Color Calibration Made Easy

Color Calibration Made Easy

When running a photography business, it can be hard to prioritize the non-creative, management-oriented tasks. Unfortunately, there are certain business responsibilities that can't be ignored. No one knows this better than General Manager Aaron Vance of Donna Gail Photography. As the business manager and tech guru for this successful newborn photography brand, Vance knows even small tasks such as color calibration can have a huge impact on the success of a photography studio. Luckily, he's offered to share his knowledge and experience on the subject to limit the headaches and frustrations that come with the tech side of running a business.


As the General Manager for my wife’s photography studio, my full-time job mainly consists of running a photography business. That said, I graduated school with a degree in computer science so part of my duties are taking care of everything computer-related in the business. An important skill to learn when working with photography and computers is color calibration of your monitors. Before explaining how to color calibrate, I want to discuss the details of temperature and the importance of color calibration.

Why Color Calibrate?

The first thing that you need to understand is that each monitor displays color differently. This means that your monitor, laptop, iPad, and phone are all different. This can even mean your two dual monitors are displaying color differently—even if it is not evident to an untrained eye.

Color Calibration Made Easy

The monitors show the exact same file meaning the image you see on your monitor can look completely different on someone else’s. This principle is the same for printing. Each lab calibrates their printers differently as you can see from the below photo:

Color Calibration Made Easy

This is why is it important to color calibrate before you send your files to the lab for printing. You’ll have the confidence of knowing you’re going to receive the same or similar results between what you see on your monitor and the colors you see when the file is printed at the lab.

Color Temperature

Another concept that is important to understand is color temperature. Knowing what color temperature you’re working with when setting up your workstation is very important for color calibration. Color temperature refers to how warm (orange/yellow) or cool (blue) the light is in your photo. Color temperature is measured in kelvins or the letter “K”. When understanding the Kelvin number, it’s important to note the lower the number, the warmer the color will be. Candle light is around 1900K and a clear blue sky is about 10,000K.

Why all this techno babble, you ask? The color temperature of the light you are using affects the colors on the printed picture you’re reviewing. Something to consider before shooting is the ratings of the bulbs at your location or at your workstation. Common lightbulbs used in most homes are available in Warm (2700K - 3000K), Neutral (3500K), and Day Light (5500K - 6500K) temperatures.

Bringing it Together

There are tools in the market that help simplify this process for photographers. A quick internet search for “color calibration software” will provide various options to explore. I highly recommend that you invest in one of these tools because they can really simplify your editing process. Follow the directions provided with the software and you are 95% of the way there. Effective software will help you set the color, hue, contrast, and brightness easily. It will also tell you the color temperature of the light on your computer. Some color correction software comes with a test picture or you can download one from the internet. Have this test photo printed by your lab of choice. When you receive the printed photo, compare the printed picture with what is displayed on your monitor. More often than not you will have to do some minor tweaks, but if the images match to your liking, your calibration was a success. If you need a minor adjustment, you can make the changes through the monitor settings by changing the RGB, contrast, and brightness. I highly recommend that you only make changes in small increments. Once you get the photo to match what’s displayed on your monitor, you have successfully calibrated to the test printer.

Key Tips:

  • • Be sure to view the printed picture in the same place as your computer, and keep the lighting the same. Color temperature of the light changes the way you see the colors.
  • • After you calibrate your monitor, the old picture will not look the same. The file will need to be reedited so it will print according to your desired finished product.
  • • Different mediums and substrates (i.e. photo paper, canvas, press paper, fine art) all take inks differently so the colors will change slightly between mediums. Most software will allow you to set different calibrations based on substrate.
  • • There is no way for labs to calibrate to your computer. You will need to calibrate according to their settings.
  • • If you sell digital images, you cannot guarantee the printed result or how they will look on your clients’ monitors
  • • You should calibrate on a regular, ongoing basis.

I realize this is a lot of technical information, but completing these steps will ensure that you have consistency in color and printing for your business.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me directly at aaron[at]donnagailphotography[dot]com and I’ll be happy to help! You can also find more photography business tips at my website, AddahsAdvice.com.

Color Calibration Made Easy

Aaron Vance