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The following guide is designed to help customers in producing the highest quality photo enlargements from their digital photos. Printing digital photos in larger sizes requires some attention to details that may not be needed when printing the photos at smaller print sizes. This guide will provide tips and advice with digital camera settings, digital processing techniques and what you need to know about printing poster size and larger photo prints to obtain the highest print quality possible with your particular digital camera.
- Tips for Digital Camera Use and Settings
- About Digital Photo Processing, Enhancing and Adjutsments
- About Professional Large Format Digital Photo Printing
Camera resolution setting – Digital cameras have various resolution or quality settings which relate to the pixel dimensions of the photo captured. The resolution of a digital photo determines how large it can be printed and maintain the same quality as the original photo. You should always have your camera set on the highest quality or resolution setting no matter what print sizes you intend to produce. Even smaller print sizes will be slightly better quality since the higher resolution setting will capture more image data. If you want poster size or larger prints, you definitely need to use the highest quality setting.
Camera color parameter or color profile – Whenever possible, you should set a color profile on your camera to embed the photos with a standardized color parameter. This will standardize the color in the photo for better, more natural color output when the photo is printed. To start with, it is recommended to use a simple color profile such as sRGB, or if you are a more advanced user, establish any profile you like to work with in photo editing. Any quality print lab should be able to print your photos color managed to the embedded color profile. While it is possible to convert color profiles, it’s best not to do so as fine color definitions can be altered slightly when converted.
Learn to use camera white balance settings – Using the correct white balance setting when taking photos is very important for the best color and image dynamics. Most cameras have the setting designated as daylight, shade, flash and other such settings and more advanced cameras may have a feature for custom white balance. Learning to use the correct white balance settings will make a big difference in the quality of your digital photos, along with better color and photo image density.
Camera exposure settings – Photo exposure is probably one of the most critical settings for taking quality digital photos. Digital cameras are very light critical so leaning correct exposure techniques will yield much better photos. This is particularly important when printing large format prints. Incorrect exposure, or having to make excessive digital adjustments to a photo will bring out more grain and alter color in areas like shadows. The best technique to use is learning a camera’s exposure lock feature. With this feature, the photographer can select an area of the photo where best exposure is required, lock the exposure and then reframe the image as needed and take the picture.
Camera focus – The focus of the photo is extremely important when considering photo enlargements, especially very large prints. Photo details that may appear just fine on an 8×10 print all of a sudden can appear hazy when printed large. Most digital cameras have auto-focus that works well, but you need to be sure and give the camera time to focus. This is particularly true in lower light conditions. It is also a good idea to learn to use the camera’s focus lock feature, where you can lock on to a certain area of the image for best focus and reframe the image before taking the picture. Camera shake should be mentioned here as another problem. Again, this problem may not be noticed on small prints, but can be a big problem for very large prints. This problem can be magnified in low light conditions where the camera uses a longer exposure. You want to steady the camera as much as possible at all times, and we recommend using a tripod and image stabilization lens whenever possible.
Camera ISO settings – Today’s digital cameras have amazing ISO settings, but you need to be careful when using high ISO for low light conditions when considering photo enlargements. The higher the ISO setting, the more grain will be produced in the photo. Very high ISO will yield excessive grain which will be very apparent when the photo is printed large. It may be a better choice to use a lower ISO and then digitally adjust the photo in an image editor if you plan on printing photo enlargements.
Digital camera image formats – All digital cameras produce a certain format or image aspect ratio and some cameras can be set to a variety of different aspect ratios. This is the ratio of image width to height and you should be aware of the aspect ratio of your camera when framing and considering photo enlargements. When taking photographs for a certain print size or format, it may be required to crop the original photo so you should take this into consideration when framing the photo.
Altering the original resolution of a digital photo – The finest quality photo enlargements of your digital photos will be produced from the original resolution of the photo as downloaded from the camera. Many people understand that photos should be printed at a resolution of at least 300 ppi and see that their photo may be 120 ppi at the enlargement size they want, so they boost the resolution in an image editing application. While it is true about the print resolution, it is all about how this print resolution is achieved to produced the highest quality prints. Standard image editing applications are not the best way to increase image resolution and their methods generally degrade the actual visual quality of the photo, especially when building very large prints. Professional digital printing labs use highly specialized processing software for increasing image resolution and may use more than one application in this process. The professional print results are far superior in image quality.
Enhancing your digital photo – Making enhancements to a photo with an image editing application will not affect the resolution of the digital photo. Adjusting the characteristics of the photo such as levels, curves, brightness and contrast, color saturation or applying filters simply makes changes to the embedded image data within the file and does not change the basic resolution values. A word of caution about making image enhancements. If you are working on a system without color management enabled and using a standard monitor that has not been calibrated and profiled, what you are seeing onscreen when making enhancements most likely is not exactly what is embedded in the photo file. Professional printing systems use highly accurate color management systems to print precisely what is embedded in the image data. The main problem is usually a standard monitor which by default may be calibrated over bright to compensate for bright ambient lighting conditions. This will display the photo brighter or lighter than it actually is within the image data. We make slight adjustments to each photo we print if needed. After 15 years of image enhancing we have a good idea of what a photo may need for optimal printing.
Photo format adjustments and photo cropping – If you want to produce high quality photo enlargements of your digital photos it is very important not to alter the original image pixel values when altering the photo format or cropping. There are a number of methods available in image editing applications for cropping photos, and the important thing to do is to not enter a resolution value when cropping the photo. This will cause the software to rebuild the image pixels when applying the crop and the original image quality will be degraded. This reduction in original image quality may not be visible when printing the photo at small sizes, but when printing the photo very large, it will be quite obvious. The best practice is to crop the photo maintaining the original pixel values and let us build the resolution needed for quality printing. More about proper cropping of digital photos can be found in our Learning Center.
Color management – Professional digital photo printing labs use precise color management systems to print digital photos with the exact image characteristic as defined in the image data file. To do this, the software reads the characteristics through an embedded image color profile that defines how to print everything from color to brightness and contrast. The software then takes into consideration the exact print media or photo paper and the printer ink set and balances all these aspects to produce a print that is precisely as defined in the photo image data file. We use a highly sophisticated color management system that also considers the ambient light source such as daylight or artificial light, and makes slight color adjustments to provide a print that is perfectly presented in any light source conditions.
Digital photo print processing for photo enlargements – Printing the highest quality photo enlargements of digital photos requires photo file processing software that utilizes the latest, state of the art resolution building technologies to produce enlargements that print with the identical image quality as the original photo file. Raster Image Processing software (RIP software) is the application used for this purpose and far exceeds standard image editing software in creating high quality photo enlargements. For the larger print sizes such as 40×60, it is sometimes required to use an intermediate software such as Perfect Resize to build resolution for photo files with a lower initial resolution. Using this three step process maintains a lower enlargement percentage with each step of the process to insure the final print will have the same optical quality as the original photo.
Printer, print media and ink details – While the pre-print systems described above are extremely important in producing high quality photo enlargements, when it gets down to the bottom line, the actual print quality comes from the printer, print media or paper and the type of inks used. There are a number of fine printers on the market today, but we stand by and have used for 10 years, the industry leader since 2002, Epson Stylus Pro printers. This printer coupled with the highly advanced RIP software creates large format prints with unsurpassed image quality. We also use only premium professional quality photographic papers and canvas that are color profiled with the ink set to produce highly accurate color representation and fully archival quality prints. The high quality HDR Ultrachrome inks are pigmented inks that are permanent and do not fade. This advanced ink set has unique engineering that eliminates print bronzing and color casts on B&Ws. For all of the above reasons we offer a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee.
Talk in person with a REAL Photo Printing Expert!…
Customer Service: 719 314-7833