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Simple monitor calibration for better digital photography printing

How to set up you camera, computer and printer for the best in high-quality printing

chart of colors fir monitor calibration

This is a simple way to ensure you have all your digital photography equipment is working together so you can be proud of your print color and quality; and get your viewers asking “How’d you DO that!?” Without getting too technical (you can get all THAT stuff in the advanced section), what you need to know is that realistic color printing relies on something called color space. There are several so called “color spaces” – systems for managing and using colors. Some were created for print on a commercial press; others were created for Web graphics; and still others were created years ago before technology advanced.

What all this really means to you is that for digital photography printing, you should first try to capture your images using the color space that gives you the most variety and depth of colors – not one that is restricted for optimization on a monitor – like the web color space, or one that is older, like sRGB. Then, ensure that your photo editing software is set to match that color space. Then make sure you are SEEING the colors accurately on your monitor, and finally making sure that your printer is set up to deliver all the color data you’ve captured so accurately!


Here are the basics to monitor calibration, digital photo printing and accurate colors

Step 1: Setting your Digital Camera

Check your digital camera manual and see if you have the option of changing your Color Mode. For the Nikon DSLRs, for example, you can set your color mode in the Shooting Menu, under Optimize and select color mode II (Adobe). My Olympus 5050 point & shoot also let the photographer select the color mode. Your digital camera manufacturer may call it something different, so check your index under color and see if it gives you any information on color-related options.

What you want to do if you have this ability is to set your digital camera settings to the color option called Adobe RGB, or II (Adobe). What you don’t want if you can help it is sRGB (it’s an older and more restrictive color setting). Now, this won’t have a huge impact if you can’t change this setting, but you’ll need to make sure your photo editing software is matched to whatever your camera is set to.

Step 2: Calibrate your Monitor

This is a little technical but let me give you an example. Last October at our Delta Marsh Nature Photography Immersion Weekend, we were all in the classroom, ready to view our first images of the weekend. But when some students turned their computers on they were shocked to see that their images had ghastly color tones to them. For example, the breathtaking sunset shot rather than being a warm rosy mauve shade, was a sickly green, with ugly brown shadows! UGH!! Not an auspicious start to our weekend!

Now at this point everyone was freaking out and rushing to get into Photoshop to fix the color. “What had they done wrong?”, they all cried! “We took better photos BEFORE we had your lesson!” they were saying.

BUT, the image really didn’t need to be fixed, there was nothing wrong with how their cameras captured the scene – the computer monitors were simply wrong in how they displayed the color. Had we adjusted these images in Photoshop according to what the monitors showed, and then printed them, the final print would have been way off color, and not pleasing at all.

So if you have a relatively good digital camera and know how to get an accurate exposure, don’t despair if your image looks bad on your monitor. It is likely your monitor that is the culprit. But this doesn’t mean your monitor is broken, or not good enough for your photography. It just needs to be “coaxed,” and fine-tuned to give you what you need, which is a reasonably accurate rendition of your camera’s image (and I say reasonably because a light-based device like a monitor will never give you the exact same results as an ink-based device like a printer – but you can get darned close. Pros do it all the time!)


So let’s see how calibrating your monitor works.


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Adobe tells us when you calibrate your monitor, you are adjusting it so it conforms to a known specification. Once your monitor is calibrated, the profiling utility lets you save a color profile. The profile describes the color behavior of the monitor-what colors can or cannot be displayed on the monitor and how the numeric color values in an image must be converted so that colors are displayed accurately

You can buy special devices that will ensure totally accurate color management and monitor calibration, but the process we’re discussing here describes the simple method. If you want to take it to the next level, visit the advanced section on monitor calibration to see what that entails.

This method though assumes you have Photoshop installed, as it uses the Adobe Gamma calibration utility. If you are using Photoshop, this simple method uses tools that you already have on your computer; and in a few minutes you’ll have a calibrated monitor that will enable you to better manage the color aspects of your digital photography printing process.

To calibrate and profile (save the settings) your monitor

1) Make sure your monitor has been turned on for at least a half hour. This gives it sufficient time to warm up and produce more consistent output.

2) Make sure your monitor is displaying thousands of colors or more. Ideally, make sure it is displaying millions of colors or 24-bit or higher. (control panel>display>settings)

3) Remove colourful background patterns on your monitor desktop and set your desktop to display neutral grays. Busy patterns or bright colors surrounding a document interfere with accurate color perception.

4) Choose your operating system and then follow the steps to calibrate and profile your monitor:

In Windows, use the Adobe Gamma utility, located in the Control Panel. In Mac OS, use the Calibrate utility, located in the System Preferences/Displays/Color tab.

Remember that monitor performance changes and declines over time; recalibrate and profile your monitor every month or so. If you find it difficult or impossible to calibrate your monitor to a standard, it may be too old and faded.

How to Use the Adobe Gamma Utility to calibrate your monitor

To calibrate your monitor and create and save an ICC profile in Adobe Gamma:

      1. Choose

Start > Settings > Control Panel

      2. Double-click Adobe Gamma.
      3. Select Step By Step Wizard, and then click Next.
      4. In the Description text box, type a name for the profile. Type a name you will easily identify, such as the monitor name and the date. (When you save the profile at the end of the wizard, you need retype the name.)
      5. Click Next, and then follow the on-screen instructions. Before you save the settings, you can use the Before and After buttons to see how the changes you made affect the monitor’s display.

After you create the ICC profile, Adobe Gamma saves it in a folder (along with all other ICC profiles)where it can be accessed in the future.

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