Check Your Shadows

by Oliver Mews
Seeing correct color and contrast is depending on two very important things:

  • a proper working monitor calibration
  • a correct luminance level that fits to a not too bright ambient light level



“Wait, does that mean that a color calibrated monitor is not enough?”


Yes, that’s exactly what it is. It is not enough in the case you want to ensure to see all details and the correct brightness of your images. Let me describe the following situation: We are sitting in a dark room, looking at your monitor that is showing that following black image in full screen mode. You can see the number 3 on the right and a 2 in the middle of the image. Now look once more on the left side of the image and you’ll see that there is a barely visible number 1. This number 1 has a color deviation of 1.0 ∆E (Delta E) compared to the background, so it’s really barely visible. Now carry your monitor out of that dark room and let’s go into direct sunlight. Now, being surrounded by sunlight, look again on your display and check if you can still see the number one on the left side. Do you? No? That’s normal, because your eyes are adapted to the main light source, which is the sunlight around you. This changes the sensitivity of your eyes with closing the iris. This is like closing the aperture of your camera. Your monitor still displays all three numbers, but you are no longer able to distinguish those low luminance differences. That’s why a monitor should be calibrated to an ambient light fitting level and that’s why an ambient light sensor is essential if you want to rely on your monitor color and contrast.


Spyder5PRO and Spyder5ELITE will do that for you and in the case you already own a Spyder5, but Spyder5EXPRESS only, then just upgrade your Spyder to Spyder5PRO+ or Spyder5ELITE +.


WYSIWYG – What you see is what you get – that’s easy as long as you ensure to use the right tools.



Please do the following test and open the attached image with the numbers “1, 2, 3” in Photoshop or Lightroom on your monitor.


For sure you can easily see the number 3 and you can clearly see number 2. But now please check the number 1 on the left side:


  • number 1 is easy and clearly visible: Your monitor’s brightness is too bright and/or your gamma is far off
  • number 1 is invisible: Your monitor’s brightness is too low and/or your ambient light is too high and/or your gamma is far off
  • number 1 is visible, but just barely on the 2nd or even 3rd glance: Your brightness seems to be correct, just ensure to calibrate your colors either


If your monitor is already color calibrated by yourself (e. g. with a Spyder), but you can see easily or you can’t see the number 1, then it’s all about brightness (luminance) calibration that can be done with Spyder5PRO and Spyder5ELITE. Monitor calibration without luminance/brightness calibration doesn’t make a lot of sense in the world of photography.