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Recently I took a landscape picture and had it printed in a photolab as I wanted to sell it. It was taken at sunset and although not the brightest lit picture it was still lit well enough to make for what I deemed, a good shot. When I got the print back it was so dark as to be unsellable. Rather disappointed I contacted the printers and they said I should have used an ND filter.

Perhaps I am naive but I thought that a printer should be able to create a work equal to that of the JPEG. I acknowledge that the JPEG would be brighter on my screen as it is backlit; so should I now change the settings for a piece of work before sending it off to be printed? What settings do I change to do this? Increase the brightness, exposure or contrast and make the picture look too bright or colourful in Lightroom but that change would make it correct when transferring to a printed piece of work?

How can I get my JPEG images to look the same in print as they are on screen?

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When I got the print back it was so dark as to be unsellable. Rather disappointed I contacted the printers and they said I should have used an ND filter.

An ND (neutral density) filter would have made your image even darker, so it's hard to see how that would've solved your problem. Perhaps they meant a graduated ND filter, which could reduce the brightness of the sky and allow a longer exposure for the rest of the shot.

Perhaps I am naive but I thought that a printer should be able to create a work equal to that of the jpeg.

If you sent them the JPEG image, that's exactly what they did. The issue is that the same image appears differently when rendered on paper than it does on the screen.

To be more succinct I just want to know how to get my jpegs to look the same in print as they are on screen.

That's actually a really big topic, and something that people spend a lot of time and money on. There are calibration tools that you can buy to adjust your screen to a particular standard. To do it right, you'll also need a color profile for the printer used by the service provider.

There's no substitute for a properly calibrated display, but if you're not ready for all that then you can get pretty far with basic trial and error. 4x6 prints are usually quite inexpensive (20¢ or less), so they're a good way to experiment. You can try saving the image with a variety of changes and printing the entire batch, keeping track of which image has which changes. It helps to add a little identifying text to each image so you can tell them apart. Also, talk to your provider and ask them for tips to improve the way your images look on their equipment.

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It's all to do with 'Monitor Calibration'. Imagine you have a photo on your screen and you print it and it looks OK. Now reduce the brightness of your monitor to the lowest setting so the screen is almost black - you'd expect the photo to print in the same way as it did before, wouldn't you? Similarly if you set the monitor to super-bright, reduce the colour of the monitor so the image looked black-and-white or super lurid colours. You wouldn't expect any of these monitor adjustments to affect the way the photo printed, would you?

So if you are editing a photo onscreen and very carefully editing (in Lightroom etc) the shadows and highlights to just the way you want, and if adjusting the monitor brightness up and down completely ruins how the photo looks, how do you know exactly how it's going to print?

The solution is a 'Colour managed workflow'. This attempts to ensure that what you see on screen will match pretty closely to what you get on paper. It involves calibration of the screen and your printer (if you print at home), preferably with hardware calibration tools.

The monitor calibration adjusts the colour of the monitor (because when the computer tells the monitor to display a pixel as pure red, what is actually displayed might look a bit yellow for example, due to the glass, hardware in the monitor etc. Hardware monitor calibration will create an ICC profile for your particular graphics card/monitor combination to correct this). It also sets brightness, contrast and greyscale to standard values.

Printer calibration does a similar job - you print a colour target (a grid of colour) and then measure it with a device (photo spectrometer - basically a specialised scanner) that knows what colours were supposed to be printed and can measure what colours were actually printed. It can produce a colour profile that will be unique for the printer, ink and paper combination used (yes, you'd need a different profile for every different paper you use). Some paper manufacturers have profiles for their papers you can download, which is a good compromise. You then specify the printer profile to use when you print the picture. The profile effectively tells the printer driver that when trying to print red, add a bit of yellow (for example) to compensate for inaccuracies in the way the printer tries to make red, or how the paper absorbs the ink or because the inks aren't quite the right colour etc.

This is the 'proper' way to do it and it can get expensive, but results can be very satisfying, as you can edit a photo to look just the way you like and know that when you print it, the print should match what you saw on screen.

It's possible to calibrate you monitor using software which is a good compromise: try this help page to perform a software calibration of your monitor: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/help/color-management.html.

You calibrate your monitor (using hardware or software) in specific lighting conditions (e.g. lights on, lights off, curtains open, closed etc) and you should do final editing under those same lighting conditions. You also mustn't adjust the monitor (brightness etc) after calibrating.

For printer calibration, if you don't do your own printing you don't have to do this. The print company you use should have colour-managed printers.

For your particular example, it sounds as though your monitor is too bright. Try doing a software calibration on it.

Try to have the room in shadow (complete darkness isn't required) - a brightly lit room is problematic. Sunlight directly on the screen is a big no-no.

Once your monitor is calibrated, it will be interesting to see if the photo on screen matches the print you got

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It is hard to say without seeing the picture and the print, but the chances are that you did not prepare the image properly. For example, quite often people have their monitors set to very high brightness and edit their images so that they not look too bright on it. If that image is printed, it looks dark.

You can start with making sure that your monitor is set to around 100cd/m2. You can also download any of the print test images available on the web and have it printed at the printer without modifying it. It should come out perfect. And you can also compare the overall brightness of those test images with your own, it should be close.

And finally, without further context, the recommendation to use an ND filter to fix dark print from JPEG sounds really odd. The solution is proper color management on both sides or at least making sure that your system is set properly.

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Lacking a proper calibration of your monitor combined with a proper calibration of the printer, you can

  • Print a set of pictures at the photo lab

  • Open the files on your monitor, and empirically adjust the monitor gamma settings, e.g. under Linux via xgamma -rgamma 1.4 -ggamma 1.3 -bgamma 1.3 until the pictures on the monitor appear similar to the photo lab prints ; now your monitor mimics the photo lab device

  • Adjust color-specific gamma settings in the jpeg files , e.g. via convert of mogrify: mogrify -gamma 1.4,1.5,1.5 *.jpg (mogrify is part of ImageMagick) until the output on the monitor is what you would expect ; now you know the required transformation to get the right output from the photo lab printer

Now you can cancel your monitor gamma and optimize your original files for your normal monitor. But when sending them to the photo lab, apply the empirical transformation from before (always work on copies), and instruct the photo lab to not apply any further 'optimization' etc.

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You can get a calibration tool like the Spyder - http://spyder.datacolor.com/display-calibration/

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