Creating a color print involves making trial prints and adjusting color and density for your next attempt. This is as true for digital printing as for darkroom printing—digital profiles and color management only take you so far, and then it’s adjustment by visual inspection. But are you examining your trial prints under the right illumination? The nature of the illumination can alter the appearance of colors, so using a poor viewing light can lead to poor choices.
The illumination affects the look of the print because we view color by the light it reflects. A lemon looks yellow because it reflects only yellow light and not other colors. If the light source is devoid of yellow, that lemon has no yellow light to reflect—the only light it can reflect—and will appear black. Black lemons? Not a good light for viewing a photo!
So what is the best choice for print lighting that won’t skew the colors? If you know where the print will hang and what lighting it will be under, the best viewing light for evaluating the print is that known illumination, but how often do you know the exhibition site before- hand? Lacking knowledge of where a print will hang, I don’t know what else to do but balance my print colors under a light that recreates the outdoor light of a sunny day when the sun is high in the sky. This is the illumination that our species has evolutionarily defined as white, a light that shows true colors.
Selecting a suitable light bulb for viewing prints under “white light” requires an acquaintance with the topics of color temperature and something called color rendering index (CRI).