I'm struggling a bit with how to judge if a photo will be bright enough when printed, while I'm working on it on my monitor. "Bright enough" of course changes with the ambient or targeted lighting where it will be displayed, this, that and the other thing, yes, but I'd like to set that aside as much as possible here.

I do not print at home; I send my pictures to labs (e.g., Whitewall).

My monitor is calibrated and characterized. The candela is currently at 120 cd/m2. That's too bright... at least, well, let me explain.

Of course, one of the things I've tried is to lower my screen brightness quite low, 80 cd/m2, maybe even less. That helps, but comes at the price of reducing colors and contrast--at least my perception of them. Also, the 120 cd/m2 mark has the advantage of being bright enough for normal computer use with the window shade up.

Another thing I try to do is consider the histogram. If the image has a nice bell shaped histogram, I try to make sure that the majority of it is to the right. This tactic helps, but only if the image lends itself to it. When the photo's histogram is all over the place, I have a harder time using it for decision making.

I've also noticed recently that setting the image window (the window where the photo appears in Photoshop and co.) to a white background totally changes how you see the picture: doing so instantly makes me want to crank up the brightness and often the saturation too. However, I have not yet tried this tactic for printing, and fear over-correcting the other way.

My goal of course is to stop ordering a gazillion test pictures; I'd like to be able to know that the photo will give a good print right off the bat.

So, my first question would be, has anyone else found that using a white background in their photo editing software is a good way to judge the brightness of the print to come?

And more largely, those of you who manage to "get brightness right the first time", how do you do it? What's your trick?

Thanks in advance for your ideas and advice and I hope that others will find the info helpful as well.


1 Answer 1


Has anyone else found that using a white background in their photo editing software is a good way to judge the brightness of the print to come?

No. That is a bad idea.

You need to see the relationship between the elements of your image, not the relationship with the surroundings, which you can not control.

That line of reasoning is the same as put some reflectors behind your monitor, or put the monitor in front of the sunniest of the windows in your home.

My goal, of course, is to stop ordering a gazillion test pictures

Ok. Do not order a zillion test images. Just send some. But you need to. You are assuming the provider has their equipment also calibrated.

  1. Send for example a good black and white portrait (or whatever theme you are working with)

  2. Define what is the middle tone of that image, for example, the cheek. Depending on your profiles, let's assume it is 128,128,128.

  3. Make some variations of your image and put some watermark indicating the adjustment, for example, a gamma adjustment of increments of 0.1. Your original image would be Gamma 1.

    • Gamma 1.1, Gamma 1.2...

    • Gamma 0.9, Gamma 0.8...

  4. You can make a gradient of some clear steps, for example, 5 steps from Black to white, or make them 10 or whatever. And make similar variations.

  5. You can do that also with a color image. With a portrait, or with different color gradients.

Then you can decide which variation you can apply methodically to the images you send to that specific provider.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Back when I still made prints, I sent off a single set of test images to a lab that produced consistent results. After that, I used the same gamma settings, along with the latest color profiles, to export for print at the same lab. Nowadays, everything is online, so I just spot check a few phones. Last time I made prints from images edited this way, they came out pretty well, so it seems printers know people want pictures to look like what they see on their phones. \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Mar 31, 2019 at 4:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for this idea of determining a printer-service-specific gamma adjustment. I'll test that. As for the white background, I do indeed post-process on a neutral gray or darker background: In that setting, I get my pictures to my liking on screen, but my prints comes out dingy compared to it (for the wall where I hope to display them), a dingy-ness that I found I can "see" in the digital image by placing it on a white background. But "voilà la question": would correcting the image based on the white background be too much? I'm hoping someone might have already tried it and can report in... \$\endgroup\$
    – KEF
    Mar 31, 2019 at 12:31

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