Before PPA-style image competitions went digital, we used to enter mounted prints in competition. Those prints were viewed under special bright lights during competition so it was standard procedure to print them 15-20% darker than normal to compensate for the lights. When I worked at a prolab we would set up competition lights in the custom printing area during competition season. We used this setup to evaluate customer prints in an environment designed to emulate competition.
Though bright lights are not used for displaying digital files, it’s important to make a similar effort to emulate the competition process when making final adjustments to your files. Otherwise your competition images may be brighter than you expect when the judges see them.
At first one might think any disconnect on brightness is related to the brightness of the displays judges are usging being different than your own. You can manage this variable by matching your display settings to those used for competition. The displays used in PPA and OPPA (Oregon Professional Photographers Association) competitions are calibrated to the following standards: white balance=6500k, gamma=2.2, luminance=110 lumens. Matching these settings on your display helps to ensure your images will look really close to what is displayed during competition.
But matching display settings is just the first step in previewing what the judges will actually see. Competition judging is done in a darkened room with very little ambient light. Most of us who submit images for competition tend to work on our images in an environment that is brighter than the judging room. A computer display looks much brighter in a darkened room than it does in a well-lit lit room. This is what causes images to appear brighter in competition than they did when you prepared them.
You can test this yourself with the following experiment.
- Find one of your favorite images and adjust its brightness in a well-lit room. Try to get image brightness as exact as you can.
- Then darken the room or wait for evening and then reevaluate the image. You’ll find the image appears significantly brighter in the darkened room.
When submitting images for digital competition, be sure to make your final evaluation in a darkened room. After you get the brightness dialed-in, you will have greater confidence that judges will see what you see when they evaluate your images.