Don’t you hate it when you post a photo online, then view it on another device and the photo looks darker or brighter than you intended? Or the color is not quite how you edited it?
I’m not talking about the usual issue of images being a lower quality when posted on Facebook for example, because of compression. I’m talking purely about the brightness and color of the photo.
Have you ever received feedback on an image that it appears too warm, too green, or too magenta etc, but to your eye it looks fine?
There’s a really good reason for this and the good news is that it is a really easy fix. It all comes down to four things:
- Room color
- Position of light
So, assuming that your white balance is set correctly in camera and, according to your histogram, your photo is correctly exposed, let’s take a closer look at your screen brightness and color.
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1. The monitor that you use when editing your photos
Screen brightness is the most obvious source of the problem.
If your screen is set too bright or too dark you are starting off in a losing position, because your eyes adjust naturally for the screen. If you viewed that image on a monitor with the correct brightness level, it would appear different. All your editing decisions would have been based off of inaccurate information.
You need to keep an eye on your histogram when editing images. It’s the surefire way to know that an image is correctly exposed.
But what if the color seems off?
Use a monitor calibrator to ensure the colors and brightness of your monitor are accurate for the room and lighting you’re using. They are easy to use and it doesn’t take long to do.
Over time, your monitor’s colors changes. Newer monitors sometimes cast a blueish tint and, as they age, the color becomes warmer.
To ensure that your screen brightness and color is always accurate, you should calibrate your monitor monthly.
2. Dominant color in the room where you edit photos
Just as with setting white balance on the camera when taking a photo, the wall color of the room you’re editing in will impact the color cast on your screen. So you need to take into account the color of the walls, as well as the brightness of the walls.
If the walls in the room are green, the image on screen will seem magenta, because our eyes adapt. As a result, when editing the image, you’ll be tempted to make it more green to correct what appears to be incorrect color. As a result you’ll overcorrect and will end up with an image with a green color cast. This will be really obvious when viewed in a room with neutral color walls.
Medium gray is a good color for walls of an editing room, because it’s a neutral tone that’s neither too bright nor too dark. If your room is white, for example, be aware that the brightness might affect the look of your screen.
Just as with wall colors, your screen’s desktop background will affect your image. If editing in Lightroom, make sure that the background is set to medium gray, which is the default setting. You can do this by clicking on “Lightroom” in the main bar, then “Preferences”, then “Interfaces” where you can then make the necessary adjustment.
3. Type of light source where you edit your photos
Your computer screen, like everything else in the room where you’re editing your photos, is affected by the light source. So, both the color and the brightness of images we edit will be affected by the light source in the room.
Editing in a dimly lit room at night, versus a room flooded with daylight will result in two different looks. Not only is the brightness level different, but the color of the light is different as well.
We set white balance in camera when taking a photo in different lighting conditions, with different light sources at different times of day. It is the same with screen color. The light sources in the room where you edit your photos will affect how you see the images on your monitor. Daylight is cooler than tungsten, and fluorescent light has a green cast.
Try editing photos at night and then look at them the next day in daylight to test this out. You’ll see that the images on your screen appear different in the different light conditions.
4. Position of the light source in relation to the monitor
Just because your screen emits light, doesn’t mean that it won’t be affected by shadows. When you have a light behind you, your reflection is cast as a shadow onto your screen. Even if you’re not aware of the shadow, it will make part of the image seem darker than the rest.
I had a lot of windows in my studio, which was lovely, but I had to have a separate area for processing images, because otherwise it was too bright for accurate editing. I also had to pull a blind across a skylight that was behind me as it affected how I saw the screen.
It’s not ideal to set up your computer in front of a window either as working at a computer in front of a window strains your eyes. Also, the screen will appear darker in comparison to the bright natural light outside. The best option is to have a window to the side of your monitor, but without sunlight shining directly onto the screen.
An X-rite i1 in use calibrating a laptop screen.
An everyday (modern) life example of monitor calibration
Have you ever bought a product online and when it arrived the color wasn’t quite what you expected? That’s why when you buy online there’s often a warning that the colors may appear slightly different from the reality. Well, it’s because most people don’t have calibrated monitors and screens are too bright or too dark and the color is way off.
So, either your screen brightness and color are wrong, or the brightness and color of the product photograph is wrong.
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If you have any questions about screen brightness or color, let us know in the comments.
Also, we love good news, so if our editing tips have helped you to understand how your screen is affected by light and color, share that too.