No laptop LCD can present colours, tones and contrast levels accurately enough to base serious imaging decisions on so they are not really suitable for image editing and printing. They also offer a limited range of adjustments. However, you can improve their accuracy through calibration and profiling, although a colorimeter is normally required for these tasks.


Photographers who wish to edit and print their digital images will require a computer, a monitor and a printer plus editing software. In most cases, two main factors will dictate the hardware you use: your budget and the amount of space on your desktop.

Although desktop computers are often more powerful than laptops and they allow a wider choice of monitor types and screen sizes, for most photographers, a laptop will provide an adequate platform for editing and output. The main disadvantage of laptops is that their screens are fixed and, although you can usually connect a second (and more sophisticated) monitor to use in your colour workflow, it will compromise the portability of your computer (which is probably the main reason for buying a laptop).


Desktop computers are preferable for image editing because they usually provide more RAM and hard drive flexibility, faster graphics handling and a wider range of monitor choices.
Computer Choices
When choosing a computer, look first at models designed for video gaming because they will have the powerful graphics cards, large RAM memories and processing speed needed for handling large image files. For DSLR users, a basic configuration would include a dual or quad core chipset, fast graphics card, between 4GB and 8GB of RAM and at least 500GB of HDD memory.

On a desktop model, we recommend having between six and 10 USB 2.0 ports for connecting related equipment like printers, external storage devices, memory card readers and cameras. At least four of these should be easily accessible from the front panel. Support for 10/100/1000 (Gigabit) Ethernet LAN is required for an internet connection and built-in wireless networking may be worthwhile.

At least one DVD drive is needed for uploading software and you may wish to include a Blu-Ray read/write drive for archiving image files to optical disk. Built-in card reader slots can be handy in laptops but they may also become dust traps so a dustproof carrying case is a must if your laptop has this option. An HDMI port will be valuable if your camera or camcorder records high-definition video. So will ports for speakers and microphones if you plan to become involved with video editing.

Monitor Choices
Almost all monitors sold today use LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology, which has the advantage of being flicker-free, energy-efficient and conservative in the amount of space they occupy. They can also produce perfectly sharp images with no geometric distortions and deliver a consistent tonal scale. However, they also have a few disadvantages:

* Contrast and colour can change with viewing angle (although this has little relevance for photographers who view screens ‘straight-on’).

* Individual pixels may ‘die’, causing tiny permanent black dots to appear on the screen.

Although 17-inch monitors remain available, the most popular monitor size is between 19 and 22 inches, with larger screens being used mainly by professional photographers and graphic designers. Widescreen flat panel monitors with a 16:9 aspect ratio are almost the norm these days. Widescreens also provide room for toolbars and palettes when you’re using editing software.


Widescreen flat panel monitors are an excellent choice for digital photographers.

Many photographers prefer working with dual monitors because they can ‘park’ toolbars on one screen, leaving the other screen uncluttered for displaying the image they are working on. This is an ideal working environment for image editing if your desk space permits. Most recent computer operating systems will support dual monitor set-ups.

No laptop LCD can present colours, tones and contrast levels accurately enough to base serious imaging decisions on so they are not really suitable for image editing and printing. They also offer a limited range of adjustments. However, you can improve their accuracy through calibration and profiling, although a colorimeter is normally required for these tasks.

Ambient lighting can influence your perception of colour. An image displayed on a monitor will look different when the room light is on from when it is off. Where possible, set your monitor up in a room with relatively low brightness levels and avoid situations in which room lights can be reflected by the screen. Anti-glare hoods are available for some monitors.

Identifying High-Quality Monitors
There are several ways of checking whether a particular monitor is suitable for image editing. Take a couple of your image files with you when you’re shopping and ask the store staff to display them on the monitors that interest you. It should be obvious which screen produces the best result.

1. Run a magnifying glass over the screen to check for dead pixels.

2. Check how much you can enlarge a picture on the screen before individual pixels become visible.

3. Check the display’s angle of view. Although most of your work will involve looking directly at the screen, it can be handy to have a display that retains its accuracy for people who might view your image from one side when you’re working on it.

4. Check edge -to-edge sharpness and colour reproduction by opening an image file on the screen and moving it from side to side and top to bottom of the desktop. Watch for changes that occur in colours, brightness, contrast and sharpness. A good monitor should maintain consistency in all four parameters throughout the display area.

Note: you need to be very discerning when judging a monitor’s performance, as these changes may be very subtle. Make sure the display is evenly lit with no reflections off the screen to prevent you from seeing changes.
Colour Management
In the perfect world, you could point your digital camera at a subject, take the photo and then make prints that either match reality or improve upon it. However, in the real world, your camera must communicate with your computer which has to ‘talk’ with your printer, passing on colour information. This chain of information is known as a ‘workflow’ and the colour data is re-interpreted by each device.

It’s essential to maintain consistency throughout your colour workflow and that requires the following steps:

1. Effective colour management starts at the camera and involves selection of settings that will provide you with the maximum amount of image data to work with. The default colour space setting for most digital cameras (and the only colour space provided on the majority of compact digicams) is sRGB, which is supported by all monitors and other display devices and every printer.

2. The working environment also plays a role because lighting can affect the way you see colours and tones. Bright ambient light can cause the colours you see on your monitor to look washed-out and flat; subdued lighting is preferable. Make sure no light is reflected off the surface of the monitor and avoid mixed lighting (such as daylight plus a desk lamp).
3. The monitor must be calibrated and profile.
Monitor Calibration
Monitors are calibrated by using a device known as a colorimeter, which analyses the three components of each colour: hue (colour), saturation (intensity) and lightness. Because screen colours can change over time, all monitors should be re-calibrated at least once a month to ensure the hues and tones you see on the screen will match those in the print. Calibration produces an ICC profile that can be used by your editing software to output the correct image data to the printer’s driver.
Two types of tools are available: software programs and colorimeters or spectrophotometers. Both can be used with CRT screens, which are easier to calibrate because they have more adjustments. LCDs tend to be more stable than CRTs but they usually need to be calibrated with a spectrophotometer (see below).

The most widely available software utilities are Adobe Gamma and QuickGamma. Adobe Gamma can be found in the Gamma control panel for Mac or Monitor Setup in PC systems. QuickGamma can be downloaded from Both have the advantage of being free of charge but they’re less accurate and versatile than a spectrophotometer.


First choose how you would like to work.


Next select the profile description.


Then adjust brightness and contrast.


Finally, adjust the gamma (contrast) until the two boxes look the same.

Both utilities are wizard-based and easy to use and both create an ICC profile, which is used by the computer’s operating system as the default monitor profile. The illustrations on Page 34 show the steps used to create a profile in Adobe Gamma.

Simple colorimeters and spectrophotometers can be purchased for between $150 and $500. The most readily-available models are the Pantone Huey and Huey Pro, the X-Rite EyeOne Display 2 and the Datacolor Spyder. The X-Rite ColorMunki Photo is slightly more expensive but lets you calibrate and profile monitors, printers and projectors and is very straightforward to use.


The ColorMunki Photo in position for calibrating a monitor.


The Welcome screen showing the different devices that can be profiled with the ColorMunki Photo.


The wizard-based controls step you through the profiling process.
The following websites provide additional information on the topics covered in this chapter. for some useful tips on image editing. for the latest version of Picasa. to download Irfanview. for the latest versions of The GIMP.
This is an excerpt from Mastering Digital Photography Pocket Guide 2nd Edition.
Click here for more details on this and other titles in the Pocket Guide series.


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