When you go beyond casual shooting and become serious about digital photography, color management will be an essential subject you need to deal with.
The purpose of the color management in digital photography is to make sure the colors are consistent across various different devices, such as monitors, printers, scanners, etc. To achieve this goal, each color input and output device is described with an ICC profile, which is a set of data that maps the particular device’s color space to a so-called profile connection space that is independent of any particular device.
Similarly, an ICC profile can also be embedded within a photo to describe the color data. When such a photo is passed from device to device, different devices will be able to convert the data from the embedded color space to the device color space and display the colors as consistent as possible. Exact matching is not always possible due to different capabilities of individual devices but color management helps to minimize the mismatch.
Typically, when a monitor is manufactured, the manufacturer has a good understanding of how the device will display colors and often a monitor color profile is supplied. However, in practice, the colors actually displayed on your monitor may not be accurate for various reasons, which makes it necessary to characterize and calibrate it.
The instruments for monitor characterization and calibration are called colorimeters or spectrophotometers. For consumer grade devices, monitor calibration is the term you can use to search for the relevant products. Unless you are dealing with stringent commercial requirements, the devices cost less than $100 should work fine. Examples are the Pantone Huey and ColorVision Spyder2 Express.
Monitor calibration usually takes a few minutes to complete once you install the software and plug in the hardware. Some devices even allow you to monitor the ambient light and adjust your monitor on-the-fly to provide optimal display settings. Many of them also have software that promotes you to recalibrate the monitor after a pre-determined interval to prevent color shift over time.
Keywords: Color Management, Color Space, Devices, ICC Profiles, Monitor Calibration, Monitor Profiles