Display Brightness


Today’s Question: With today’s monitors, laptops, tablets and smart phones auto-adjusting brightness according to ambient light as well as power conservation, how do you recommend brightness be set so your work in Lightroom and Photoshop are consistent? I find on our gloomy mid-west days with breaks of bright sun here and there that I want to adjust my MacBook’s brightness up and down to compensate. But will that mean any exposure related changes I might make while developing could look drastically incorrect when printed or viewed by someone else? Any suggestions?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Consistency is important when it comes to your display, especially when applying adjustments to your photos. I therefore highly recommend calibrating and profiling your display, working in a consistent environment that is relatively dark, and avoiding the urge to change the display brightness based on changing lighting conditions.

More Detail: Most computer displays with their default settings are about twice as bright as they should be from a color management perspective. This is a big part of the reason that calibrating and profiling your display is so important. If your display is twice as bright as it should be, you’re seeing your images one full stop of light brighter than they really are. Calibrating the display ensures that display is adjusted to a more appropriate brightness level, and profiling ensures color accuracy as well.

Once you have made those adjustments in the process of calibrating your display, you should not make changes to the display settings. Doing so would work against the calibration.

It is also important to ensure that your environment is not significantly impacting the computer display. Ideally, you should work in a slightly darkened environment, so that display “overpowers” the ambient lighting conditions. Of course, I realize this isn’t always possible, but it is an ideal to strive for.

Many of the newer tools for calibrating and profiling your display include an option to automatically compensate for changes in the luminance or color of the ambient lighting conditions. However, I prefer not to make use of these options. While they can be very helpful in concept, their use suggests that you are working in an environment that has changing lighting conditions, and thus is not an ideal working space.

My approach is to try to always work in a relatively dim room, even if that means closing the blinds and turning off lights. This isn’t always practical, but I make an effort to ensure the environment is consistent (and relatively dark) whenever I’m making critical decisions about adjustments for my photos.

I do in general prefer a very bright display when performing general work (not adjusting photos) on my computer. When I increase the brightness for those other tasks, I make sure that when I’m finished I return the brightness setting to the setting that was established during the calibration process.