Creative License with Calibration


Today’s Question: You recently stated the advantage of calibrating one’s monitor to accurately portray an image, but is it necessary if one tweaks the colors in photos? I frequently tweak an image beyond what the original or accurate colors are. If I do these things, why does it make a difference whether I have calibrated my monitor or not? If I were making an image for a scientific report I could see the value of an accurate color presentation, but if I make the fall leaves redder why is calibration important?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Calibration enables you to see an accurate view of what the image currently looks like, regardless of whether or not you’re applying realistic adjustments or exercising a bit of creative license in how you interpret a photo.

More Detail: Let’s assume you want to make fall leaves appear redder than they actually looked in nature. Without calibrating your monitor display, you wouldn’t really know if you were making those leaves appear redder rather than more orange or yellow, for example. You can’t evaluate the adjustments you’re applying without an accurate view of what the image currently looks like, and that is exactly the role of calibration for your display.

Put another way, a typical monitor display is about one stop too bright out of the box. If you don’t calibrate, you might end up making all of your images one stop too dark to compensate.

If you are the only one who ever looks at your photos, and you always use the same computer configuration to review the images, this isn’t necessarily a problem. But if you’re preparing photos for printing or other sharing, you’ll definitely want to ensure you’re applying adjustments based on an accurate view of the current state of the image.

Calibration is about making sure you’re accurately seeing what the image currently looks like, not ensuring the image necessarily looks realistic relative to what the subject matter would have looked like under perfectly white light.

As a reminder, I recommend the Calibrite ColorChecker Display for calibrating your monitor or digital projector, and you can learn more about this package here: