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If you are familiar with white balance on your camera then you should already be comfortable with the idea that different types of lights have different color qualities, and those color qualities can affect the color that you capture in your camera. The same thing is true with prints. The quality of the light where you look at a print can dramatically impact how the print appears. If you're examining a print under tungsten lights, which have a yellowish cast, you may think "uh-oh, my print is too yellow." Or if you're viewing your print in low light, you might think "oh no, there is no detail in the shadows" when in fact it's just too dark in the room for you to see the detail in your shadows.
If you're thinking "yeah, but I am not that picky, I don't really care about the level of finesse," well, the problem is you actually will care. If you don't see detail in the shadows when you review your print, then you'll go back to your computer and you'll brighten the shadows up. Or if the print looks too yellow, you'll go dial back the yellow. But then when you get those prints into more normal light, you'll think "oh, this is too bright" or "wow, this is too blue." So, viewing conditions can be critical to your review process. Now, ideally, you would view your prints in sunlight, and in fact this is often a really good way to get a good view: just take the print outside.
Even there though, you need to be careful about the lighting. If you're standing next to a bright-red building or there are a lot of trees around then you might be in a light with a red or green cast. Indoors, things get a little more complicated. First, you need to think about what kind of lights you have. D50--that's D-5-0--is a lighting standard that specifies a light source that has the same color temperature as sunlight. It's the accepted standard for everything from monitor calibration to print viewing and display, so gallery lighting is usually D50.
Now you can get D50 light bulbs to fit in just about any kind fixture, and that's what we've done here. We've got these tungsten track lights that are up, and that's just kind of the normal lighting we deal with and is not very good for viewing prints. So we got some D50 fluorescent bulbs and just a cheap fixture. I just went to the hardware store and got all this stuff. It didn't cost very much, and it's just sitting up here on the track, and it's creating this nice pool of correct print-viewing light. You'll see these labeled not necessarily D50, they might be labeled daylight for sunlight or something like that.
The problem is, the ones we got weren't quite exactly right, and when we put black-and-white prints under them, they looked a little bit green. So we put a gel over it, that's a gelatin. That's basically a clear piece of plastic you can get at any lighting supply store or maybe a photo store. You can certainly order it online. In this case, it's color temperature blue, or CTB, and those come in various thicknesses. So we were able to correct this and get it properly balanced so that it truly is sunlight and now when we get black-and-white prints up here, they look neutral. So this is a really inexpensive, pretty easy way to get good viewing conditions.
You also need to think about the other ambient light in the room though. So, just as mixed lighting can confuse the white balance in your camera, it can also make print evaluation more complicated. So in here, we've got windows downstairs that are letting in sunlight, and that sunlight is bouncing all around the room and creating a faint kind of bluish light everywhere. There used to be a window right over there, but we've closed that off completely so that we have very little ambient light in here, little enough that the lighting from this can simply overpower the ambient light in the room, so I have a good correct pool of light.
I don't really have to worry about a mixed-lighting situation. Here, under these lights, I've pretty much got only D50 lighting, and I've got enough of the lights setup to create a very even pool to work in, so I don't have my prints sitting in the area where there is a lot of falloff. Finally, the wall itself has magnetic paint on it. You can get this at most painting supply stores. This is actually just a primer, so I could paint color over it if I wanted. And with this magnetic paint, I can simply stick prints to the wall with magnets. It took a few coats to get the wall magnetic enough to support the heavier paper that I'm printing, but it makes for a really easy, spacious area for viewing prints.
Now, if you don't have a place where you can control the ambient light, then things get trickier. For example, my apartment at home has windows all around so there's bright ambient light that's constantly changing throughout the day. It becomes very confusing for me to figure out when the best time to evaluate prints is, and the light is bright enough that I just can't overpower it with artificial lighting. So kind of my only option is to wait until dark and set up artificial lights and view prints. And in the summer that's hard because there's so--because it gets light so late. So if that's the situation that you're in, you may want to consider buying or even building a print viewing station. That's basically a booth with D50 lighting in it.
Just Google print viewing station, and you'll find several vendors that will sell enclosed print viewing booths of different kinds. The important thing to remember is that you've just got to pay attention to where you're evaluating prints. You need to control the ambient light, and you need to try to get some predictable D50 lighting on to your prints so that you can accurately gauge both tone and color.
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