Our ability to perceive the environment around us in the visual spectrum, or visual perception, is a combination of molecular biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology. These various vision mechanisms often change how we perceive what we see and can even vary depending on the environment in which we see them.
We all know that your eyes get acclimated to a dark room (a phenomenon called adaptation). For example, after about 20 minutes, you can see better in the dark than when the lights first went out. Put on some colored glasses, and everything looks a different color, but you get used to it after a while.
Much the same way, you get become visually acclimated to the photo you’re editing. You may have noticed that after you have edited an image and then spent some time away from it, you see that it needs changes when you come back to it again. Maybe it’s a bit too cool or warm, or it’s a bit too contrasty.
Sometimes, you don’t have the time to take a break from an image to get a fresh look at it. Although these tips can be applied in other software programs, we’ll reference Lightroom for this article. Here are 10 ways to overcome visual acclimation and get a fresh look at your photo while you’re editing in Lightroom.
Flipping an image either horizontally or vertically can be a quick and temporary way to see your photo anew. Unlike image rotation, there’s no toolbar button or context menu item for flipping an image, so you’ll have to access it via the Photo menu.
It sounds odd, but sometimes, just flipping a photo so that the main subject elements are in a different location can help you see an image as a viewer’s first impression. The photo does not need to make sense when flipped; it’s just so your eye can notice things you’ve gotten used to seeing.
Ever posted an image on social media only to view it on your phone and notice that it’s not quite as impressive as a small thumbnail-sized image? Many photographers use this trick. Often, if the picture doesn’t look nice as a small image, it might not be as impressive as you think. You may wish to change the crop or other edits once you see your photo smaller.
I often view my images at 1:4, 1:8, and 1:16 ratios in Lightroom, as it gives me a pretty good idea of how it may look on social media, a phone, or a small tablet.
Viewing your image in black and white forces you to look at the photo’s tones and composition without the distraction of color. Another option is to view it with a monotone preset. In the Develop module, simply hover your mouse over a preset to see what it would look like if applied. This different view may give you inspiration for a change in your edit or reinforce your perception of your original edit.
You may even be inclined to create virtual copies and apply different presets to each one of them. Using the Survey mode after doing this is a great way to see all of your image versions and decide which you like best.
The background color surrounding your photo (or a matte when it’s printed) can significantly affect your perception of a photograph. Right-clicking on the background presents a context menu with the following color choices: White, Light Gray, Medium Gray (default), Dark Gray, Darker Gray, and Black. You can also access this setting in the Lightroom Preferences: Preferences->Interface Tab->Background (Main Window and Secondary Window).
Because many devices now have a light mode and a dark mode for their interfaces, it’s a good idea to view your image with both the White and Darker Gray background colors.
Not everyone has a perfect monitor or device screen. Not that you should edit your photo for imperfect screens, but sometimes, seeing it on an imperfect screen can help you see it anew.
My primary monitor is a newer 40″ 4K monitor. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s reasonably good. My second and third monitors are 12-year-old Dell 30″ monitors that aren’t able to be adequately adjusted any longer. They’re about to get replaced, but using the Secondary Display feature in Lightroom provides me a bit of perspective on how my images look on a less-than-optimum monitor and to see my image differently.
The Lights Out feature in Lightroom dims the area around your image to reduce the distraction of everything outside the photo. The Lights Out feature is toggled by pressing the letter “L” on your keyboard. The feature cycles through the selected dim level, 100% dimmed, and no dimming each time you press “L.”
You can change the initial dim level in Preferences->Interface->Lights Out screen color and dim level (50%, 70%, 80% (default), 90%). The selected main window background color determines the color of the dimmed area.
In the Develop Module, pressing “” on the keyboard toggles the display between the current edit and before edit. Some mistakenly assume the “before” mode is the unedited image; however, if the image is a virtual copy, the “before” mode will show the image at the point when the virtual copy was created. In other words, the before mode shows the first step in the edit history of the image.
Viewing the before and after of your edit can sometimes reveal if you’ve gone over the top with your editing adjustments. The before/after method is perhaps my most used way to get a fresh look at my photo.
Pressing “F” on the keyboard will preview the image full screen with a black background. I often use this method by entering full-screen mode, then viewing the image from across my office.
For a 2:3 image, viewing it full screen shows me a 19.5″x29″ image, very similar to a 20×30 print hanging on a wall. Stepping back from the computer gives me a new view of the image as if it was a print.
Soft proofing in the Develop module is a way to simulate how a photo will look when printed on a specific printer and paper combination. It’s too complex to go into with this article for the aspects of actual printing; however, it can be useful to see your image in a slightly different way. The Soft Proofing feature provides background colors to simulate a matte, such as paper white, 80%, 90%, 95%, 100% white, 25%, 50%, 75% gray, and black. Be sure to select the “Simulate Paper & Ink” setting in the area soft proofing below the histogram. You can even use the before/after and reference view options with this feature.
Occasionally, when I have an image that I’m not sure about, I export it and then view it on my phone or laptop. Each has a slightly different screen quality and brightness. The varying screen sizes also contribute to seeing my photo differently.
Since so many people use their mobile devices for social media, this provides a very good idea of what they will see. It also gives you a few moments away from your main screen to “reset” your eyes.
Whether it’s to get a fresh view of your image or just to check it against various devices, these methods are sure to come in handy at some point. It never hurts to take a break from your image and come back to it later with fresh eyes. Do you have other methods to get a fresh look at your images? Let me know in the comments!