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? Your screen brightness could be too high or too low. Or the color is not quite how you edited it? This is why monitor calibration for photography is essential.
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 in a photography group 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’s a really easy fix. It all comes down to four things:
- Monitor calibration
- 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 monitor calibration for photography – your screen brightness and color – followed by the other fixes.
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1. Monitor calibration for photography
Your screen is too bright
Screen brightness is the most obvious source of the problem, which is why monitor calibration for photography is the first issue to resolve.
If your screen brightness is set too bright or too dark you are starting off in a losing position, because your eyes adjust naturally for the screen. All your editing decisions would have been based off of inaccurate information. If you viewed that image on a monitor with the correct brightness level, it would appear different.
You need to keep an eye on your histogram when editing images. It’s the surefire way to know when an image is overexposed or underexposed. I’m not talking about the histogram on your camera, although, of course it helps to import correctly exposed images to start with.
Further reading on your camera’s histogram: How to read a histogram and why it’s not perfect
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 monitor calibration for photography doesn’t take long to do.
Over time, your monitor’s colors change. 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
- 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. This means that you’ll overcorrect and will end up with an image with a green color cast. You won’t see it on your screen, but it 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.
However, if you’ve calibrated your monitor in that room, you can be sure that the colors will be correct.
An X-rite i1 in use calibrating a laptop 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, images we edit will be affected by:
- color of the light source
- brightness of the light source
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’s the same with screen color.
- Daylight is cooler than tungsten
- 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.
Further reading: What is white balance in photography and does it matter?
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.
Light from behind
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.
Light from the front
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.
Light from the side
The best option is to have a window to the side of your monitor, but without sunlight shining directly onto the screen.
An everyday example of the need for 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. Their computer screens could be too bright or too dark and the color could be way off.
So there are two possible reasons why what you ordered is not the color you expected:
- Either your screen brightness and/or color is wrong
- or the brightness and/or 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 photo processing tips have helped you to understand how your screen is affected by light and color, share that too.