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There he was, alone in a “near-dark” romantic cafe. His girlfriend has just called and said that she would be “a little bit” late. He understood too well what “a little bit” meant for her. So, armed with his MacBook, he tried to make use of the waiting time by being productive.

A few minutes in front of the screen later, he began to notice that his monitor-lit face was the “brightest” thing in the room. His eyes also started to feel sore and watery. He tried to dim the display, but it was already at the lowest brightness level possible. One more scale down would be total darkness. What should he do?

While the romantic cafe setting would not match everybody’s story, I’m sure that there are other places (dorm room, parking lot, backyard) and situations (deadline, world peace, Facebook status update) that forces someone to continue working with his computer in the dark environment.

If you’ve been in those situations, you’ll know that the solution is to adjust the screen brightness between Apple’s default lowest scale and the blank black state. Here are three alternative applications to adjust the brightness on Mac.


adjust brightness on macBrightness Control is a small stand-alone application with a simple interface. The size of the installer is only 146 kB and the application itself is just a small window with a slider in the middle.

01b Brightness ControlJust slide the scale to the left to decrease the brightness of your display. The app says that if you want to restore the original brightness, you can click on the “Restore” button or hit the Escape key. But I found out that even though this action brightens the screen, the color combination is distorted a little bit. Closing the app will restore everything back to normal.

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This app hasn’t been updated since 2006 but works fine under Leopard.

02a shades iconShades is a Preference Pane item on your Mac which adds smoother screen brightness controls than the defaults. After installing, you can brighten or darken your screen across a much wider range than the Mac’s built-in controls.

The developer’s site provides three kinds of installer: PowerPC, Intel, and Universal Binary. Just like Brightness Control, Shades is also unfriendly to colour calibration software, and should not be used if colour accuracy is critical.

02c Shades PrefPane - Hot Keys

Shades allows users to activate “Hot Keys” to control its functions using keyboard combinations. The one hot key that should be remembered is the emergency brightness restore: Alt + Esc.

03a Brightness IconBrightness adds a menu bar item to adjust the display’s brightness. The developer’s site also points out that if you have a Mac machine with a backlight keyboard such as PowerBook or MacBook Pro, this little app will add a second menu bar item to adjust the backlight.

Actually, this app is only substituting the brightness button on the keyboard and does not really help in the “near dark” issue. But since it’s pretty useful and also related to controlling 03b Brightness Appscreen brightness, I included it here.

One of the ideas is to help users free the function keys that were used for brightness control. For those who use functions keys a lot – like Photoshop users – this ability would really comes in handy.

Have you been in a situation where you need a near-dark screen to work? Do you know other software alternatives to adjust brightness on Mac laptop? Please share using the comments below.

  1. trump6
    July 27, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    any equivilants for windows?

  2. Gigs
    July 27, 2009 at 3:48 am

    I use rgGamma. Whith that app you can change the color(-feel) of your screen as well!

  3. Matt
    July 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Screenshade is a really good one.

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