How to Calibrate a Client's Monitor - Tips for the Professional Photographer

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So you’re out with a client, ready and raring to show them your photography in all its glory… only to find that their monitor isn’t calibrated, rendering your pictures in something less than the best light. How do you calibrate it quickly while out in the field and in a rush—and without offending your client? Here’s a quick guide.

What Is Calibration?

But what is calibration, precisely? Basically, when one calibrates a device, one uses a color measuring device (or colorimeter) as a standard by which to detect any discrepancies between what the monitor shows in reality and what the monitor should show. From this data, the colorimeter generates an ICC profile, with which one can correct the output of the monitor to be absolutely correct.

Before You Begin

As common sense as this might sound, make sure that your monitor is calibrated before absolutely anything else. This is critical, not just to save embarrassment in front of a client, but also to make sure that you’re really getting an accurate viewing of what your photos truly look like. Your own personal monitor should be the central standard of a complex of color-dependent hardware from which correct color calibration is judged, from scanners to printers to—yes, client’s monitors.

This process is usually automated with software that comes with the colorimeter, so calibration is generally quick and easy. Because hardware will change as it ages over time, it’s probably best to recalibrate a screen every few months—that includes both yourself and repeat clients.

Calbirated Or Not? How To Tell

But how do you tell if a client’s monitor isn’t calibrated? Well, take a good long look at the images on the client’s monitor. Do they look the same as on your own, previously calibrated monitor? If there are significant differences between those on the client’s monitor and those on your own, then it just might be the case.

Also, keep in mind the surrounding lighting conditions. If the client’s monitor is placed nearer or closer to a light source, or in a room dominated by some other color, then any images on the screen might appear different than yours just because of a change in atmosphere.

If the differences are inconsequential, or if you’re at all unsure about the calibration, it might be best just to leave it be. Monitor calibration can be a time-consuming process that might just distract from time spent with the client on the real purpose of the visit—photography, and your photos.

Calibration Technology

The vast majority of calibration technology requires both a colorimeter and appropriate software. There is plenty of good quality calibration hardware and software available out there for under $100. Maybe not the most exciting purchase you’ve ever made, but a necessary one.

There is also software which allows you to do a visual calibration. These should not be trusted, especially for working with clients. The eyes play even more tricks on you than the monitors, and incorrect calibration is an incredibly easy mistake to make, especially if you’re vision is less than perfect like most of the world.

When deciding what calibration technology to purchase, make sure you get something flexible and mobile, preferably one that will work with a variety of operating systems to fit every client’s need.

If you don’t have any calibration technology when you discover the problem with the client, you might not be entirely out of luck. With a little fiddling, most monitors, especially older ones, have the ability to reset to their normal value—which might not be perfectly calibrated either, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Working With The Client

So, you know you’ve got to recalibrate the monitor… how to tell the client? First, ask them if they’ve recalibrated their monitor recently. It’s a pretty good possibility that the client might not understand the importance of calibration, so if they express surprise or confusion, explain the issue to them as firmly and politely as you can, and ask for permission to recalibrate their monitor before continuing on.

If the client is resistant, then there’s not a whole lot you can do. Depending on the temperament of the client, it might be okay to pressure them a bit, but in the end, the preferences of the client come first—you are working for them, and as painful as it might be to see misrepresented images played across the monitor… there’s not a whole lot you can do. If you’ve brought your laptop along, try showing them the difference between the images on your computer and theirs.

Beyond The Monitor

Monitors aren’t the only thing that can be calibrated incorrectly. Printers, scanners, anything and everything that interprets color data have the potential to be wrongly calibrated - and thus misrepresent your images. Try to make sure that any and all services that you might be using are, in fact, calibrated, especially if you’re working with clients and can’t afford to look like an amateur.