Background While Editing


Today’s Question: To piggyback on a question from last week: I edit in Lightroom with the light gray background. Based on what you said today, should my editing background be white?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do not recommend using a white background when editing your photos on the computer. Instead I recommend a middle-tone gray value.

More Detail: Using a white (or other neutral) border for a print can help ensure that the viewer’s vision will automatically compensate for the color of the light illuminating the print, and therefore perceive more accurate colors in the print.

While the same concept can be helpful in the context of color for an image being evaluated on a monitor display, it is important to also consider the impact on your perception of tonality.

If you use a bright white background for your photos while evaluating adjustments, you’ll tend to perceive that image as being darker than it really is, and you may apply adjustments that result in an image that is too bright. Conversely, if you use black as a border around your image while evaluating that image on the monitor display, you may adjust to make the image appear too dark.

In addition, a dark border will tend to cause you to perceive greater saturation in the image. As a result of all of these issues, I recommend using a background for the photo that is neutral (a shade of gray) and that is around a 50% brightness level.

In the context of Lightroom, you don’t actually have a significant amount of control over the tonal values present in the interface. You can adjust the Fill Color option on the Interface tab of the Preferences dialog, but this only controls the space around the image itself, not the overall Lightroom interface. I prefer the “Medium Gray” option for this setting, which is the default.

My second choice would be to use a black background, since at least in theory with a monitor display that means there won’t be any light emitted around the photo. There are some potential drawbacks to evaluating a photo in this way as noted above, but in general this won’t have a huge impact when evaluating an image. For example, I’ll sometimes switch to the full screen display of an image in Lightroom by pressing “F” on the keyboard to toggle into or out of that view. This provides a convenient way of viewing only the image itself (albeit against a black background) for purposes of evaluating the adjustments you’ve applied to the photo.