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Dealing with a Lying Monitor

Your Monitor Lies!!!!

Don't be offended. It's nothing personal. Mine lies and so does everyone else's. "Fine," you may be saying, "But what the heck does this have to do with me and my digital photography?"

A lot because what this means is that the image that you see on your monitor may very well not be the exact same image you see when you print it out. I'm not going to get into the technical reasons of why this happens, but will focus only on what this means for us and our efforts to get dazzling digital photographs.

Let's start from the beginning. You are looking at a picture on your computer monitor and it looks a little too dark. So you use some digital-editing software or the tools provided on the online photo sites to lighten the image up a bit. You do a couple of things, and voila, it the picture looks perfect and magnificent....Well, it does on your monitor, but would it look as good on another monitor, or even more importantly, in a printed picture.

Monitors are by nature unstable. The same image viewed on two different monitors may appear very different, though in print, the image would be the same.

So that means that the picture that appeared a little dark may have been, in reality, find and that by lightening it up, you actually made the picture worse. You see what I'm saying here?

You can really see this you see by taking a regular print picture, scanning it and comparing the print picture with what you see on the monitor. You can then take it the final step by printing the digital picture, and then comparing all three--the two pictures and the digital image on the monitor. Side-by-side, you'll definitely see some differences.

I know this is crazy, and it is without a doubt one of the Most Maddening aspects of working with digital photographs.

Now don't get me wrong, in many cases the differences are slight (though in others they may be more pronounced.) But a real problem is seeing a problem with an image on your monitor that doesn't actually exist, correcting it, and then discovering that the correction actually worsened the picture.

Professional graphic artists often spend thousands of dollars on software to calibrate their monitors--making sure that what they see on the computer is what they'll get when they print. Even then, they will always get a printed sample just to make sure that the colors are right.

Fortunately, you don't have to spend thousands or hundreds of dollars to calibrate your monitor to a level more than suitable for our purposes. What I use and recommend is a small program available with Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0. If anyone is not familiar with this software or company, they are both great. Adobe is the premier graphics and photo editing software company. In fact, Adobe's Photoshop is the premier software package. Elements is the company's slightly less professional version, and the one that I use. There is more packed into it then you'll ever need.

One of the nice things they include is a calibrating wizard called "Adobe Gamma," which, after installing the program, is available through your control panels. After the wizard walks you through the process, the program allows you to see what your monitor looked like before and after the calibration. Even though the change may be slight, you'll be surprised by the difference.

I strongly recommend this software. Besides Gamma, it allows you to do so many other great and easy things to dramatically improve your photos. (We will discuss some of those methods in future articles.)

There are, of course, other calibration options available and you can search for them in Google under "monitor calibration."

The main thing is just to recognize that your monitor lies and just to be sure that any changes you make to your images are ones that improve.

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