The importance of calibrating your computer screen color

Here’s the scenario:

You’ve been going through all the exercises in my photo lessons.

You’ve spent time getting the perfect lighting, perfect white balance, perfect exposure, and best composition, and you are now ready to have a look at the photos on your computer. You load up your photos and open a couple up in your favorite image editing program.

Your heart sinks. Um . . . What happened?

Your photos look nothing like the way they were in your scene. Now it’s true, your mind can probably fill in the blanks and recreate that magical place for you in true color, but really deep down you know something isn’t quite right.

Computer screen calibration for photography

What is screen calibration? Basically, it’s a way of correcting your computer screen’s color so that what you see is actually how things are supposed to look. Monitor calibration is one part of a color-managed work flow, but it’s the easiest and most important step to take because it’s how you, the user and editor of your files, see your images.

How-to for Mac OSX: The quick and dirty calibration method

This gives so-so colour calibration, which is better than the factory settings.

Open the System Preferences>Displays>Color Tab>Then hit the Calibrate button. This window should pop up:

Use the expert mode. Go through each of the steps. Here are some numbers to plug in when you get to them:

  • Gamma 2.2 (even though it recommends 1.8 for Macs.) This will give richer onscreen contrast.
  • Target white point D65 (6500 Kelvin). This is what the pros use.

When you are done you will be prompted to save the profile. I suggest giving it a name with the current date as well. This will help you keep track when you calibrated your monitor last.

So that’s the freebie method, and unfortunately it’s Mac only. If you are a PC user you will have to use the hardware calibration method, which I’m going to talk about next.

The better way to calibrate your computer screen – for both Mac and PC

This video by X-Rite explains the whole colour calibration process. Worth watching if you’re serious about colour!

color-munki-smileHardware calibration tools measure the actual colour emitted by your screen and are much more accurate than the eyeball method described above, mostly because we all have different eyeballs. I use a 7-year old EyeOne Display, made by Gretag Macbeth. Due to various mergers and acquisitions since I purchased the product, it’s now the Color Munki Smile. This is a great entry level monitor calibration device and costs around $CA 99. Available at Vistek in Calgary, Toronto, or from Amazon.

These devices last much longer than digital camera bodies, and as long as you keep the software up to date, the hardware will do for years to come. Make sure to click on the XRite link to this product before you buy, as it has some tutorial videos so you get an idea of how it works.

There are other monitor calibration products on the market, but to be honest, I haven’t used them. I’m happy with my i1. I have read some reviews on the Spyder, and they weren’t that favorable, and since I have something that works, I’m not about to buy anything else. I’d rather spend the money on software (which I did)!

Printer Profiles are the next thing you need to look into.

Those are supplied by the people who make the inkjet paper and by the printer manufacturers.


If you are a graphic designer or digital artist, monitor calibration is just as important for you as it is for photographers.

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