Like much of the news these days your monitor isn’t always as accurate as it should be. Mike Plant reveals the tools to fine-tune your screen so that it displays everything flawlessly
Before you start reading this article (and certainly before you start applying any of our tips here), open a photo on your PC and take a few seconds to look at it. Though it might look perfectly fine, the chances are that its reds aren’t really red, its blues are far from blue and its greens… well, you get the idea.
That’s because monitors don’t come pre-calibrated to suit the unique conditions of the room you are in, meaning what you see on screen is a far-from-accurate rendition. In fact manufacturers of PC monitors and TVs often crank up the brightness levels and over saturate colors so that their screens look vivid – even garish – in order to stand out on the shelf of your local PC World store.
That’s why it’s important to properly calibrate your monitor’s brightness, contrast and color settings. This not only helps reduce eye strain, but displays photographs and images as they should be. Here we’ll explain how to tune up your monitor for a truer picture.
Brightness and contrast settings
The first step to accuracy is to ensure that brightness and contrast settings are at the correct levels. Usually you’d have to grapple with the fiddly controls on the front of your monitor to adjust these. Thankfully, you can make these tweaks more easily by using the free program ClickMonitorDDC.
Go to www.clickmonitorddc.bplaced.net, scroll down and click the Download ClickMonitorDDC link. To open it doubleclick the ZIP file that downloads, then the ‘ClickMonitorDDC_3_0.exe’ file. After a few seconds you’ll see the program’s interface, which contains a series of sliders. Try moving the brightness and contrast sliders and you’ll see that your monitor’s display changes accordingly.
Next, dim the lighting in your room, then use an online calibration aid known as a reference card to properly adjust your screen – Photo Friday’s card (www.snipca.com/23044) is a good example. Press F11 to make the card full screen (press the Escape key to undo this) and pay particular attention to the horizontal bar along the top of the card. The segments of the bar (from true black to true white) should be distinct, while true black (on the far left) should look black, not grey. The other sections of the card can also help. For example, you should be able to see three concentric circles of black and white within the circular graphics on the left and right.
To adjust your screen, open ClickMonitorDDC by clicking its icon in the notifications area at the bottom-right of your taskbar. To see the icon you might have to click the up arrow. Adjust the sliders until the Photo Friday calibration aid displays correctly. If you want to double check the settings against a similar calibration aid you can also use Screen Check (www.photographerusa.com/screencheck).
Configure your colors
Now it’s time to adjust your monitor’s color settings. Again, ClickMonitorDDC can make this process much easier. Open it and tick the RGB box in the top left corner, then choose User1 in the dropdown menu next to it. Three sliders will appear representing red, green and blue. If you don’t see User1 in the dropdown menu – some laptops and monitors may not give you the option – try using the Calibrize tool instead (see the next section).
It’s worth noting that rather like tuning a guitar by ear, you’ll never quite get your colour settings exactly right by sight alone. If absolute accuracy is important to you (because your career or hobby involves photo- or video-editing) your best option is to buy a digital colourimeter (see below). However, you can still make sure individual colors are distinct and appear accurate.
One of the best color reference cards you can use is TFT Vanity’s Monitor Test Scale (www.snipca.com/23052). The only downside is that you have to enable Flash in your browser to open it. When you first load the page you’ll see a brightness and contrast card that’s similar to Photo Friday’s version. But TFT Vanity’s card is even more detailed because its true black and true white are divided into gradients with one-per-cent differences. However, unless you have a professional-level monitor you won’t be able to tune it to make such fine margins visually distinct.
Instead move your cursor to the top of the web page to see the available settings and click Multiple under ‘Color range’. You’ll see a series of graded colours. Now adjust your sRGB settings using ClickMonitorDDC so that every color looks correct at its 100-percent mark (on the right) and all show the same shade of black at the zero-per-cent mark (on the left). Finally, make sure each color gradient is distinct from those either side of it. To help tune red, green and blue individually you should select ‘Black/red grad.’, ‘Black/green grad.’ and ‘Black/blue grad.’ from the ‘Color range’ column.
Fine-tune your settings
Once you’ve changed your monitor settings so you’re reasonably happy with what you see, it’s still worth fine-tuning them using a second tool. Calibrize (www.calibrize.com) – like ClickMonitorDDC – provides handy sliders for changing your colours. Download and install the program then follow the instructions to make your adjustments.
Also try the 13 tests at www.lagom.nl/lcd-test. Together they may take you up to an hour to complete, but it will be time well spent, especially if your screen currently leaves your eyes feeling tired.
Change the refresh rate
If you have ever noticed your screen flicker, it could be because its refresh rate isn’t set correctly. This determines how often the monitor updates what you see on screen, but if Windows is set to send that information at a rate faster (or slower) than your monitor can handle, you’ll see that annoying flicker.
To change the refresh rate in Windows 10, right-click a blank space on your desktop then click Display Settings. Next, click ‘Advanced display settings’ then ‘Display adapter properties’ (you’ll see it under ‘Related settings’). Click the Monitor tab and choose another refresh rate from the ‘Screen refresh rate’ dropdown menu, then click Apply and (assuming the display looks good) ‘Keep settings’.
You should keep an eye on your display for flickering and if none occurs leave the refresh rate as it is. If flickering does continue, change the rate until the problem is resolved. To find the same refresh-rate dropdown menu in Windows 7, right-click the desktop and choose ‘Screen resolution’, then click ‘Advanced settings’ and click the Monitor tab.
HOW TO GET PERFECT COLOR
Color perception on monitors is rather like Chinese whispers and can be a real pain for photography professionals and enthusiasts.
Let’s imagine that a photographer has retouched an image so that its colors are vivid and perfectly tuned. He sends this to another photographer, but his monitor uses different settings, so the photo looks washed out. The second photographer fixes this by saturating the colors, then sends it to a third photographer, whose monitor settings also make the photo looked washed out. He saturates the colors even more. As a result, if the photo was to be returned to our original photographer, it would look garishly over saturated.
Following the color-calibration advice in this feature can alleviate this problem, but the only way to be 100-per-cent sure that the colors you see are accurate is to use a colourimeter, such as the Spyder 5. It uses a lens to scan your monitor and then tunes up your display automatically to balance the colors perfectly. If all three of our photographers used a colourimeter, they would see the same image with the same color balance.