Please note: Studio not currently open to the public - please order online for delivery, or external click and collect. Our full Covid info here.

Introduction to Colour Accurate Lighting

18th September 2015 Colour Management & Lighting


Colour accurate lighting is fundamental to a colour managed workflow. If you are currently viewing your prints under standard tungsten globes or standard fluorescents, then you're not seeing your prints as they really are.

Most common light sources have significant problems, either their colour temperature is too warm for a colour managed workflow (tungsten and halogen globes), or the lights have weird spectral spikes and gaps (fluorescent globes). This means that the light falling on your prints, and therefore back to your eye, is simply not the best lighting for judging the true colours of your prints.

Colour Management systems operate around the D50 reference light source. This is the light source that almost all printer profiles are built for, and is a very specific standard for lights. It defines the colour of the light (whitepoint) and the complete spectral output of the light - that is, how much of each wavelength (or colour) is being output by the light source. This very precise definition of light is chosen as the reference light source as it is a reflection of 'average' lighting condition - a mix of indoor and outdoor light, with a spectral output designed to match that of daylight, and be nearly uniform.

When you view your prints under the reference light source, you will find your screen to monitor match is significantly better than viewing your prints under typical lights. You will also find your prints tend to look better than ever before.

You can read more about light sources, and setting up your working environment in the Digital Fine Print Book. Specifically, Chapter One deals with setting up your work area, and Chapter Two discusses reference light sources.

A small print viewing area or booth

A print viewing booth is slick, professional, easy....and unfortunately not cheap. However in a commercial environment these will look far superior to anything you're likely to be able to knock up easily for yourself, so they're definitely a good option. Displaying your work in one of these booths gives you the best chance to make sales as your work will never look better. It's what high end wedding photographers use.  We are hoping to see some cheaper booth options appearing - rumour has it that Ilford will bring one to market in 2021/2022.

An easier and significantly cheaper approach is to use an existing lamp option, rather than an expensive print viewing booth.  If you choose the right lamp, this offers sufficient accuracy for almost all normal print viewing tasks.

Our favourite option in this category is the stylish and effective BenQ Wit Lamp.  If lights a large area (around A2) with very good quality light, and looks great while doing it.  Whilst we'd prefer proper controls to the touch control options that are a bit fiddly, once set up this is not a great bother.  This is a standard 240v light - just plug it in and away you go.  By default it's a table top option, but there are optional accessories for use as a floor lamp or to clamp to things.  All in all, a great solution.

Fiilex lamps are another great colour accurate option for illuminating a small print area (about A3).   This is a really simple system with a great quality light source.  Fiilex are standard 240V lamps. Just plug in, switch on, and be assured that you're evaluating your prints in very good quality light.

We use both a WiT lamp and Fiilex in our office here, for evaluating our art reproduction prints, so they are definitely useful and effective with even very high end work.

BenQ WiT e-Reading Designer Lamp
BenQ's elegant WiT lamp lights a broad area evenly, has variable colour temp & works as a desk (default) or floor lamp (with accessories).
Ships free to most locations! See notes.
N.B. Please visit the full listing for important info on some variants.
More info

Setting up your house lighting

The best lighting for your general house or office lighting, if colour accuracy and print viewing is an important part of your work, is correct colour temperature light with an even spectral output.

If you have existing halogen MR16 fittings, one option is to replace your halogen globes with MR16 LED globes.  This simply swap in and are an easy solution for general high quality lighting.  The Philips Master MR16 LED globes are a good quality option readily available in Australia.

Otherwise, in most modern homes and many offices, this now means sourcing LED lamps with a high CRI figure. 

Do be wary of manufacturer claims, though, and look for independent testing.  A lot of cheaper globes claim high CRI but those figures don't stand up to testing.  (YUJI leds are by all reports the best, but are unfortunately not readily available in Australia at this time.  You can of course import them and, with the help of an electrician, install them).

Room Lighting

If you have existing halogen downlight fittings in your room, this is a simple matter of replacing your existing globes with Solux globes. Generally, with normal height ceilings, the 50W bulbs are recommended. A typical halogen downlight ceiling fitting is shown in the picture below.

We stopped importing SoLux bulbs in 2020 as the MR16 fittings are no longer available in Australia, but you can of course directly import them from SoLux yourself.  Or, as above, we recommend swapping in the Phillips Master LED MR16 replacements - we've replaced SoLux in in our own office with these, with no noticeable drop in general lighting quality.

If you do not have existing fittings, you can have an electrician install a high quality/CRI LED set up.  LED strip lights (e.g from Yuji) can be used to create high quality, high accuracy lighting that is much more even and diffuse that classic point light sources.   This is what we'd recommend for new installations. 

Even better, if you reflect the LED strip light (e.g. when installed in a recessed drop from the ceiling) to turn it in to indirect lighting, you can create bright, colour accurate, but highly diffuse lighting - which is the best of all light sources.  You see this lighting used in high end galleries, but also in e.g. very high end home cinemas - it's both highly attractive/architecturally interesting AND very effective technically.  You do then need to make sure the paint used is a spectrally even paint in terms of its reflection, and we have notes in the Digital Fine Print about that.  

The Solux bulbs we [USED TO] sell are 36 degree lights - that is they have a fairly wide spread of light from the bulb outward, similar to the lights installed in most homes. The colour temperature and rendering abilities of the globes are best in the centre, so the more even you can get your lighting the better. That said, even if you have 2 or more meters between your fittings, your lighting will still be much better and more accurate with Solux bulbs than with regular halogen downlight bulbs.

Track Lighting

Track lighting above a desk is another great option.  Again, LED strip lighting is now the best solution here - either in direct form, or in reflected/indirect form

Alternatively, any lighting store will have a variety of fittings to choose from, just check the actual fittings are  suitable for the wattage and type of the bulbs you choose. You can install the tracks and lights yourself, but you may need a qualified electrician if the type you choose requires a transformer.  That said, many are now 240v options and you can just plug them straight in to a wall socket.

If your office home or office currently has fluorescent lighting, then you should source colour accurate high CRI full spectrum lighting. We don't currently sell these but there's some advice on which ones to go for in the Digital Fine Print notes.

Really good galleries use high powered globes at a greater distance, or bounced off a white ceiling, to create bright but highly diffuse lighting conditions. It's the most comfortable environment for the viewer, and you get no glare marks from your prints.

The trick is to have powerful lights that do not shine directly at the print but rather lift the ambient light level of your entire display area up to suitable levels. You can face the fittings up toward your ceiling or toward your side walls if they're painted a neutral white, or simply set the lights well back from the prints and at appropriate angles such that when any normal viewer is looking at your images they won't see flare spots.

Such installations are pretty much always done with LED strips these days.

A lot of photographic galleries unfortunately instead set themselves up with track based lighting systems with low power halogens at 45 degree angles to prints.This lighting scenario creates a large amount of glare and flare which means your work is definitely not being displayed to its full potential - particularly for prints behind glass, or prints on semi-gloss/gloss papers.  We'd strongly suggest you avoid this approach if at all possible.

There is another thing to remember when setting up your gallery lighting - the top of the work should line up with eye level, so hang the work so that the top is at about 5'8" or about 170cm if you're aiming for the average Australian height. This means your lighting should not be too high.