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Photo Enlargements and Digital Photo Enhancement

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What digital photo enhancements to make before photo enlargement:

Even though digital camera photo quality is getting better and better every year, there are still a few digital enhancements that can be made to improve the digital photo’s quality. For the best print quality, especially if the digital photo is to be enlarged, there is a certain order of enhancement steps that should be followed. There are also a few functions that should not be performed until after the digital photo has been enlarged to target print size.

Very important, you should not sharpen a digital photo until the image file is sized to the target print size. Sharpening an image file has the same effect on the pixels as resampling the pixels. This will degrade the original image quality of the file if done before the photo is enlarged to target size. Sharpening the photo should be the last function performed before sending the file to print.

After about a decade of specializing in processing, enlarging and printing digital photos, I have found almost every digital photo can use a bit of enhancing. This would even apply to the newest DSLR models. Every once in a while I’ll come across and photo that is just about perfect, but even these can always be enhanced to improve the image dynamics and vibrancy.

Basically, there are three simple adjustments that can be made to about any digital photo to improve it’s visual presentation. Once again, here I caution those who do not have their monitors calibrated and profiled, with color management policies in effect in their image editing software, to be careful with image editing adjustments. What you see on the screen may print very different to what that screen displays.

The order of these three image adjustments is fairly important. If you are planning to enlarge the photo for printing, it does not really matter if these three image adjustments are performed before or after the photo is enlarged. The order of editing should be first, adjust the photos tonal levels, then the contrast, brightness and finally the image color saturation. Just these three simple editing functions can make a big difference in the digital photo’s presentation.

Adjust the digital photo’s tonal levels first. This can balance the image’s darkness to lightness, which with digital photos that can many times have a slight darkness cast in brighter shooting conditions, brighten the photo considerably. Viewing the levels adjustment window, you will see a histogram, or type of chart, that displays the photos levels. There is a dark end adjuster on the left side of the chart, a light end adjuster on the right end of the chart, and a mid-tone adjuster in the middle of the chart. Elements lacking in the photo will show as a flat line on the chart.

If there are flat line conditions on either end of the chart, start adjusting the levels by sliding the adjusters in from the dark end first, then bring in the light end to where it looks good while viewing the photo. Usually, the best results will be obtained by adjusting the sliders just short of the point where the chart area of the image begins to peak upwards. The final adjusting should be done with the mid-tone adjuster. Every image may not need complete adjusting, but any flat line areas on the chart usually need adjustment to optimize the appearance of the photo. Making levels adjustments is entirely a personal preference kind of thing. What looks good to you is what will work best.

The next adjustment you should make is with the photos contrast in the brightness/ contrast adjustment window. Don’t go overboard here, as it can cause brighter areas of the photos to over-bright or flash, and colors to become distorted. Over-contrast can also cause the photo to become more grainy in appearance if your are considering photo enlargement. With today’s cameras, a contrast boost of about +5 to +9 will optimize the image very nicely.

The next step is to check how a brightness boost will work. Adjusting brightness is a purely visual adjustment. While viewing the photo, boost the brightness about one half the amount you boosted the contrast and see how it looks. This is a pretty good rule of thumb adjustment amount. If your contrast adjustment was +8, try boosting the brightness about +4. The final amount will be just what looks best to you.

The third basic enhancement will be to boost the color saturation of the digital photo. Just about every digital photo can use a little of this. Once again, don’t go crazy here, usually a saturation boost of about +5 to +10 will enhance the vibrancy of the photo enough to really enhance the colors when printed. If you prefer a softer look for your photo, I would leave this adjustment alone, or maybe even remove a little saturation.

After you have your photo looking the way you like, and you also want the image sharp, the last thing you want to do is to sharpen the photo. The photo should be at the target printing size before you sharpen the image. Sharpening should also be performed using the unsharp mask filter. Using the universal sharpen filter can yield over-sharpened results making the image appear jagged or edgy.

To begin with, I would recommend setting the unsharp mask at a threshold of 0 and a radius of one pixel. The degree of sharpening would be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the percentage slider. The effect of the sharpening filter is different depending on the actual pixel dimension density of the digital photo. The higher the pixel resolution, the higher degree of sharpening percentage the photo can take before becoming edgy in appearance.

You should have your image at 100% magnification view when sharpening. Try sliding the % adjuster up and down with the preview box checked so the sharpening effects will be displayed as you change them. When you get the image about how you like, click the OK. I would recommend viewing various areas of the photo after sharpening, at the 100% magnification. Toggle between sharpened and not sharpened, using the edit>undo and edit>redo to see how the photo looks. It you don’t like the results, stay in the edit>undo and start over opening the unsharp mask filter window and resetting the filter.

These simple photo enhancements should help you achieve much finer presenting digital photos. There are many other digital enhancements available to improve and edit photos and using some of these more advanced enhancement tools is really just a matter of understanding what the tool does, and experimenting with the effects on photos. For the most part, if you can master the three basic enhancement tools described in this article, you will be surprised at how good your photos can look.

Talk in person with a REAL Photo Printing Expert!…
Customer Service: 719 314-7833