The Darkroom Makes a Comeback (Part 2)

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Measuring the Light
To get your lighting just right, you’ll need to measure the precise level of illumination so that you can compare your lighting levels to those recommended in the ISO standards introduced in late 2000 (and outlined in Part 1) — 32 lux or 64 lux, as maximums.

You can purchase a special lux meter that numerically defines the illumination in a room, but many commonly used photographers’ exposure meters include printed lux/footcandle conversion tables affixed to the back, to allow their use for measuring light levels in lux.

Dr. Tim Padfield has devised a rather ingenious but complex process for calculating lux by using the reflective light meter built into most 35mm cameras. It’s far too dense to get into here, but you can check it for yourself at his Web site.

Whatever measuring device you use, the goal when installing lighting is to establish a precise and even level of illumination throughout the room. Measurements should be taken by holding the light meter just above various work surfaces or in front of a monitor. The precise level of light in viewing (proofing) booths or under task lamps used for proofing is governed by the ISO standards and obviously will need to be much higher than overall room lighting. However, task lamps or proofing booths should have lighting that is focused and does not spill onto the faces of monitors.

Calibrate Your Monitor
Once you’ve remodeled your editing room, it’s time to calibrate your monitor and establish a color-editing workflow. Most users will want to calibrate the monitor gamma and white point to one of two commonly used standards (2.2 gamma/6,500°K white point or 1.8 gamma /5,000°K). While personal preference is a factor, the final choice also will be affected by the degree to which you implement other viewing standards in your unique environment.

The 2.2 gama/6,500°K standard is perfectly acceptable and widely used, although whites on screen may appear to have a blue cast to some eyes. The more rigid 1.8 gama/5,000°K standard can reduce overall monitor brightness and the whites on screen may appear too yellow to some eyes, but it is preferred if you need to do professional pre-press proofing. The phenomena of whites appearing too blue or yellow on-screen is greatly reduced or eliminated when the editing environment is truly color neutral (neutral walls, D50 lighting, blocked window light, etc.). Ultimately, either monitor calibration standard will work, especially if you use Adobe Photoshop version 5.0 or later as your image editor (because it allows for a color space for image files separate from a monitor’s color space).

To calibrate, use either the free Adobe Gamma tool built into Photoshop or the Monitor Calibration tool built into Apple’s Monitors Control panel (but not both). Be aware that some applications (such as Adobe PageMaker) automatically install and turn on Adobe Gamma, and you may have to check to make sure that dueling calibration tools aren’t active.

Better yet, a hardware calibration device is more precise. Some monitors are sold with hardware-calibration pucks, either as standard equipment or add-ons. Third-party hardware calibration devices, such as the $224 Monitor Spyder by ColorVision, work well with a wide range of monitors. Of course, some hardware calibration systems are more sensitive (and accurate) than others. Budget and the degree of color accuracy required will affect your purchasing decision.

Remember, the whole idea behind ICC color — and a properly configured editing room — is to be able to use your monitor as a reliable soft proofing tool before you create a printed proof or final printed output.

Review the Actual Standards for Yourself
As noted in Part 1 of this report, the international standards that define environmental and lighting conditions in color editing facilities are in the process of being updated. While journalistic reports like this help end-users digest and analyze the standards, there may be no substitute for reading the actual specifications and precise language used by standards committees. If you’re concerned only about viewing images onscreen, you can safely limit yourself to ISO 3664:2000; if you need to compare images onscreen to printed output, the more appropriate standard for you will be ISO 12646.

ISO documents usually can be purchased through the ISO or any country’s national standards organization by credit card. In the U.S., technological standards ultimately are defined by ANSI (American National Standards Institute). Licenses to receive electronic copies (pdf files) of ANSI or ISO standards (including 3664:2000) can be purchased by phone (212-642-4980) or via the ANSI Electronic Standards Store, for a cost of $58. ANSI has appointed Global Engineering Documents of Englewood, Colo., its primary distribution source for selling printed copies of standards and technical documents, which are available by FAX or mail. Global can be contacted at (303-397-7956) or through e-mail ([email protected]).

Read more by George Wedding.


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  • anonymous says:

    I understand the need for the correct lightin conditions coming from a background of photography, but what about my eyes? I have been using a computer for my artwork for over 2 years now and have noticed my eyesight suffer, won’t these new measures (if implemented) be bad for us?

  • anonymous says:

    Your observation about declining eyesight is an issue, but some things, like aging, are unavoidable. I’m a 48-year-old Mac user and my eyesight deteriorated to the point that I needed glasses by the time I was 43, which my doctor said was ‘normal’ in today’s population. While I have some trouble with bright lights or discerning shadow detail these days, the fact remains that lowering the lights in my editing room has dramatically improved my ability to work with images on computers. Do I keep a flashlight handy to find something dropped under a table or occasionally turn up the lights to do routine tasks like filing? Yes — whatever is necessary to make things work.

  • anonymous says:

    One suggestion I would like to add is to cover a substantial portion of the wall area with dark grey anechoic foam panels. A room full of computers and perripherals has many small cooling fans (mine has 19 units with fans) all of these emit a substantial ammount of high frequency white noise which over time can lead to hearing loss and in the short-term is stressful. I purchased zig-zag cut anechoic panels from an audio sound studio products catalog and covered my upper walls with 2ft x 4ft panels spaced about 6″ apart. Besides substantially reducing the noise it looks way cool and high tech. And, yes, it is neutral gray …but somewhat darker than your specification. It is a bit pricy..but all the good stuff is.

  • Anonymous says:

    Despite this article being 8 years old, It is still spot on. Thanks for the education.online black jack forex trader on line craps on line roulette on line bingo

  • Anonymous says:

    So, would you say it would work best for over-all lighting control to simply perform digital editing in a completely dark room (no lighting other than the monitor light)? And if doing this would it then be best to also calibrate your monitor under these same blackout conditions? I have read much, maybe too much, about digital dark rooms and optimal lighting that my head is spinning. I’d appreciate insight into my thoughts on a editing under complete darkness. Thanks! Colorado Photo Newby

  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you SO very much for your accuracy and (especially) information on where to purchase the D50 flourescent bulbs. Makes me appreciate that Nikon called a camera the D5000, when searching.
    I have your site marked and will be sharing with others in the printing field(!).

  • Anonymous says:

    “Me” again:

    Note that you can purchase bulbs from Pantone.com – but they don’t have these on their website – have to call 866-PANTONE & ask for assisitance (pre-paid orders ONLY).

  • Tas Bandung says:

    someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

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