranteed to be lost in translation during post processing. Calibration is supposed to take care of that.

2 Big Lies about Color Management, that Photographers tell themselves

  1. “Oh, I buy from *insert brand* so the colors should be good out of the box!”

This is one of the greatest myths people still entertain as victims of marketing.

The fact is, EVERY display must be re-calibrated and profiled when it’s connected to a computer the first time (and checked regularly for color shifts). Here’s an example.

  1. “Ok, now I know I need display calibration, let me go download a calibration software….” – thinking that human eyeball + software = calibration.

This will not work because our eyes play tricks on us all the time. It’s good for most things visual but not for this situation. Therefore, just as a musician with perfect pitch still needing a tuning device to be sure, we photographers need calibration devices for the same reason.

Monitor calibration is only the first part of color management. As we move down the workflow, we will need to harness more knowledge regarding .raw file conversion, aspects of different file types, color conversions and simulations, etc. I will cover these in subsequent articles.

In a nutshell, display calibration is not difficult at all with proper guidance. Most can grasp it within a day.

About the Author

James Tan, Master Printer

James Tan Printmaker Master Printer

James is an Ilford Master and an Eizo Global Ambassador and is currently serving as Secretary in the PPAS.

James will be conducting a 3-hr display calibration workshop at PPAS AGM 2019, where he will demonstrate display calibration from scratch and explain the concepts behind color management. Click here to Sign Up! There will also be a question and answer segment where you can ask James what works for your setup. Don’t miss out!