Like it or not, it’s a fact that most photos are now viewed on computer screens or on cell phones. I admit, I think it’s really cool that I can take a photo with my cell phone here in Dallas, and two minutes later, my daughters in San Antonio and Lubbock can view it on their cell phones. And a lot of photos—including some of mine—aren’t so special that it makes a big difference whether they are viewed online.
But there’s a down side to digital delivery, as well, and the higher quality the photograph, the greater the likelihood that digital viewing will diminish your experience. Viewing good photos on your computer screen (or, heaven forbid! on your cell phone) is like listening to Mozart through bad speakers. You may think that a person’s face looks orange when it shouldn’t. Or you might not see detail where you think you should.
Sometimes, the problem you see might actually belong to the photo. But quite often, there’s nothing wrong with the photo. The problem is with your display. You should be aware that viewing photos on your computer screen is less than ideal, and depending on your computer’s display, it may be a lot less than ideal.
For starters, it is often the case that you are viewing an image at a resolution considerably lower than the resolution at which the photo was originally taken. Proofs uploaded by professional photographers to their web sites are often downsized to decrease upload times.
But it’s also possible that your computer screen may have one or more of the these problems:
- It may not display colors correctly.
- It may be darker (or, less often, brighter) than it should be.
- It almost certainly shows fine contrast and detail less well than a high-quality print.
- The color, contrast and other properties of your computer display may be adversely affected by the light in the room.
Seeing high-quality photos well on a computer screen requires, first, a high-quality display, and second, careful calibration of your display (usually with the help of a calibrating device). For much more info, go here, and/or here.
You should also be aware that, just as a photo printed with a matte finish doesn’t look like a photo with a glossy finish, it’s even more true that a photo viewed on a computer screen—even a very high-quality screen that is well calibrated—will never look the same as it does in a well-made print.
Note that prints can display a number of problems, too, especially problems with color. High-quality professional print labs offer color correction as part of the normal service when they make prints. Your local drugstore probably does not. If a print comes back from the drugstore and Aunt Lucy’s face is green, well, it’s possible she wasn’t feeling well that day, or perhaps the white balance setting in the camera was wrong and she looks green on your computer screen, too; but if neither of those is the case, then the fault probably lies with your printing service.
A professionally made, high-quality, color corrected print almost always provides the best viewing experience of a good photo. After that, it’s possible that the next best option is to view a high-res version of the photo on a high-quality, properly calibrated computer display. A bad print (say, made at your drugstore) may be marginally better than viewing the photo on a badly calibrated computer display, although it’s easier to say what’s best than to say what’s worst.