This is not a sponsored post and I’m not being supported or endorsed by X-Rite. They have great customer support and have helped me with calibrating my systems for years and have also helped with my research for this post.
Originally I was just going to make a post about calibrating your monitor as it’s so crucial, and I learned that most people are not doing this.
I decided to run a poll in the Food Photography Club Facebook Group and I asked everyone what kind of system they were working on. Who was working on a laptop? Who was working on a stand alone monitor, and who was calibrating their devices?
I was very surprised at the results. Out of 70 folks who did the poll, 61% are using laptops without a stand alone monitor. Out of 70 folks who did the poll, 80% are not calibrating their monitors or laptops!
So to help folks out, I decided to break this down into two posts. First post (this one), will be about monitors. Second post will be about calibrating our monitors and laptops. I will be updating this post when needed as we get newer monitors to choose from.
Monitor calibration makes sure that your monitor is showing you the most accurate color, brightness, saturation, and contrast that it can. I will go over this in much more detail in the next post.
Now We Need To Talk About Monitors
If you are working on an older laptop or an older monitor, just know this will affect how your images will look and most likely aren’t as accurate as the newer monitors. So you won’t really know how your work will look on other devices that people are using. Meaning you don’t know how your images are looking to your readers and your clients.
Here is the problem with working on laptops. Not only will they constantly go out of calibration by the simple act of just moving it, they will never be as accurate as a stand alone monitor. The other issue is, unless you view them from the exact center, laptop monitors have a huge angular change in color when you view them from a slight angle.
For the color critical work that we do as photographers, you MUST work on a stand alone monitor or on a system like an iMac, with a built in full size monitor and you MUST calibrate it. If you use a laptop, you just need a adapter to plug your monitor into your laptop.
Every single manufacturer ships out their products with brightness jacked way up and the contrast is usually through the roof too. They never ship out monitors set for color critical work.
If you look at all the different laptops out there, they wildly vary in how their screens look. If you look at a inexpensive PC screen, then look at a Mac Powerbook, there’s a huge difference in color, brightness, saturation, and contrast.
Standalone monitors are also not created equal. A $100 monitor will look nothing like a $1000 monitor.
You have to always think of your monitor as a translator. It is translating color from your file to your screen. It will never be 100% accurate. The goal is to get it as accurate as you can for the type of work you are doing.
Types of Photography Work
As you well know, there are several ways to use photographic images. The following are the basic types we need to consider as food photographers:
- Images for the web only – like your food blogs. The easiest way to “reproduce” your work and it is extremely forgiving when it comes to all your mistakes.
- Images for fine art printing, where you have your images printed on an inkjet printing system in small runs. Meaning you’re not making 1000’s of prints at one time. These are the beautiful fine art prints that people collect and are shown in galleries. This is where you are calibrating your monitor AND your in-house printer to get accurate prints of your digital files. This IS NOT forgiving and will show all your mistakes, even ones you didn’t see on your screen.
- The last type of photographic work would be for commercial & editorial use. Someone will be taking your image and mass producing it. This covers advertising work, magazines, packaging, anything that is printed on a large, offset printing press in large quantities. This is also the most difficult thing to do – to accurately reproduce a photographic image in a commercial printed form. Colors always shift. This is where it’s expected that the image maker (you), is creating an image with certain printing specs on a calibrated system, and then the image is handed over to someone else who will take that file, possible do more to it, then give it to the printer, who of course is working on a fully calibrated system. This IS NOT forgiving and will show all your mistakes, even ones you didn’t see on your screen.
Each type of image use require a certain color management workflow to get your digital files reproduced accurately.
For these posts, we are mostly going to focus on the first type of use, getting your image on a website and I’ll mention a little bit about printing at home too.
Types of Monitors
I won’t go into all the details here, but there are different types of monitors and screens. They all interpret, or show colors and contrasts differently.
LCD screens or Liquid-Crystal Displays are the older screens that have now been replaced with LED screens or Light Emitting Diodes screens.
The LED’s are supposed to have better dynamic image contrast and the widest color range for our RGB colors. Your images are made from pixels of Red, Green, and Blue. Our monitors display pixels of Red, Green, and Blue.
If you are working on an older laptop or an older monitor, just know this will affect how your images will look and most likely aren’t as accurate as the newer monitors. So you won’t really know how your work will look on other newer screens.
Here is the problem with working on only laptops. Not only will they constantly go out of calibration by the simple act of just moving it, they will never be as accurate as a stand alone monitor.
Some of the newest macs with their fancy screens can be more accurate than others. But I say, “save your money”, don’t get the newest fanciest mac powerbook, get a great laptop for less, then get a great monitor as well.
For the color critical work that we do as photographers, you MUST work on a stand alone monitor or on a system like an iMac, with a built in full size monitor and you MUST calibrate it. Again, unless you view them from the exact center, laptop monitors have a huge angular change in color when you view them from a slight angle.
Some Great Monitors to Consider
AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: SOME OF THE LINKS BELOW ARE AMAZON AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS I WILL EARN A COMMISSION IF YOU MAKE A PURCHASE. THIS COMMISSION COMES AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU. CONTACT ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS 🙂
You must get a monitor that is made for color critical work. The cheap $100 will not work for this.
To calibrate my monitors, I use a product called a ColorMunki made by X-Rite. The reason why I am such a fan of X-Rite is that you can actually call them and get great tech support! No one does that these days. I called X-rite this week to get help with my two older monitors and spoke with Mary and Alex in tech support. I ended up doing a little interview with Alex as he has worked there for 16 years and knows so much about monitors and how to calibrate them. I asked him what monitors would be great to use.
Here are several monitors to consider. There are two types. Monitors without their own calibrations software, and monitors with their own proprietary software. These monitors have calibration software built in.
If you already have a monitor calibration device, like a ColorMunki – you can use that instead of using the built in software. You just have to use the software that came with the device.
Use these monitors as a guide, look at their specs, and learn what sets them apart from the cheap monitors. Use the specs on these monitors to find monitors available in your area. We have readers from over 60 countries here, so these monitors might not be available in some countries.
#1 Dell UltraSharp 25″ Monitor UP2516D $530 (price changes often)
This is the Dell UltraSharp 25 Monitor UP2516D for $530 on Amazon. Actually, one of our Food Photography Club Facebook group members Andrias, told me about it. At first I wasn’t sure that this could be a decent monitor for the money, but I was wrong. When I asked Alex about it, he told me that X-Rite made the proprietary calibration software that it comes with called Premiere Color, and for the money, it’s a great little monitor to start out on. So this is the first on the list for the price. You will need to buy the higher end X-Rite calibrator called the X-Rite i1Display Pro to use that software that comes with it. That is $220 on Amazon. For more info on this monitor, here is the Dell website page about it.
You have to buy the X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibrator to use that software. Their software for the monitor is called The Palette Master.
What’s also great is this comes with it’s own shade hood. This is very important to have for your monitor to make sure you limit the amount of ambient light falling on the monitor. I always put shade hoods on my monitors. Read about the BenQ on their product page here.
This is the monitor that Alex uses at X-Rite. It’s a higher end monitor made for critical color work. It also has the ProGraphics Palette Master calibration software. You will need to use the same X-Rite i1Display Pro calibration unit on this to use that software.
This was much cheaper at B & H Photo in New York, than Amazon, which is unusual. This monitor comes with the software and the calibration device. My retoucher actually uses this unit and really likes it and a good friend of mine who is a pretty big product photographer also uses this. I’ll probably get this one when my old monitors needs to be replaced. Here is the product page for this on NEC
You know how with every product you have the total low ball cheapo version and then the super high end ones? Well the super high end product in monitors is an Eizo monitor. Eizo also had X-Rite make their proprietary calibration software called ColorNavigator. This unit actually has all the calibration built in so you don’t need an external calibrator device.
Next Post – Why Calibrate Your Monitor And How To Do It
If you are just doing work for yourself and not sharing the images with anyone (not sure who that would be), then this won’t really matter to you.
The goal is to create images that will look consistent when other people are viewing your work. If you are working on a calibrated monitor, then you will know the image you worked on has the proper brightness, color, and contrast.
If you are working on a monitor that is too bright (the most common situation), then you will make your images too dark, all the time. You will be compensating for your monitor and make your images darker in order for them to look properly exposed on your monitor.
If you are working on a monitor that is too dark, your images will look too bright elsewhere because chances are, you are lightening up your images to compensate for your monitor.
So, stay tuned for our next post as I will go into detail about how to calibrate your monitor and your laptop with a step by step guide.
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Happy Shooting friends!