Today’s Question: Still another follow-up question [regarding background color when evaluating photos, covered recently in the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter]. Is it better to use a neutral gray as background in PowerPoint or ProShow? Do the same principles apply to the view of a slide show? I have always used a black background.
Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, for a digital slideshow presentation I highly recommend using a black background for the photos, in order to help the photos stand out better.
More Detail: When evaluating a photo for the purpose of applying adjustments to that photo, I recommend using a background that will help ensure you are making the most accurate evaluation possible for the photo. That generally means using a neutral gray background with about a 50% luminance value.
When presenting images as part of a digital slideshow, I recommend using a black background. At least in theory, this translates into no visible illumination of the screen around the photo. In actual fact this generally means just minimal light in those areas. But the point is that this will enable the photo to stand out as much as possible.
Keep in mind that at least in theory, a digital slideshow is being presented in a darkened room. That means the focus of the viewer will only be on the selected photos in the slideshow, and their eyes will adjust in terms of overall exposure based on those images.
Regardless, my preference for projected photos (or those presented on any digital display) is generally to have them surrounded by black, so there is nothing competing with the photos themselves. Of course, in a situation where the images presented in the slideshow need to be critically evaluated, you may prefer to have a middle gray background surrounding the photos. But generally speaking I think it is fair that for a digital slideshow the emphasis is on making the images stand out and look their best, rather than a technically accurate evaluation of the photos.
It is worth noting, by the way, that in some cases the presentation may be about more than the photos. In other words, in some cases you may want a more creative presentation that goes beyond a simple black background. But when your priority is an emphasis on the photos in the slideshow, my feeling is that a black background is best.