Viewing environment and calibration

Hey! Having another discussion on the Rockflowers Discord server tonight about calibration. Something I point out often but is still difficult to catch for a lot of people is the viewing environment: IF YOU DON’T CONTROL YOUR VIEWING ENVIRONMENT, CALIBRATION IS USELESS! As pretty much is buying an expensive monitor…

Think of it as tuning a guitar: you get it perfectly in tune, but someone plays with the tuning pegs: that’s exactly what happens when the viewing environment change: if you sit by a window, you get that nice misty cold light in the morning, a bit of warmth in the afternoon, and this amazing sodium light from the street when the sun goes down… Vision is a sense, and as all human senses, it is relative, not absolute. And your brain uses all the references around, so while the color on your screen doesn’t change, the perception you have of that color does change.

I remember this call I got couple years back on a production where the motion graphics guy had a monitor in a room with a window, had made a picture with some nice logo, and then it was going to the grading room and it was looking different on the same model of monitor: they checked the calibration, fine tuned it, and it was still looking different. They got mad at it, moved the actual monitor from the Flame room to the grading room, checked the SDI output of the grading system and the VFX system were outputting the same values, and realized it was the different viewing conditions that made the color shift…

The point of calibration is collaboration: you want to see the same colors on different devices, so you need to take care about the viewing environment. You need to have a consensus on white point brightness, validation viewing environment: dark or dim lit, but in any case controlled, no validation should happen with unmasked windows. Also neutral grey or black is good behind the screen. You may have other colors in the room so it but not in the field of view, and controlled light sources as well.

When I work on pictures and need to make color decisions, I close all windows shutters and there’s just one light source, this LED bar that can be attached to the back of the screen and bounces on the wall some 6500K light. Also be careful when using multiple monitors, as a monitor is a light source.

Obviously you don’t want to be like that all the time as it’s not comfortable, but that’s life if you’re a colorist! Back in the days in France, lab timers used to have extra vacation days because they were working in the dark. Yes, France, cheese, and amazing colorists!

Feel free to comment in the dedicated Rockflowers Q&A channel