I've been taking pictures for a couple years now, but have only recently begun to print my work.

I have this one print. It looks great on my monitor (color calibrated), and, when I picked it up at a local photo lab, it really looked fantastic - I was very pleased.

I put the picture in a frame and placed it flat on my desk and it looked even better. I've noticed, however, that when the photo doesn't receive enough direct light, say in a softly lit room or a hallway, it looks way too dark.

I understand that my monitor has a backlight and prints don't, and that the picture, like everything else in the world, looks different in different light, but I feel like the change is quite significant. The colors are consistent but I think it might be worth it to play with the exposure adjustment in Photoshop.

I can't decide if kicking up the exposure control a little above what looks good on my monitor will solve the problem. It's definitely a problem with lighting, but I can't decide whether its coming from the picture or the room. My gut tells me it's the lighting in the room, but I have this nagging doubt. Is this a problem that everyone faces when printing their work, or is this something I should try to address in post?


It's a perception thing.

Under certain dim lighting conditions, the "Purkinje shift" allows some colours that look the same under normal conditions to appear lighter or darker. It's due to the different luminosity response (apparent brightness) of the rods and cones in the retina.

It's the actual colours in your print. Everything will look normal as the light level increases. The effect is most noticeable with colours on either end of the spectrum such as saturated mid-values of reds and blues. The blues will look lighter than the reds in low light and vice-versa.

  • You are exactly right. The reds/blues are shifting exactly in this way. Thanks!
    – Adam
    Jun 18 '16 at 4:06

I haven't had a problem of images feeling dramatically different. But there is a different feel, and some do seem to led to backlight better and some feel better in print. I don't think it's just a matter of some adjustments as much as it is the nature of the media. I think print lends itself better to higher contrast content.

You can adjust the brightness of your monitor while maintaining color calibration. For my Color Munki, I can set a target brightness at least. I expects others support that. You might get a better feel for things reducing the brightness. Then play with levels to try to find a better feeling result - I'd focus on the middle / gamma more than white and black points.


Provide sufficient light where you hang your print. A dedicated soft spot light source for example will work wonders. Photoshop can do a lot, but it cannot make your print glow in the dark.

If you think about it, that's what you are doing on your monitor as well. If you had an uncalibrated monitor that displayed your image too dark, would adjust the image of the environment it is displayed in? You'd do the latter and calibrate the monitor.


Conform to practice.

Do what reality suggests. If you know the conditions under which your work will be shown and you can't control the conditions, adapt your work to show to its best advantage.

For example: I won't (knowingly) suggest a low-key image with shadow detail in a dimly lit environment.


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