Monday, February 20, 2006

A photo vision checkup

Most people see photographs on the internet much the same as everyone else seems the same photos, right? Well, yes and no. Currently, no standards are sufficiently widespread to ensure that any user's computer will have brightness, contrast, hue and saturation set to match anyone else's computer. Not only that, as the light changes in the room that houses your computer, you yourself may not being seeing a photo in exactly he same way today as you viewed it last night.

Measures to address this situation can become quite involved and very, very expensive. Hardware calibration tools that attach to a monitor and measure its output are available for hundreds of dollars. Software-only approaches also are available, although photo-editing purists will point out that any approach that depends on software and eyeballs is not as accurate as an approach that incorporates hardware and software.

Fortunately, exactitude in this area might be something to aspire to, but it is not required. For most users, close is close enough. However, do not be content in assuming that your monitor is working in the "close enough" range. Many are the stories of those who came to realize that what they were seeing was drastically unlike what others were seeing.

Brightness and contrast are particularly important when viewing photos, for they control highlights and shadows. Photographers often devote considerable attention to metering and exposing for these. Sometimes the preferences is for "open" shadows, areas that, although dark, still contain detail. Other photographs will intentionally contained closed or blocked shadows, intentionally obscuring detail and helping to move the eye of the viewer to another part of the photo. A photograph's overall brightness or darkness (a characteristic known as its gamma) also plays an important role in conveying atmosphere and mood.

A number of calibration checks are available on the net, but one that is free, simple and effective is located here. You might find that no changes to your monitor settings are needed. Or you might be in for a surprise. While you're at that site checking you monitor's calibration, also look at the gallery of color photographs of the University of Cambridge. The photographer's handling of some dramatic, challenging lighting is impressive.


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