View Full Version : How bright a light do you print for?

Ed Richards
7-Oct-2005, 08:52
Given the recent thread about Weston prints being displayed in such low light that they are hard to see, I am curious if there any guidelines on what light levels to expect where prints are displayed. I have a halogen light on a dimmer next to my printer and I continue to be shocked at how much prints depend on the level of light. As I crank up the light, shadows open, but highlights also get lighter. I know the ideal is a print for all light levels, but not all images work that way. (This is B&W, so I do not worry about color temp, another gotch'a for color work.)

Daniel Schmidt
7-Oct-2005, 08:57
see this thread


Doremus Scudder
7-Oct-2005, 09:05
Hi Dan,

I print and tone for fairly bright artificial (halogen, tungsten) light such as is usually found in galleries. The Weston prints were probably displayed in low light due to concerns about permanence/damage. These concerns are probably largely misplaced unless the prints were improperly processed and/or the light contained a lot of UV (which I doubt). Most museum/conservation curators are more familiar with the lighting guidelines for paintings, prints and color photographs and do not realize that black-and-white prints are less susceptible to damage from light.

I think that brighter light reveals more tones in the print and allows for a greater expressive range of tones when printing. That said, one must realize that prints are often displayed in relatively low lighting conditions, especially after they are sold. I try to distribute a little sheet with prints that are sold advising of proper storage, display and lighting conditions. Nevertheless, I try to insure that prints work in both "gallery light" and lower room lighting conditions. Normally I will make several prints of varying densities and examine them under various lighting conditions (dry, of course). The one that works best in the greatest range of lighting is then my "pilot" for further printing of that image.

Hope this helps,

7-Oct-2005, 09:13
This is an important question, and I've found there's no set standard anywhere. So it's important for your prints to work under a range of lighting. One time I went to a bunch of museums and galleries and looked at the lighting and made measurements. I found brightnesses to be lower than what people mentioned in the thread linked above ... typically in the range of EV 5.5 to 7.5.

The lighting was split between 150 watt flood lamps and different varieties of 3200K halogen lights. In my old viewing area, I had an incandescent flood lamp (my main light), and also ceiling lamps that were loaded with 3200k color balanced fluorescents. i'd also walk prints into a room that had a regular 60w light bulb in the ceiling. Ideally, the print would work under all these conditions. Color is no problem; bw is more finicky. The challenge is putting the shadow detail in the right place to work under different intensities, and getting the toning in the right place to work under different color balances.

Paul Butzi
7-Oct-2005, 10:08
A group of photographers I meet with regularly has done some testing and has determined the *ideal* lighting for displaying a photograph.

The formula is this: install lots of lights, on a dimmer. With the dimmer set low, put up the prints. Now crank the lights up in intensity slowly. When the prints begin to smoke slightly, back the lights off just a tad. You're done.

In the real world, however, you end up hanging prints in a variety of conditions. My measured ranges match Paulr's: about 5.5 to about 8.5 (I guess some of the places I hang prints are a bit brighter than Paul's...).

If I'm going to hang prints in a public place, I often go and check the lighting beforehand, and adjust the evaluation lighting to match. Maybe that's paranoia, but that's the way I am.

Paulr's comments on the challenges of getting prints to work in varied lighting seem spot on to me.

ronald moravec
7-Oct-2005, 13:12
Chicago Area Camera Clubs has their standards with a mixture of incandesent and fluorescent. Then they break their rules. To look good, prints have to be very dark and look ugly under normal room ilumination. I no longer compete.

The Art Institute in Chicago rotating display from their archives is on the dim side and Weston`s prints look fine. When Adams traveling exhibit was there, illumination was normal room and the prints looked fine.

I suggest normal room illumination as you define it. If you do color or deeply tone prints, beware of flourescent lamps. They change your color balance all over the place.

Richard Schlesinger
7-Oct-2005, 15:39
Ansel, in "The Print", recommends a lamp in a "deep , soft reflector" so that you obtain about 100 foot-candles on the print. He ran the lamp through a Variac (a rheostat) and, when showing student prints, would very rapidly twist the knob on the Variac to full brightness and then back down to 100 foot-candles. This was to show whether or not there was more to be seen in the shadows (I think. I never quite understood what I was supposed to be seeing, but Ansel really liked doing it!). In his book (page 7 of the 1983 First edition) he goes on to explain what this demonstrates both with the stronger light and that with a ". . . too-flat, weak print, turning down the rheostat will give a transitory effect of greater richness. . . " I measure the 100 foot-candles with the incident light sphere of my Luna-Pro meter, and try to make prints that look about right at this level.

Stephen Willard
7-Oct-2005, 21:05
I actual went out and measured the ambient light in about 30 different homes. I came up with a typical avergae light intensity of 120 lux uits. Independent of my crude efforts I found out later Kodak also came with the same number of 120 lux units. Judging my prints with a 120 lux units has had no negative effects when my prints were displayed in galleries with much brighter lights..

8-Oct-2005, 12:13
I would love to see a comparison chart between EV, lux units, and foot candles.

Printing for people's homes is especially tricky, becase the range of brightness is all over the map. In some rooms, a print might be ten feet from a 40 watt bulb; in others it might be right across from a bay window that let the sun stream in for six hours a day. Given this, I just print for the more limited range I see in galleries and hope for the best!