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  • Ed Dozier

Does Your Computer Monitor Need Calibration?

Is your photo editor telling you the truth? Probably not. How can you know for sure?


One of the last things that photographers concern themselves with is having a calibrated computer monitor.  You paid good money for that monitor, therefore what you see on the screen is correct, right?


If you have gotten your photos printed and discovered that the prints don’t look like what your screen shows, you probably need monitor calibration. If you have two different monitor models and pictures look different on each display, then you need monitor calibration (perhaps on both of them).


Room lighting is important. Bright or unusual-colored lights will affect the viewing experience on your monitor. Most people have room lights that are too bright to be used for accurate photo viewing/editing.


This article will show you an example of how you can calibrate your computer monitor. You may think that your computer screen is operating just fine, but chances are that it isn’t displaying your photos correctly.


Can you get your monitor calibrated without using special hardware? Nope. Is calibration hardware expensive? Nope.


I own monitor calibration hardware called Spyder5 Pro, which also comes with the necessary software to control the hardware. Newer versions of this hardware are now available. There are of course other products on the market for this purpose, and probably any of them can accomplish the same goal.  I have used my same calibration hardware for several years on multiple computers without any issues. I’m not trying to sell you anything; I’m just going to show you a typical monitor calibration experience.


The Spyder5 Pro software that is included with my hardware will produce an .ICM (Image Color Matching) file, which will get loaded each time you boot up your computer. The proper brightness levels of red, green, and blue will be automatically adjusted using this .ICM file information. Once the monitor is calibrated, the Spyder hardware used in the calibration process can be disconnected.


Computer displays can drift over time, so regular checking and recalibration of monitors is also recommended.


Computer monitors have different capabilities; my main monitor only has a brightness control. I have other monitors that allow manual control over things such as the color temperature and gamma. Generally, monitor controls over things such as the hue will be overridden by the calibration data contained in the ICM file.



Room Lighting


The lights in your room can ‘contaminate’ what you see on your computer monitor. It is recommended that you have fairly low room illumination; a light dimmer switch can help. It’s also helpful to close any window curtains to keep room light levels lower.


My Spyder hardware has a feature that measures room illumination separately from the screen illumination. The calibration process includes analysis of the room lighting.

Measuring room light level


The sensor just under the “Spyder5” text shown above gets used for this measurement. The screen sensors are on the bottom of the unit, (facing the desktop) in the shot above. You don’t need to close the rear cap under the Spyder 5 to take room light measurements unless it’s on a glass surface that transmits light.

Preparing for room light measurement

Room lighting result


Room lighting measurement is conducted before any monitor calibration. You’d be surprised at how low the recommended room illumination levels are. I have worked with people that always keep a hood over their workstation when doing critical photography editing and viewing.


If the screen brightness is wrong, then photo prints won’t have the correct ‘lightness’ in them.



Monitor Calibration

Before calibration



Prior to calibrating the monitor, the program reviews what needs to be done. The monitor should be warmed up to get the display stable; the colors might be a little different from when you first turn your computer on. The room lighting needs to be checked, and you need to know what controls are available on your monitor hardware, such as brightness and the color temperature.

Specify your available monitor controls

Setting up the calibration process


Before performing monitor calibration, the program needs to be told what to do. In the screen above, I have requested that monitor brightness be adjusted (via buttons on the monitor) and room lights will be on.


To actually calibrate the monitor, the hardware needs to be physically placed onto the screen. After plugging the device into a USB port, the Spyder hardware is hung down from the top of the monitor and aligned to the target displayed on the screen. Kind of like a spider hanging on a thread of silk. Now you know how the Spyder people came up with their name.

Aligning the Spyder hardware on the monitor



The Spyder hardware is capable of analyzing both screen brightness and colors.

Measuring screen brightness


The program will guide you through measuring/adjusting screen brightness, if you requested that feature. If your monitor doesn’t allow brightness adjustment, then you can skip this step.


In the shot above, I was able to adjust the monitor brightness to get within 2 cd/m^2 of the goal of 180. The “cd” stands for “candles”, which is a measure of illumination.

Monitor brightness is out of adjustment



After screen brightness adjustment is done, the program will then proceed to automatically measure the screen red, blue, and green colors at many different brightness levels.

Calibration complete



When the program finishes measuring the different screen colors at various brightness levels, it will let you know it’s done. At this point, the Spyder hardware can be removed from the monitor and unplugged from the USB port.


The calibrated screen view



After calibration, you get to see a set of sample photos using the new calibration. This program offers a “Switch” button to toggle between the calibrated and un-calibrated view of the same sample photos to compare them.

Calibrated sRGB actual display gamut



The monitor actual sRGB gamut can be displayed after calibration. The shot above shows that my monitor can display 100% of the sRGB color space.

Calibrated AdobeRGB display gamut


The monitor actual AdobeRGB gamut can be displayed after calibration. The shot above indicates the calibrated monitor is displaying 98% of the AdobeRGB color space, or "gamut".




If you’re serious about the quality of your photography, then don’t ignore your computer monitor. You also can’t ignore the lighting conditions of the room your computer is in.


It’s neither expensive nor overly complicated to calibrate your computer monitor. Using calibration hardware and software can take your photography to the next level.



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