Over the past couple of weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the color accuracy of my monitor. While finalizing work on a large set of images I noticed that my monitor was looking noticeably dim. For average use I doubt anyone would notice, but seeing as I’m a stickler for color accuracy (a big understatement) it appeared to me that my whites were looking rather grey. At that point I ceased all post-processing of my images until I could verify what was up with my monitor.
Monitors die one of two ways, either catastrophically with a pop or they slowly fade away. My trusty monitor appeared to be slowly fading away much as an old TV I acquired in college had. A quick side story… back in college it was a big deal that I got my hands on a hand me down 27 inch console TV. Yes it had wood paneling, lacked a remote and was oh so glorious. My best friend helped me transport it from LA to Santa Barbara, roughly 100 miles in his Honda accord… it only fit in the trunk and stuck out half way. I have to say it was bad ass to have a 27 inch TV in those days. Sadly what I realized over the first couple weeks of owning it was the tube was slowly fading in brightness. With each week it became tougher and tougher to make out what I was watching as the tube dimmed. It was so gradual that I found my behavior was slowly being modified as I adapted to the dimming picture. By the time I got rid of the TV I had been hanging blankets over the windows so as to have the room dark enough to see the picture. Low and behold something similar was happening with my computer monitor, as I thought about it:
- my blinds were always closed in my office
- I found I’d check regularly to see if my monitor was on the maximum brightness setting
- I became 100% dependent “flying by instrument” while post-processing my images.
“Flying by instrument”? What I mean by this is not relying on my best guess of eye balling what is black or white in my photo and using features in Lightroom to have the computer highlight black and white points with in my image. You can more accurately and consistently set white and black points by holding the option key (control key on PCs) down when adjusting the “Exposure” and “Blacks” settings in the Develop module. I’ve almost always done this (99% of the time), but as I thought about it I had been doing this 100% of the time the last several months.
Seldom do I have my laptop and workstation on at the same time, but when I compared the same photo on each it became obvious my monitor was not performing as it once had. Fast forward to this past Thursday evening, my new monitor was hooked up and in reviewing my latest set of photos all are color accurate with no further work needed to be done. I dodged a bullet. Had I relied on my subjective evaluation of what was black and white as I color corrected my photos I’d be digging up work over the past year and reworking them delaying other projects on my plate. The color of my photos would have been inconsistent, gradually becoming less color accurate as my monitor continued its slow death. Years of being a stickler for color accuracy and adopting best practices of not trusting my eye alone, but rather the relying on the absolute* evaluation of black and white with in Lightroom/Photoshop have paid off.
A little about my old monitor… it’s an Apple 23″ HD Cinema Display and it has held up incredibly well over the years. It was only until I was half way through troubleshooting my monitor concerns that I thought about the age of my monitor and realized it is around 6 years old. I’ve been long over due in replacing it. It’s held up so well that I forgot how old it was.
What monitor did I pick up you ask? Ever since the 30″ Apple Cinema HD Display was announced I’ve long wanted it, but when I made it to the 2009 MacWorld this January I found a monitor that was even more appealing. A monitor that could display 98% of the AdobeRGB colorspace and was 30″ inch in size. That ended up being the NEC MultiSync 3090WQXi 30″ Widescreen LCD Display. I’ve just started using it but as I can I’ll relay my thoughts on it as I use it over the coming weeks.
* While Lightroom and Photoshop, using the technique I’ve referenced, provide a seemingly absolute value of black or white such values truly depend on the lighting and subject with in your photo. When it comes to visual arts everything is subjective, but for most scenarios the features described in Lightroom and Photoshop to set black and white points will cover most images. Also note its best practice to use monitor calibration tools quite regularly to ensure that your monitor is as color accurate as possible.
[tags]color correction, color accuracy, computer monitor, display, photography, NEC MultiSync, 3090WQXi [/tags]