For those with a phobia of calibrating…

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I’ve got a confession to make. You may point and scream “fake! phony!” when you hear this. But I have never calibrated my computer screen. So I’m standing here as a real, honest-to-goodness photographer which a real career, real clients, a really packed shooting schedule. And I’ve never calibrated. The only aversion I have greater than that of completing paperwork is monitor calibration. I have found so many things to do to stay busy and avoid calibrating. And while all the forums, all the articles, all the books say it’s something I should be doing, I have stuck my nose up and said “humph. I don’t need that.” The only thing I haven’t done is stroke my monitor and whisper “it’s ok little guy. You’re perfect to me.” But I’ve come close.

Monitor calibration is a big deal, though, so allow me to break it down in plain English:

Definition: “calibrating you monitor” means that you match it up with that your printing company prints through their machines. This means that you find their custom profile and you match that up with what your monitor is showing you.

First of all: Firstly, you shouldn’t be printing through a cheap, consumer printing company. Not at Walmart or Walgreens or Boots or SnapFish. If your images come back crappy, that would be why. You should be printing through a professional printing company. I use Loxley here in the UK. In America, a big one is White House Custom Colour {WHCC}.

When: So when do you know you need to calibrate? If, when you get your images back from your printers, they are not what you thought they’d be, you may need to calibrate. Mine are perfect, which is why I’ve never gotten around to doing it. So if your prints are brighter or darker than they should be, warmer or cooler, yucky skin tones, etc., then you need to calibrate. You can either adjust the brightness, temperature, contrast, etc in your monitor and then run test prints until it’s right or you can get a doodad like this and sort it out.

Now, as far as knowing what colour space your Lightroom and/or Photoshop should be set to, read this because calibration might not actually be your problem in the first place.

There. I’ve done it. That’s my post on calibration. A great bit of further reading would be this from Damien Symonds.



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Elizabeth Halford

Elizabeth Halford


She blogs about photography and business with her unique plain English approach. Elizabeth has been-there-done-that with running a photography business that doesn’t profit a penny and loves teaching photographers how to get away from the starving artist model of running a creative business.
Elizabeth Halford
  • Karen - Damien is nothing short of a God in my eyes. His blog and Facebook posts slowly trickle in to my brain, until one day it just clicks ! I am waiting for the upcoming day when my shoot calendar quietens down, to take some of his workshops.

  • Marie - I have the same aversion to calibrating as Elizabeth. So I can basically just tweak my monitor and do a test print until it comes back right? Its ALOT cheaper than to buy that doodad! The only issue Ive been having (seemingly) is my brightness, my computer seems alot brighter and the print is def a couple shades darker than it should be. Color seems ok. This post kind of gives me (Its ok not to calibrate!”. Thank you!

  • Becky - Haha! Somehow I now feel validation. I have been resisting it as well because my images are perfect when I get them back as well so I didn’t see the point. Somehow though I felt I was cheating or something lol. I feel much better now. 😉

  • madaboutgreys - Another Loxley fan here. I tried a local high street chain for some images I wanted in a rush for handmade photo cards and I got the rudest shock. Since when were B&W images supposed to have a magenta cast? and the prints were all contrast, no subtlety. Prints are an area where quality really shows: doesn’t come cheap but boy is it worth it. I’m calibrated and Loxley hits it right on, every time.

  • Wendy - Darn it. I was hoping you were going to give a tutorial on how to calibrate. I have put it off because it seems complicated. Can Damien recommend a good tutorial and which calibrator is a good one? I would really like to try it and see if it makes a significant difference. The room I edit in has light that changes constantly throughout the day, so sometimes I find that if I edit at night in a dimly lit room and come back in the morning when the sunlight is coming in I’m changing my white balance again, I want to at least know my monitor is showing me correct color so I can adjust my room lighting accordingly. Thank you for sharing you thoughts and ideas to help us all in our photog businesses!

  • Noelle Bakken - I’ve never calibrated either, because my prints come back from my lab looking just fine, and I like to claim that my Mac’s screen was perfect from the get-go 😉

  • Lea Kahle Hartman - Ha! I’ve never calibrated my monitor either! Haven’t found it necessary. Glad I’m not the only one!

  • Gina Kleinworth - Oh yes- I had to teach my hubs this last Christmas when he insisted that we go the cheaper route & print through Costco. The colors, the softness- it was AWFUL. The details in the eyes turned to a murky yuck. He learned the hard way- this year will be different.

  • Christy Cohen - Matching your monitor to a custom profile is not the same as calibrating. Calibrating is when you set your monitor to show colors as they should be and contrast correctly. I have never used profiles. I used to just use Adobe Gamma, now I use a Spyder Express. I worked in a photo lab for 8 years, and we never gave people profiles. And for the comment below of black and white having a magenta cast, it is because they are printed on color paper and the machine may have not been recently balanced. True black and white needs to be printed on black and white paper. My laptop at home has a horrible screen. I could never correct on it. Just stick with Adobe Gamma and you should be fine. I have had many portrait clients tell me the pictures looked “weird” when they saw them at home, but here on my uncalibrated tv monitor they look fine to them.

  • Christy Cohen - By the way – most all printers are set to auto correct images. The best way to get a true test is to order a print uncorrected. Many pro labs offer free 8×10 test prints for new clients.

  • Alicia Jones - It could depend on the computer you use. Apple products tend to need less calibration. I have a Dell laptop and it was EXTREMELY far off to the point that I wouldn’t have been able to sell the images I printed so I think it’s always a good idea to print out the test images your lab offers for calibration and see. That being said I don’t think it’s necessary to pay $200+ for a computer calibrator that you may only use a handful of times. Find out what graphics card is on your computer and do a google search for how to adjust the gamma. I have always calibrated mine myself and while it takes a little bit of patience and work it is a very simple process and I haven’t had any problems since. Hope that helps anyone out there who does need to calibrate their monitor!

  • Alicia Jones - Oh and with newer versions of photoshop Adobe Gamma is no longer available, I contacted apple about it and they said they don’t offer it anymore.

  • Maira - I´m so glad to read this. In my country the calibrators are so so so expensive (more that my camera and more that a couple of great lenses), and I’ve never wanted to spend my money on that, besides I’m not a pro, but it is something that I have in my “To do someday” list. I´m glad to hear that is no something really necesary.

    Love your blog!

  • jack tinney - Phew! What a relief – I always feel really guilty about not calibrating!

  • Daracle - Hi There!

    I really enjoyed reading this article from you as I have recently been discussing this topic myself, the kerfuffle of calibrating my monitor to ensure that, what I see, is what others will see when they print etc. However, It led me to weighing up the pro’s and Con’s of obtaining a Calibra(t)ing – LOL, tool for my Acer monitor or if it would be better to firstly check out the possibility of investing in a higher level monitor.
    What, in your opinion, is the top/best monitor/screen that photographers should look to obtaining to get the best results? And, if that is not financially viable for all pockets, what would be a valid substitute?

  • elizabethhalford - Thank you so much, Damien! Great bit of education there.

  • Tish O'Connor - this is a great post! thank you for writing it!! i am a newer photographer and haven’t calibrated my computer. i sent prints to a company and i could barely tell a difference between those they color adjusted and those they didn’t. i didn’t see the point in calibrating, but heard so much about it, i was still uncertain. i feel good about my decision now!! 😉

  • Cindy E - I’d like to know a good place to get my photos printed…..I am not a pro but I take thousands of pics and I print them all then scrapbook plus frame and hang them. I’ve tried printing at many different places, I hate shutter fly and snapfish….Adoramapix is okay, Mpix too. Is there a better place for non pros?

  • Josh - im in love with this website, your posts have answered so many of my questions, mostly about up grading and whether to pick a a new body or lens. Keep up the good work 🙂

  • Kathryn - Love this! I have yet to calibrate my monitor. I use WHCC and so far so good!

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