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Friday, 12 December 2008


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If you took a photo illuminated only by your Verilux of a white piece of paper with a digital camera set for daylight balanced exposure (5500K), imported the photo into Photoshop or other like editing program, opened the file, corrected it for white/gray balance with the eyedropper tool, the program would then set the color balance of the paper to white/gray. Now read the K temp showing and it should tell you by how many degrees K your daylight balanced light is off? If it reads 5500K, the Verilux is dead on. If it reads higher or lower due to your correction, then that should show how much off daylight (or 5500K anyway) the lamp is. I think?


You should write on this often, though labeling it as "VIEWING STATION" may be off putting to some. I always have my latest "affixed' somewhere for viewing, though not always under the best light. But, if someone other than me acquires one of the pieces, I have no control over the lighting. A "natural' form of "censorship"; the acquireee has control.

I've used a florescent and incandescent combo for many years; it feels right, and when there is some light from the north window, here in the balmy part of NW Indianer, all the better.

I, personally, have to look 90 degrees to the left; must be a Nikon, Canon, sort of thing. :) ( Personally, I've always found the "full spectrum" lights far too blue. )


Thanks Mike! I need this (note to kids its on my Amazon wish list). I bet it will work in my RV if I ever get a printer for the darn thing.

Neat B&W, from what I can tell. Reminds me of a Brassai photo in some old park in Paris.

When I took a color managment course in 2003 with Andrew Rodney, I learned of the importance of a viewing station. Santa Fe Workshops had one of those nice professional ones, I think it was made by Gretag MacBeth, perhaps.

I haven't ponied up the money for one of those (yet), but I certainly agree with the importance of having *something*.

Right now, I use what is purported to be a daylight-balanced fluourescent light in combination with an overhead incandescent bulb. I view my prints on my dining table this way, the dining table also serving as the surface for using the mat cutter (if you think you have a small place, Mike, I can guarantee mine is smaller). This works surprisingly well, much like the situation at the school where you used to teach. Like you, I find the combination of the two seems to correct to the deficiencies of each source independently.

At some point, I may get the light you have, or better yet, a lamp with a Solex bulb.

MIke, I really like your set-up with the corkboard. Looks like a trip to the local crafts store is in order (or at least, an office supply store).

BTW, the light I was referring to is made by OTTLite.

The one I have is here:

Ottlite makes a large range of daylight-balanced fluorescent lighting, some of them look really good. The Vero Desk lamp I am using has a narrow bulb, a broader bulb would be better with respect to viewing prints. I'm thinking I could find another one on their website that would be even better for viewing prints than the one I presently have.

Looks like a trip to the Ottlite site is in order as well as the craft store.


I hadn't realised you used a B9180, I have the same printer and love it. They've been known to have some 'quirks' but I've had zero issues with mine.
Back on topic, I've been wondering about a viewing station myself, though it will definately be along the lines of yours, i.e. a lamp bolted to the desk.

Well, I'll out-cheap you on the light: get a clamp light (from your hardware store) and a 5100k compact fluorescent bulb. These days, you can get a full spectrum compact fluorescent pretty cheaply online or even at some Home Depot's. A heck of a lot cheaper than the clamp lamp.

My mother got a floor-standing version of that lamp for reading, and when I saw it on a visit once I raved about it enough that she got me one for my birthday. She was happy about it, too, since it was the first time in years that she knew what to get me.

I don't have an extra bulb, but it hasn't been a problem yet, after four years. I do have to let it warm up for about fifteen minutes before the color is quite right.

Great advice, Mike, but may I suggest the use of those cute little magnets you can get from stationers now and a metal "whiteboard"? No damage to prints, and it helps overcome the inertia factor that pins induce (you know, you say to yourself "Oh, it might as well stay there for now" ... for about a year). Also, experimenting with sequencing prints (e.g. for a book) using small 4x6 versions (or smaller) is easier and a lot more fun. The whiteboard doesn't have to be white, of course -- those little magnets are amazingly powerful and work through many layers of paper -- you can easily experiment with different background colours -- just magnet on a new sheet. I love them! Like you, I have my own little gallery going on the wall next to my PC.

Dear Paul,

Just because the bulb has a color temperature of 5100K doesn't mean it's a good viewing light. It also needs to have a high CRI (Color Rendering Index), 90 or better.

If the bulb specs don't give a CRI, you can assume it's lousy.

What happens with a poor CRI is that, while the overall color balance may be roughly correct, individual colors will appear wrong.

As for me, since most people buying my work are displaying it in a home environment, I balance for indoor lighting, not 5000K. This used to be easy-- aim for 3000K and you'd be in pretty good shape. These days home lighting is nowhere that predictable, but I still use 3000K for my viewing area.

pax / Ctein

My viewing staionis currently our stairwell. It's painted with a (true) white paint and lit by 3 11 watt 4000k cfls in an uplighter. I have been very pleasantly surprised by how well the environment works for enjoying and assessing both colour and black white prints.


I keep my latest prints magnetized to the steel door of my apartment. It's a bit far away for normal viewing, but I can ponder prints over my morning coffee, watching how they change as sunlight pours in through the big south facing window.

All household/interior lighting will change in the next 20 years from incandescent/fluorescent to LED/colored LED.

This brings a new level of obfuscation to the already complicated topic of color.

Just something to think about.

You almost motivated me to make a viewing station the last time you wrote about it. This time I think you convinced me to push away from the computer for a while and do it. Prints, not images on a monitor, are still the end game for me, so I really need this. Thanks for another kick in the pants to get moving on this.

Hi Mike,
I would post a picture of my primary viewing station, but I haven't made the bed yet.
I use an Ottlite like some others at the desk and I too have a wall space just to the right of my desk. but since I live in a tiny cottage, its all in the bedroom. So the first place for viewing is the drying rack (the bed).
Lovely North window and East window. Then sometimes the kitchen table North and West windows.
Glad to see that some of us still print.


Great information all around. This is an issue that hit home early on for me, when I started printing on Epson's first 'archival' pigment ink printer, the late unlamented 2000P. This produced prints with apparently decent color balance under incandescent lighting using the Epson's canned profiles, but they turned a ghastly green when you carried them over to a window. This spectacular metameric failure has been reduced with each generation of inkjets, and current models are really quite good in this respect. But even gelatin silver prints won't look the same under 2000°K incandescent lights and 7800°K reflected blue sky. Some kind of standardized viewing at least lets you judge whether your prints are going where you want them to.

This problem is magnified when you start printing big. My wife, God bless 'er, made me some a cheap 'n cheerful viewing station by hanging some rubber-shod clamps on nails in the wall. This lets me hang prints up to 24x36", and I subject them to incandescent, flourescent and (weather permitting) window light to see what happens to the color. I sometimes make 24x80" panoramic prints. I have just enough floor space to lay them out, but part of the print is lit by window light and part by ceiling incandescent bulbs, so I can't know what they'll really look like until they're mounted and hung. Subscale test prints don't work, because color and tonal perception changes with scale. The best I can do is make test prints of small sections and trust my color management is adequately dialed in.

There are standards for print viewing, but the only firm ones I'm aware of apply to the graphic arts industry. Even fine art museums cannot seem to agree on viewing standards for photographs.

From my own experience, your school practise of wandering around looking at prints in various real-world light conditions makes a lot of sense. Though a print might be displayed in a variety of situations, I find that the likely situations fall within a range that's achievable by a single expression in printing. I think that a print viewing station should reference that range of real-world display rather than any arbitrary standard. This can be done inexpensively, but I do think it's important to do lots of wandering around with print in hand just to make sure that the illumination of the viewing station makes sense.

And yet you EDIT in this light?

http://bp1.blogger.com/_InTTA3tpeeo/R36bRf4odHI/AAAAAAAAAlE/iH00tSzXllc/s1600-h/speakers-1.jpg (from the Moo-Fubar Sunday Sermon post)

Maybe you've improved it since that picture was taken?

The light on your editing station is at least as important as your viewing station.


This was a couple of years ago, but I found a variety of work lamps and daylight bulbs at Pearl Paint, an art supply chain. They sell a task lamp that holds a fluorescent ring and an incandescent bulb, each with its own switch (I bought a much cheaper one that came with a single "full-spectrum" compact fluorescent).

I just put high-CRI bulbs into the overhead flyorescent fixture in my office; so there's a LOT of light, as well as decent color balance.

Go for 4'x8' homosote for a viewing station if you can squeeze out the space. It's worthwhile having enough viewing space so that you can leave pictures up for a month or two if you need to have time to make up your mind about them. If I leave images up long enough I can always make a pretty decisive choice about whether they are keepers - and I know why I made the decision too. But sometimes it takes a month or so to really know why I'm making a choice.

Living with your images will do more to improve your photography than you can imagine. You aren't learning about your images when they are in a box.

Also Ott Lites rock. But get the ones with 18 watt bulbs. The 13 Watt Ott Lite bulbs are a little too dim for good viewing IMHO.

Years back when I was working with a group of consumer magazines I made the production director buy a specific viewing station so that our people were looking at proofs under the same lights that the printer was using. Seemed logical to me. One day I was coming back from an outside appointment and ran into one of our publishers standing in a large newsstand (in NYC's Pan Am building, across the street from our offices), looking at several cover proofs for one of the magazines. When I asked why she was doing that and not using the setup in the office, she said that the buyer will see it on a newsstand, not under those lights/conditions.
I use an Ott Lite to look at my prints as I am making them, but always wonder what they will look like later, when someone else is viewing them under different conditions.

Hi Mike,

We shouldn't ignore you, at least not on this important topic :-). Many photographers go on and on about monitor luminance ("must be no lower than 90 cd/m2, no higher than 120 cd/m2", etc), but all of this assumes something about ambient light in the monitor work area, and equally important, a certain amount of extra illumination on the prints if one actually is striving for monitor-to-print matching. Intuitively, it seems to me that the higher the illumination on the print, the higher illumination one can aim for on the monitor, albeit with some adjustment to monitor surround illumination. In other words, the whole round trip from monitor to print viewing requires some basis for standardization that rarely gets discussed in entirety. Professional profiling packages must assume some underlying relationship to compute LAB values on monitor and LAB values in print, but I've never seen it explicitly defined. There must be a standard on it somewhere. I'm wondering if any of T.O.P.'s very knowledgeable audience has an opinion on print illumination levels when trying to establish good monitor-to-print (soft proofing) conditions.

I do know the industry seems to have settled on 2000 Lux viewing booths, and minimum values of 500 lux for color matching related tasks. I find I need two Solux 50 watt lamps at just a few feet away to get to the 500 lux level with reasonable uniformity over a 20x24" print area. Home Depot sells 48" Phillips Colortone 50 (5000K, 93 CRI full spectrum lamps) for about $8.00 apiece to fit in standard fluorescent shop light fixtures (very inexpensive as well). This approach is a good close second to the Solux lamps in terms of color spectrum, and superior in achieving 500 lux uniform illumination. Its also a great way to illuminate large work surfaces in one's studio.

Thanks for stirring the pot.


Great post here Michael - I actually don't have a viewing station. In defense of that, it's partly because we just moved into our house a month ago and I have yet to unpack and get my 13x19 printer set back up. Although that argument falls apart since I didn't have a viewing station at the house in SC either. I had thought about setting one up, but like yourself, am kind of at a premium for space. This has motivated me to get things set back up though and get back to printing my pictures!

The only suggestion I would make is to use a thin sheet of galvanized steel rather than the cork-board. Nail that thing to the wall and use magnets rather than push pins. The slick thing is that if you can then paint the steel any color from the Pantone color range. I've used this setup for a great many years and it fits in with my more modern aesthetic than cork-board.

Dear Mark,

Some profiling packages will take ambient illumination into account when setting the optimum brightness level for your monitor. Others won't.

In the latter case, your monitor brightness will probably be fixed by the profiling system, which means you have to adapt your viewing area brightness to correspond, if you're trying to produce a close match between print and screen.

That's what I did when I built my web site, BCM (Before Color Management)-- I matched the conditions, so the white on the monitor had the same brightness as the white in the print I was using as a reference. It worked very well!


That assumes your goal is to match a monitor to a print. If your goal is to make prints that look most correct to the audience, you need your viewing area to closely match the final viewing conditions, and if the monitor doesn't agree, that's life.

In that same vein, I run my monitors at D50, *NOT* D65. D65 is an industry graphic arts standard, but you'll hardly ever display art prints under D65. D50 is a good match to sunlight, and normal indoor viewing under incandescent light is only 3000K. I get a much better match between screen and viewed-print color keeping the screen at D50 than at D65.

pax / Ctein

Dear Yunfat,

It's going to get worse for a while. Then it'll get better again.

I agree that the next 5-10 years are going to be a real pain for artists like me. (Insignificant price to pay for energy efficiency/CO2 reduction, so I ain't complaining, just commenting.) Indoor color balances and CRI's will be all over the map. Figure that anyone who isn't viewing the work in a well-lit environmnt probably doesn't have as fussy an eye as you, and go with the flow.

After that, it'll get better again. NIST is developing a new color rendition standard for solid-state lights that'll work much better than CRI and will likely be closely matched by most manufacturers.

(Solid-state lights have huge color rendering problems that CRI doesn't cover; the lamp spectra are just too uneven. That's why a new standard's needed.)

Sometime circa 2015-2020, it'll all settle down again. Meanwhile, look on the bright side, we can be a little LESS obsessive about our viewing spaces.

pax / Pollyanna Ctein

Having a good light for viewing prints -is- important. But, frankly, consistency is more important. I'm not sure I've ever seen photo prints displayed as clinically as fetishism for post-production viewing stations would suggest. The key consideration for museum displays, I know, is preservation. That is, lighting levels are very subdued and are nearly always tungsten.

Personally, I use this Daylight® lamp at my print station to evaluate prints: http://us.daylightcompany.com/art/product/?id=249 (It has a CRI of 85, a color temperature of 6500K, and produces 1900 lumens.) The magnifying lens can sometimes be handy, too, although not daily.

Great topic; thanks for starting a wonderful conversation, too.

I've thought way too little about lighting, but have been motivated to do so.

I modeled my viewing station after the Photographic Society of America's "Uniform Practice - Judging Practices" and it works well for me. Take a look at 'http://www.psa-photo.org' on the Competition tab.

I did drop the intensity of the light a stop or so, to match the level I measured in the office building where I work.

Good post Mike. Balanced viewing is a vital component of any imaging system. I'll second the Solux desk lamp solution, or even the track and 12 volt heads for a larger installation. These are reasonably priced and they are the best spectral balance of any available. Any florescent bulb's spectral energy response is very spikey compared to a Solux halogen, and the overall CRI is rarely as good.

In addition you can get the Solux bulbs in a variety of color temps. Don't confuse the need for a high CRI with the color temp. Museums and galleries in the DC area are typically using 3500º Kelvin halogens, so if that is your destination use 95 CRI/3500ºK bulbs and calibrate your monitor accordingly. If your market is publishing use 95 CRI/5000ºK bulbs and calibrate to the same temp.

We can influence a gallerie's choice of illumination, particularly if they are using 12 volt halogens, because they can simply replace with Solux bulbs as their existing bulbs burn out. The cost is reasonable at about $8 each.

The Verilux bulbs range from 85 CRI/6500ºK for the compact florescents to 94.5 CRI/6280ºK for most of their fluorescent tubes (info from Verilux). Certainly much better than nothing, but in my opinion not as good a solution as Solux.

I am with Ctein. I have never understood the advice to use a ~5000K bulb to evaluate prints since virtually no one uses such lighting in the house, office or the gallery. I look at mine under halogen track bulbs that are down in the ~3500K range which seems to be a good compromise for all the lighting in my home and every gallery I have visited here in Portland. They all seem to use the Home Depot brand of halogen tracks. I have yet see anyone using ~5000K lighting anywhere.

Glad to see this written up. A lot of folks, in calibrating their monitors, are just working one end of the chain. (Albeit the more important one, given the unpredictability of where others might (hopefully) place our prints.)

I have found with the stock Epson profiles that a pretty high amount of light on the print results in a near-perfect match to the screen. As a result, there is a perception that the Epsons "print dark" -- which they do under "normal" room lighting.

Targeting for matching to display conditions is a crap-shoot of course, but I like the idea of getting as close as possible under a plausible set of standards. (Personally, I have a desk lamp with a Solux bulb, resulting in not full coverage of larger prints, but very accurate viewing.)

Printing industry color booths fall firmly on the side of process control. They aren't supposed to produce good color - they're meant, instead, to help pressmen produce consistent color. They're lit with a standard D50 tube, which, at 5000K, is a pretty horrible yellow. (I have a vague memory of reading that the D50 standard came about because it was cheap and the tubes were close to normal fluorescents.)

I'm reminded here of practice in music production: engineers listen on monitor speakers, which are designed to be musically neutral, in order to understand what's in the mix. Often they'll also run the same mix through lousy boombox speakers or other low-fi equipment, so that they can also understand what happens when the music makes its way out into the world.

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