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Should Real Estate Photographers Calibrate Their Monitor?

Published: 26/06/2018
By: larry

Bill in Oregon says:

I use Xrite and just redid my Acer laptop, that's the one that has it's own desk in my car where 60 percent gets done between shoots, 'wish that &^%$ would stop tapping their brake light, it's distracting'.

I color correct all my systems so they are consistent, not because of some esoteric rhetoric. I just want my product to be consistent no matter which computer gets used. But on being consistent, every corrected monitor, laptop, their external monitors, the bi kahuna under the desk, and all systems I have ever had that I have corrected all ran cool and bright out of the box. 'Why?' we may ask. Well, I have read on numerous occasions that they are set to attract buyers. The manufacturers have discovered that a brighter and cooler display sells better and faster than a color corrected one.

Now to the sacrilegious part of my post. 'This is real estate photography,' it's not meant for Sunset Magazine, shiny magazine covers, or artful judging; it's to sell a property. We still need to do our best; that's what we are hired to do. Well, maybe our best do the homes an injustice. Maybe our color balanced (now warmer and darker) images don't look that good on everyone else's cool and bright systems. Maybe we should just try to make our work look good on the everyday computer, tablet, and phone. You know, the systems our clients and their clients use.

If so, then how do we re-calibrate our Spyders and Xbrite systems to mimic the factory monitor? I still want all my systems to produce the same results as each other.

Every time we talk about color calibration, everyone pretty much agrees that working with a calibrated monitor is one of the basic tenets of professional photography, and that it's cheap and easy to do. So even though your clients' monitor may not be calibrated, if you calibrate your monitor regularly, your work will be consistent and you've done the best that you can do.

12 comments on “Should Real Estate Photographers Calibrate Their Monitor?”

  1. it's very important that we as professionals, have a standard that we live up to (and why we should be getting the big bucks) . One of the most important things is to know your monitor is calibrated to give you the most accurate colors and contrast when it leaves your computer and gets uploaded. After that, it is out of our hands. if an agent calls and says that a tour looks too dark, bright or contrasty, I tell them that my monitors are calibrated every month and to please view the tour on a different computer. this shows that all monitors and devices are different.
    Bill is correct (EXCEPT WHEN HE IS DRIVING AND EDITING) that many monitors, especially MAC computers, are set to give bright and contrasty images to impress the buyers in the store. We need to produce natural, realistic looking images. I've seen virtual tours that are so bright and over saturated that they look like a Walt Disney animated movie (one of my partners created a term for over processed images called "Disneyed-out"
    I've been working with X-Rite/Monaco company, even in the film days, and they are truly the leaders in color calibration. I use an X-Rite I1 display pro since it came out and calibrate all my computers every month.
    When you spend so much time in post production editing, its nice to know your images are true.
    And for those of you that spend hrs. in editing and people annoy you while you work, I was told by a friend, who was a broadcast TV editor, there is a coffee mug that says F%*# OFF,IM EDITING" (IF THAT DOESNT OFFEND YOU AND YOU HAVE NO KIDS AROUND), keep one on your desk.

  2. "‘This is real estate photography,’ [sic] it’s not meant for Sunset Magazine, shiny magazine covers, or artful judging; it’s to sell a property."

    Real estate marketing photos do get used in magazines that use high-quality printing, as well as in high-quality brochures, and some agents want photos that will make the best possible use of these media. Of course much
    of this is for high-end properties, but I have had clients do this with mainstream properties as well. I have one client that makes large prints of one shot from each of a sampling of some of their higher-end listings and makes 24" x 36" prints to hang in the front window of their office. I have also had single real estate photos used for double-page ads in consumer magazines. Any deficiency in your technique or equipment will easily be evident with such presentations.

    For the best possible results with high-quality reproduction, you want to use a properly profiled and calibrated monitor designed for professional graphic arts use. No laptop monitor will suffice for this. Your best choices for such a monitor are the NEC and Eizo brands. To make best use of the proper hardware, you will need to use a proper color managed workflow.

  3. Today's high end laptop screens are pretty darn accurate right out of the box.
    You can test it by comparing your images in your phone, a friends computer, etc.
    If you don't see a difference, spend your time and money of other things.

  4. I calibrate my monitors on the first Sunday of every month. This lets me tell agents with confidence that any color casts or exposure problems are on their end. I am also confident that any work they send to a printing house is going to be spot on. It would be very embarrassing for a client to get a print order back with a bad color cast due to my workflow not being calibrated. There would be no point in doing any color work if my monitors weren't calibrated.

    I don't calibrate my laptop very often. I will if I'm shooting tethered at an event, but for RE it just gets used to ingest images into LR and apply my standard RE preset to save time at the office on busy days.

  5. Good question. My clients, as David alluded to, always turn my images into ads on local magazines from RE dedicated publications to local city magazines, all printed on a glossyish paper plus printed on high end stock that has varnish over the top for flyers. What I have found, since I bought my 27" iMac back in 2009 (now used just as a monitor for my MacBook 15") provides a very consistent image quality that reproduces in print perfectly. However, I have noticed that while images I produce on the iMac look great, they are washed out on my MacBook. And vice versa, the images I process on my MacBook become over saturated when viewed on my iMac. And yet they look great on the MacBook monitor. I am still working on this but tend to rely on the iMac since it has proven itself to be reliable over the years.

    But I also have slightly different views on the style of color on RE images. RE to my way of thinking, and I know there are many who disagree with me, is at core advertising, not documentary. If I was shooting for an architect or interior designer, I would view my brief would be to reproduce the colors and saturation to reflect the actual colors and tonalities that the client worked so hard to create. But with RE, I am trying to capture the heart and soul of the ambiance of the property and the structures in order to represent the property as well as catch the attention of people who are busy and probably racing through many properties, so the first couple of images seen must get them to stop and look more and then pick up the phone. Neutral color images that are desaturated and often on the cool side are less likely to achieve this that the higher saturated, color rich images I believe can do better. Yes we have to entertain as well as inform at the same time. Choosing houses is often an emotionally generated process as well and rationally spurred. We are selling, or rather helping our clients to sell, and we have to arrest the attention of the buyer in a fraction of a second as well as make the seller feel good about their property and potential sellers to help our clients get listings.

    So for RE, there is no way to know what images will be looking like on a viewers screen. But we can look at how they are looking on our and our clients cell phones, tablets and lap tops. I would say it would not hurt to adjust how we do things to accommodate how the images look to those wanting to buy who rely on those cell phones and tablets in today's world. Just like we adjust our images based on whether they will be printed on good glossy stock or on soggy news print.

  6. Great question - Color calibration hardware & software is not consistent. In a nutshell, there are too many variables which destroy "color accuracy":

    Color spaces
    Bit depths
    Brightness selection
    Ambient light
    Manufacturer settings

    Hint: Use your eyes to create a custom calibration that works well amongst the myriad of devices that you and the general public use.

    My work looks more consistent on out of the box Apple, Windows & Android devices than anything ever created with color calibration hardware and software.

    Yes, it's time consuming.

  7. Yes... as professional photographers, monitor calibration is essential. This is just one more thing that separates us from Joe the Realtor, who owns a "professional" camera.

    With that said, the best tool for comparing and testing calibration is a smartphone. The reason I say that is because everybody has one and everyone views listing and photos on them. When a client tells me that my colors are off, I tell them to view the same photo on their phone first. They usually reply "It looks great on my phone but not on my computer". Since iPhones and Samsung phones are pretty much all calibrated to match other like phones (respectively)... it's a great way to check your calibration and your clients'.

  8. @Scott, the title of the post asks the question and the OP was asking about a calibration for an "everyday" monitor, ie, not calibrated to a a specified standard.

    Bill (OP), if you don't start from a known reference, how would you know where your images are ending up?

  9. I have used the X-rite color checker system since the day I got my first business license. I had a customer say that the carpet was green in my images instead of mocha. I advised them look at it on two or three other monitors including a phone and a tablet. Then they saw that their monitor was way out of calibration. Calibration makes YOU agree with the industry standard. It's consistency, and you might call it professionalism. x-rite and Pantone are now the same company - The STANDARD in publishing. So, I guess the question you should ask yourself, "Since I am charging for my images, am I going to be professional... or Fly by Night?"

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