Digital pictures often have no frame of reference

Many of us use digital cameras for everyday picture taking. They are fast, have good picture quality and are available at reasonable prices. We take our pictures, download them to our computers and use any one of a number of image manipulating programs to crop them to size, correct color and adjust lighting and contrast. Then we have to decide what to do with the images.

Herein lies a problem. This is the same problem we had with film cameras when we used print film. We took a picture at twilight with its beautiful orange glow but our prints came back from processing and they looked like the picture was taken at noon. What happened? There was no frame of reference.

We now take a picture with our digital camera. We look at the picture on our monitors and make the desired corrections. Then we print the picture using premium photo paper on our color printer and the print doesn’t look anything like what we saw on our monitor screens. Why?

Again, no frame of reference. The camera recorded the image with reasonable color fidelity. But when we download the picture and manipulate it, we’re not exactly sure what the camera saw, so we adjust the picture to please us as we view it on our monitor. But the monitor itself can be adjusted for brightness, contrast and how it shows colors. When we print the picture, our printer takes the information from the computer to make the print. It does not take the information from the monitor.

So the real problem lies with the monitor. How do we get the monitor to display what the printer is going to print? Incidentally, this same problem occurs even if we take our adjusted prints from our computer and upload them to Costco. What comes back is not necessarily what we saw on our monitor.

All monitors that I know of have independent adjustments for brightness, contrast and color display (Red, Green, Blue). On my NEC monitor there are buttons on the front that bring up small screens that I can scroll through to make these adjustments. It is a painstaking process where I have to make a print, look at it carefully and then make an adjustment to the monitor. If the print is too bright compared to the monitor, I adjust the monitor brightness so it looks like the print. Then I try again until I get all the adjustments where the image on the monitor looks like the print from the printer. This is long, painful and expensive in premium photo paper.

There is a faster method to make these corrections automatically, but it is expensive and probably only used by professionals like Lloyd Denny and others. I tried a program and device manufactured by X-Rite called the Monaco OPTIX XR. It consists of a compact disc and a small mouse sized sensor that fits over part of the monitor screen. Apparently the disc loads a number of brightness, contrast and color standards and the device senses the screen display and the software adjusts the monitor controls. It took about five minutes to go through the various screens and when I finished the monitor display looked a little different than what I was used to. But a test color print looked almost exactly like what I saw on my monitor.

You may not want to purchase one of these devices, but it might be worth your time to compare your prints with what you see on your monitor and make at least some of the necessary adjustments.

If you would like to hear more about monitor adjustments, or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit. And visit my blog at “” (no “www”).

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing
Additional Information

For more information on the OPTIX, visit the manufacturer at and look through the products. You also can search for “Monaco OPTIX XR” to find possibly better information from the companies that sell OPTIX XR.

Pantone,, makes a device called the Spyder. This may be more popular than the OPTIX. Visit their site for lots of information about color correction.

In the future, there will be systems where the color information from the camera is used to adjust the monitor and the printer.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet at the Tustin Area Senior Center. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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