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My editing mainly involves these things:

  1. Adjusting the colors, white balance , brightness (slightly , to get that subtle combination)
  2. Cropping of the images.

I have recently bought a laptop and I am editing photos in that.
The problem which I am facing is that, the picture looks different on the laptop when screen on the laptop is moved a little back and forth.

How do I adjust colors in that case, and how can I be sure that the image looks the same on all desktops and laptops — if not 100%, at least to some extent, like 80-90%?

Bottom line involves calibrating I suppose, but while editing in laptop screens, how do I make sure that what I am looking at, is a correct representation of the image?

Any techniques to use without investing in any external hardware would be particularly useful.

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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is pretty much impossible, although you can get closer.

At the very least you need a color-calibration device. Using that device you calibrate your screen so that the colors it can show are close to how they should be. Most laptop displays sadly only show 60-75% of sRGB color, so there can be up to 40% of colors you cannot see in the laptop. Instead they get substituted for another color. It can make it very surprising when you see your image elsewhere.

Even if you get a top-quality laptop like a Thinkpad W700 which has a color-calibration device built-in, you still only get 84% sRGB coverage which is on par with crappy monitors and yet costs a fortune.

Ideally, you would get a color-calibratable display and hook it to your laptop while you do any work which has to do with colors. The are relatively cheap these days and I know you can get the NEC P221W for under $450, so they are definitely affordable now. If that is too expensive, look for it refurbished (I bought 2 of those for $237 each like that). This is the cheapest wide-gamut display I know and covers 100% of sRGB and 96% of AdobeRGB color spaces, it also supports 10-bit internal LUTs which reduces calibration artifacts.

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Did not know that some thinkpads have color calibration built in. I guess I should look into that for my x220. –  dpollitt Nov 2 '11 at 13:34
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I faced the same problem but in the end I decided to buy a calibration tool (hardware) and calibrated my laptop and desktop computer monitors.

Unfortunately, most (if not all) solutions that avoid the use of hardware are highly unreliable.

The unit that I bought costs $200 for long term use across multiple desktops and laptops. It has actually became a very important piece of equipment to my photography. If you want to be able to edit your photo accurately, it is one of the best tools you can buy.

Laptop computers have monitors that are poorly calibrated (no brands are exception), and yes even after calibration, when viewed at different angle the colour/contrast changes.

The best way to overcome this is to use an external monitor connected to your laptop whenever possible. If you must use your laptop everywhere, hardware monitor calibration tool is good enough.

I am not even going to mention software solutions because I have tried a tonne of them, and the "calibrated" colour is wildly off. I once compared my "software calibrated" profile with my "hardware calibrated profile" and there is a huge colour shift that I would say is ruining my photo.

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You need to calibrate your monitor (and printer!). No matter if it's a laptop, desktop or projector - no calibration - no accurate colors. I use the ColorMunki and Color Checker Passport system and I know it costs $600 but it is necessary. There is no way around it. There are less expensive ways to go which may work well, my only experience is with Color Munki. If you can't afford it then try to share the cost of the system with a few other photographers. I calibrate monitors for three of my photo and graphics friends.

As far as viewing angle; you should be looking directly at the laptop monitor with it parallel to your face.

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As you observed, laptop display colors tend to shift a lot with viewing angle, even more noticeably than desktop LCDs. You can't do anything about the screen's inherent shift, so you just have to keep your line of sight as perfectly perpendicular to the screen as you can. Try sitting back further (reduces how much a slight motion of your head affects the viewing angle) and working at a desk (provides a consistent surface). Some laptops have better screens than others. Best would be to use a high quality desktop monitor.

For calibrating the display (laptop or otherwise) it's best to use a colorimeter. You could also try the visual "Kentucky windage" color adjustment built into Windows, but I've never been satisfied with the results. You may be able to save some cash and borrow a colorimeter from somebody; a local photography club is likely to have one it loans out to members.

All this work only gets your side close to a standard color space (like sRGB). In the end, you'll never get your pictures to look the same everywhere, since most people's displays are far from any standard calibration. I'm often disappointed when a picture I made looks different than I intended on someone else's computer, but nobody except me cares. The viewer wants to experience the picture, not photometrically analyze it.

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+1 but a clarification. The goal isn't to get your equipment to be in a standard color space, but to make images in any color space show up correctly in the device's inherent, native color space. –  mattdm Nov 2 '11 at 10:25
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