Toolbox: Display Calibration
For accurate adjustments and consistent color, start with a properly calibrated monitor
It may not be as exciting a topic as the latest D-SLR technologies, but color calibration is a critical part of digital photography. With a properly calibrated monitor, you can be confident that the adjustments you make to your images are exactly what you intend. Don't underestimate the importance of this! Adjusting an image on an uncalibrated screen can be a waste of time at best, and at worst, can cause permanent degradation to an image. You may also experience big frustration when your prints don't match what you see on screen.
Calibrators ensure that your monitor is a color-neutral workspace so /images are always displayed with accurate colors and tones. The type of monitor—whether CRT, LCD or laptop display—will affect how your photos appear because of the technology and how images are created. The particular manufacturer and its factory default settings, along with the age of the monitor, will also affect how photos are reproduced and how we see them. So it's important to have at least a basic calibrator to make sure the time spent in your digital darkroom is productive and rewarding.
Calibrators start at well under $100 and go up from there. Most of them are simple to use, with step-by-step instructions and built-in help or tutorial features in the calibration software.
The main component is a colorimeter, which measures brightness and color values when placed in front of a monitor or laptop display. It's used in tandem with the included software so you can create a specific profile that optimizes the output of your monitor.
Even if you've never gone through the process before, manufacturers have done a great job of making it uncomplicated and straightforward. Start by installing the calibration software. On the CD, there's usually other reference material, tutorials and, in some cases, how-to videos you can watch. Then, just connect the colorimeter, usually in a USB port, and follow the instructions prompted on the screen by the calibration software.
Most basic calibrators have a few easy steps with no advanced options, while professional-level calibrators will have a host of ways you can customize brightness, contrast, gamma levels and white point (or color temperature). They will typically have features like multiple monitor matching and special gray balance or black-and-white adjustments.
Almost all of them will have ambient light meters that measure the amount and quality of light in the room. This is helpful in determining the ideal monitor profile because a photo seen under fluorescent lights will look different under warm halogen lighting or indirect, natural light coming through a window.