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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Big Images From Digital Cameras

Digital Blowup • Lasting Impressions • Size Matters • Put Your Best Print Forward • How Much Space?

Tech Tips: Digital Basics For Outdoor Photography

I’m shooting with an 8-megapixel digital SLR. I submitted some images to a lab and requested 24x36-inch prints. I was told that my digital file wasn’t large enough to produce prints of acceptable quality in this size. I’ve had prints made as large as 86 inches from slide film. Do I still need to shoot film for large prints?
T. McGraw
Kansas City, Missouri

From your 8-megapixel sensor, you have a better file than would be produced by a scanner at 4000 dpi, even though it’s smaller. The size of the file isn’t the determining factor when it comes to making large images. The file from a digital camera is first generation and thus cleaner than a scanned transparency or negative, which has a grain structure that’s emphasized in the scanning process. I can assure you that if your image is of good quality to start with, you can make a 24x36-inch print from your camera that will be better than if the image was scanned from a 35mm slide.

I’m assuming that you sent the full, uncropped file to the lab and, if so, I don’t know why they should have refused to print your enlargements on the basis of file size. But there are other considerations to make when determining whether a file can produce enlargements of acceptable quality. Be honest with yourself when you evaluate the sharpness, contrast and color of your image.

To hold up in a large print, the original image, whether a digital file or slide, must be perfect. You can’t get a good sense of the printing result from enlarging the image on your computer screen, so it’s not easy to predict the results the lab will get on a large-format printer. But if you have a smaller printer at home, you can blow up the image to 24x36 on your computer and then crop an 8.5x11 or 13x19 section from it and print that. Keep in mind that you don’t look at a 24x36-inch print from eight inches away, so stand back a bit when evaluating your results.

When you blow up an image on your computer, the process of interpolation enlarges the image and fills in the expanded spaces between the pixels. A number of programs do a very good job of filling in the blanks as you enlarge the image. Within Photoshop itself, use Bicubic Smoother to accomplish the interpolation. Three other programs that claim to do the job better than Photoshop are PhotoZoom Pro 2 by BenVista, Blow Up by Alien Skin and Genuine Fractals 4 by on One Software.

Lasting Impressions
I want to get into the gallery scene and start to sell my prints. I’ve heard a lot about different papers to use for fine-art photo printing, and I’m not sure what to go with. Do you have any suggestions about which papers would be best to produce color fine-art prints that are both high-quality and archival?
T. Donovan
Via the Internet

If you’re considering placing your prints in a gallery, the ink is actually more important than the paper. The two types of inks available are dyes and pigments. On nearly every kind of paper, pigments have a longer life than dyes. Not long ago, dyes would last barely a couple of years be-fore showing signs of fading. A number of today’s dye-based printers have greatly improved dyes that last many decades, but still, pigment inks last longer.

The people purchasing your prints will expect them to last for their own lifetimes and possibly to pass them on to the next generation. So if you’re going to exhibit and sell in a gallery, you should consider using a printer with pigments instead of dyes.

Then choose your papers from an aesthetic, rather than archival, standpoint, since nearly all professional papers will last a long time with pigments. Choose a glossy or semi-glossy surface if you’re emphasizing detail within the image. You might choose a fine-art watercolor or smooth rag paper to lend a painterly mood to the image.

If you use standard frame glass, reflections will obscure the detail and color of your images. Museum glass, which is much more expensive, allows the detail to come through without reflections.

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