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Monitor calibrator being used on laptop screen

Viewing images - Monitor Calibration

Simple ways of improving what your monitor shows

When producing Keith's large prints, we go to considerable lengths to produce just the image he is looking for. The balance between light and dark areas, and the correct colour range is vital.

It is not easy to reproduce this with small images on a web site, no matter how much care we take..

Why images don't look right

The web images are smaller and less detailed, but the biggest variable is how you, the viewer, have your computer screen set up.

Many people never adjust their monitor's brightness and or contrast settings, and we know that any talk about monitor calibration or monitor profiling, still leaves many photographers and graphics professionals confused.

In an attempt to help, we have some free test images here that we hope you can use to enhance your viewing experience... We also have articles explaining what to do if your prints are too dark and why your prints don't match your screen.

Take these first few steps and your whole web viewing experience should benefit.

Quick check test images | Other viewing tips | Monitor calibration | Colour management


Simple adjustments to your monitor

Have a look at the test images below, they are designed to help you adjust your screen to display images more accurately*.

You may find that your monitor looks somewhat odd after adjustment, especially if you needed to change it a lot. This effect is quite normal and you will soon get used to it.

The controls on your monitor may be physical adjustment knobs, or a menu may appear on the screen (this is produced by the monitor itself, so the mouse won't work with that particular menu).

  • *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).

  • monitor test gray ramp

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...

  • test pattern with screen set too bright
  • too bright - loses highlight detail
  • test pattern with screen set not bright enough
  • 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

Monitor Calibration

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).



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As well as our Commercial Photography services and Training there is a growing collection of photography Articles and Reviews on the site aimed at helping you get the best out of your own photography. We also have a growing collection of Photography related information and links that we hope you find useful.

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