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Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Making It Big

A pro nature photographer shares how a quality poster was created from his own 6-megapixel image

I remember the first time I became aware of megapixels and how they related to the quality of the final image. More than three years ago, I was in Costco, and the store was promoting the sale of 2- to 3-megapixel cameras. The 11x14-inch print of a mountain goat caught my eye. I closely inspected it and searched intently for the telltale signs of digital capture. There were no jaggies, no noise. The colors were superb and there was excellent detail in the fur of the snowy white animal.

I flipped the print over to see a note that read "Nikon Coolpix 775, 2.1-megapixel camera." I was surprised because all of the articles I had read said that a print like the one I held in my hands was impossible. I bought the camera, for my wife, of course, and a new era in photography was born.

making it bigSeeing The Big Picture
Within the next three years, I came to invest in a Nikon D100 and a Nikon D2H, but the final proof of the quality of digital cameras came this past February when Nikon produced a poster for PMA using one of my own digitally captured images from the 6-megapixel D100. The image of a colorful tree frog was made into a 19x28-inch poster that has detail and sharpness every bit as good as any 35mm film. I was excited to finally see an image produced on a lithographic press and sized larger than 99 percent of all the sales I typically make. The quality was simply outstanding, despite the fact that many people believed that such a poster was impossible using a 6-megapixel camera.

So, how is it possible? I'll share with you what I learned as to how Nikon's pre-press house produced the poster.These specifications provide the highest-quality image necessary for lithographic printing, and they can be applied toward producing prints on an inkjet printer.

Creating And Downloading The Image
I start by shooting my digital images in the RAW format, which in Nikon's system is called NEF. Think of NEFs as digital negatives. Unlike images that are saved as JPEGs, NEFs are the original files created on the camera's CCD with minimal enhancements. This allows you to make changes to the white balance, exposure, contrast, brightness and other aspects of the image without permanently impacting the original file. All of my NEF processing is done with Nikon's proprietary software, Nikon Capture, although Adobe Photoshop has the ability to process NEFs.


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