Monitor brightness for photo editing (4 essential steps)

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 temperature is not quite how you edited it? This is why monitor brightness for photo editing matters.

I’m not talking about the usual issue of Facebook compressing images to they appear lower quality. I’m talking purely about the brightness and color balance of the photo.

Has anyone ever said that your image is too warm, too green, or too magenta etc, but on your monitor it looks fine? There’s a good reason they see what you don’t see and the good news is that there’s an easy fix.

What affects monitor brightness for photo editing?

These four factors can make a huge difference to accurate colors on screen and monitor brightness for photo editing:

  1. Monitor calibration
  2. Room color
  3. Lightsource
  4. Position of light

Why you need to set your screen brightness

But before we get into how to correct monitor brightness for photo editing, the first thing is to make sure that your white balance is set correctly in camera and, according to your histogram, your photo is correctly exposed.

Now, let’s take a closer look at monitor calibration for photography – screen brightness and color temperature – followed by the other fixes.

(This post contains affiliate links. Buying something through one of the links won’t cost you anything extra, but we may get a small commission.)

1. Monitor calibration for photography

Is your monitor too bright?

Screen brightness of an uncalibrated monitor is the most obvious source of the problem, which is why we’re starting with monitor calibration for photography.

If your screen brightness is set too bright or too dark you’re starting in a losing position, because your eyes adjust naturally for the monitor brightness. So, if your screen display is too bright, or too dark for that matter, your eyes will adjust to it and all your editing decisions will be based off of inaccurate information.

If viewed on a monitor with the correct brightness level, the image will appear different and you’d make different editing decisions.

This is one of the reasons you need to keep an eye on your editing software’s histogram when editing images. It’s the surefire way to know when an image is overexposed or underexposed.

I don’t mean the histogram on your camera, although, of course it helps to import correctly exposed images to start with. That said, did you know that the image you see on your camera’s LCD screen is a JPEG preview of the image (if photographing in RAW), so is not an accurate depiction of the image taken?

Is the screen color accurate?

A monitor calibrator helps you set the best monitor settings for photo editing for the room and lighting you’re using. They’re easy to use and monitor calibration for photography doesn’t take long to do.

I use a Spyder5Elite by Datacolor and have been very happy with the results. Another option is the SpyderX Pro

Over time, your monitor’s colors change. Newer monitors sometimes cast a blueish tint and, as they age, the color becomes warmer.

For the best results, to ensure that your display settings are always accurate, 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 edit in impacts the color cast on your screen. So you need to take into account:

  • Color of the walls
  • Brightness of the walls

How walls affect monitor brightness

If the walls in the room are green, the image on screen will seem magenta (the opposing color on the color wheel), because our eyes adapt to the display color. 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 overcorrect and end up with an image with a green color cast. You won’t see it on your screen, but it’s really obvious when viewed in a room with neutral color walls.

Medium gray is a good color for walls of a photo 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 for your editing room, the display color and brightness setting will be correct.

Calibrating a laptop screen for accurate color and brightness

An X-rite i1 in use calibrating a laptop screen.

Screen background affects image quality

Just as with wall colors, your screen’s desktop background affects the appearance of your digital files.

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

Have you ever edited late at night and then looked at your photos again during the day and wondered why they look so different? Images on your screen appear different in the different light conditions.

Your computer screen, like everything else in the room where you edit photos, is affected by the light source. So, images 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. The color temperature of the light source also affects screen color.

  • Daylight is cooler than tungsten
  • Fluorescent light has a green cast

4. Position of the light source in relation to the monitor

Just because your computer screen emits light, doesn’t mean that it won’t be affected by shadows. So one of the simple steps you can take for more accurate results in photo editing is to change the position of your monitor.

Light from behind of your monitor

When you have a light behind you, your reflection casts a shadow onto your screen. Even if you’re not aware of the shadow, direct light will make part of the image seem darker than the rest.

I had a lot of windows in my old studio, which was lovely, but I had to build a separate area for processing images, because the ambient light was too bright for accurate editing.

I also had to pull a blind across a skylight that was behind where I sat at the computer as it affected how I saw the screen.

Light from the front of your monitor

It’s not ideal to set up your computer in front of a window, because 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 of your monitor

For better results when photo editing the window should be to the side of your monitor, but without sunlight shining directly onto the screen.

Example of why monitor calibration is important

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 real life. Well, it’s because most people don’t have calibrated monitors.

Their computer screens could be too bright or too dark and the color temperature could be way off.

So there are two possible reasons why what you ordered isn’t the color you expected:

  • Either your screen brightness and/or color calibration is wrong
  • or the brightness and/or color temperature of the product photograph is wrong and should have been color corrected

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about monitor brightness for photo editing, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my photo editing tips have helped you to understand how color calibration affects your monitor, share that too.

1 thought on “Monitor brightness for photo editing (4 essential steps)”

Leave a Comment