Monitoring Your Monitor Part 1: How to Get Color and Brightness Right

Most photographers want their images to look “right” when viewed on a screen or as prints. Newbies might like most of what they see, but the ability to discern issues grows with experience, and sooner or later questions arise. Often they are something like “is it me or my camera?” or “is something wrong with my monitor or printer?” or “how come my images look OK on my monitor but not on my friend’s?”

Assuming that the camera’s white balance was set correctly, the monitor is a likely source of the problem. They are usually the most variable pieces of equipment used to edit and view images, and very few of them are calibrated. Even if a monitor accurately renders color and brightness when new it will soon begin to drift, and serious photographers will understand the the need for periodic calibration for monitor(s) they use for photo work. In short, monitoring monitors is how to get color and brightness right.

The following images are from two monitors that I calibrated in November. I used them for non-critical work without recalibrating for about six months, and then hooked them up to the same computer at the same time and compared their performance side by side. The images in the left column are from the monitors before I re-calibrated in May, and those on the right were captured after re-calibration. Monitor #1 bears a highly regarded brand name and is the one I use for color work. Monitor #2 is a good general purpose machine that I use for detail and selection work because it has a larger screen. It cost about half as much as Monitor #1 even though the screen is nearly 50% larger.
Monitor 1 had drifted to a magenta cast and Monitor 2 had drifted toward yellow. After calibration their color presentation is nearly identical. If you look closely you’ll see that the faces in the bottom row from Monitor 2 are brighter than those from Monitor 1, a difference that I’ve observed in every direct comparison.


I think you will agree that doing color work with either monitor before it was re-calibrated would have carried a risk of giving a poor result. Whether you prefer the after calibration brightness of the faces of one monitor over the other might depend on how well the brightness of the monitor you’re using now is calibrated. The next post includes test images to help you decide if your monitor is in urgent need of calibration and suggests some options if it does.


© 2011, All rights reserved.

© 2011, All rights reserved.

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