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Room lighting for image editing

  |   Article, Articles and reviews, Colour management, Image Editing, Monitor calibration, Photography Business, Printing   |   5 Comments

Room lighting for image editing

If you’re serious about photo editing, then pay attention to lighting in your office

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Keith regularly tells people that they should calibrate their monitors for best results, but it’s also important to consider the conditions you are working in, and how you evaluate your prints.

This short article is intended to give you some ideas and links to more info about what you need to consider when setting up your workplace lighting and decoration.

[2018] Content links updated – many products have also been updated (and reviewed on this site) since the original article, but we’ve kept the original links. The principles covered have not really changed…

pantone colours

Why room lighting really matters

Thinking about illumination and room decoration will help improve the consistency and accuracy of your work.

As an example, most ‘energy saving lightbulbs’ are useless for critical lighting, even if they are cheaper to run…

The colour is (currently) pretty awful and I won’t have one anywhere I’m doing any reasonable colour evaluation.

This graph shows why, although I should emphasise there isn’t a lot of techy stuff in this aticle ;-)

Specialist task lightingRight …CRI=’0′ (details later)

[2018 LED lighting is more popular, but has big variations in quality. Not as bad as the old ‘Energy saving’ lamps, but still something to take note of]

After monitor calibration…

Calibrating your monitor is an important first step in improving the quality of your digital imaging and printing.

I’ve written quite a few reviews regarding profiling hardware and software, but apart from the Why don’t my prints match my screen article, I’ve not really covered much about the rest of your office, or wherever you do your editing and printing.

How bright is the lighting in your office working environment at the moment? Is there any glare reflected from your screen? Are there any bright lights or strong colours in your view as you read this?

Lighting levels

Some hardware devices allow you to measure the levels of lighting.

My Eye One spectrophotometer for example, measures the spectrum of the light and allows me to get an idea of how good it is for accurately viewing objects, but that’s jumping ahead – how about brightness levels?

I’ve just been looking at the Spyder 2 Pro for monitor calibration and it allows you to measure ambient lighting levels. Depending on the brightness it recommends different settings
[2018 – Original article links maintained – see Monitor calibration reviews for most up to date solutions]

  • Very Low: appropriate for prepress image editing. Calibrate the display to a White Luminance level of 85-100 cd/m^2* and a White Point of 5000K (warm white) to compensate for the eye’s cooler response at low light levels. LCD monitors (including laptops) can be used in this situation as well as CRT displays.
  • Moderately Low: dim, but appropriate for photo image editing. Calibrate the display to a White Luminance level of 125-150 cd/m^2 and a White Point of 5800K (slightly warm white) to compensate for the eye’s slightly cooler response at moderately low light levels. LCD monitors (including laptops) can be used in this situation as well as very bright CRT displays.
  • Medium: appropriate for typical photo editing. Calibrate the display to a White Luminance level of 175-200 cd/m^2 and a White Point of 6500K (medium white) to compensate for the eye’s moderate colour response at medium light levels. Only LCD monitors (including laptops) can be used in this situation.
  • High: uncontrolled, not recommended for colour critical work. Lower the ambient light if possible, otherwise use a monitor hood and calibrate the display to the maximum White Luminance it can produce and a White Point of 6500K or higher.
  • Very High: uncontrolled, not recommended for any colour managed work. If you must work in these conditions use a monitor hood, umbrella or photographer’s cloak and calibrate the display to the maximum White Luminance it can produce and a White Point of 6500K or higher.

Do note that this ambient measurement is not the same as the dynamic measurement you can get with the huey calibrator (-not- a feature I’d personally want to use. It’s a feature beloved of many so-called ‘reviews’ and a masterpiece of marketing ;-)

[2018 – the huey is long gone – please don’t be tempted if you see them going cheap on eBay]

There are actual ISO standards for office lighting for graphics design and Pre-press work.

They are called “Viewing Conditions — for Graphic Technology and Photography” (aka ISO 3664:2000). A second related standard — ISO 12646 (“Graphic Technology — Displays for Colour Proofing — Characteristics and Viewing Conditions”) requires more stringent colour pre-press viewing conditions for monitor calibration and room lighting.

If you are setting up a lab for comparing printed output and digital image files, then use ISO 12646. Or, if you are a Web developer or desktop publisher who seldom creates printed proofs, you can use the less stringent IS0 3664:2000 for guidance.

Room decoration

Color Management book

I often get asked for suggestions about learning more about the nuts and bolts of Colour Management.

My usual suggestion is Bruce Fraser's Real World Colour Management. My own copy is well thumbed. It's my first port of call if I'm asked a question and I feel I don't quite understand an issue well enough to be absolutely sure of an answer.

Check latest price/availability from Amazon

RWCM  2nd Edition RWCM 

See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page

Daylight is excellent, but it changes – I use big thick heavy curtains (not bright colours either!) I open the curtains and let the light flood in for showing just how much dust has accumulated in various corners, and when I’m dismantling some piece of equipment and a screw has dropped on the floor.

Even the curtains are probably a bit too bright when direct sun shines on them, but then I’m not doing precision photo editing all of the time…

Walls – good grey paint. Check the article mentioned above for some details, but do check that it really is grey when it dries.

Using a spectrophotometer, or spectrocolorimeter like the PrintFIX PRO allows you to measure the colour. Go for Lab measurements with the lowest a and b values for the most neutral.

Don’t forget though that normal ‘grey card’ grey is quite dark and makes for a dismal room if you are not careful.

Furniture – grey of course :-) OK, if that’s a bit too much then at least try to keep distracting bright colours away from your field of view (I have a large sheet of grey backdrop paper behind my monitor. If you are really serious you can take to wearing grey clothing… (OK, all black is probably OK too)

[2018 A monitor hood helps, such as this from my SW320 review]

sw320 compared to sw2700pt

Lighting – Your monitor should be brighter than the ambient lighting, thus your vision will automatically see monitor white as ‘white’. The lighting ideally needs to be ‘full spectrum’ lighting from 5000K to 6000K and needs to be able to render colours well. There is a number (the colour rendition index – CRI) which specifies part of this ‘quality’. Aim for a CRI of over 90

GrafiLite ott-Lite specialised viewing lampIf you can find good D50 lighting then go for it.

Just remember that it’s actually spectral power distribution (SPD) that is important, not just the CRI.

My own pet hate is the ‘energy saving lightbulb’, most common ones are quite dreadful in colour reproduction – until they have improved quite a lot then the only place in my home is areas I don’t spend much time in.

The diagram at the top of the page shows that using my Eye One, they get a CRI of zero (or ‘so bad, we’re not even going to bother calculating it’)

Print viewing

Use a 5000K light if possible.

The idea is that the white of your paper should look lighter in the viewing box (if you are using one) than when you take it out.

The picture above is the new GrafiLite. It uses an Ott Lite tube to give a colour temperature of about 5300K and a good CRI.

Buying an Ott Lite

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying an Ott Lite, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon.
Amazon UK link / Amazon Fr / Amazon De
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada link

It won’t cost any more (nor less we’re afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.


We’ve a short review of using the Grafilite with more info.

We’ve also a reveiew of the much more advanced PDV Desktop Viewer from GTI, with more information on viewing prints and soft proofing

Put your viewing area well off to one side of your screen -NEVER- right next to it.

Get used to actually turning your head to view the print, and don’t ever try holding a print right next to a monitor. They won’t ever match…

You might also want to compare the results with Soft Proofing, ideally when all is set up (monitor brightness, viewing source brightness, soft proofing, printer profiles) you should be able to edit and print your images with confidence

[2018 – where I’ve used links, it’s because I regard the original items as useful, and worth preserving]


A bit more care in creating your surroundings will help improve the consistency and accuracy of your work.

This short note is intended to outline some of the areas that you might consider (lighting/decoration) – we’ll update the links as we find more relevant info (dead article links replaced with copies in 2015)

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More colour management and printing related information

For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page.
All colour management articles and reviews are indexed on the main Colour Management page - please do let Keith know if you've any questions, either via the comments or just email us?

Some specific articles that may be of interest:  

  • Why don't my prints match my screen? A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
  • Why are my prints too dark - some basic suggestions to this common problem.

Articles below by Keith (Google's picks for matching this page)

We're an affiliate, so receive payment if you buy via Amazon US

  • Martin Davies | Nov 26, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you for the information, I’m by no means skipping my day time job do carry out photography full time “I Wish” . I want to print my own images and I know that room lighting will contribute to how the images turn out even if my monitor is calibrated.

  • Keith Cooper | Nov 26, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Cheaper, but at a cost I couldn’t currently justify (YMMV) – not dissimilar to using 3rd party inks in my printer

    You’ll have to try and find lights with a high CRI.

    If there is no CRI listed, that’s not a good sign

    A search on “gu10 high CRI LED UK” gives a few.

    Personally I’d want a 97/98 CRI , but remember I do photography for a living… ;-)

  • Martin Davies | Nov 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you for the information, at a quick glance a lot of that was over my head! That said, if I steered away from LED’s what sort of room lighting would you suggest that’s not too expensive. My room is in the cellar, a single 45 x 90 PVC window that lets in a little ambient light. Actually I edit mostly during silent hours when the room has no ambient light at all. The room is currently lit with GU10 230v 35 Watt Halogen bulbs which tend to rack up the electric bill hence why I thought LED would be the cheaper option.

  • Keith Cooper | Nov 26, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Ah – how important is good quality lighting to you?

    The basic ‘colour temperature’ figures for LED lighting are pretty meaningless in terms of usefulness for viewing in a studio environment.

    I’ve yet to see -any- LED lighting I’d use in an environment I was using for evaluation of prints.

    That’s not to say there are not multicolour LED lighting units that have a good CRI and may be aimed at colour critical uses, just that I’ve not personally seen any and they won’t be cheap. Note that CRI on its own can easily be misrepresented in lighting advertising.

    LED lighting (currently) has a place in my kitchen, but not my lounge or studio or print room.

    Sure it’s more efficient, but frankly I don’t care one jot about that (at the moment – it is improving all the time)

    If you absolutely must go for LEDs then just make sure you get as high a CRI as you can afford.

    Compare the figures for solum bulbs for example

    This is the sort of lighting I’d consider

  • Martin Davies | Nov 26, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I want to replace my Halogen down lights with LEDs, there are so many to choose from. Which Kelvin should I be getting? I have around 8 down lights. Thank you for any info.

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