Imaging for Output Part 1

When creating an image for output, one must remember the old adage, “Garbage in… Garbage out”.  If your digital file is not the best it can be then the resulting print will not be very good either.  The larger the output the better the image must be.  Many file defects can not be detected in a 4×6 inch print, but would be glaringly obvious in a 12×16 inch or larger print.   If you are reading this article, one must assume your goal is a larger and better image.  In many respects the quality of your digital file is the the most important factor in output.

The first step is to become familiar with your camera or digital capture device. Take the time to read and understand your camera’s owner’s manual.  Be sure your settings are set on the largest image your camera can capture.  It does not make sense to pay for megapixels and set your image size to small.  Memory space is no longer expensive so should not be an issue. The larger the file the larger the output. If your camera has the capability to shoot in Camera Raw, it is wise to use it. If you are used to shooting in jpg and just started using camera raw, you may find your images seem flat, not as vibrant. That is because the camera applies adjustments to the jpg image.  In camera raw, you must apply the adjustments. Some other advantages of using Raw are an uncompressed file, more digital information, more ability to edit and adjust the final image, and usually a larger image.

It will require some digital editing, but if your objective is to create the best possible printed image, then it behoves you to learn to edit your work.   There are many factors that affect the quality of your photo. If you find you are unable to hold the camera steady – use a tripod or a monopod. If you are seeing a great deal of digital noise (graininess), lower your ISO or use a flash.  Although there are software fixes for issues like digital noise, it is best to have a great shot to start rather than try to fix a bad shot.

DSLR cameras usually have a menu option for setting color space.  The default is usually sRGB. The sRGB color space is the color space of choice if you only intend to post your images to the web. It is the space most computers and other devices use.  However, sRGB is a limited color space, compressing colors and limiting color gamut.  The most widely used color space for output is usually Adobe RGB.  It has a wider gamut (more colors) and is compatible with most digital printing systems. If you set your camera to shoot in the Adobe RGB color space, you will want to use that color space in your  digital editing software as well. It is not advisable to go from one color space to the other  for output. By shooting in sRGB then converting to Adobe RGB in your editing software, you might find a drastic difference in color appearance. If you are using Photoshop for your editing software, you can designate your color workspace.  Go to Edit> Color settings and select Adobe RGB for your working space.  Under Color Management Policies it is a good idea to choose to “Preserve Embedded Profiles”  and to have Photoshop ask if there are profile mismatches. I do not change the color space if there is a mismatch for the color space as it changes the colors. If your camera does not have a setting for color space, it is best to assume you are shooting in sRGB.

Image resolution is another concern when thinking about image output. Resolution can be very confusing as it refers to several very different things. There is first the image resolution – how many pixels per inch in your digital file.  There is screen resolution, the pixels per inch on your computer screen, and finally there  is print resolution- how many points per inch of ink the printer puts onto the printed media.  All of these measures of resolution are different but are often confused. For this part of the discussion we are mostly concerned with image resolution.  The image resolution is directly correlated to your image size.daliah100

I often hear and see the concept that to be printed an image must be 300 ppi (pixels per inch).  If one is planning on outputting to a published source – newspaper, magazine, etc., that is correct.  The publishing industry maintains a standard of 300 ppi and if an image is sent in another resolution it will become a different size when placed into the publisher’s document.  For consistency and  convenience published material should be submitted at 300 ppi.   Often images published in newspapers and magazines are small.  Meeting this size requirement is not difficult.

image size box

The 300 ppi publishing rule does not have to correlate to image printing, however.  If the image is good, it can be printed with its native resolution to whatever size it continues to look good. I have read numerous articles about what resolution the image file must be in order to have a great print. Despite what many “experts” say, in my 10 years as a commercial digital printer  I have printed images at 72 pixels per inch resolution that look as sharp or sharper than images printed at 300 ppi.

The major factor here is “native resolution” – The actual pixel size that your camera captures.  When you import or download your image from your camera to your software it is the pixel dimensions set by the image sensor of your camera that dictates the resolution size, and not the other way around. That is the resolution does not (within parameters) dictate print size but the print size dictates the resolution.  Consider the first image size box. The native resolution of this image is 5616 pixels x 3744 pixels.  By resizing the document size resolution I can change the image size output. If I wanted to print this image at 8×12, it would increase the document size resolution to 468 ppi but not alter resizethe native resolution of 5616 pixels x 3744 pixels. If my original image is sharp at 100% view in Photoshop, it will print sharp at 12×8 or 23.4×15.6 or even 78 x 52 at 72 ppi.  (One thing  to note is that at the smaller sizes the printer device will eliminate pixels but it done by algorithms and is invisible  to the user). The images of the daliah above would print fine at 72ppi  with the native resolution, but as you can see would print badly at 72ppi when up-resed.

If you decide to up-res an image (add pixels) then you are changing the native resolution and your image will begin to degrade to the point where it is often destroyed or at the very least quality compromised.maxsize box

Fine Art Photography: Imaging for output, Three Part Discussion

iris-as-printed

The end result of photography is not as it used to be. In the days of film photography the only way the photographer could view the image was as an actual printed photograph or sit in a darkened room and

original on screen irisview a slide show. If the processed photo was excellent the photographer might consider an enlargement for display. Unless the photographer had access to a dark room the film and print were created by “photo labs”. The photographer usually did not have much input into how the image was processed and developed. The only way others could view or enjoy the work of the photographer was to actually be there and view the physical print or the slide show. Occasionally, professional photographers were published in magazines and were able to share their work with a larger audience. Most photos, however, were developed, printed to a small format and then stuck in a drawer and forgotten.

Digital imaging and the internet have changed everything. Photographers can now share their work with the entire world. Through social media sites like Flickr, Smugmug, Facebook or email photographers can display their work and get feedback. With tools like Photoshop, Lightroom or Picasa the photographic artist can enhance, create and process his work in the “digital darkroom”. With the cost of film development eliminated, an artist can be as prolific as she wants to be. One need never create an actual print to consider oneself a digital photographic artist. As one develops as a photographic artist in this digital age, the mastery of imaging software is the first step in becoming a fine art photographer.

 There comes a time, however, when the photographer wants to have an actual print. Whether it is to enter competitions and art shows or to hang on the wall, the printing of one’s digital work is a logical next step. Often there is a surprise and disappointment when the resulting print does not come close to matching the image on the computer screen. The photographer then realizes that there is another element to learn in this process. There are many factors that effect digital imaging output. From defining and working in a color space to specifying profiles for the print media, the variables in printing can be daunting and mysterious.

In this three part discussion, we will start with image capture, processing and color space. Part two will discuss media profiles, screen calibration and print drivers and software, part three will cover the printing process, printers and media.

Plug-ins for Photoshop

Photoshop Plug-ins… What are they? Why do I need them?

Plug-ins are typically third party software that works in conjunction with a specific software or software products. Adobe, makers of Photoshop, is company that encourages developers to create plug-ins for its products. There are several plug-in products that work with Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom that enhance their capabilities.

However, since Adobe Photoshop is such a powerful feature laden product why would anyone need a plug-in? The answer is that despite Photoshop having many features, some of the features work better with plug-ins. If you have ever tried to use the noise reduction filter in PS, you have likely been disappointed. While it does a fairly good job of reducing digital noise, it softens the image to a point that it loses focus. Using Unsharp mask in PS often enhances the left over noise negating the previous adjustments in noise reduction. The end result is often unsatisfactory.

Some of the more popular plug-ins are made by Nic Software. Recently Nic Software was acquired by Google. This is good news as the price of the entire plug-in suite is now less than a single product was previously. For $149 (look for coupons for even more savings) you can buy the entire suite. Beside the two plug-ins discussed here the suite includes HDR Efex Pro 4 for creating high dynamic range photos, Color Efex Pro 4 for filters to enhance the color of images, Silver Efex Pro 4 for Black and white enhancements and, my personal favorite, Viveza 2 for spot editing.

Click to open images. Click again to see large size.

Focus Stacking, Trends in Photography

finished stack 20 exposures

finished stack 20 exposures

A few years ago HDR (high dynamic range) be came the rage. It seemed that every online photo site was discussing how to do it. HDR photography was showing up every where. How-to instructions are easily found. With over 200,000 hits on Youtube for HDR tutorials, it is easy to see how popular this technique has become.

The newest trend is focus stacking. This technique increases the Depth of Field in macro photography. By combining a large number of exposures with the focus point moved incrementally one is able to create an extreme close-up with sharp focus throughout the subject.

The process is done using a sturdy tripod and a good camera. (Remember if you are using a tripod to turn off the image stabilizer on your lens.) Starting at one end of your subject take a series of shots. Move the focus point slightly back (or forward if you stated at the back of your subject). The more focus points the sharper your image will be.

Open all the resulting images in your software. In this case we are using Photoshop CS 3 or higher. Place all the images in one file as layers. Keep the layer in order. Select all the layers at the same time and go to Edit>Auto align layer. When that finishes, with all layers still selected go to Edit>Auto blend layers. You may find some anomalies around the edges so crop that part and you have finished your image.

There are other software products that will do this as well. Helicon Soft is one of the leading software in this technique. http://www.heliconsoft.com/ . Another choice would be Photoacute: http://www.photoacute.com/index.html This software not only does focus stacking but has a killer noise reduction feature and HDR. There are several opensource free software as well, Picolay is one http://picolay.de/ .

If you find that this technique becomes one that you want to master, there are several devices that can automate the process. Cognisys produces several items such as slide rails and remotes to aid in the focus stacking process. http://www.cognisys-inc.com/stackshot/stackshot.php

 

Creating Panorama Photographs

A panoramic photo captures an image that is at least twice as long as high.  Usually a photograph with an aspect ratio* of 2:1 or higher would be considered a panorama. For example, 10×20 or 8×16 inch prints would be considered panoramic, with a view that is twice as wide as high.  An image that is as great as or greater than the viewing field of the human eye would be panoramic. A higher aspect ratio, of 4:1 or even 10:1 would be panoramic.

Quabin Panorama Photo

There are cameras which will create a panoramic image with a single shot. There are multiple lens and software to help create panoramic photographs as well as 360° photographic images. But for most of us, our usual still digital cameras using a standard lens along with some stitching software will be more than adequate for pano creation.

There are a number of software stitching programs on the market. One of the most popular is PTgui. (www.ptgui.com ).  Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements have Photomerge feature and does an excellent job for most panoramic stitching.  More recent versions (CS4 or better) do a much better job than earlier versions.

No matter what you use to create the final image, it is the photographic process that will determine how good your final image is.  It is possible to hand hold the camera and still create a panorama but it is much easier to use a tripod. You can purchase specific heads for your tripod to create panoramas, from the inexpensive LensPen Pananic head for about $20 to a Manfrotto Spherical Panoramic Head Kit at $650.

If you chose to forgo the expense of a special head for your tripod there are a few rules to keep in mind. If you are shooting without a tripod, try to use your body as the center point. Plant your feet firmly and turn from your waist. As with any shot, take a breath and hold it before depressing the shutter button.  If you are shooting with a tripod, it is best to level the head if you can before shooting.  The most important rule, however, is to overlap your shots by at least 1/3 of the scene you are shooting. I usually pick out a land mark in the shot about 1/3 from the edge and make that opposite edge on the next shot.

It is also important to keep the settings the same in the camera. If you have auto focus turned on be careful with the focus. It could shift based on the image and it would destroy your panorama.  You may want to shoot in Manuel Mode in order to avoid that from happening. A shift in meter reading could also make the creation difficult, although the software will do some blending of edges.

Try re-positioning yourself and trying the shot from a slightly different angle.  Take several multiple shots from different perspectives. Your first perspective might not work as expected when you start to turn the camera.  The number of shots you use to create your panorama is dependent on the scene you are shooting. I find that for a 180° shot that I will need 5-7 shots.

Creating a panorama photo is fun and rewarding. Going beyond the limits of the lens and camera opens up a whole new way of seeing through your lens. Capturing a wide view makes the scene more memorable and closer to what the “mind sees”.  Try turning the camera for a vertical shot. This will make your panorama wider and capture more of the scene. Good luck and keep shooting!

*Aspect ratio is a measure comparing width to height. Most digital cameras will produce a 3:2 aspect ratio.  The resulting print size of 4×6 or 8×12 is an example of 3:2 aspect ratio.

After the Storm Photo Show

Western Mass Tornado Photo Show Fund Raiser

So many incredible photos have been taken of this devastating event. Many photographers have felt the need to record and preserve the images of the profound change that has happened in our region. Giclée of New England, Inc Gallery will be sponsoring a Photo Show as a fund raiser for the victims of the June 1 tornado. We would also like to see before and after photos in this show. Photos of rebuilding and clean-up efforts will be welcome as well as those that document the massive destruction.

There is a $10 donation fee  for two images. You can enter as many times as you like. We will find space to hang all entries. All entry fees will be donated to the Disaster Fund at the Monson Savings Bank. Giclée of New England, Inc. will offer printing, framing or mounting of photos for this show at deeply discounted rates.  Videos can also be entered for showing.

There will be awards (prizes if we can get donations) for :

  • Before & After
  • People
  • Rebuilding
  • Clean-up
  • The Worst thing I saw
  • The Best thing I saw
This Gallery Showing will be from July 9 through August 31.  Opening reception July 9, 2-5pm, and refreshments will be served.  Click here for show application in PDF form.  A 20% commission will be added to works for sale to be donated to the Tornado Fund.

 

To Photoshop or not…..

Among photographers there seems to be a perpetual question about the editing process. “Is it Photoshopped or not?” seems to be the issue. The quality and clarity of the image is secondary to how the image was processed. I was recently denied admission to a juried show because the requirement that no digital photo should be edited in Photoshop beyond cropping. The fact that my images are panoramas and stitched in Photoshop made them ineligible for this show.

Where this issue seems to stem is from film, or former film photographers, who feel that to use Photoshop or other imaging software is somehow “cheating” and all the imaging should be done in camera. Of course in film, the editing was done via filter choice, film choice, and darkroom procedures. How this differs from digital editing is that it much of the processing editing was done by the photo labs and the photographer had little input, other than his/her choice of film type or lens or filters for the lens. In the past, few photographers, other than professionals had the means of darkroom editing and had to rely on the labs to get it right. By taking the darkroom editing out of their hands they somehow felt it was solely their creation and did not have to acknowledge the roll played by the lab in the creation of their work. Professional photographers often worked closely with the labs, dictating editing steps and even using airbrush experts to create their work, if unable to do their own darkroom work. Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

The fact is that digital images are all edited. When shooting in the Jpeg mode, most edits are done in camera by the camera’s software. The “preset” edits for jpeg images were developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (jpeg). People seem to be unaware that the digital camera is actually a “computer” designed for image capture. The software in the camera makes adjustments based on the parameters set by the user, and the developers of the software standards. When someone declares that they did not edit their work, but are shooting in Jpeg, they are letting someone else edit their work.

 If photographers want more control of the final output, they usually shoot in camera raw. The camera raw image is often flat and in need of adjustments. Many people who have upgraded to a DSLR camera find that they are disappointed in the outcome because they are looking at unedited photos and they are used to looking at jpegs. I can not tell you how often I have heard complaint from amateur photographers when they first shoot in camera raw that they got great photos from “the old camera” but lousy ones now.

When someone proudly declares that they did not edit their work in Photoshop, I have to wonder who did edit their photos. Did they chose not to edit because of some misinformation about the digital process and felt that letting the “Jpeg guys” do it is somehow purer or better than doing the work themselves? Or is it just a way to cover up the fact that they do not know how to use Photoshop and are trying to make this ignorance into a virtue?

Either way, you can make beautiful photos. But when the photographer takes control and does his/her own editing a true work of art can be created. Is it any less a great photo because it was edited by the artist instead of the computer software in the camera? Does doing the editing oneself make it better than relying on the software? I do not think either case is true. The image should be judged on its own merits, not how it was composed or created. It is time to end this debate and accept that some artists prefer to have control over the process while others are content to accept the image as created by the preset software. Yes, images are created in the camera and influenced by many factors. Be it lighting, composition, focus, aperture setting, shutter speed or digital editing it is the combination of factors that make a great photo. Just because many of those factors happen to be done outside the camera does not invalidate their influence on the final image. Why should artificial lighting be allowed in a juried photo for a show and brightening and contrast in Photoshop not be?

To quote Ansel Adams again, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

HDR with Photoshop CS5

High Dynamic Range or HDR

HDR, or High Dynamic Range is fast becoming a popular photo presentation. Although not new to Photoshop, in CS5 the HDR feature is new and improved.  For a excellent overview of the new HDR feature in CS5 go to  Adobe TV

HDR photos are created by taking muliple exposures.  For the best results shoot using a tripod.  At least three exposures from over to under exposed. The more the better. Some photographers use 6 or even more exposures.

ckick to see larger:

Adobe tv – HDR

You may notice that I removed an extra bud from the photo. This was done using Content Aware Fill, another amazing feature of Photoshop CS5

Painting in Photoshop CS5

Photoshop CS5: New Feature, Paintmixer Brush

This is just plain fun! I have not painted in years. Since starting in the digital arts and begining this business, I have not had time to paint and had forgotten how much fun it was to push paint around on a canvas. Painting in PSCS5 almost feels like the real thing. A major difference is that the clean-up and paint fumes are non existant. 

It is a power hog, though. Plan to mulititask if you are trying to create a very large image. And save often!!  You will be waiting for the brush to move slowly across the screen smearing pixels along the way. I guess the next move is a computer upgrade to take full advantage of this software.

Monson250 Art Show at Summerfest

Wanted: Images of Monson:

 Call to all Monson residents. You are invited to show your art or photography of Monson at the House of Art in Monson on July 5th 2010. To celebrate  Monson’s 250th anniversary,  art should depict a place in Monson.  There is no submission fee, but donations are accepted. All money raised after expenses will be donated to the Memorial Hall Restoration fund. Art does not have to be for sale but if it is, there is a 20% commission to the Monson Arts Council.

 Along with your photo or art please write a description of where in Monson the photo was taken or art depicts.  On the back of your art, please write your name, address, phone, Name of art work, and price if for sale. Art must be framed and wired for hanging (no hooks).  Please remember we take 20% commission when pricing your work.

 Drop off of art is Saturday, June 26, 9-11 am.   Art pickup will be from 3-4pm July 5th or July 10, 10-11am. For more information please call Dave at 413-267-0343 or email art23451@verizon.net or visit www.monsonartscouncil.com or www.monson250.wordpress.com.