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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away

Scanning Kodachrome • Choosing Quality Lenses • Best ƒ-Stop Revisited • Large-Format Printing

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Large-Format Printing
Q This past year, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History featured an exhibit, “Ocean Views,” which had a fantastic collection of high-quality, very large prints—40x60 inches or larger. Many were made with lower-resolution cameras such as the Canon 20D (8 megapixels) and even the Canon D60 (6 megapixels). In your December 2007 “Tech Tips” column on this subject, you wrote, “I’ve produced 60x90-inch prints of a single California poppy from a Canon EOS-1Ds (11.7 megapixels) that I consider gallery worthy.” How do you get large gallery-quality prints from lower-resolution cameras? Until “Ocean Views,” I never thought it was possible.
G. Goben
San Antonio, Texas

A There’s no substitution for a large, quality file, whether it be from film or digital capture, when attempting to make large prints. That said, the quality of an enlarged image can be maximized in a number of ways. First, the image itself, regardless of the camera that captured it, must be perfect. The person who optimizes the image in photo-imaging software (e.g., Photoshop) must be very skilled in extracting and maximizing every bit of sharpness and color residing in the image. Regardless of the size of the original file, it will need to be interpolated, that is, enlarged to the size of the print. During enlargement, the pixels are spread farther apart, and the interpolation software fills in the empty spaces. You can imagine that the print resulting from this process could be pretty awful because now you have manufactured information filling in the blanks, but there are programs designed to adeptly accomplish this process. I personally use the latest version of Photoshop, but there are other useful programs, such as Genuine Fractals (onOne Software), Blow Up (Alien Skin Software) or PhotoZoom (BenVista). Because of the need for interpolation, the amount of fine detail in the image also will dictate the potential for enlargement. My enormous single poppy works, in part, because the image information isn’t terribly complicated, while the enlargement potential of a more complex image with many small details spread throughout the image, such as a macro image of the scales on a butterfly wing, might be more limited.

The enlarged file needs to be printed by a highly skilled printer on a top-of-the-line, large-format photographic printer, available from Canon, Epson or HP. Don’t underestimate the complexities of achieving superior large-format prints with these very sophisticated machines. There’s a good reason the manufacturers recognize some of the most accomplished printers (the Canon PrintMasters, the Epson Print Academy) and use them in their educational outreach programs. If you’re going to enter this realm in a serious way, you may want to attend a large-format printing seminar offered by Canon or Epson.

Images with lower resolution usually look best on a textured paper such as watercolor or canvas. Only the sharpest images with excellent detail will render well on glossy or semi-glossy paper. All images are best viewed from an appropriate distance. Even knowing this, it’s natural to look closely at a photographic print to appreciate its detail and the printer’s skill. But to embrace the photographer’s artistry, the viewer must step back far enough to view the entire image at one glance, without panning, that is, far enough to see the details of the image without the distracting details of the imaging process.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit www.geolepp.com. If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at www.geolepp.com.


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