Sunday, February 5, 2017

How's Your Color?

I can still remember way way back in the dark ages when I was a kid. If I was sick, my mother might tell me my color didn't look good. A little sick and I might have been pale.  Really sick and I might have a green tint "around the gills". If I got any sicker, watch out!  June has a phrase for feeling sick - "being out of sorts".

You computer monitor can also become out of sorts and its colors may not look good. This electronic malady will come on gradually and you probably won't notice it. Over time the screen will become dimmer and the colors will be just not right. As photographers we will adjust our photos so they look good on our screen. This will appear to be working until you share your photos as a print or electronic image on someone else's computer screen.

Years ago I was working on a presentation with another photographer. I loaded my image files to his computer and they appeared dull and had little vibrancy.  His however looked good on his monitor.  I knew my monitor at home was calibrated and suspected his was way off.  Sure enough, when we presented our images on a calibrated projector, his had unrealistic eye-popping saturation and the contrast could make your eyes hurt.   He didn't understand why his images looked good at home and crazy on the projector.

Here's an example.  The photo below appears to be a little dark and on the blue side.

Uncalibrated Display
If you're a photographer, you might use your favorite software package to correct the photo by turning up the exposure and warming the color temperature to make it appear correct.

Correct Color
Now, that looks better.   The salt flats should be white, not blue and the photo should be this bright.

Here's the issue.  The photo color and exposure may have been exactly right to start with, but your monitor may have not displayed the photo correctly because it was not set correctly.  That blue tint may have come from the monitor and not the photo. By correcting the photo without correcting the monitor you have now made the actual photo too bright and yellow.
Actual Edited Image
If you print the photo or display on another computer monitor it may look like the actual image above.  This is probably not the effect you were going for.

If you are going to share your photos with others via electronic files or especially prints, you should make sure your monitor is set correctly.   You can try to do this manually, but it is never quite right. The best solution is to use a monitor calibration tool that will set the brightness, contrast, color correctly on your monitor.  It will even adjust the settings based on the light in the room. To calibrate your monitor you plug one of these devices into a USB port on your computer then place the color measurement puck on the screen and let the software do the rest.   It's quick and easy.   These work on LCD, laptop and CRT screens.

There are a number of different brand and model monitor calibration tools. I am not going to do a review or recommend one over another. I use one called Spyder5Pro from Datacolor.   If you are a member of the Eastman Camera Club, you can rent the X-Rite ColorMunki for $3 a day or $5 for a weekend. Both are quality products that will work well.

Calibrating a monitor is not a once and forget it process. All monitors will change over time, especially older CRT displays.  You will need to recalibrate from time to time to keep your monitor looking good and healthy.

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