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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Cal-i-brate good times, come on

And so it begins!

I've always struggled to calibrate my monitors - which i'll go in to later for those who may have landed here with a photography background - but in layman's terms for the rest of us, us photographers need to calibrate our monitors to trust what we're seeing. Basically, because so many brands make screen devices (phones, monitors, TV's etc), they all have a different take on the contrasts, colours, warmth etc, which in turn means if as a creative you are using an uncalibrated monitor, you're seeing skewed colours etc, so if you edit on top of a skewed image, you're potentially do more damage than good. As amazing as that image may look to you on your computer, it's not 'right'. Calibrators are funky little devices that sit on your monitor and with its, or your monitors software, your monitor changes through colours while this device scans and understands the output you're seeing, then in turn changes them to their correct equivalent. Confusing right? In theory it's a simple task handled by expensive gear.

What calibration does is use mathematical version of colours, ie this colour is the absolute black, absolute white etc etc, and ensures you're always working on a correct image, and then how you edit it to your tastes will be exactly that and not guess work. Calibration changes with the age of the monitor, and with time of it's use, so you need to calibrate often to be sure you're at an absolute. This is most important when going to print because computers create colour profiles, and when on screen devices, these profiles try to show others the images how you edited them via your settings, but in print bad calibration can be the difference between getting back an amazing photo and ones that look nothing as you thought it did. What you can't control however, and no matter how good your calibration is, are other peoples monitor settings.. but such as life. I calibrated my computer after years of struggling thanks to a Skype call with X-rite (the guys that lead the way in calibration) and I can tell you the difference it's made on viewing my images on my phone alone is huge! There was no way i could offer the kind of bespoke work here at Splash Point with out going through the stresses of what was supposed to be a simple task.

To test the calibration further, I had some really cheap prints made.. can you say Snapfish!? I've had cheap runs before because I like printing work, but i've never been a massive fan of cheap labs, yet on occasion I get some when they have an offer on. Cheap labs aren't a patch on a professional print labs, and professional print labs aren't cheap! It's a different world and skill set. Anyway, what added to my woes of course was poor calibration, so i figured it would be a good test as to the colour output, and on the most part I would say it's much better. I mean the photos lack sharpness and the clarity of a decent print lab, but you get what you pay for and it's helped settle my nerves.

So why the nerves and why wasn't it a simple process with such expensive hardware? Simply put, I have two monitors, one is old and doesn't handle calibration well, which combined with my old video card is a bit 'meh', and the other is a wide gamut monitor with in-built hardware calibration, and that costs more than some computers alone and is far better than using computer software calibration. A wide gamut monitor can see colours your monitor can't, which means I can print colours that in theory wouldn't exist on your screen yet with no nasty surprises of the gap being bridged between too similar tones to replicate said colour which is what the colour profile I mentioned earlier tries to do to keep the images looking as edited.

Unfortunately, when said monitor is calibrated, it completely over saturated everything not online or in photoshop, so you have to stop trusting your eyes and what you think you know (or I knew) about calibration, and just accept it. And when compared to the dusty old monitor, I had poor comparisons and readings all over the place. I literally needed that Skype call to X-rite who were lovely enough to get up at 6am to ensure that what I was seeing was fine and give me the optimum setting that i could pass on to you. Then to further quash my fears, as suggested, everything looked a million times better on my phone, and now with a cheap print run too, i'd say far more consistent as well. #working. This means when i send an image to print at a proper lab, I can trust my colours as I intended them to be without asking the lab to colour correct it (that can dull an image and take away the atmosphere but it is useful if your fear calibration), and know that I should be getting what I edited and if I don't, it's the labs failing and not mine. That is a vote of confidence you need as a photographer, and one I had to be able to pass on to you for me to be happy with my Splash Point Photo service.

And the moral of this story is... having two monitors, one of which is an expensive wide gamut one to ensure you can work on colours most can't, doesn't make your life less stressful or any easier... but you guys should get some great results because of it!

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