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Gear & Apps

The Problem With Your Workflow You May Not Know You Have | Calibration

By Kishore Sawh on October 23rd 2015

I want to sell you something. Not a product, not necessarily, but an idea, and here’s my pitch:

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There’s a huge problem in photography that’s bigger and more prevalent than most would imagine, and really that makes for a truly insidious problem simply because most people don’t even know they have one. I’m also willing to bet my next bottle of Laphroiag that most of you have this problem – not all, but most. So what is it? Color calibration. Yes, fine, it’s not exactly sexy, and I would deliberately spill my drink on you at a party if you began to speak about it, but it’s oh-so-necessary.

Color calibration for monitors and of printers specifically is what we’re talking about here. Please, please, please listen to me when I tell you that if you’re not color calibrating your equipment, you’re killing the images you work so hard to execute. Not to mention you’re likely going to waste money and time, and it’s largely preventable.

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We are living in the age of information distribution and that’s largely imagery, putting photographers somewhat at the forefront of it all. Any image you take now and publish is going to end up in many different screens, from phones to other monitors, to tablets and in prints. This in itself is wonderful, but you need to make sure your screens are calibrated because if they’re not, your soft proofing and editing is going to yield different results on various screens, and especially in prints.

Have you ever printed something at a kiosk or proper image printers and then had a result so far different in appearance than what it looks like on screen? It’s largely due to a calibration issue, and I can tell you home and industrial printers have to waste tons of paper, ink, and time due to the lack of calibration that bring the need to reprints, and that is largely because of the lack of calibration. What’s the point of editing and tweaking your images only for them to be printed or viewed onscreen entirely different than how you intended?

[REWIND: Datacolor Releases Spyder5 To Perfect Your Color Calibration With 3 Variants]

(Incidentally, if you’re sending over any images for print, most if not all, photo printing companies will be more than happy to provide you with the ICC profile beforehand if you ask for it. This should keep it all kosher)

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So what do you do? Calibrate your monitors – all of them, and your printers, too. I gather that many don’t do it because they’re a bit nervous about it, but there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s easier than you think. It’s also an action that will pay for itself many times over. So now that we’ve established that, how do you do it, and where to look for help? Simple, you look here, and Datacolor wants to be your solution.

A Chat with Datacolor’s Imaging Market Manager, Heath Barber

It’s PhotoPlus Expo in NYC and we’re here covering the show thanks to our sponsors, B&H Photo. I’ve been sitting with Heath Barber, the Market Manager of Imaging for Datacolor, the company that produces the tools I use to calibrate my equipment. It’s pertinent to interject here I’m not sponsored by Datacolor so no need to plug, but it’s what I use. And since I do, it’s why I recommend them, the reasons for which are highlighted a little here, and in the coming review of their Sypder5Studio System.

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Heath has been in the business for some time, and what you might be interested to discover is that like some of the top imaging companies such as Leica and so forth, imaging is only a portion of what this company does, and truly, that’s not a bad thing.

Datacolor has been around since 1970 and provides the world with color solutions for many different markers – from plastics to coatings, to textiles and automotive. In fact, the consumer imagery market represents only about 1/3rd of what they do. So, not even the majority, but anything you would need in the process to measure color and validate the color is accurate, in any industry; that’s what and who they cater to and then to specific market segments.

I like this because to me, it shows they understand all aspects of color and this adds a cache and validity to the imaging side given the background they have. It sort of perfectly situates them, such as Leica having made microscope lenses made them great candidates for consumer photo lenses. For Datacolor, it’s all about formulation and manufacturing of hardware and software strictly for color. Imaging may be just a segment, but one they are about best suited for: to provide solutions from capture—>to edit—>to print for photographers and side market for graphic designers and such.

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Most of you should be aware of the Spyder calibration systems, which are probably the best and most user-friendly consumer calibration systems out there. Not long ago, we wrote about the release of the Spyder5, their latest and greatest calibration tool that’s smaller and more powerful and complete than ever. Then there’s their top-end Spyder5Studio system, which I have and will put up a review for you all shortly.

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It is the complete solution for anyone in photography, though catered to prosumers and pros. It covers all bases needed from capture ( the incredible little device called the SpyderCube which you’re going to want), through edit, all the way through print. It allows you to calibrate RGB printers also, and has a nice ruler device to guide through the process of strip readings versus patch reading, which is time and headache saving. It just makes it easy. (Actually, I want to stress just how important the ease of use is, because I don’t want you all to be intimidated by it and not end up with the benefits). Also it’s got the new hardware and software, though the cube doesn’t use software, and can be used in any photo editing application.

Future

But there’s no stagnancy for Datacolor and Heath has assured me that there’s a lot coming. So what can we expect?

Well for one, they will continue in the direction of having their products be as efficient in design as possible, even if that means a departure from their current look. That look, however, has evolved as we see the size difference and internals with the Spyder5; from the lens cap idea that acts as the counterweight and single optical core. 

There is also a leaning towards more customer satisfaction through product software updates that will have the benefit of extending the life and usefulness of your purchase. And before you think it, it doesn’t appear that they will follow Adobe is making it some sort of subscription plan – rejoice. Oh, and there’s a nice Adobe CC promotion with the purchase of a Spyder Product. Check their site for details.

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They are also exploring how to implement the calibration for mobile devices like tablets. Heath mentioned that the iPad Pro is something currently of an anomaly but probably won’t stay that way. They understand that even before the Pro arrives, tablets are playing a crucial role in the lives of photographers, and they want to make sure that you are having seamless image sharing across the spectrum of your devices, so we shall await that. In fact, there is an iOS and Android app supporting tablet used called Spyder Gallery, but it wasn’t a complete solution and is no longer supported. You get the feeling from speaking to someone like Heath that Datacolor wants to leave nothing short of utter completeness.

You can check out their site and this article for more about the Spyder5, and get yours here. Be sure to also look out soon for the full review of the Spyder5Studio.

A special thank you to B&H Photo for sponsoring the SLR Lounge trip to Photo Plus Expo, giving us the chance to meet and speak to companies such as Datacolor.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jonathan Di Iorio

    SLRLounge, can you do a review of the best 22″ and large LCDs for every budget range?

    If I have $1000 to spend on a monitor, what should I get? Photo editing and web browsing use only.

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  2. Mark Romine

    I’ve been calibrating displays since the mid-90’s back when the only OS that supported a color managed work was Apple. It was and still is essential all-be-it much easier to achieve now that it was back in the day.

    Be aware that trying to calibrate an iMac display, even the newest ones, is not easy and may be pretty difficult to match it to your other displays that you already have.

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  3. Dave Haynie

    I’ve been calibrating for years, and my two 27″ monitors (same brand) are essentially identical once I adjusted them to look the same, then calibrated. A third I have isn’t spot on with the other two even when calibrated, but it’s an older 24″ monitor, MVA rather than IPS and “only” 1920×1200. So it’s kind of the spare, anyway.

    One thing to consider, though, is a lesson I take from years of audio work: preview is important on consumer gear. If you’re delivering images for print that you control, no problemo. But if you’re delivering for online, you have to factor in the fact that regular folks don’t calibrate. If you’re delivering for television (more of a video thing, for sure), there’s the additional factor that probably at least half of your customer base is going to be watching their expensive new HD and UltraHD televisions with them still set in “showroom floor” mode. Not to suggest NOT using calibration in these cases, but it is useful to preview under adverse conditions, just to ensure your work holds up there as well as possible.

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  4. Mokhtar C

    Let me tell you how i lost some potential client from calibrating my screen a couple of years ago.

    At some point in my photography career i decided to get a screen calibrator. I was super happy that i was seeing accurate colors, WOOHOO ! and i was seeing everyone’s art on Deviant Art as “BAD COLORS”.

    Then i realized that i was the black sheep in my photography community, i was the only one seeing differently when everyone else was perfectly fine with how things are. to them, their default Macbook screens were the standard. I discovered that by getting a call from one of my clients asking my why they looked pale and bright, So my smart answer was, well thats because my screen is calibrated and your probably isn’t. (Good luck trying to explain what that means to all your clients), Well she was not very happy after i explained to get that i am getting accurate colors for printing and future proofing their images etc… These stories kept coming and coming.

    Until one day i decided that its time to take a chill pill and accept that iPhones, iPads, MacBooks/Pros etc… are the standard we live in, and most of the people i deal with everyday view their sessions from them. So i stopped calibrating my screen and my god it made a huge difference for my business.

    I got myself a Spyder Studio 5, and now my workflow is work on uncalibrated Macbook Pro screen, Then i switch to my second Macbook Pro (Calibrated) and rework color tones for Print Clients.

    So far this is the only way to make sure my clients are happy both ways.

    I think DataColor is trying to reach those parents in an indirect way to sell their products, because i read that many photographers are having the same issues i was having with my previous clients. so DataColor trying to influence “non photographers” is a smart move, but it also shows that they are aware of this issue, and their products are not worth investing in unless you are printing your work.

    Anyone else has a story to share ?

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    • Hagos Rush

      That’s actually very interesting. What MacBook are you using? I have had the complete opposite. What it looks like on my Retina MacBook matches what it looks like on my website. And same thing with my MacPro.

      I also have calibrated an old dell 15″ along with an Acer 24″ to use together and they have been magical in their assistance. My screen looks like crap for everything but photos & videos. So not the end of the world I guess.

      I used the i1 DisplayPro and not the Spyder so I assume? that make a difference.

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    • Mokhtar C

      I am using a Macbook Pro Retina Late 2013, It matches iPhones + iPads and new Macbook.

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    • Hagos Rush

      Nice. Mine is of the same year. It may be the different hardware used perhaps?

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  5. Hagos Rush

    Borrowed a friends. Colors are now natural and what I expect. System is perfect.

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  6. Mark Romine

    Had to look up: Laphroiag :)

    Even if you don’t do your own in-house printing you absolutely should calibrate your display(s). If you don’t want to hassle with using the lab’s profile, then just tell your lab to print without any color adjustments. You should get back pretty close to what you see on your display.

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  7. Paul Empson

    Calibration is a black hole for the brain.. as soon as you have one rabbit in the bag: your monitor.. you see another sprinting for the hills: the printer.. plus the various papers.. and then we add available light to the room.. is it natural.. at a constant temp? then as Justin has done.. we add another monitor.. or two..

    suddenly we have metaphorical bunnies digging holes everywhere and out heads hurt… so, I’ve stopped the farce and contented myself with a limited plan of calibration:

    Monitors calibrated to the same setting, 5500 & Gamma 2.2.. output files as JPG’s & sRGB ( as requested by labs ) My studio (room) is lit by a daylight bulb and the white shower curtain over the window diffuses what sunlight we get to acceptable levels.. it’s nowhere near scientific.. but my albums look a faithful representation of what I see on my screen.. I’m happy and like Hef’ have my bunnies under control..

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  8. Cha

    This is great news for photographers who like to give gifts to their clients. A find that a framed photo is a affordable way to give your clients a memorable gift.

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  9. Hanssie

    I have to recalibrate my monitor again! I keep forgetting even though the Spyder keeps reminding me…

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  10. Ralph Hightower

    I need to get a color calibration system. I have two monitors and I haven’t been able to manually adjust them to be the same.

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    • Justin Haugen

      I’ve found that even calibration won’t help with this, you’ll eventually just get to a best possible scenario but there is a degree of variance between monitors and it drives me crazy. I have 3 monitors, all same make and model. I can’t get the third monitor to match the first two, but with good calibration I find them to render my photos all relatively close to the color accuracy I’d like to see across all three.

      Wildly frustrating.

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