what is monitor calibration

Winnie Bruce

by Winnie Bruce

i1d to calibrate your computer monitor

Just as important as it is to have good cameras, and lenses that will take beautiful photos, there are also other necessities a professional or an avid hobbyist needs to have: a monitor calibrator. After coming home from a shoot, most photographers will almost automatically plug in their camera or card to their computer to view their images. Next to purchasing that monitor or computer, and that editing software that will optimize editing, the next thing to purchase should be a monitor calibrator.

What is a calibrator and why is it so important?

A calibrator is a device that measures the colors of your screen, and makes sure that your screen is using the proper colors that your monitor needs. What this also ensures is that your screen will pretty much be similar to the colors of monitors that are calibrated. As important as it is to have the best camera and lenses, and the best computers and software, if a monitor is not calibrated properly, all that hard work will not pay off if the end result when the images is taken off the screen and onto paper just doesn’t match, and ends up with all the wrong looking colors. If your monitor is not calibrated, your images may come back with too much contrast, too saturated, dimmer or brighter than expected, etc.

There are many calibrators out there. I personally run on an iMac, and I use an Xrite i1Display Pro. They vary in prices from $100 – $300 and can be purchased at any electronic store. Some other popular brands are Spyder, and ColorMunki. Each brand is different with how they’re used, and they are pretty easy to interpret. They’re powered through USB, and can be used with both Mac and PC computers. I calibrate my monitor at least once a month.

Once you have calibrated your monitor, your color-managed programs will automatically take on the calibration profile settings your calibrator has assigned. What this means is that programs like Photoshop and Lightroom should adjust to your new settings. The same applies to some internet browsers like Firefox and Safari, since they are also color managed.

calibrating your monitor by Winnie Bruce

If you’ve ever wondered why your images look a lot cooler or warmer on your screen compared to what you have printed through your professional lab of choice, and you’ve never calibrated your monitor, this may be the reason why. There are monitors out there that have in-computer calibration. If you’re a photographer, it’s best to invest in one of these devices to ensure the uniformity in your images from your editing program, to your website or blog, and to your prints.

Some may have heard from clients that the photos in their gallery look a lot different in color, or when they receive their proofs from you that the images just looks so much better. It is part of what I tell my clients, that when they view their images on their screen that it may not look the same on their end as it does on my end because of my regularly calibrated screen. So I just ask that they keep this in mind, or schedule an in-person ordering consultation with me to see the accurate colors of their images.

Once you’ve calibrated your screen, order some test prints from your professional lab and compare the colors on your screen and on your prints. This is the best way to know if all the editing you’ve been putting into your photos is checking out, and coming out the same as your lab. Also, another note that I should add is that some calibrated monitors might look different than your calibrated monitor, but it should only be a slight difference. What matters is how your prints match to your monitor, and not how your prints match to a monitor that you don’t edit with. Although, a properly calibrated monitor should only show a little bit of difference in the print compared to other monitors.

So go ahead, try one out. They’re pretty easy to figure out. I have heard some fear about using them, but based on my experience, a little search on the Internet based on the calibrator model leads me to many tutorials and videos to guide me. They’re a necessity, and they definitely give much needed peace of mind whenever I order prints. Even if you only sell digital goods, these nifty devices ensure that your colors check out perfectly.

Winnie BruceWinnie Bruce, Washington DC
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Winnie is a portrait photographer specializing on families, children, and newborns in the Baltimore / DC area. Being a photographer is her full-time job, but she is also a mommy to Elliott and Finnegan, and an Air Force wife. Winnie shoots both Canon and Nikon cameras, and enjoys them both thoroughly. When she first started with photography, she intended to be a food photographer, and was an aspiring chef. Portraiture though has definitely found a special place in her heart. Winnie enjoys shopping, specially at stores like Anthropologie, functions on copious amounts of coffee, and loves listening to sports talk radio.

Read all photography tutorials from Winnie Bruce.


  • Great tutorial. Thank you, Winnie. I was always so nervous to calibrate but once I dove in, I found it to be quite easy, like you said. :)

  • Anna says:

    Thank you for sharing. I use my laptop (15″ mac book) to edit. I know it is not ideal but it allows me to get to quiet places when needed. I used Spyder Pro. Do you think one calibrator is better for a MAC than another? I never have trouble with color but I do have trouble with brightness.
    Thanks again!!

  • Winnie Bruce says:

    Hi ladies! Thank you so much for reading this article.

    Anna, from what I have heard, Spyder Pro is really good for Macs. As far as I know, i1D, Spyder, and Color Munki are the best. If you have trouble with brightness, try editing an image in a room without light directly hitting your monitor. I personally edit in a room without direct light.

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