How to Calibrate Your Monitor

Monitor Calibration is the process of creating a new monitor “profile” for your laptop or desktop. A profile is, essentially, a set of instructions for how your monitor should display colors. The end goal is for the monitor to display the most accurate colors possible.

This is a necessary process for any photographer, and here’s why: Your expensive camera can capture beautiful colors, but your computer doesn’t automatically translate those colors correctly. For example, if you take a photo of a bright red strawberry and copy it to your computer, your computer will display that strawberry red based on the monitor profile that is selected. If that monitor profile is a little bit inaccurate, which it usually is, that means the monitor is showing you a different red than you know you captured.

It’s important to use a monitor calibration device to “calibrate” the screen you use for photo editing. The two devices we recommend the most are the Datacolor Spyder 5 Pro and the X-Rite Colormunki Display. The software that comes with these devices reads the way your screen displays colors and creates a profile for your screen that will correct it to the industry standard.

You might be thinking, “My screen is brand new. It looks perfect.” We hope so, but we know that our eyes play tricks on us when it comes to color, contrast and luminance. To put it in perspective, almost ALL normal monitors are at least a little bit off-color right out of the box.

Why is this a problem?

When your monitor is not displaying colors accurately, it means you are editing photos based on an inaccurate representation of colors. You might warm up the white balance of an image that seems too blue, when in reality the image is fine and your screen is simply displaying colors wrong and shifting all colors toward the blue direction. By adding additional warmth to that photo (because of the way your monitor is displaying it), you are unknowingly making that photo much more warm than you intend to. Then, if you were to look at that same image on a calibrated screen, you would think the image looks way too warm.

The best course of action to prevent this problem is to calibrate your photo-editing monitor regularly. We recommend at least as often as once per month. Monitors shift overtime and need to be corrected to remain accurate. Also, if you edit primarily with a laptop, it’s even more vital to calibrate frequently, because laptop screens are notoriously bad at holding calibration.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that calibrating your own monitor obviously can only control the colors on your own screen. We can never guarantee that everyone viewing our images is viewing them on a calibrated monitor. This is unfortunate, because the colors in our images may still look a little funky on our phones or other peoples’ devices, but there is no way around that at this time.* We do have the ability to control the accuracy of our images within our own workflow, and that is always better than not having any color management at all. If only we could calibrate all the monitors of the world to ensure our photos always look their best.

*There are some apps that you can use to calibrate your phone screen, but to date they can only work within the app itself, not globally on the whole phone system.

Watch the video below for a walk-through of the Spyder 5 Procalibration software.

Side Note:

If you have been using your monitor without accurate calibration while printing your photographs, you may have always wondered why your images did not print correctly. Monitor calibration can help immensely. There are many more color management steps involved in printing, but calibrating your monitor is one of the most important first steps. If you start implementing that process into your workflow, you should see better printing results.

If you choose to outsourceyour printing, take note that professional print labs use calibrated monitors andfollow a color-managed workflow, so if your monitor is also calibrated and you exportyour images according to the lab’s recommended settings, the colors in your photosshould remain consistent in the prints.

To learn more about color management or maintaining a good image-editing workflow (and so much more), check out our Summer Intensive and Professional Intensive programs!


  • Sarah Chaput de Saintonge

    Sarah Chaput de Saintonge helps shape the direction of Rocky Mountain School of Photography with her husband, Forest. She has a BA in photojournalism and enjoys experimenting with many kinds of photography, but her primary interest is portraiture. She attended RMSP's Career Training program in 2011, ran a business in consumer portraiture for a while, then started working as an instructor for RMSP. She has successfully completed multiple (as in seven) "365 projects" (take a photo a day for a year), and once made it to 155 consecutive days of making self portraits. She loves people, image editing, composition, film, her family, and food.