Light or Dark Display?


Today’s Question: I just updated to the “Mojave” version of the Macintosh operating system, and one of the big features being touted is the option for a dark interface display. Do you recommend using this darker version of the interface, or is the bright version better?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In general I recommend evaluating your photos against a neutral backdrop, ideally with a luminance value that is reasonably close to 50% gray. The “Light” appearance option for MacOS Mojave is actually a little closer to this, so I recommend that over the “Dark” option. For practical purposes, however, this is a moot point since the interface of most software (such as Lightroom or Photoshop) will override the operating system configuration.

More Detail: The new MacOS Mojave includes a new Appearance setting on the General page of the System Preferences dialog, which allows you to choose between a Light versus Dark interface appearance. The Light setting represents the existing interface configuration users will be familiar with, while the new Dark setting provides a considerably darker overall interface.

If the interface is too dark, you’ll tend to perceive the image as being brighter than it is, and will adjust the image to be too dark. If the interface is too bright, you’ll perceive the image as being darker than it is, and will adjust the image to be too bright. All of this assumes, of course, that you’ve properly calibrated your monitor display.

I recommend evaluating your photos against a neutral gray backdrop, that is as close to a 50% gray value as possible. Generally speaking, however, the operating system setting won’t have a significant impact on this issue. That’s because most software (such as Photoshop and Lightroom) provide their own interface settings that effectively ignore the operating system configuration.

As a result, you’ll generally want to take a look at the configuration for the software you’re using to optimize your photos, to ensure the best display of the photos you’re working on. It is also important to make sure your display is properly calibrated, using a hardware device such as the X-Rite ColorMunki Display, which you can find here: