Sunday, June 23, 2013

Print Size and Image Processing

I shot this image from Writing On Stone Provincial Park in 2010.  In 2012 I had a canvas print made, about 30 inches across (single image from my 5D2 cropped in height). Though the colour was excellent, the print was a tad dark - a bit too dramatic. Quality of print on the canvas was borderline for its size.

In 2013 a client asked for a really large print from  the same image, preferably double in size (ie. 60 inches wide). I tried to persuade him on a slightly different image with out sky that had been stitched and would easily print well onto canvas at that size, but no, he knew his mind (and I didn't blame him, I too preferred this image).

Several attempts were made to enlarge the image with various sharpening techniques. I even went back to the raw files, all without any real progress. Once he'd settled on this image for definite, I returned to the raw image, thinking to not sharpen till neared the end of the editing, and noticed that my usual controls for contrast, darks, lights etc. were missing, it had been processed with the 2003 Camera Raw technique. I had forgotten that the raw processing method had not been dramatically updated between 2003 and 2010 and it was in 2012 that it went though a big change. Going to the processing setting and changing to 2012 method changed everything. The image contained more detail, the sharpening in Camera Raw significantly better.

Bottom line is I am happier with the 2012 processed image at 60 inches than I was with the 2003 processed image (done in 2010) - a pretty impressive change. Interestingly, the 2003 processing made a big difference to older images, which makes me wonder what would happen to those really old files processed with the latest Camera Raw two generations later. I may just have to do a lot of image reprocessing.

When the 60 inch print arrived, I was not entirely happy. Lying on the sofa, it was way too bright. I hung it on the wall, brightness issue solved. I still had some colour issues and although it wasn't too dramatic like the canvas print made last year - it was all too incipid - all the drama had gone where I only wanted to tone it down a bit. Some further editing and I'm going to get the print remade.

I knew this was a risk in making the print and had charged the customer appropriately so I'd not lose if I needed to do this. Print one is ok, but it's lost the magic. Here's hoping print 2 will be the ideal.

Should I criticize the canvas printer? I think not. Even on my own profiled monitor, brightness is the single biggest thing that is hard to get right, hard to emulate, and most likely to change over time, despite best efforts. Accurate colour is easy peasy in comparison.

In hind sight, perhaps the best thing to have done would have been to mail the printer a smaller paper print and ask for the brightness to match.


Andy Ilachinski said...

All issues aside (though I am confident you will wpork them out), this is one stunning image! Hadn't seen it before, and quite a shift from your more "focused" /close-in work. Just wonderful!

TJ said...

There are some critical issues when it comes to print photos for shows and expos or even simple display at home. Lot of people unfortunately don't realize that there is some "math" involved. It's like this, you don't expect to see a smooth render at close distance from a movie poster for example or one huge ad in the street. These stuff are made to be viewed from a distance.
Same thing with prints, small and large. The critical factor here is the diagonal and the PPI (some people exchange it with DPI though it's different aspect but works fine I guess).
The sharpness of the image might be OK after all even at 60in (>150cm) but maybe the customer doesn't understand the relation between distance and size of the print. He or she is SUPPOSED to view it from a distance and have a nice feel of it and probably no extra sharpening is needed.

As for the light and calibration issues, I've got recently the ColorMunki tool (they have several models, this one is for US$480 or so)which can calibrate in many ways, one of them is for the ambient light (D50, D65, D70) and can also calibrate prints and make a match between monitors and prints. If you have this tool already maybe your problem with matching the brightness should be resolved already!

Rachael said...

This is cool!