Today’s Question: What would you consider to be an ideal editing environment with regard to factors such as the type and amount of ambient lighting, screen brightness, screen type (reflective or not) and any other important considerations?
Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two things that I consider to be critical “ingredients” to an optimal view when optimizing your photos. The first is to be sure that the display is properly calibrated, including an adjustment to the overall luminance of the display. The second is to work in a darkened environment where there is no outside influence impacting your perception of the display of the image on your monitor.
More Detail: I think it is easy to understand how important it is that the images displayed on your monitor are accurate in terms of color and tonality, since you will be using the monitor display to make decisions about how to adjust the appearance of a photo. While today’s displays are quite stable and relatively accurate by default, it is still important to calibrate the display to ensure the color and luminance are as accurate as possible.
I strongly recommend using a calibration package that includes a colorimeter, which is a device that measures the light emitted by the monitor display. For example, one great option is the ColorMunki Display from X-Rite, which you can find here:
Note that with a calibration tool such as the ColorMunki Display, you will be guided through the process of adjusting your display’s brightness to match a target value. I recommend using a target luminance of about 120 candelas per square meter, which is a bit darker than most displays will appear by default.
Once your display is properly calibrated, you’ll want to be sure you are getting an accurate view of that display. In other words, you don’t want there to be any interference in terms of the brightness or color of the display. The optimal approach here is to work in a darkened environment if at all possible, so that the appearance of the display is not affected by the ambient conditions.
While it is best to work in a relatively dark environment, the key is to avoid strong color and tonal influences for the display. Moderate lighting won’t generally cause a significant problem, as long as it isn’t creating glare or positioned such that it affects your view of the display. Relatively neutral colors are best near the monitor. That’s not to say you need to paint all of the walls in the room neutral gray, but vibrant colors near your monitor display can alter your perception of that display.
As for glossy versus a flat finish for the monitor display itself, you’ll actually get better color and contrast in most cases with a glossy display. You just need to be extra careful to ensure color or lights are not being reflected by the display, since those would have a greater impact with the highly reflective surface of such a monitor.