Color calibration should definitely be an essential part of every photographer’s workflow. Otherwise, it is impossible to tell whether the colors that are displayed by your monitor are truly accurate and whether what you see will match the print. There are many ways to do it and the process can be fairly simple or complex, depending on how accurate you want to reproduce the colors and whether you are also printing your work in-house. The simple method involves a hardware colorimeter for color profiling your monitor for everyday photo editing and image viewing, and there is also an end-to-end professional-grade color profiling that requires very concise calibration of all display and output devices, such as printers. In this article, I will only focus on simple methods to make your monitor show more or less accurate colors, so that you could rely on it for everyday photography needs.
The subject of monitor calibration and profiling can be quite difficult to understand not only for a beginner, but also for professionals working in the field. With so many different hardware and software components, color profiles, bit depth and other related terminologies, one can get quickly confused and lost, potentially ending up with a rather poor working environment. Having a badly-calibrated monitor is not only counter-productive, it is also potentially harmful for one’s business, especially when dealing with paying customers and clients. Due to the complexity of the topic, our team at Photography Life requested help from a real expert, who will be providing detailed information on how to properly calibrate monitors for photography needs. But first, some basic concepts need to be understood. This particular article is just an introduction to cover the basics of calibration and profiling, without going into too many technical details.
After we published our article on 10 bit per channel workflow, our readers requested to provide information on how to calibrate monitors with a built-in Look-Up Table (LUT). Specifically, a number of our readers asked to provide a detailed guide on how to properly calibrate the Dell U2413, U2713H and U3014 monitors, which we have recommended a number of times before due to their affordable price, attractive features and superb color reproduction for photography needs. Historically, true 10-bit and higher monitors with hardware LUT capabilities were extremely expensive, making them only attractive to those with large budgets. With the introduction of sub-$500 monitors featuring professional-grade IPS panels (read our article on best monitors for photography to understand IPS terminology), those with tighter budgets are now seriously considering such monitors for photography work. Unfortunately, many end up even more confused after acquiring such tools due to questions related to proper monitor calibration.
Many photographers have been buying expensive wide gamut monitors in order to take a full advantage of their ability to display over a billion of colors. What many do not realize, is that their actual workflow is most likely limited to just 16.7 million colors due to software and hardware limitations. How does one achieve a true 10 bit per channel, or 30 bit workflow? What are the advantages and is it worth the effort? To answer these questions, I decided to dig into the 30 bit photography workflow in detail and explain its advantages, disadvantages and also discuss its future.
I recently posted an article on how to calibrate a monitor, but completely forgot to mention about using color-managed applications. Whenever you deal with different color profiles on your pictures, you should always use color-managed applications. Otherwise, some of the pictures could appear abnormal and the colors could be way off.