WHY COLOR CALIBRATE

Vincent Versace, acclaimed photographer, author, and educator hosted a conference at the Epson Printing Company. Vincent stated, “If you want to have the the single greatest impact on your prints calibrate your monitor. The print is everything. Before you do anything, buy a calibrator for your monitor. When you purchase a calibrator you will absolutely know that your client is getting the exact same creation that you’re looking at on your screen.”

THE FOLLOWING ISSUES RESULTED IN MONITOR CALIBRATION:

  1. Recently I was struggling with black and white prints lacking the quality of the image on my screen. Additionally, my second iMac was moving on in age adding more to unreliable images.
  2. As I finished processing, I noticed that the mid grays were not true, instead of zone 5-6 they were pushing 3, while losing their tonal values. Darker shadows were too dark. Instead of being zone 3-4 they were pushing 2. This may sound like a minor discrepancy but when one is processing a black and white long exposure it is a catastrophic failure stealing your visual presence and depth.
  3. This was causing a visual decline in quality of my images. Mabry Campbell, friend and distinguished fine art photographer, in black and white long exposure suggested that I calibrate my monitor. Mabry detailed the calibration process indicating how easy the workflow is, taking less than 30 minutes to finish.
  4. This led me to a new iMac 27 inch fusion drive. When I picked up my new machine from the Apple store the staff emphatically reminded me to calibrate the new monitor. The staff indicated that Apple monitors are shipped from the factory that results in darker processed images with a blue-green under tone. This adversely affects the quality of black and white prints. 

iMac 27 inch Fusion Drive

X-Rite ColorMunki

Before: The first image processed from my uncalibrated iMac out of the box.

After: Image after measuring the ambient light and calibrating the monitor. Shadows are truer and highlights are more distinctive.

HOW DOES COLOR CALIBRATION AFFECT BLACK AND WHITE IMAGES

The truth is that black, white, and gray are also colors and not calibrating your monitor and measuring ambient light surrounding the monitor sets up your prints for failure. When converting the native color image to black and white I would argue that color calibration is more critical. Thus the black and white tonal values stretching over the Ansel Adams zone system will create more impactful creations. Remember that fine art photography black and white is based on three factors: light, shadow, and structure as described in the ebook From Basics to Fine Art by Julia Gospodarou and Joel Tjintjelaar.

Once the native color image is converted to black and white and developed we are left with shadows, highlights, and tonal values. These three values create depth, mood, mystery, drama, and silence to your creation. There is a possibility that an image may look different on your client’s screen which you cannot control. However, you can control accurate prints that are identical to the images viewed on your monitor. Peace of mind is knowing that the image in your library will be exactly what your client expects in their final print.

Why Images On Your Screen Must Be Seen The Same Way On Your Prints After Processing

After calibrating my iMac the two images below are identical to the prints. The Chrysler Building is darker as it was photographed in an alley. I purposely maintained the darker shadows of the alley while adding subtle highlights to the sides of the buildings leading to the subject, the Chrysler Building. The Market Street image was taken mid morning emphasizing structure, angles, and the building’s tonal values while using highlights to support the street and horizon. I intentionally left the cable car cables, because that’s the charm and personality of San Francisco. My vision was to bring out the yin and the yang between shadows, mid grays, and Highlights.

Processing a fine art black and white image may take from 25 to 40 iterations involving numerous processing techniques to finish the final creation. This is why it is so important to have your monitor calibrated so that the print and the image on your screen are as identical as it can be.

Chrysler Building, New York City – Richard Terpolilli

Market Street, San Francisco – Richard Terpolilli

DEVICES AND FEATURES

X-Rite and Datacolor are two manufacturers that make the most reasonably priced, accurate, and easy to use devices. For the purposes of this article I use the X-rite ColorMunki Display. The features listed herein are available in the Datacolor devices as well. It’s like choosing a camera, Canon or Nikon, both are excellent. I happened to choose ColorMunki.

ColorMunki combines calibrating the monitor, by adjusting whitepoint, white luminance, brightness, contrast, flare, and color swatches, etc. It also measures the ambient light surrounding the monitor. ColorMunki will also calibrate a projector. Additionally, it will create a profile of your calibrations and will create a schedule for you to choose from for future calibrations. When the calibration is finished it will show you the before and after results of images in its software.

X-rite also provides two tutorials, one for the easy calibration method and the advanced method used by professional fine art photographers: 1.) Easy Display Calibration Demo and 2.) Advanced Display Calibration Demo.

 

Altamonte Pass, California – Richard Terpolilli

Beavertail Light No.2, Rhode Island – Richard Terpolilli

FINAL IMPRESSION

It is comforting to know that images processed from my digital darkroom are accurate with exact details since calibrating the monitor and measuring the ambient light. The only time this does not hold true is posting an image in Facebook as the exposure must be increased one to two stops due to my visual style. Calibrating my machine is a monthly routine as monitors over time will have a tendency to loose calibrated accuracy.

This article was previously published in Derek Michalski’s Long Exposure Magazine (LEMAG), October 2019 issue. Published monthly, LEMAG contains beautifully composed creations from acclaimed international fine art photographers. Additionally, there are feature articles pushing the boundaries of photography to an art form.