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"The Independent Artist"
Issue V, April 2009

Page 13

by Don Ament, Photographer

Is your computer monitor properly calibrated? More importantly, is the monitor of your juror?

Now that digital jurying has become the de facto standard for art shows, how accurately are jurors seeing our images?

The early days of digital jurying saw great attention paid to image accuracy when the original ZAPP system was introduced by WESTAF. High quality projection equipment and calibration standards were used, and early digital juries using those systems were, and still are, impressive. If your images are prepared on a calibrated monitor/computer system, you can count on a reasonably accurate presentation of your images to the jury on a ZAPP projection system.

Of course, we all know that room lighting, projector throw distance, and other variables can affect image quality, but those are separate issues.

However, now that many (most?) shows are beginning to jury by monitor, and often in remote locations, what kind of calibration standards are being used? Are any standards being used at all? Are shows, and their jurors, aware of the importance of accurate calibration, and are they getting the necessary information in order to get there? Its also very important to note that it doesnt matter if you prepare your own jury images, or if you pay someone else to do it for you. It doesnt matter how good your images are prepared, if the person who is judging them is not seeing them accurately. They might be off a little, or they might be off a ton.

Fortunately, proper calibration solves the problm. So, what does it mean to be calibrated, and how do you get there?

You get there by purchasing a separate, hardware calibration device and its accompanying software. They are available for about $150, or even less, and consist of a small puck that rests on the computer monitor. When the software is activated, it sends various colors to the monitor, which are read and analyzed by the puck. The colors that are displayed are never actually what they should be, but the puck sends this information back to the computer, which then makes internal adjustments in order to modify the colors to what they should actually be.

For instance, if the software tells the monitor to display red, the calibration puck determines what corrections are needed in the computer in order for the monitor to actually display that exact red. After calibration is complete, all of the colors that the monitor is supposed to be showing end up being what it actually displays. Or, I should say pretty close, as there is always some leeway.

In a nutshell, calibration gets everybodys monitor into what could be called a reasonable state of similarity. You can be pretty confident that an image viewed on one calibrated monitor/computer is going
am very aware of the importance of having a calibrated computer monitor in order to be able to make accurate and consistent adjustments to my images.

My system is set up with my main monitor, a very high quality Apple 23 HD LCD, as my main imaging monitor, and it is calibrated. My second monitor is of generally good quality, the kind you would find at an office supply superstore or electronics big box retailer, and the kind you would likely find being used by a juror, or at an art center. It happens to be a 19 Hanns HN199D, but you could substitute most any $200 monitor and have about the same quality.

I use the Hanns to hold all the image adjustment tool palettes that I use when I work on images. I use both of my monitors simultaneously to give me more screen real estate. Until I began to ask myself some of these calibration questions, I had never calibrated the Hanns, because I never used it for image analysis, but only to hold the tools.

Recently, though, I made a startling and very disconcerting discovery. Ive been making some new images with a lot of dark and subtle tones, and one day was moving a lot of images around on my two monitors. As I would drag an image window from my calibrated Apple monitor over to the uncalibrated Hanns, I observed an almost unbelievable difference in the way some of the images appeared. Dark warm tones on the Apple became extremely washed out and pea soup green on the Hanns. Skin tones became pale blue. It was like looking at two completely different images.

It was interesting to note that, while I could say that the images were generally washed out on the uncalibrated Hanns, some were worse than others. It depended on the image. Some colors and tones seemed to shift in one direction, and other colors shifted in another direction. It was much more of an inconsistent shift, then what we might have observed in the old days when, if one slide projector had a yellow bulb, all images on that projector would be yellow. Here, there was only a general pattern, with a lot of variation thrown in, depending on the image.

I had actually previously noticed the difference in my monitors, but it never struck me the way it did with my new types of images. I had not given it much thought until now. In fact, over the past two-three years, I had kind of gotten complacent about the whole idea of monitor calibration, thinking

that surely the computer industry has this issue worked out by now? My thinking was that any recent computer and monitor is probably pretty good at this point, and besides, What Are You Gonna Do?

Turns out, I was wrong, and the computer industry has not got it worked out. Except, wait, actually, it is worked out. Its called calibration.

The fact is, there are so many variables among computer equipment that it is unlikely that accurate viewing of colors and tones will ever be fixed so that it happens automatically, right out-of-the-box. For most people, and most industries, its not that big of a deal. But for us, it is a big deal. Weve often got only about 10-12 seconds to sell our images to a juror. If the image that juror is seeing is not what we are expecting them to see, if the colors and tones are way off, its a big problem.

Bottom line, without proper calibration, there is no way to know how close, or how far off, artists images will appear to the juror from what was intended. My observations have shown me they can be way off, indeed. The hope with this article is to at least raise awareness of the problem among artists, and even more critically, show directors.

If you, as a show director or juror, are not using a calibrated monitor, you are not viewing images in as accurate a manner as you might think. The calibration solution is not extremely difficult to implement, and is not very expensive at all. Once your monitors are properly calibrated, you can feel very confident that you are seeing artists images as close as reasonably possible to what the artist intended you to see. Without calibration, who knows?

Calibration 101

Ready to calibrate your monitor? Here are some sources for calibration devices. IMPORTANT: Read to the end for information on how to use your new calibration device.

Datacolor has calibration devices available from under $100, and their excellent Spyder 3 is about $150.00. You can buy directly from their site, or other sources are listed below:


The X-Rite Eye-One Display LT is a fine unit for about $150.00. Buy from their site, or other sources are listed below:


Other buying sources, both of these companies are used by professional photographers all the time.:

Adorama: http://www.adorama.com/

B&H Photo-Video: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/

Or, just Google Datacolor Spyder, or Xrite Eye-One Display LT

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: When you get your new calibration device and install the software, you will be presented with choices for a couple of important settings. DONT WORRY about the Geek-speak here, it will be easy to understand it when you are using your device. Calibrating your monitor is not hard to do, and the software that comes with the devices will walk you right through the process.

First important setting: Set your device to calibrate the monitor at 6500 degrees Kelvin. This is the most widely used setting in todays environment. You may see references to 5000 degees Kelvin, but, generally speaking, that is an older standard not used nearly as widely today as the 6500 setting. Some of the very basic calibration devices for sale have only the 6500 setting. If your device offers a choice, use 6500.

Second important setting: Set your device to calibrate the monitor at Gamma 2.2. You may see references to the effect that Gamma 2.2 is a PC standard and Gamma 1.8 is a Mac standard. That is very old news. Gamma 2.2 is the standard now for both platforms. Depending on the device and its software, you may or may not see the Gamma option. If you do, set it to 2.2.


Larry Berman
Larry Berman

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