Just the other day, I read an interview with John Paul Caponigro about the importance of having a high quality color-calibrated monitor.  It got me thinking about all of the steps involved in getting great color. Some of those steps include:

  • Calibrating your monitor
  • Calibrating your printer
  • Calibrating your scanner
  • Setting White Balance
  • Using the correct color space
  • Using ICC profiles

You get the idea. One thing that I have seen very little coverage of is a simple item that costs $10 or less and can have just as drastic an impact on your color as those other important but often expensive or laborious steps.  What is this item you ask?

A lightbulb. Yes, that’s right. A lightbulb.

Most people don’t realize that, just as the different color temperatures of light can affect capture, it can also affect viewing of the final print.  As I’ve stated before, I work in a photolab as a QC or “color technician” and know first hand how different light sources can affect the color seen. Something as simple as an overhead fluorescent light fixture can cause a shift in how the print appears.

What is the correct light for viewing prints?  Any bulb that is rated daylight with a color output of 5000 to 5500K is optimal (try to shoot for as close to 5000K without going under). Also, try to use it in a lamp that is adjustable or flexible so that you can move it around to avoid reflections or glares.  I use a goose necked clip on lamp mounted above my desk at home.

Why not just use daylight to view prints?  Because the light outside is constantly changing. If you think about it, there is a white balance setting for sunny and shade.  Variations in the position of the sun (time of day or even time of year) as well as clouds or other atmosperic conditions can dramatically alter the ambient light outside so that it isn’t a 5000K color temperature.

By the way, why would you ever look at prints in direct sunlight when it is recommended to store and view prints out of direct sunlight to prevent UV damage?  – this is an inside joke

Don’t forget the little things that can make a big difference!