Are you delivering digital photos and/or selling prints? Then having accurate colors is essential! Make sure to know when your white is really white by using grey cards and calibrating your monitor and camera.
What are you talking about? My white IS white, I see it right now on my screen!
Yeah, you really think so? How can you be sure?
I’ve got some news for you. Unless you’ve already been using the tips I’m sharing in this article, there’s a 99% chance your white is NOT a true white. The colors you’re seeing right now are a combination of personal perception and the settings of your monitor. Basically, what I see on my display is different than what you see at this very moment unless both of us have calibrated them.
Why color accuracy matters
If you happen to edit your photos on a cool-toned display, they will have a warmer hue to balance it all. This will look very nice on your computer … but what happens if you want to print it or send it digitally to someone else? The picture will likely show with a yellow or orange hue.
The same is true for low-contrast monitors. You will compensate by editing your picture with more contrast than what’s actually needed in order to make it look good. And guess what? Your shadows will probably turn to black and your highlights white (the opposite is also true).
Right below is the example of my own MacBook Pro’s display. You can see how the “before calibration” has more contrast and is much cooler than the “after calibration” version, and how the overall colors become much more vibrant.
So how to make sure your white is really white?
In photography, you have the power to control the color over three main elements.
- Your screen
- Your camera
- Your files (pictures)
Mastering one of them will dramatically improve your color accuracy. Mastering all three of them will ensure 100% accuracy — and your white will be white 100% of the time. Here’s how it works.
1. Your screen
There’s a tool called a monitor calibrator. Simply put, this device reads, recognizes and automatically corrects the colors of your display to make it perfect.
How long does it take? It’s a step that can take up to 20 minutes, but Datacolor holds the record with the SpyderX that can calibrate under two minutes. Calibrating your screen is perhaps the most important key element of all.
2. Your camera
You might have already seen these multiple color patch charts, like the Spyder Checkr 24. How does it work?
This card — taken in a picture during your photoshoot — is being analyzed by a compatible software to create a unique profile for your camera. This profile of perfectly accurate colors can then be used on most popular editing software such as Photoshop and Lightroom (and it works for video, too!).
3. Your files (pictures)
Another powerful tool is the grey card. The good old version comes as a traditional card but there have been technological advances since then: It is now available as a small cube called the Spyder Cube. This form not only allows to have an accurate white balance but also gives lectures and references about exposure, black level and brightness.
To use it, take a photograph with the cube facing the camera. Once the file is imported in your favorite editing software, click on the white-balance eye-dropper to automatically correct it. This is a very fast and easy way to make sure the white is completely neutral (and not blown out by the same occasion).
One white to rule them all
In a perfect world, every display of the planet would be calibrated. That way, everyone would see exactly the same colors. Until then, we have the power (and the responsibility) as photographers to take care of it ourselves.
Tools such as those offered by Datacolor are meant to be fast, accurate and easy to use. They also help reduce post-production work and create a more constant look.