Editing for Big Screens (& Prints) vs. Small Screens

Late afternoon sun filtering through the trees in the Superior National Forest…

One thing I’ve been noticing lately, particularly as I work on some darker images, is just how different an image can appear on a large screen or print vs. a small screen (or small print). I’ll work on an image, have it just where I want it, then post away to social media. But then when I look at how it appears in a platform like Instagram, I always have to do further edits there to get it to match what I had viewed on my computer screen. For a while I was thinking maybe I just need to calibrate my monitor, that I simply have it set too bright or something. When I do a test print and it comes out OK, though, I realized, “no, that’s not it…”

You see, when you have an image that has a lot of dark areas in it, as the one at the top of this post, all that darkness really gets compressed when viewed at small sizes (such as on smartphones), seems to completely take over the image. If I printed the image above at like a 20”x30” size, though, it would look great, with the dark and light areas being balanced just as intended; especially if the photograph is hung where it’s lit properly (more on that in a later post).

So, if you’re viewing this post on your smartphone right now, the image above might look way too dark. However, if when you get home later, you pull this up on your PC and click on the image to expand it to full-screen, you’ll see it looks much better. So this has me wondering: are images like this just bad for mobile consumption, or do I simply need to do two edits for every darker image like this; one for mobile/social media consumption, and one for web & print?

Anyway, this is just something to keep in mind for you fellow photographers out there who might be wondering, “why does my image look like crap on Instagram and when it looked great on my PC?” Yeah, you could have a monitor calibration issue, but it might also just be the type of image it is. If it’s an image with a lot of darkness in it, you might have to do a little more work on it to optimize for social media if you want it fully appreciated there.

Happy Sunday, everyone.


About the image: I shot this image while on a hike in the Superior National Forest, outside Ely, MN this past Fall. It was a beautiful hike around Dry Lake, and this section was the bit of trail that traverses the ridge between Dry Lake and Bass Lake. I would highly recommend this hike to anybody; it’s only a few miles, and the scenery is breathtaking.