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The Second Step to Digital Image Excellence

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)

Keywords: digital, calibration, monitors

So, you've bought that Nikon® digital camera and lens you've wanted for a while. The first step is complete! What is step number two? Get a printer? Nope! Step two is to buy a monitor calibration system. Especially if you shoot RAW (NEF) images!

Why is that the second step to digital excellence? Well, it all boils down to a capability our human brain has that can hinder our ability to process accurate color images in our computers, after the fact. "What is that capability," you might ask? Our brains are selective and adaptive. Our cameras are not nearly so powerful. What I am talking about is simply this—when you walk into a room from outside and see a family member reading a book under a tungsten lamp, what color are the book's pages to you? White, right? "Yes," you may say, "but, so what?" Well, if you took a picture of the book under the lamp light, those "white" pages would have a strong orange color from the tungsten light. Your brain sees white, even though the light is truly not white. Your incredible brain has automatic white balancing! That's a real problem for photographers.

Following is a sample night-time image that I took recently. It has about four types of lighting in the image. I was doing time exposures while waiting for a nice lightning strike. It was storming while I stood on the front porch with my Nikon on a tripod. When I looked at the scene, I saw nice white lights, and finally a small lightning strike in the background. However, when I pulled the image up on my computer later, I was amazed to find weird light sources and color casts.


Figure 1 - A night-time image with "colorful" lighting

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Ian Crook (Pics905) on November 10, 2013

Donor ribbon awarded for his very generous contribution to the 2017 fundraising

I fully agree with everything you have said - a couple of observations: - any view on any particular brand of monitor which is better for printing? - people may need to use the "manual" calibration option when calibrating their monitor. I have the i1Display Pro, and you need to calibrate your monitor manually as the automatic calibration resulted in badly exposed pictures in my experience. You will get better calibration instructions on the internet than in most manuals...

Christian Fritschi (ChristianF) on November 6, 2013

Been using X-Rite for years on desktop and laptops. Should also mention how important it is to download the icc profile for your printer/paper choice & never let the printer take over color management.

Bert Corliss (bc3) on November 5, 2013

Darrel: I have used the DAtaColor Spyder since Spyder 2. I now have the Spyder 4 Pro. I use it on dual monitors for my desk top and on my lap top computer. All of my monitors have the same colors when you look at them side by side. I can move from one system to another and still have the same image.

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on November 5, 2013

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

To Tim Merchant (timpsm): 1. Yes, laptop monitors can be calibrated, however they usually need more frequent calibration. 2. The two major brands and models of affordable calibration systems currently available in the market are the datacolor Spyder 4 Pro and the X-Rite ColorMunki

Tim Marchant (timpsm) on November 5, 2013

A very good recommendation Darrell. A bit more information on two points if you can: 1. Can laptop built-in monitors be calibrated? PC & Mac? 2. Who else sells good calibrators beside your favorite company? What are my choices? tim

Terry Rogers (trogg) on November 4, 2013

Great advice Darrell. I am ordering today. One minor grammar issue: "Each of these channels IS individually balanced....."

Mike Banks (unclemikey) on November 4, 2013

Darrell, I'm going to take your advice. I was about to spend a lot of money on a new professional printer but after reading this excerpt from your extensive knowledge base I'm going to calibrate my PC and laptop first. I'll see what comes of this on my cheap HP printer. Thanks for the advice.

Leslie Troyer (LeslieTroyer) on November 4, 2013

Darrell - I'm admittedly very new to digital photography, But I mainly calibrate my monitor so I'm not surprised when the prints come back from Costco. To make sure the color on my monitor is what I saw - I use DataColor's Spyder Checkr. Then use that calibration in Light Room to adjust for the "real" colors. Since I use a service for printing, I rely on the vendor to publish correction values for their printers. So far I don't get to surprised when the prints come back...