Getting the Best Possible Print from Your Fine Art Lab. Part 5 of 5

Getting to Know You!

Get to know the people who print your work.
A true fine-art class facility doesn’t just work for you, they work WITH you to get the print that satisfies your vision. Only you as the artist know exactly what you want in your print. Good communication skills can bridge a tremendous physical distance and result in a great print. Your master printer wants to know what you want in the print.

Testing is a critical step of this communication process.
Once a physical test has been printed, tangible suggestions can be made for changes. Get to know the lingo and the processes involved. The more you know, the more accuracy in your printer to artist communications and the less frustration has an opportunity to creep into your experiences.

Be open to hearing suggestions.
The printing technician is aware that this is your art. It’s your baby and your vision. The last thing they want to do is tread on that. Remember, they are here to print WITH you. The tech has likely printed countless thousands of fine art prints in their career and may have some truly outstanding suggestions that can elevate the print to unexpected regions. If you are willing to try their suggestions let them know that after seeing the results there is a possibility that you may want to go back to where you were. Then, if you don’t like the results, they will have been forwarned and thus prepared the files in such a way as to ensure a smooth transition back to the start.

You deserve a Great Print!
The countless hours spent by the artist from the time of exposure to the final print deserves to be rewarded. Hitting all the key points addressed in this series should bring the gift of an easier journey to a great print. If you partner your fine-tuned image file with a printer who understands how to elevate a file to a fine art print, your efforts will see even greater rewards. Sure you can still send your file to costco, or some mass production facility specializing in carnival prints, but where is the reward in that?

Getting the Best Possible Print from Your Fine Art Lab. Part 4 of 5

Getting to the final print: How much trust should you put in color profiles?

A few notes on profiles.
First, they are not a magic wand. Don’t expect them to make a so-so image look fantastic. They are NOT a repair tool, they are a color matching tool intended to get the output to mimic the actual contents of your file. Also, profiles are made by reading the values of sampled output of less than 1/100th of a percent of the colors available in 24 bit RGB. That leaves the remaining 99.99% of colors to be guessed at by the software that uses the profiles. Expect an improvement in color approximation, not miracles. The most predictable results occur when the working space and the printer profile are close in gamut. Meaning a large gamut Ektaholmes or ProRGB will convert less dependably to a smaller gamut device.If you are finding unpredictable results when using profiling, you may wish to consider using a smaller working space such as Adobe 1998 for future images.

Test and test again if needed.
While the digital age and color profiles appear on the surface to make all things equal, the truth is that a master printer is still required to get a master level print. Profiles may speed up the initial proofing process, but the finer nuances of a great print require a trained eye and a master of the craft. It is a very rare set of conditions that will come together in perfect alignment to allow a glorious print to happen with the very first test. In my opinion, a fine art print should leave zero room for improvement in the print. If you can sit with the print for a couple of days and not find anything to change, congratulations. Print your finals. An artist with a critical eye will always be seeking to improve their product. An acceptable print could be called and art print. It takes more than acceptable to get the tag of “Fine”.

Share your own experiences by leaving a comment!

Part 5: Getting to know you.

Getting the Best Possible Print from Your Fine Art Lab. Part 3 of 5

File optimizing and sweetening.

If done properly, this is an area in your work flow that can really make your image sing. Gross corrections in color and density should have been handled using Bibble as your raw converter. Fine tuning localized areas of the image such as burning and dodging can be handled in Photoshop or Gimp using curves with masks. For saturation adjustments, I prefer to use selective color over hue/sat, when I need to add more red to the reds, more blue to the blue, etc. I have found that using hue/sat is more likely to cause banding and other visible damage in the color channels.  Sharpening happens in several steps for me. First pass of sharpening happens in the raw conversion stage. I sharpen there, just enough to tighten up the pixels while avoiding halos and edge artifacts.  After sweetening the file in Photoshop or GIMP, I will scale a print ready file for output and sharpen according to the type of output. If I am just using unsharp mask, I prefer to sharpen using a high percentage – 400-500% with a low radius. 0.3-0.4 and a zero threshold. Else-wise, I will use a modified version of a hi-pass sharpening. I’ll cover that method in another post.

Once sharpened, I will convert to an output profile appropriate for the printer the file is to be imaged with. After this convert to profile step, I will carefully examine each of the three color channels for the presence of banding or other artifacts related to the profiling. If the artifacts are concerning to me, I will undo the convert to profile and print using the working color space. I ALWAYS test any file before printing large, and I recommend that others do the same if you are looking for the “best” print. Files submitted for printing in a large working space tend to need additional saturation – 12-18% for the first test. Then I will tweak the file a bit more based on the first test. If I had to make dramatic changes, then  a second test is warranted.

Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment

Next from me: Getting closer to the final print: How much trust should you put in color profiles?

Finding Your Toy Camera

Last time we covered what a toy camera is and I know that you are dying to get your hands on one. Therefore, in this blog post I am going to let you know where to find these amazing little things. There are many places to find these little gems. However, my favorite places are Four Corner Store, Light Leaks and Lomography. These stores have a wide variety of toy cameras and accessories. I prefer these stores because they cater strictly to the toy camera enthusiast.
These stores stock most of the Holga models, as well as almost every accessory available for the Holga. Four Corner Store also offer Holga bundles, which usually includes the camera, a few accessories, and some film. Every time I order from them I receive my order much sooner than expected, and if you “like” them on facebook they put up discount codes pretty regularly. They also offer a wide selection of other toy cameras. You can also get some of the toy cameras from B&H Photo Video or Freestyle Photographic Supplies. If you are itching for an original Diana then Ebay is your best option. However, the original Diana is a very hot item and they can be expensive, usually ranging from $50-$100. I was planning to get an original Diana until I saw how much they were going for, so I opted for the new Diana F+. Amazon is also a very good resource for toy cameras and supplies.

Ok, so you know what a toy camera is and where to find one. However, I know some of you are wondering what some of these images look like, so below are some sample shots taken with a Holga.

Photograph "Flowers in Gravel" shot with a Holga cameraPhotograph "Swinging Around"" shot with a Holga camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph "Waterfall" shot with a Holga cameraDon’t forget to come back next week, when we will look at the different options once you have a exposed roll of film. Thanks for visiting and see you next week!

Until then, remember to leave me your comments!

Creating Videos for YouTube

In this post, I’ll go over the equipment and software you need to get started.

I’m a graphic designer at Reed Photo Art. Among other things, I design and publish our e-newsletter and create our YouTube videos used in our social networking. So far, all of my work has been done on a 17” MacBook Pro running Mac OSX version 10.6.4 with 4 GB of ram.

Reed Photo-Imaging recently started creating and posting to YouTube short (2-3 minute) videos of our customers and employees. These short segments highlight their experience, tips and tricks they like to share and their professional work. Topics range from fine art photography to well, fine art. Our goals are to promote our customers and to maximize the benefits of adding original content to our web site and Facebook page.

Flip Ultra HD video cameraI started with the Flip Ultra HD video camera by Cisco. This is a compact and easy to carry camera that costs $199.00 suggested retail. You should be able to find a better price online at locations such as Costco or on Amazon.com. I purchased mine at Costco for discounted price of $149.00. The Flip Ultra HD has an 8GB storage capacity which equates to two hours of recording time. The output resolution is a hefty 1280 x 720, which is more than you need for the web. The lens is fixed  going from 1.5m (approx 4.5 feet) toFlip Pod mini tripod infinity. Audio is provided through a built-in mic. The fixed video and the built in sound, in my experience, can be a problem and you have to create a work-around to compensate for them. The video quality is great and the camera is very easy to use. to avoid camera shake when recording the interviews, I used a mini tripod made for the flip called the flop pod.

I use Final Cut Express by Apple for video editing. Final Cut Express is the light-weight version of Final Cut Pro and has limited functionality. Even with it’s limitations, the rice tag of $199.00 can make it an excellent entry level choice until your needs outgrow it’s capabilities.  If you want professional level video editing right away, Final Cut Pro is in the toolbox of many professionals who edit commercial movies.  It can be purchased at any Apple retail store, online at apple.com the App Store or through any certified Apple reseller. Final Cut Express comes with a font animation program called LiveType.

Knowing that any good editing app will have a learning curve, I took a class at Lynda.com, which made the curve much shorter.  Lynda.com costs a reasonable $25 per month, for as many training videos as you can stand to watch in a month. In addition to the audio tools in Final Cut Express, I used an audio scrubbing application called Sound Soap 2. This scrubber essentially washes the audio track of distracting background noise. It does a good job minmizing wind and other noise that may be in the video due to the built-in mic found on the Flip Ultra HD. Sound Soap 2 is made by Bias Inc. Their website is www.bias-inc.com. Sound Soap 2 as a free-standing application is $129.00. If you’re on a Windows machine, try Pinnacle Studio Ultimate Collection 14. Pinnacle Studio is the consumer version video editing software made by Avid.  It retails for $129.00 at www.avid.com.

There are plenty of free ware applications available for video and audio editing, but in that class of software, you usually get just what you pay for. Free apps often suffer from harder to use interfaces and less than stellar results in the end product. There are some excellent exceptions to that statement, but that conversation is outside the scope of this posting. Perhaps we can revisit the freeware options in another series down the road.

If you have used a particular piece of software you are excited about, be sure to leave tell us about it by leaving a comment:

My total startup expenses for the two software packages, video training on Lynda.com and the camera was around $500.00.

Getting the Best Possible Print from Your Fine Art Lab. Part 1 of 5

The end result of a great print is always the sum of it’s parts.

Every step along the way, from the click of the shutter through file preparation, all the way to print presentation choices, affect the visual appeal of the print. This author/artist believes that a fine art print does not lie strictly in the quality of composition and subject and use of light all brought together by the skill and talent of the artist, but also in a higher level of reproduction print quality.

Any factors that diminish the color fidelity and detail of an image, in my opinion, risk pushing the print away from fine art grade into Just Another Print. In other words, A fine image needs a fine print to qualify as fine art. Selling cheap, or poor prints as fine art is to me, analogous to selling posters as fine art.  The phrase “best possible” is a bit elusive, as “best” is often subjective. Meaning that you and I may have differing opinions of what an optimum print looks like. So knowing that the target may be moving subjectively, let’s look at what can be controlled to yield YOUR ideal of the perfect print.

Get the exposure right.

Proper exposure leads to the highest possible color fidelity with the greatest number of available levels of density. Under exposure leads to noise and grain in the image, while overexposure leads to loss of highlight information. Often we hear the cry of “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop!” While software offers us access to many tools that allow the user to attempt compensation for exposure issues, they will not fix the loss of fidelity or restore detail that is lost during improper exposure. The bulk of the density and color can be brought around from poor exposure to acceptable ranges, but the finer levels of information are lost forever. Use a quality calibrated hand-held meter or carefully watch your in-camera histograms to ensure your highlights, assuming your image is supposed to have them, fall below 100% white and you should be good to go.

Part 2: Is file format – tiff or jpeg –  important?

Leave me your comments. I would love to hear from you.

Getting the Best Possible Print from Your Fine Art Lab. Part 2 of 5

Is File Format Actually Important?

Last week in part 1, I wrote about a print being the total sum of all the parts in the workflow and how each part plays a role. We also touched on the importance of proper exposure for a good starting place. As promised, this week I expand the parts to cover gear and the common question of file formats.

Good gear.
If your lenses are of poor quality, don’t expect your images to be ready for fine art printing. Aberrations distortions and flares, like exposure, can only be somewhat compensated for, but not completely repaired in Photoshop. ANY distortion corrections in Photoshop means that your pixel data will be re-sampled. And re-sampled means it will be softened. Flairs, result in lowered contrast that equates to lessened detail, and repairing apo-chromatic errors requires re-sampling one or more channels. It’s preferred to handle this during raw conversion  but it still requires a re-averaging or re-sampling of pixel data.

File format.
For a fine art image, Unless jpeg artifacts are part of your style, (see my blog post on tiff versus jpg issues here) I recommend that the image be captured in an uncompressed raw format. Some camera manufacturers force users into either jpeg or compressed raw formats. For the wedding and portrait guys. This is usually fine. Their critical gamut for color lies mostly in the skin tone ranges of their subjects and the rest of the world is secondary. In a fine art print, the rest of the world is the artists domain and critical for color. JPEG compression throws color information away first at the higher quality levels, then moves on to also discarding density detail as the compression level increases. I have yet to see a digital camera that will hold the same level of color fidelity in the compressed file, that can be had in an uncompressed raw file. With the rapid pace of camera development, I imagine this issue will be corrected in a few years, if not sooner. I suppose we’ll just have to wait.

Do as much of your color correction, saturation work, density tuning and sharpening during the raw conversion process as you can.  Any resampling of color post-conversion can lead to lesser results when levels of density in each color channel are expanded, leaving gaps that cause rapid transitions in color, or compressed, causing a loss in color fidelity. Am I nit-picking here? Could be. But remember, the topic is getting the best possible print.  Nit-picking get’s you to that end. Shortcuts might get you an acceptable print, just not the best print possible.

File conversion.
The software used to convert your raw files can also go a long way to make or break your image.  For several years, I have been using Bibble Pro to convert my raw files. Side by side tests with current adobe products show that Bibble preserves more color fidelity and introduces virtually zero artifacts into my files. Adobe products appear to be using an interpolation scheme that sometimes creates zipper lines on hard edges and at other times, completely softens color detail in some of the channels.  When my distant Autumn aspen trees look like cotton candy in the red channel, missing all semblance of leaf detail, something is horribly wrong with the adobe raw converter.  Prior to final file work, I always convert my raw files to a tiff in a decently sized working space such as ProRGB or Adobe 1998. Especially for anything I will be printing on either photographically on the Lightjet or Pigment on watercolor or canvas.

Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear your ideas.

Next from me: Sweetening the print through fine-tuning.

Toy Cameras: Holga and Diana

There are many different toy cameras out there, the most common ones being the Holga, theholga 120 Diana, and the Lomo LC-A.  So why are these cameras referred to as toys?  Well, cameras of this class usually include bodies and inner workings made of plastic, often the lenses are plastic too, giving images from these cameras their unique ethereal charm.  The lenses are fixed focal length, with limited aperture settings and shutter speeds.  The plastic construction of the camera is nowhere near as mechanically reliable as the expensive commercial cameras from makers such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and others.  With the toy cameras, there is a coveted tendency for light leaks and the el-cheapo plastic lenses are obviously not as crisp as expensive glass. These characteristics vary in quality and quantity in each camera, even within units of the same model.
I use mostly Holgas, and enjoy all 4 that I own, each for their individual traits; the light leaks are in different areas and the molded plastic lenses create different vignettes, blurs and lens-flairs.  This is why I find toy cameras to be so much fun; you just never know what you’re going to get.

Let’s quickly discuss some of the differences between the Holga and the Diana.
The Holga has several models to choose from: they have built-in flash, hot shoe adapters or no flash models, modified versions that use 35mm film or standard as 120 film, there are an abundance of accessories you can purchase for your Holga, or a number of modifications you can make to your Holga.  I will get into more detail with all of this in future posts.  The Holga has 2 aperture settings, labled as cloudy or sunny, which are so poor, they usually make little if any difference in exposure; a fixed lens; 4 focusing distances, labled as: individual (3ft), small group (6ft), large group (18ft) or mountains (30ft – infinity); 2 shutter settings, approximately 1/60 sec or bulb; it also comes with 2 film inserts, installed from the back, called masks, that alter the final image size on the film; a 4.5cm x 6cm and a 6cm x 6cm, although I prefer to shoot without the masks as they can decrease the light leaks.

The Diana has 2 versions, the original version (produced from the early 60’s thru the late 70’s) and a Diana cameranew version the Diana F+ (A re-production that entered the market in 2004).  The versions are basically the same except the newer Diana F+ has a nice pinhole function.  The original Diana shot 4cm x 4cm frames on a roll of 120 film, these cameras can still be found online or at flea markets, thrift stores or garage/estate sales, but because of their popularity, they command a premium price if the seller is aware of what they have.  Like the Holga, the new Diana F+ comes with film mask inserts, a 6cm x 6cm, a 4.5cm x 6cm, and an additional third mask, a 4cm x 4cm.  The Diana has 3 aperture settings, bright sunny, partly cloudy and cloudy, the Diana F+ has all of these plus pinhole; the Diana’s lens is a fixed lens, the Diana F+ has a removeable lens, so you can purchase different lenses and use them interchangeably; it is also possible to purchase a 35mm adapter back for the Diana F+.

I am so excited to share my love of toy cameras with you all.  Please come back and see what’s new.  I will be posting toy camera tips, tricks, holga and diana camera mods.  If there is anything in particular you want me to address add a comment to let me know.  See you soon!

Is Film Dead?

Gary Reed, General Manager for Reed Photo-Imaging has been participating in a lively discussion on Rolls of filmLinked-In regarding the supposed obituary for traditional film.

There were 120 posts with a total of 36 Linked-In members responding. Nineteen of the members either were still using film in their personal work or had moved back to using film in their professional work as a “Retro Look.” Eleven members were completely committed to digital and weren’t looking back. In a nutshell, “Film is Dead, move on.” There were six members who were non-committal and more interested in scanning and other aspects of archiving images. Most of the members who were positive as to the future of film were also nostalgic about the look and feel of film as a media. There was discussion about the effects of freezing film.

There were people who felt that you should shoot the film right away to get the maximum color effect. Some members disagreed and thought you should wait until it was partially thawed. It was not only informational but also hilarious at times. A big concern was the future of film processing and the continued manufacture of film from Kodak and Fuji. Gary Reed commented, “As a lab guy I can tell you that our film processing (E-6, C-41, B/W) are way up over the last 2 years. A large part of that is the toy camera market like Holga’s and Diana’s which we believe will help keep film alive as well as the large format people still shooting landscapes. Granted many labs did stop processing film so it tends to funnel to those of us still processing. Fuji tells us that although they discontinued color neg film this year they still have strong sales of transparency and even their B/W films worldwide. Kodak always did beat them up in the color neg arena anyway. Kodak announced some months ago a new 4×5 and 8×10 color neg film coming on-line, Ektar. Go figure. We have been predicting the demise of film for many years but any more I believe it’s going to be around for some time yet. We have also seen the overall quality of photography go down since digital became king. Mostly just sloppy shooting and “I’ll just fix it in photoshop” attitude. The best digital shooters are the people who started with film, hands down. Long live silver halide! “

Gary Reed said, “We sell Kodak neg film about 10 to 1 over Fuji and Fuji E-6 20 to 1 over Kodak’s. Fuji’s black and white never did much but they are staying with it. We figure they have a good market in Japan or somewhere to justify keeping it.

As far as scanning, color neg film generally scans very well but it’s like anything else, you need a good neg to start and a good pilot to get you there. It can be a little tougher than transparency film. When Fuji came out with their pro digital camera all the wedding portrait people loved it for skin tones and that it’s duel chip it could handle contrast like black suite and white dress better than Nikon or Canon. It is a Nikon body but the guts are Fuji. I have not heard anything about a next generation camera. They are however expanding their line of instant cameras which were a huge hit over the past couple years, go figure!“

In conclusion, members who were positive about the continued availability of film expressed the belief that the price was going to go up and that film was going to be a niche market item. Members who were negative about the future of film believed that one day it was just going to be gone due to economic factors that precluded the profitability from both the manufacturer and the labs that process the film.