Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Lens6a.svg/200px-Lens6a.svg.png

Giclee Fine Art Printing – Getting a Great Print Part 1 – Photography of Artwork

A Pigment print is a bit more than just an inkjet print. So what makes it fine art worthy? To qualify, the print must be achieved using archival grade pigmented inks on archival grade fine-art paper or canvas. While we love the look of the watercolor papers and canvas papers we don’t suggest using Giclee “photo papers”. For aesthetic reasons, we recommend that the artist get a fine art photographic print for that. But the quality of the fine art pigment print is not limited to the inks and papers you use. There is quite a bit more that goes into the craftsmanship than just the print alone.

There is a great many details that should be tended to, but the major areas can be broken down like this:

Photography of your artwork
Working the file before testing
Generating a worthy test print
Working the file again to refine the proof
Printing the final units or series

Each of these is important to understand so they may become an effective part of your workflow. Since there is a great deal of information to pass along,  I’ll split the content into a multi-part series.

Photography of art work

Every step in the production chain of your fine art edition is critical, but some steps, if improperly done, can be disastrous to the final viewer experience. The first step, photography of your artwork, is an excellent example. This step is the largest determining factor to the faithful reproduction of your original art. To create a great pigment print, the photography of the artwork should be:

  • Focused properly using high-end lenses
  • shot using a strudy tripod in a vibration free environment
  • photographed using the sweet-spot of the lens
  • in some cases, polarized light and or special lens filters may be required
  • exposed correctly with a critical attention to detail
  • evenly lit using the proper lights
  • correctly white balanced
  • shot in the proper file format and with sufficient resolution
  • shot in a colorspace that is large enough to capture the full range of the painting and supports the full range of the Pigment print

The right glass

Shooting with inferior lenses may result in various distortions, such as smearing around the edges, chromatic aberrations – where some colors focus differently than others, barrel or pin-cushion distortion, lens flares and overall lack of saturation and/or contrast.  Shooting with prime lenses and pro-level equipment will provide the highest possible image integrity and result in a file that achieves the closest honesty to the original.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Lens6a.svg/200px-Lens6a.svg.png

Chromatic aberrations of cheaper lenses result in out of focus images with color fringing.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/91/Apochromat.svg/200px-Apochromat.svg.png

Proper apo-chromatic focus results in all wavelengths (colors) focusing on the same plane for maximum sharpness and detail.

 

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/Chromatic_aberration_%28comparison%29.jpg

Bottom photo clearly shows effect of apo-chromatic aberrations.

Distortions, or bending of the image are another issue with lesser quality lenses with “pincushion” and “barrel” being the most common. Pincushion distortion has the effect of the center of the image being further away than the edges while barrel distortion is just the opposite. With barrel distortion, the center of the image appears closer to the viewer than the edges.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Pincushion_distortion.svg/200px-Pincushion_distortion.svg.png

Pincushion distortion created converging lines towards the center of the image

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/63/Barrel_distortion.svg/200px-Barrel_distortion.svg.png

Barrel distortion creates diverging line near the center of the image

 

A quality image capture is not dependent exclusively on a good camera/lens combination.

A high quality pro level tripod is a must for the artist who is serious about photography of art

A high quality pro level tripod is a must for the artist who is serious about photography of art, and they are expensive.

All elements in the photographic process are important. For example: how the camera and art work are handled during the exposure process will add a measurable difference to the final product.

A good solid vibration free tripod is a must-have if you are serious about photographing your own work.  Any vibration in the camera or the original artwork during exposure will result in “motion-blur” that will visibly carry over to your reproduction prints. While lesser tripods may be appealing just because of their price, they are susceptible to vibration, “ringing”, sagging and slipping during exposure. Think of it this way, if cheapo gear would lead to professional results, then why would there be a need for “pro” gear, and why would the pros invest the top grade gear?

If you want to get the best looking print, and your are committed to doing your own photography of your art do yourself and your art buyers a big favor and use the gear that will get you fine art quality instead of drugstore quality.

A stable support for your artwork is equally important. Any movement in your art during exposure will result in motion blur issues that will leave the image looking out of focus or double-exposed. While it may be tempting to take your art outdoors for the photo session, keep in mind that your painting is much like a sail in the wind. The slightest breeze will result in movement in the artwork. Heavier breezes or gusts may damage your art. And shooting with only one light-source, such as the sun, does not provide even lighting across the entire painting. I know this sounds crazy, but it has to do with what is called “angle of reflection” This is basically a measurement of the angle the light-path takes as it reflects away from the subject towards the viewer or camera and it is always equal to the angle of incidence (the angle the light path takes to get to the subject).

The propensity of light falling on a subject will reflect away at an angle equal to that of it's source.

The propensity of light falling on a subject will reflect away at an angle equal to that of it’s source.

Light falling on your canvas is more likely to scatter in a direction away from the light source. So let’s take the example to the right. The light source, in this case the sun, is to the left of the painting and the camera is directly in front of it. As we move across the canvas from left to right, we have less light reflecting in the direction of the camera lens. This results in the right side appearing darker than the left. This is called “fall-off”. Our eyes and brains adjust for fall-off for us, so we tend not to see it with the naked eye. While much of the light will “scatter” off in multitudes of directions, it is not enough to eliminate fall-off.

Since our light source is high and to the left of the subject, the brightest area will also be high and to the left.

Since our light source is high and to the left of the subject, the brightest area will also be high and to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting indoors gives you the greatest control over your environment for lighting and stability. When possible, setup your tripod on a concrete floor. Wood floors have flex and tend to amplify vibrations like a spring-board. If you must setup on a wooden floor, try to locate the load bearing supports under the floor and set your tripod in that area to minimize vibration. The farther you are away from the supports, the more amplified the vibrations.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series on Proper Lighting and Exposure. You can subscribe to our newsletter or via RSS to be notified automatically.

 

 

 

 

Beautify Your Photographs While Making a Great First Impression

We were recently introduced to a new type of laminate for photographs, ink jet and poster prints we call “Crystal” for its faceted like surface. This is very different than a normal gloss or lustre coating. Being 5 ML thick with full UV protection, this laminate is extremely durable. We put it to the test for over 2 months and found it to be one of the toughest cold mount poly laminates we have seen. Our test clients loved it immediately and all but demanded we add it to our lineup of products. No doubt about it, the blacks are much richer, colors have more pop and the image has more depth and clarity. We first started offering this product strictly on our Gallery Mounts because it is tough enough to go through our edging machine and not show any scuffs or damage.

Now, we have make it available for any print mounted to any type of substrate. Fine art prints from wildlife and scenic’s to abstracts and commercial prints never looked richer or have had better protection. Check out our samples at the lab or if you are out of town just call us to have one sent out to you. My personal recommendation for an incredible eye catching, heart stopping, WOW kind of print is to put this laminate on Kodak Metallic paper. Although it also looks great on Fuji Crystal Archive C print paper and Fuji Flex, the Metallic is killer.

How to Get Great Color, Save Profits, and Never Have to Work Color or Density in Photoshop or Lightroom. Part 1

I’m going to fill you in on the secrets of how to get great color, save your
profits, and never have to work color or density in Photoshop. All without
the use of ICC profiles, confusing work-flows or batch conversions.
If you understood the above and it applies to you, chances are you are a
professional photographer. Professional print quality is much easier to achieve
than most photographers are aware.

Getting there requires Five crucial elements. With these five in place, you can go
directly from camera to print and get excellent results.

Yes, that’s right, higher profits and more free time with:
No Photoshop work.
No profiling magic.
No bag of tricks or fairy dust.

Rule #1 – If you have to adjust the density of your files, your metering is inaccurate.
You may find this hard to believe, but truly consistent spot-on exposures rarely come
from TTL metering. I know that’s tough to swallow, but reflective metering is just too fallible.

Don’t believe me? Here is a simple test to see if this rule applies to you.
1. Take a look at the average corrections you are making on your files in
Photoshop or Lightroom.
2. Jot down the number of exposure corrections you make in a work week.
3. If the answer is any higher than zero, guess what, I’m right – your TTL has failed you. So how do we correct this?
Get a GOOD new or used hand held incident flash meter, and calibrate it to your
camera using Will Crockett’s “Face mask Histogram Technique” copy and paste
the following web address into your browser: Go to
http://www.shootsmarter.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=116&acat=16
Keep in mind that digital cameras have only 1/8th stop of exposure latitude. If you
have an incident meter, compare it against Will’s meter reviews and see how it rates. Some
well known meters are unprofessionally inconsistent . Up to a horrible deviation of +- 1/3 stop from reading to reading. This is definitely outside of the acceptable range for a professional photographer and enough to put you back in an editing app to tweak density.

After you have calibrated your meter to your camera using the Face Mask Histogram, you have completed the first of a few simple steps towards a more efficient and predictable workflow. Take some test shots this week and fine tune your exposure calibrations to ensure you are keeping your highlight detail while maintaining good shadow detail.
Next time:
Part 2.

How to get Great Color, Save Your Profits, and Never Have to Work Color or Density in Photoshop. Part 2

My last blog post discussed the weakness of TTL metering and the need for spot on exposure to avoid working your files in photoshop. Thus saving money and time which should result in a more profitable business.

Rule #2 – If you don’t have proper white balance, you don’t have correct color.
This seems like a real “DUH!” statement, but it is astonishing how many pro’s still don’t grasp the importance of this.
Using auto white balance in a high-end professional workflow is a bad idea? Auto WB works if you have absolute
neutrals in your image, and even then it can be fooled by bright or near neutral tones in your subjects. If you are not getting consistent skin tones from sitting to sitting, or indoor to outdoor it’s time to adopt custom WB in your capture work-flow. And you wouldn’t dream of passing these auto white balance inconsistencies on to your final client prints – right?
The brief amount of time it takes to get an accurate custom white balance by using an accurate target can, and likely will, save your studio hours of Photoshop time.
And I am sure you know that in a pro studio:
Hours = (Profit – Dollars + extra time you could be getting more business).
And if you are paying staff to deal with exposure and white balance issues, don’t forget to add in payroll taxes and benefits to that equation. With accurate white balance control, you will NOT need to adjust the color of your files. Assuming of course that your camera is in a good state of repair. It is rare that the preset white balances on your camera will be accurate enough for professional standards.

To get an accurate WB, you need an accurate target.
If you are using a Kodak Grey card or one of those black/white/gray targets or a plastic over-the-lens diffuser, I would invite you to upgrade to something more accurate. If quality and/or profit margin are your #1 concerns; above all else get the most accurate WB target available. The Balance Smarter from the smart folks at BalanceSmarter.com.
Your color is only as good as the WB target you use. If you skimp here, you’ll pay the price later in additional work or reprints. Is it worth the risk?. After spending thousands on education, good gear and marketing to get business, seems a shame to put the investment and your reputation all on the line using a cheapo calibration target or tool.

If you are still tempted to take shortcuts during the shoot, every time you have the thought ” I’ll just fix it in Photoshop later”, say to yourself instead:
” I’ll just spend the time and money to fix it in Photoshop later”
Be Honest, isn’t the latter REALLY what you would be doing?

Next week:
Rule #3 – Using the right colorspace = great prints!

How to Get Great Color, Save Your Profits, and Never Have to Work Color or Density in Photoshop. Part 3

My last two blog posts discussed the critical need for spot-on metering and absolute correct white balance to avoid working your files in photoshop. Thus saving money and time which should result in better prints and a more profitable business.

Rule #3 – correct working space + Printer space = Great Print!
Digital cameras work extremely well in the sRGB space, and coincidentally, the Fuji Frontier/Noritsu printers of the world are designed to work within that space. Hmmmm, wonder why that would be….

Straight up – an sRGB work flow is your direct channel to go from camera to print. Shooting in Adobe1998 will not gain you any tonal range in the file. Both color spaces have the same levels per channel limit. And this is based on your camera’s bit depth, not your choice of working color space. Neither will any get whiter than 255, 255, 255 and neither will get any darker than 0,0,0.
You have black to white and the same number of levels in both. The gains are in the number of available colors. The larger the space the more colors. Typically these relate to high saturation colors that don’t often show up in most scenes.

These benefits of specific color spaces come into play on the output. Shooting in a color space that does not approximate that of your output device can lead to unpredictable color unless you are willing to spend the time converting to the output profile via a color managed workflow. That step can be sped up using batch processing, Remember, the goal here is to reduce your work load and still get a great print –  right?  Supplying a file to your printer in a mis-matched color space can result in saturation, contrast and color issues that will require intervention to get a good print. Again; Intervention = additional cost.

If you are shooting portraits and weddings, the largest percentage of your work prints 12×18 or smaller right? This means they go to our Fuji Frontier for printing on professional paper.
When  your work is more along the lines of fine-art, we strongly recommend a properly color managed work-flow that includes the use of output profiles. Your takeaway: Shoot in sRGB when printing to sRGB type devices. When printing to higher gamut devices, or when in doubt, shoot Adobe 1998 and convert to the output profiles.

Using the steps described in this series so far, you are well on your way to a slimmer, faster and more profitable work-flow. Barring any need for retouching, you should be able to go straight from camera to output and get a fantastic print.  Give it a try and let us know how it worked out for you.

Next week: Part 4. Picking the file format.

How to Get Great Color, Save Your Profits, and Never Have to Work Color or Density in Photoshop. Part 4

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about using sRGB for printing your studio work.
This post we talk about how JPEG can be your workflow friend.

Rule #4 – JPEG has benefits.
Shooting raw has its place. Like when the dynamic range of the scene far exceeds that of your camera. Or when you need to really fine-tune an image. But-if you are shooting raw because you aren’t getting good results in-camera with jpeg, please re-visit rules 1, 2, and 3. If you get the first three crucial elements in place, you won’t need raw for your portrait and senior work. Shooting in JPEG eliminates the steps required to convert from camera raw. If your image sensors are clean, and you have all the other elements in place you can send your files direct for printing/proofing without any further work, barring retouch or enhancements of course. This process may not be ideal for fine-art or landscape shooters, but it can be ideal for portrait and wedding shooters.

If you choose to shoot JPEG files, set your camera for maximum size files and the largest pixel dimensions. And be careful with just how much sharpening you allow the camera to apply. Too much sharpening and you might get too much pore detail on the closeups. Too little and the image will of course look soft. Excessive sharpening also limits just how large you can print the file before the sharpening artifacts become painfully obvious. Spend a little time testing now, and you’ll have the confidence to know later that your files will look great right out of the camera.

Rule #5 – Print on quality photographic paper.
This means professional paper. Not the over contrasty, over saturated non-neutral stuff you get from drug stores, discount marts, warehouse/membership stores. This means use a good pro lab. Not Costco, not Wal Mart, not Walgreens, not Drug Emporium, etc etc etc.

The papers you get from consumer mini-labs are purposely manufactured to NOT have accurate color. Yep, they make it screwy on purpose. You see, Joe Consumer likes prints with colors that aren’t real. They want false saturation and contrast for that extra snap. In most cases, their photos benefit from that assistance to help the snap-shot look a bit more appealing to the eye.

Professional paper is manufactured to very exacting standards to achieve neutral balance, correct saturation and excellent skin tones. Pro papers will handle extra saturation if you really need it for your “look”, so add it if you wish, but at least you have the option. And get this, just by using pro papers, you get an additional stop of shadow detail! That’s right, you get deeper blacks with pro papers. This means you can actually get a snappier looking print and hold shadow detail when your files are setup correctly.  A properly exposed, correctly white balanced image with great composition that is printed on professional photographic paper won’t need the artificial extra punch to compensate.

 

So there you have it, the keys to establishing a profitable and expedient workflow.

  1. For spot-on exposure and excellent detail use a professional incident meter, not TTL
  2. Perfect color comes from accurate white balance using a high-end accurate digital-ready target
  3. Using a colorspace that most closely matches your output device will speed up workflow and minimize color shifts
  4. For the studio, JPEG files will expedite your production and get you to print faster
  5. The most accurate color and deepest tonal ranges come from printing on professional papers.

We would love to hear how this all works out for you. Do you have other workflow tips you would like to share? Post them in the comments section.

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?

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.