printing

Printing Revelation

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Infrared image captured with an infrared converted Panasonic GX1
Infrared image captured with an infrared converted Panasonic GX1

It’s funny how we become locked into a way of thinking and acting as the result of conditions that no longer apply. Unless we are prepared to constantly experiment and challenge ourselves we don’t even recognise this is happening. Here’s one example from my very recent past.

After I blogged the Friday Image last week I decided to print the staircase that I featured. Initially I printed this using Hahnemuehle Bright White Photo Rag 310 paper which is my matte paper of choice. The image looked good but for some reason I wondered what it might look like on other matte papers. Whilst I didn’t have any test packs around I did have an old pack of Epson Archival Matte photo paper so decided to give it a try.

This is a much thinner/lighter paper than I am used to but it’s still quite stiff. I did use this paper for a short time about 8 years ago but stopped because I couldn’t find any profiles for my printer. Without profiles the images were coming out with strange colour casts that was very unattractive so I just stopped using it. Now that I am printing with an Epson 3880 printer I have no problems obtaining a printer profile or even generating my own using my Color Munki.

When I produced the print on the Epson paper it took me completely by surprise. The appearance was excellent and it had a great depth. It took a few test prints to perfect the black and white images but I cracked it in the end by printing using ABW, selecting the “Dark” option and increased my contrast by +20 in Lightroom. If you don’t use Epson ABW and print from Lightroom this probably won’t mean much to you so just take it that I made the printer darker and added a little contrast.

Overall I am quite impressed, so much so that I have order another batch of this paper in A4 and A3 sizes from Amazon (link on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com) as it’s very well priced. I intend to now use this as my matte proofing paper as it’s a much cheaper option and very good value.

The image above is an old one I have posted before because I don’t want to post the Friday image again so soon. I therefore repreocessed this image and printed to check the output. It’s also quite impressive on the Epson paper.

Big Print from a Little Camera

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Print mounted in my front room
Print hung in my front room. I won’t tell you about the fun I had trying to hang this. The house is 200 years old and the walls are somewhat uneven and the plaster prone to crumbling when drilled.

Here’s something that I have wanted to do for a long time, produce a large print from a Micro 43 camera. When I say large, this one is 62″ x 25″. As you can see from the picture here, the print is just a few inches short of the length of the Sofa (which is a 3 seater).

The image was shot in Death Valley and is actually 4 images stitched (with a 50% overlap). The images were shot using a Panasonic GX1 which was tripod mounted and the stitching was done in Hugin. In case you are not aware of Hugin, it’s a freeware stitching application (that’s the simplest way to describe it) which I absolutely love. Here is the resulting image which I have previously shared on this blog.

One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.
One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.

And in case you are interested, here is a section from the bottom right which is shown at 100%. This section has been taken after the image was resized to create the print above. This is approximately a 200% increase in the print size and was achieved using Akvis Magnifier.

Image section at 100% magnification following a 200% size increase in Akvis Magnifier.
Image section at 100% magnification following a 200% size increase in Akvis Magnifier.

I had the image produced by White Wall and I am very impressed with the quality and service. It’s actually a Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive DPII. The print has then been bonded onto Aluminium Matt Acrylic glass and the whole thing has been framed. I have to say, I am impressed and can certainly recommend White Wall from my experience.

There are however a few things to watch out for when producing a print of this size as its quite an investment:

  1. Ensure that you download the colour profile for the paper/print process you are going to use. You should then soft proof your image and check for out of gamut colours. When I did this I found that some of my orange highlights were out of gamut and if I hadn’t corrected this the image would have appeared flat.
  2. Sharpen your image at the final size before you upload it. The White Wall ordering workflow allows you to upload your JPG or TIFF image. It’s then possible to select a larger image and have the system scale this for you. I preferred to scale my image first so that I could sharpen this for the final output.
  3. If you follow my approach and scale your image before upload, I suggest printing a number of sections from the finished image (at 100% resolution). This enables you to judge the quality of the finished image before committing to the transaction.
  4. Now that I have the print I have checked the sample print I made and can directly compare the sharpness and detail. The White Wall print is very good and compares favourably with the image sections I printed on an Epson 3880. The Epson is however slightly sharper. If I were repeating the exercise I would add a little more sharpening. At the time I used Nik Sharpener Pro which allows you to set variables such as viewing distance and resolution. I used a viewing distance of up to 2 feet and a resolution of 2880 x 1440. Looking at the results I should probably have set the viewing distance to “6 to 10 feet” or perhaps even used the Continuous Tone option at 300dpi. It might even be an idea to contact White Wall and ask for a little more information on the Lambda printer as well as recommended Output Sharpening levels.

The only regret that I have is that I picked the Matt Acrylic Glass. One of the things that prompted me to do this was a visit to the gallery of Rodney Lough Jnr. when I was in San Francisco. The images in the gallery appeared to use a similar process (although it was suggested they did this in house and it was unique – I doubt that).

My reason for choosing matt acrylic was to avoid reflections but it doesn’t really. I really wish I had gone for the gloss and tried to counter the reflection with some good lighting – something I still need to invest in for this print.

I suspect I will try another print but this time on gloss and not quite so large.

Free Soft Proofing Article

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The vivid colours of Artists Palette in Death Valley in the late evening sun. If you want to reproduce colours like these in print you will need to do some soft profile to ensure the image looks right. If you don't, it's going to be very hit and miss.
The vivid colours of Artists Palette in Death Valley in the late evening sun. If you want to reproduce colours like these in print you will need to do some soft profile to ensure the image looks right. If you don’t, it’s going to be very hit and miss.

I have just finished and uploaded an article on how to use the Soft Proofing features in Lightroom 4. You can download the article for free from my Lenscraft website by following this link to the Members Area. You will need to log in as a member to gain access but membership is free and you gain access to a lot of other articles and free information. Alternatively you could just wait until the article is publish on ePHOTOzine in the next few weeks.

Enjoy

Free Lightroom Printing Article

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Natural colours like these need special attention when printing. I have found Lightroom to be a particularly good solution.
Natural colours such as these found in the Artist Palette in Death Valley need special attention when printing. I have found Lightroom to be a particularly good solution. Click the image to see a larger version.

Last week was a big week for me. After 5 years of painfully slow service I decided to replace my PC. The PC in question is an old quad core HP with 1TB storage across 2 hard drives running Vista 64bit and 4GB of memory. It was state of the art 5 years ago but is now painfully slow. To give you some idea it takes 40 minutes to start up. My new PC starts in under 30 seconds running Windows 8. I also want to say that I now hate Microsoft with a vengeance for what they have done to the Windows operating system and the amount of time I am now wasting trying to find my way around.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is that it took me most of last week to migrate my computer data and install all my software to the new system. In all this activity I forgot to post that I had just added a new comprehensive article to the Members area of my Lenscraft website covering Printing in Lightroom. So if you are a Lightroom user you can download it for free by following this link – you do need to be signed in as a member but joining is also free.

Alternatively you can wait for it to be published on ePHOTOzine some time in the next few weeks.

Printing, Always an Interesting Exercise

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Not taken with Lightweight gear but this is the colour image I was using to test my prints. It's quite challenging to print and shows up poor colours quite well.
Not taken with Lightweight gear but this is the colour image I was using to test my prints. It’s quite challenging to print and shows up poor colours quite well.

As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, I recently sold my printer, a Canon Pixma 9500MKII. The main driver for this was that I wanted to make larger prints, typically A2 or 17” wide panoramic. I also wanted larger ink cartridges because I do quite a lot of printing and I thought this might help reduce the overall cost. Well, my new printer arrived at the weekend, an Epson Pro3880 which is A2 and will print 17” panoramic up to 37” or wider if you use a third party RIP rather than the Epson print driver. Sounds great and it is, but there have been a few surprises.

First was a nice surprise in how small the printer was. It’s not much wider than the Canon (but it’s a little taller) and fits neatly at the side of my desk. I am also surprised about how little ink has been used in the 30 plus test prints I have made; this barely registers on the ink monitor. I had read reviews and comments by others about just how much ink is in these high capacity ink cartridges but I hadn’t really appreciated it until now. I’m sure however I will be crying when it comes to the cost of replacing just a single cartridge.

Now for a surprise I wasn’t prepared for; the Canon Pixma 9500MKII made nicer black and white prints (I didn’t check colour but suspect it was more vibrant). Before the Canon was sold, I made quite a few test prints on different papers (using high quality fine art and fibre based papers) in an attempt to pick a paper to standardise on. After this I started to use a Permajet paper called Fine Art Pearl 290. It wasn’t quite as good as Ilford Gold Fibre but the differences were so minor that most people wouldn’t spot them but it was excellent for both mono and colour work. As I still had a number of test packs available as well as paper I had purchased I decided to repeat the exercise and the results were very surprising:

As already mentioned, none of the papers could compete with the prints made on the Canon. This was despite producing custom profiles. Held side by side with the Canon the Epson prints looked a little flat where the Canon produced prints with a greater feel of depth.

All the papers tested with the Epson produced broadly similar results when printing in black and white. The main difference was the base colour of the paper. Some were warm tone whilst others were neutral and others still were bright white. The Ilford Gold was however better than the rest and was only marginally beaten by the Ilford Gold Mono.

Printing in colour revealed quite a variation between papers. The Ilford Gold again produced the best results with the other papers looking rather lifeless and flat. Only the Gold had a real depth to it.

This exercise was also repeated by another friend who has the same printer and his results are very similar. In a “blind” review of each other’s results (so we couldn’t be swayed by knowing the paper manufacturer), we came up with identical conclusions. We had to conclude that with the Epson the Ilford Gold was the best paper. This is a real shame because it’s a very expensive paper and the cost will tend to curtail the amount of printing I do.

The story doesn’t end there however because I decided to try out some Fotospeed PF Gloss 270. This is a standard gloss photographic inkjet paper that is around quarter of the price of the Ilford Gold and I didn’t expect it to be very good. Whilst I am not a fan of the Gloss surface I had to admit the results were almost as good as the Ilford Gold for Mono and marginally better for colour prints. This is quite a shock but makes printing much more affordable. I am now keen to try out the Satin or Lustre finishes to see if they are preferable to the gloss surface. If they are I think I will be buying this for my regular printing and saving the Fine Art Papers (Ilford Gold) for any print sales.

The downside to using standard photo papers for printing. They don’t feel as nice as the fine art papers to touch – not an issue when they are framed. They also don’t have quite as nice a surface finish – again this is hard to see if the work is framed and is probably my personal preference.

I hope this helps anyone out there struggling with cost and the difficult decision of which paper to print with.

Printer Paper Choice

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Urban abstract shot on an LX5 and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I love printing images like this but paper choice is critical to creating a great impact.
Urban abstract shot on an LX5 and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I love printing images like this but paper choice is critical to creating a great impact.

If I go back about 10-15 years, photographers regularly had prints made and shared these with other photographers so that work could be discussed. The film you shot would also determine how you shared your work. If you shot B&W or Colour print film you might have small 7×5 prints made when your films were developed and perhaps you would have an enlargement made of anything that really impressed you. If you developed your own film (usually black and white) and had access to a dark room, you might make your own enlargements. In rare cases you might also have access to equipment to make your own colour enlargements. Finally, if you shot slide film you either looked at the slides on a lightbox or projected your slides. Having a print made from a slide was rare and expensive with few labs offering this service.

Then the inkjet printer came onto the scene and the quality and ease with which a print could be produced improved. This was further fuelled by a switch to digital by many photographers and now we most photographers could make A4 and often A3 prints. Strangely, despite this ease, many photographers seem to have dropped printing in recent years in favour of sharing their work on the Internet. To me, this is a real shame because something is lost from the creative process when you don’t make a physical print of your work. This is not because there is an extra creative step in the printing but because printing helps you really appreciate an image as often leads you to refine and improve it further.

When you hold an A4 or A3 print of your work you tend to assess it differently to how it is viewed on the screen. Part of this comes down to paper choice which can have a huge impact on the end result. For a start there are different paper surfaces such as Matt, Gloss, Lustre, Perl, Silk etc. Then there is the base for the paper as well as the colour of the print surface. There are so many creative choices that you can waste a huge amount of time and money searching for papers that suit the style of your work and your creative desire.

Unfortunately you don’t really appreciate all the different subtleties of the different papers until you print a lot. By this time you might have purchased lots of different papers only to find out that you don’t like them or that they can’t produce the depth of image that you desire. I know this because I have shelves full of different types of paper. Some of these were relatively cheap and almost without exception the cheap papers don’t give a feeling of depth to the printed image. Instead the image seems to just sit as a flat image on the surface of the paper. If I compare this with one of my favourite papers (Ilford Fibre Gold), the images seem to have a depth to them that would allow you to almost reach into the image with your arm; they feel almost three dimensional.

If I were to generalise, the papers from the main well known manufacturers (Canson, Hanimuhle, Ilford, Permajet, Fotospeed) seem to produce this feeling of depth. Many of these manufacturers produce standard photo papers and fine art papers and it is the fine art papers that tend to produce the better results. It’s then a matter of choosing a surface that suits your intention. I personally like the Fibre Based papers (they feel like a traditional dark room paper) with a silk semi-gloss finish and a neutral to warm tone base colour.

Of all the papers I have used, the Ilford Gold and Permajet Fibre Based Photo Art Perl 290 papers are my favourites by far. They are superb for both colour and black and white and suit all types of images.

Very recently Permajet released a new paper type called Titanium. This is a Metallic paper surface which is similar to the Kodak Metallic paper offered by some photo labs. I find this very interesting as I haven’t seen a Metallic paper for Inkjet printing before. Having used metallic paper with lab prints in the past I know that it will produce very vivid colours and deep Black and Whites. Place prints made with this type of paper in sunlight and they come to life in a way that other papers can’t. I was very keen therefore to try out some of this paper but the results are a little mixed.

The surface and colour are what could only be described as metallic in appearance. The colour is therefore quite a departure from what I usually work with and I can’t make up my mind it I like it or not. The colour prints are quite good but the paper seems to open up the shadows a little more than I would have liked and the colour intensity therefore suffers a little. I think this paper has a huge dynamic range and would suite colour HDR images quite well. In terms of black and white I can only describe the performance as superb. The images look as though they are standing off the paper. This again is quite different from my other papers where the image seems to go into the paper to give depth.

Would I recommend this paper?

Probably if you need the specific look it produces. I don’t think it’s a general, “suites everything” type of paper and therefore it won’t be replacing my Permajet Perl (which is my main paper of choice). I do however think it is worth experimenting with if you are a keen printer and want something a little different.

I hope you have found this little diversion into the world of printing interesting and that if you don’t already produce prints are encouraged to do so. We need to share our work as physical images not just as photons radiating from a screen.

New Lightweight Tool

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Image

Lightweight Photography is not just about using lightweight cameras, sometimes it’s about using streamlined processes to make life easier or about tools that can fulfil more than one function and so lighten your load. I have just made one such purchase and I want to share my experience with you. The tool in question is the “ColorMunki Photo” which I’m sure many of you will know about and perhaps a few of you own this.

The ColorMunki provides a simple and fast way to profile your monitor so you can be sure the colours in your images are being accurately represented on the screen. It also allows you to profile your printer (the main reason for my purchase) as well as profiling cameras and LCD projectors. The later will come in useful where I give presentations to camera clubs and often run into issues with my images projecting too dark.

My previous approach to colour management was to use the” i-One” monitor profiler from X-Rite (who also make the ColorMunki). In comparison to the ColorMunki the “i-One” takes much longer to complete the profile and isn’t as user friendly. For printer profiles I tended to use either custom made profiles purchasing from a remote profiling service or sometimes made my own using VueScan and a desktop scanner. The first option is time consuming as you need to rely on the postal service whilst the second option wasn’t really reliable. Since I switched to using a Canon Pixma 9500MkII I have struggled to generate good profiles and if I’m truthful, gave up.

My experience of the ColorMunki is that it performs the two functions above (monitor and printer profiling) brilliantly. It’s very fast, easy to use and the results are fantastic. My printer seems to be using less ink but more importantly the results seem to be much more vivid. Prints I had previously thought were good seem to have just come to life with the new printer profiles I have generated. The profiles also seem much better than the generic profiles you can usually download from paper manufacturer sites.  To say I am delighted is an understatement and I wanted to share this positive experience with everyone.

You want to print it how big

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Image

I remember when I first purchased my Canon 5D MKII. One of the drivers behind this decision was to have a 21MPixel sensor. This was partly due to the main stock library I supplied only accepting 50Mb files and the pixel count on the 5D making this easy to achieve without interpolation. The other factor was that I wanted to be able to print large; 30 inch, perhaps even 40 inch images with good quality. When I recently purchased my GX1 I was also keen to ensure it would allow me to print large.

The GX1 is a 16Mpixel camera but it’s only the 4×3 format that gives an image this size. The 3×2 (similar format to my 5D) gives a smaller size and the 16×9 a smaller image still. To put this into context the 4×3 image would produce a 45Mb TIFF image, which is just short of the size required by the stock library but it’s not too far off and easily achieved with some interpolation. Print size was however the more important to me and out the camera the image is around 15” on its longest side when printed at 300dpi.

Now you are possibly reading this and thinking that the resolution is more than enough to create a 30” print given the viewing distance should be at least 3 feet and I would agree with you. I am however quite fussy (as are most photographers) and I want to look more closely at areas of my photographs and feel happy and confident that the image stands close scrutiny. Now you might think I am ignoring lens quality (which is true) but I know the 14-45 standard lens I use is more than capable of resolving sharp detail. No, what matters to me is the question am I satisfied when I look at the image closely when I print at 30 or even 40 inches.

To test this I resized my starting image (above) to 30 and 40 inches at 300 dpi using Genuine Fractals. I then extracted A4 sized sections from each image, sharpened and printed these on A4 Gloss paper ready to examine the results. If you want to know why I picked this image it’s because it has lots of fine detail. The glass as you can see from the images below has lots of fine straight, parallel lines on it that will show up any problems.

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Image sample when viewed at 100%.

So the results? I’m not happy with the 40 inch print when viewed closely but it will be fine at normal viewing distance. The 30 inch print as show by the sample below is however is very good and you need to look very closely indeed to see the problem areas.

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Image sample from 30 inch print scanned at 75ppi.

I do however know that I could achieve a good 40 inch print as I would simply reduce the resolution of the 30 inch print to 200dpi rather than 300dpi. I am also questioning the results of the Genuine Fractals software as I find it produces quite blocky results and this is what I can see in the 40inch print, but that’s another issue for another day.

Have I proved anything? Only that I am now satisfied that the GX1 is a really credible performer and fast becoming my camera of choice.