- *Note: Basic monitor calibration is not difficult, but if you are not happy with changing settings on your machine, it is always best to ask someone who knows how to do it first. A well set up monitor should enhance your viewing of most sites. Incidentally, it's never a good move to adjust someone else's monitor without their permission.
Calibrating your monitor for viewing photographs correctly
The strip shows a range of greys from pure black to pure white.
You should be able to see a clear difference between each shade of grey, ranging from pure black (left) and pure white (right).
Along the top of the strips are alternate patches of black and dark grey.
If it looks solid black to you (look very carefully), your monitor's brightness is too low.
Increase it until you can -just- perceive the difference between the grey and the black squares.
If it resembles either of the two strips below, it is set too bright or too dark...
- too bright - loses highlight detail
- too dark - loses shadow detail
Note that this test is actually just making sure you can see shadow and highlight details and is no way to set maximum brightness accurately - Ideally you need a hardware calibrator for this.
Some other screen viewing tips
- Newer LCD monitors are much brighter. If you have them too bright, then photos may look just fine but you find your prints look too dark. Ours are set to roughly 40% of maximum.
This happens so often I've written an article: 'Why are my prints too dark'
- With LCDs the basic brightness setting is the one you want, whilst with older CRT monitors, you may need to alter the contrast setting to alter overall brightness.
- Reduce your room lighting and try to avoid reflections in the monitor. This is most important when editing photos to print. If your room is too bright then you will probably have the monitor too bright, which leads to the dark print problem above.
- Set the monitor to display "millions of colours" or 24/32 bit and preferably been switched on for at least twenty minutes.
- If your web browser allows you to use colour management, set this option on (if this means nothing to you, please ignore it, or look at some info on our Web Colour Management page).
- A detailed explanation of what the brightness and contrast controls do.
Monitor calibration ideally needs hardware measuring devices and some attention to room lighting and decoration.
Keith uses various hardware and software for calibrating and profiling his laptop and desktop computers (see his Monitor calibration equipment reviews and articles).
There are a range of cheaper and very effective display calibration devices that have come on to the market in the last few years - Keith has reviewed most of them on this site and is always happy to answer questions.
As of 2012 Keith is suggesting the Spyder4Express or ColorMunki Display as the best of the cheaper options that include the Huey Pro.
If you adjust your screen using the patterns above it's sometimes possible to get a noticeable improvement for free, but if you are serious about photography, a good calibrator is around $100.
The 'by eye' process above, was originally published here for viewing the Black and White images in Keith's print gallery, and as such, leaves colour balancing out. If you have a Macintosh, try typing 'monitor calibration' into the Help Center, this will point you to the built in calibration features. If you want a slightly more accurate version, have a look at SuperCal which is a shareware application for Macs.
On a Windows PC the facilities are found in the display control panel, or by right clicking the desktop and choosing 'properties'. A Spyder or ColorMunki calibrator will sort everything out for you automatically. On older PC systems you may also want to make sure that 'Adobe Gamma' software has not been installed by any other software, see: 'Removing Adobe Gamma'. One bit of software that might also be of help is the free "Monitor Calibration Wizard" from Hex2Bit
Do remember that for accurate colour work you should consider getting a hardware calibrator, such as the one shown connected to Keith's laptop computer.
More information about Calibration and Colour Management
Keith has written several articles on colour management, including an Introduction to Colour Management. There are more related items on our Photography and digital imaging info page.
Equipment reviews and testing
The reviews section of this site has detailed information about many different colour management devices for displays. These include the Spyder4Express and ColorMunki Display or more advanced Spyder4Elite and i1Display Pro
For print colour management Keith has tested several products over the years, including the Spyder3Print , ColorMunki, and more advanced i1Profiler profiling systems.
Keith also conducts testing for several manufacturers of colour management equipment, and in September 2011, was invited to join X-Rite's 'Coloratti'
- "X-Rite's Coloratti includes the world's top professional photographers, a group whose vision, passion, leadership, and partnership are recognized and valued by X-Rite. Coloratti photographers are highly respected by their peers and are admired by up-and-coming professionals, enthusiasts, and students alike."
Can Northlight help?
Northlight Images provides commercial photography services including colour management advice and training for organisations (PC or Mac based).