Give yourself permission to make great images

Mark Alberhasky looks at what it takes to make a great photo and how we stop ourselves from doing it.
For those of you who have been reading my foto tips over the years, you may have noticed that they generally don’t deal with technical issues.  The reason for this is that there is no shortage of technical advice out there.  If you Google the Internet, you will find endless camera feature reviews, Photoshop how-to articles, and feedback from photographers lauding the benefits of this camera over that camera, or the latest and greatest software accessory.
What you won’t find in abundance, are insights into how to grow as a photographer, and as a person.  So in my tips, I try to share my “growing pains”, a perspective on photography that results in images with meaning, for me personally and for those who view my work.
Give yourself permission to make great images.
We all know “great” when we experience it.  It might be a great movie, musical performance, or even a wonderfully cooked meal.  And these events are all the fruits of someone, who like yourself, is just a regular guy or gal.  They get up every morning and go through the day just like the rest of us.  The difference is, when they are involved with their craft, they identify a goal and go after it with unflinching commitment.  The basis of that commitment is in giving themselves permission to succeed.  If that seems an unfamiliar concept, then see if this next statement is more familiar, typically thought or said after just witnessing something great.
“Wow.  I could never do that.”
That simple statement is THE biggest hurdle standing between you and great photographs, or success in any endeavor.  I’m going to suggest you instead say to yourself, “I want to make a photograph as good as that one.  I’m going to find out what was involved and do it too.”  Once you’ve given yourself permission to succeed, obstacles will become obvious.  But instead of insurmountable barriers, they will simply be hurdles you need to get over along the way.  Start small and work your way up.
For example, your child plays on the high school soccer team.  The soccer newsletter is in need of photographs and you enjoy taking pictures, but have never shot sports.  But your interest in photography and the enjoyment of your child’s involvement lead you to say yes when asked to contribute photos.  Now, how do you give yourself permission to succeed?  To get the shot you have to be where the action is, right? (That’s why bank robbers go to banks … it’s where they keep the money)  You won’t succeed sitting in the stands with the other parents.  Step one, and you will feel uncomfortable taking it the first time …  get on the field.  Walk the sidelines where the local newspaper photographer goes, because that’s where you will get the shots.  You’ll find that the camera is a pass that will get you into places and situations non-photographers might not be welcome.  Just look like you know what you are doing and have respect for those around you.  I guarantee you will be pleased with yourself, personally for having taken the step, and later with the photos you’ve taken.
In fact, that was exactly how I started my serious commitment to photography six years ago.  I didn’t realize then how important giving myself that permission was, but it paved the way for everything that followed.
Next month, I’ve been invited as a guest speaker to attend Focus On Imaging, Europe’s largest photo convention, speaking at the Nikon, HP, and Apple booths about digital photography and my work.  While it seems like a long way from shooting those pictures for the high school newsletter, it never would have happened if I had listened to the inner voice saying, “Oh, I could never do that.”
Give yourself permission to succeed.  You’ll be amazed what you can do.
… and for those of you longing for a technical photo tip, try this.  Shoot without a flash at night.  Use a tripod, or not, and let long shutter speeds and ambient  light illuminate the scene.  The attached photo was a handheld 4 second exposure.  Now be careful, and don’t catch yourself saying “A 4 second handheld exposure, I could never do that.”

Mark Alberhasky Photo

The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed

Mark Alberhasky looks at what it can take to get a great photograph. In the process he examines a state of mind which can produce great results in other aspects of our lives as well.
This photo tip has to do with learning how much effort to put into a picture, but it is also one of those “good life rules”, applicable to many situations.

“The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”

I recently had the good fortune to attend a photo lighting workshop taught by Joe McNally, a legend in the industry who work has graced virtually any great magazine you could name.

Besides the wonderful technical information I gleaned, it was truly inspirational to hear the stories behind how a number of his memorable images were made.

His take home message?

Don’t quit before your vision has been realized.

Sometimes this means don’t stop shooting until you run out of memory cards or you lose your subject. Other times it means don’t get stuck between having the vision in your head and getting the chance to push the shutter button.

Shortly after his workshop, I had the opportunity to take a high performance driving course with my two sons, a wonderful father – son bonding experience, but that’s another story. While I was driving on the racetrack, I couldn’t help but think, “There is a very cool image of speed here somewhere.” Now, when you are approaching a tight curve on a racetrack a 100 mph, this is not where your attention should be. Perhaps this is why I am safer behind a lens than a high performance steering wheel!

At any rate, I decided to approach the school administration and pitch my inspiration for a speed image on their track. They bought into the concept and tentative plans were made for a shoot the next day, at the end of the class session.

But by the end of the next day, I was tired, the driving instructors were tired, and while we waited for the track to become available, everyone disappeared. My initial reaction was, “Bag it.  This idea may not even pan out and getting this to happen is going to be a pain.” I was a blink of an eye away from heading home.  My son Brandon said, “Dad, you should make this happen.”  And he was right. So I sucked in a deep breath, cajoled the drivers into suiting up, and we headed out on the race track.

My vision was 3 cars, tightly packed at speed, conveying the exhilaration of the track. I wedged my back against the back of the front passenger seat, and braced my leg against the back seat. I then hung out the rear window, from the waist up, backwards at 70 mph, while 2 Corvettes chased us around the track. Needless to say there are dents in my camera body from where my fingers gripped it.

The image rocks,
BUT, I was 99.5% ready to call it quits, when I was only a minute away from making it happen.

“When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer to succeeding than you think.”

Put this in writing and tape it inside the top of your camera bag. For that matter, write in on the wall of your office, on the door of your refrigerator.

Your best effort, and the success you envisioned, may just be one more exposure, one more phone call, or one more sit up away.

Stick with it til you get there.

Mark Alberhasky Photo

Digital Art Studio

Techniques for Combining Inkjet Printing with Traditional Art Materials
Digital Art Studio

Techniques for Combining Inkjet Printing with Traditional Art Materials

By Karin Schminke, Dorothy Simpson Krause and Bonny Pierce Lhotka

Published by Watson-Guptill Publications, 2004

ISBN 0-8230-1342-1

Digital Art Studio is a book about extending digital printing, mainly inkjet, by working with unusual media, transferring the digital image and overworking the digital print with other artist’s materials. As
such, it reminds me of the wonderful books on alternative photographic processes, like gum bi-chromates and cyanotypes, that I used to love in my darkroom days.

This is a how to book for digital artists, illustrators, photographers and crafters who like to get their hands dirty. If you have become bored with the uniformity and repetitive perfection of the digital print, this is the book for you. Chapters include:

  • Tools and Materials
  • Choosing Printing Surfaces
  • Creating Customized Surfaces
  • Underprinting Digital Images as a Base for Other Media
  • Overprinting Digital Images on Other Media
  • Wet Transfers to Absorbent Surfaces
  • Dry Emulsion Transfers to Non-absorbent and Dimensional Surfaces
  • Gelatin Transfers
  • Layering Prints with Collage and Paint
  • Creating Three-Dimensional Work
  • Printing on Fabric

There is also a useful glossary and resources section.

Written by three artists who have well established reputations as digital artists and print makers, the book is lavishly illustrated with their work. Step by step sections take you through each process. I like the fact that the book is not just limited to this step-by-step approach but also helps you to understand the basis of the process. This is essential, as everyone finds their own working process, this mix of a proven step-by-step approach plus a deeper understanding helps you to achieve this.

There is a good variation in the book from pretty simple processes to quite complex ones. All are handled well. You can read the book from cover to cover, as I did, or browse and dive in at random.

Who should get this book? I actually think anyone who is serious about their digital art and who works in print should get this book as a way to unlock your thinking, whether you actually use any of the techniques or not. Digital art students, design and photography students, crafters, art and photography hobbyists and scrapbookers looking to do something different should all buy it. I use it with my undergraduate (college) art, photography and design students to get them experimenting and thinking about alternatives.

Can the book be improved? Well, if they do a second edition, apart from adding any other processes the authors have come up with since this was written, I would like to see a section after the processes have been discussed that examines the aesthetic and conceptual thinking of an artist in how to decide when and why to use these techniques. The book is great, as is, at telling you how to do these things. I would like to see a section that discusses why to use them.

Heat Wave Brownouts Destroy Computers

A UPS can save the day
While many Americans scurry to buy an air conditioner to cool
themselves from the oppressive heat, a UPS for your computer should
also be on your shopping list, or you may be one of the unfortunate
ones forced to buy a new computer after the heat wave. Air conditioners
may keep us and our computers cool, but they can also destroy computers!

“Today’s extreme heat is going to wreck havoc on personal computers,”
said Harold M. Belbin, cofounder and principal security engineer of, an on-site computer repair, networking,
security and wireless company serving homeowners and small businesses
north of Boston. “It’s not enough to keep your computer equipment cool;
you must have a UPS to protect it from common heat wave brownouts we’re
sure to experience this week.”

A UPS, Uninterruptible Power Supply, is an electrical device with a
sealed lead acid battery inside that provides additional power during
brownouts or complete power failures. A UPS protects computer devices
against power surges above 115 volts or when power falls below 115
volts, as is the case with brownouts.

Brownouts Destroy Computers

When any large appliance like an air conditioner starts up it creates a
power event, i.e., an electrical power surge or a low voltage brownout,
in your home or office. “Have you ever seen the lights dim when the air
conditioner, refrigerator or vacuum cleaner turns on,” said Belbin.
“These are examples of an electrical brownout, when the electricity
voltage level drops below the required level for safe operation of
electrical devices. When thousands of residences in an area turn on
their air conditioners, large scale brownouts can occur. It can happen
anytime but it’s more common during heat waves.”

According to Belbin, a typical computer with a flat screen (15 to 21
inch LCD monitor) will be well protected with a 500VA UPS. Places to
purchase a UPS at a reasonable price include Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and
Staples. You can expect to pay around $40 for a 350VA UPS and upwards
of $400 for a 1500VA UPS.

“If a brownout is severe enough, without a UPS, your computer may never power up again,” said Belbin.

About Visiting Geeks

Visiting Geeks, LLC is headquartered in Merrimac, Mass. Visiting Geeks
is a private, family-owned, on-site computer repair, networking,
security and wireless company serving homeowners and small businesses
north of Boston. Visiting Geeks provides computer trouble-shooting and
expert advice about computer security, spyware and computer-related
identity theft. The company is co-owned by Harold M. Belbin and Sharron
Senter. To learn more visit or call 978-346-4087.

*~*~* UPS FACT SHEET *~*~*

By Harold M. Belbin of Visiting Geeks

Brownout Computer Impact

Typical outlet voltage should be 115 volts. However, during a brownout
it can go well below 100 volts. Oftentimes this is a momentary dip, but
it’s extremely bad for computers. Savvy commercial companies have been
conditioning their electricity for computers and networks since
computers where first invented. These companies often use a UPS system,
a.k.a. Uninterruptible Power Supply. A UPS is an electrical device with
a sealed lead acid battery inside that provides additional power during
brownouts or complete power failures.

A UPS does several things for the devices it protects:

* It protects against power surges and high voltage conditions above 115 volts.

* It protects from brownout conditions that fall well below 115 volts,
whereby the battery supplies additional power to maintain 115 volts to
the protected equipment.

When a computer is left unprotected to extreme voltage variations, several symptoms may occur with your computer including:

* The most obvious is the computer will not start up at all. No lights, no boot…nothing.

* Other symptoms include: hard drive errors or complete failure,
erratic operation upon start up and failure to be able to start
completely, hanging somewhere in the boot up process.

How much UPS do you need?

Uninterruptible power supplies come in various sizes based upon how
long they’ll provide power for a given need. A typical computer with a
flat screen (15 to 21 inch LCD monitor) will be well protected with a
500VA UPS. A larger monitor and extra peripherals such as powered
speakers, cable modem, wireless router or external DVD, CD or hard
drives, require increasing the UPS to 650VA or larger. A computer with
raid arrays, multiple hard drives or tube type monitors will require a
larger UPS in the range of 650 to 1200VA. To protect just the computer,
excluding any peripherals, a 350VA is acceptable. Servers usually
require 700 to 1500VA or more. Multiple computers and other equipment
such as printers, routers or network switches hooked up to a single UPS
should then add all of the required power for all connected equipment.
Manufactures offer selection guides on most product packaging to help
you choose the right UPS.

You can expect to pay around $40 for a 350VA UPS and upwards of $400
for a 1500VA UPS. Prices vary depending on if UPS software is provided
that controls the computer and reports on the current reserve power of
the UPS before executing a controlled shutdown of the PC system, and
level of device insurance included, if any, of the devices protected by
the UPS should it fail due to a power event.

UPS Manufacturers

APC is one of the industry leaders. Belkin, Tripp-Lite and other manufacturers also make fine choices.

Fact Sheet Prepared By — Harold M. Belbin, cofounder and principal
security engineer of Visiting Geeks, LLC. Visiting Geeks is
headquartered in Merrimac, Mass. – an on-site computer repair,
networking, security and wireless company serving homeowners and small
businesses north of Boston.

Getting Referrals

Referrals are one of the best and also cheapest ways to obtain serious leads for your business.
One of the principles in business is to examine how much it costs you
to obtain a new customer. This can get complex but one of the aspects
which is often ignored is the time you spend with a potential client
who then does not use your services or buy your product. Wouldn’t it be
nice to have someone else do this pre-screening for you so that a much
higher percentage of contacts turn into real clients?

One way to achieve this is by referrals. Word of mouth is one of the
best ways to get new clients because the person doing the referring has
already done some pre-screening for you and if people already have a
good relationship with the referrer, some of that good will extends
over onto you. Now you can get word of mouth from existing customers,
but this may not be enough, especially if you have a new business.

A solution to this lies in business referral networking groups. These
exist virtually everywhere, either as a local initiative or as part of
a national or global networking organization. Local Chambers of
Commerce should know about ones operating in the area. And if there
isn’t one, start one. The concept is of a group of business people who
come together regularly (often over breakfast) to become familiar with
each other’s business activities. The idea is then that in the normal
course of their business they come across someone who is in need of
your services, that they will discuss with them your business and then
offer a referral. Most such groups suggest that not only is the
potential client given your details but also that their details are
passed directly to you by the referrer so that you can be proactive in
establishing contact.

Most referral groups try to limit membership to one business in each
business category and some heavily restrict you from talking outside of
that area. This can be a problem these days, especially in
technologically oriented businesses where many of us do multiple
things. But generally it can be worked with and eventually the other
members of the networking group will find out about the full range of
things that you do anyway. The format of meetings vary but most provide
a brief time for everyone to describe their business each meeting and
also on a rotating basis give people a longer time to make a
presentation about their business. They also generally encourage
‘opportunity meetings’ where you schedule time to meet with another
business and mutually discuss your businesses and try to discover any
interesting opportunities that this might open up.

These groups can be amazingly effective. They have a financial cost for
membership but also require a regular time commitment, which varies
from group to group. Some meet weekly, many fortnightly and some
monthly. The thing is to shop around and find a group or groups that
suit you and whose requirements you can meet.

Search locally but here are links to a few to get you started:

Knowmentum ( is an online group.

LeTip ( is a US organization.

Business Network International ( organises chapters in over 20 countries.

Privacy Policies for Web Sites

Having an effective privacy policy can be a key to a successful web site.
A requirement for many web sites these days is a privacy policy. In
many parts of the world government regulations affect the collection,
storage and communication of information about individuals. There are
also international treaties affecting these areas.

Many web sites collect some sort of personal information. This could be
as little as an email address for a newsletter to full personal details
as well as racial, medical and sexual information, as well as bank
account and credit card data. Whilst views and regulations vary, most
privacy regulations boil down to these things:

*    Letting people know what information you are collecting and how

*    Describing what you use it for

*    Stating whether you will share it with anyone else

*    Showing how people can check and correct what information you do have

*    Allowing people to opt out if they want

*    Demonstrating that you protect their data

If your site collects any personal information you really do need a
privacy policy. A big part of making visitors to your site confident
enough to share their information with you is in building trust that
you are not going to abuse the information that you collect. You do
this by being completely open with them about your purposes and
practices. You can write this from scratch but you can also get some
help with this. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) has a huge amount of information available on all
sorts of topics. One of these areas is privacy policy. A search of
their main site ( finds a Privacy Policy Statement Generator  and a step by step process to using it.
By answering an eleven page questionnaire about the information you
collect, how you use it, etc, the generator will create a draft web
page policy that you can then edit as needed. It makes a very good
starting point and also can serve to focus your thinking about privacy.
Note that the generator produces a .asp web page. Since it uses no ASP
features you can change the name to .htm (or .html) with no problems or
cut and past the code into one of your own web pages.

However you do it, make a privacy policy a priority for your web site if you collect any visitor information at all.

Digital Image Resolution

A confusing topic for beginners, here we look at image resolution.
Colour for digital imaging purposes is defined by a number of channels
of data, one for each colour required by the system of representation
that we are using. A monochrome image requires only one channel
for the brightness or luminance. For colour images the two main
systems are RGB and CMYK. RGB, which stands for red, green and
blue, models the way our eyes respond to colour. All computer
monitors display in RGB and digital cameras and scanners actually
capture the image in RGB, even if it is converted to something
else. CMYK, which stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black, is
the colour system used by the printing industry and almost all printers
(except photo printers) use four inks or dyes to print colour
images. It is possible to convert between the two, although it is
better to do this only once.

Digital images, often known as bitmap images, have two main
characteristics: spatial resolution and colour resolution. All
digital images, whether they come via a scanner or digital camera,
comprise discrete picture elements, called pixels . The number of
pixels that make up an image, in both the horizontal and vertical
directions, defines its spatial resolution. The resolution can be
expressed in two ways, as an absolute resolution, such as a 1280 x 1024
pixel image or as a size and the number of pixels or dots per inch or
cm, such as a 4″ x 6″ print at 300 dpi. The colour resolution
indicates how finely divided and accurate are the colour values.
It is also sometimes called the colour depth. Typical digital
images have 8 bits of data for each colour channel, giving 2 to the
power of 8 or 256 levels. The norm for an RGB is 8 bits of red, 8
of green and 8 of blue, giving 24 bits per pixel and over 16 million
possible colour values. More bits give more room to manipulate
the image, so many scanners and digital cameras will actually capture
more bits per channel.

What resolution do I need?

This is probably the hardest thing for a beginner to figure out. Do I
need a 5 million pixel (5Mpixel) camera or will a 1.3Mpixel do? Should
I print at 300dpi or 1440dpi? The answers all depend on the purpose.
Let’s talk about input resolutions first, either from a camera or
scanner. You need to get enough pixels for the purpose. If you are
placing images on the web, say for a personal web site or to email to
someone, you will usually never need more than an 800 x 600 pixel
image. This is a half-mega pixel image, so you can see that
almost any digital camera will work. Also pretty much any scanner will
allow you to turn chemist shop photo prints into this resolution
digital files.

When printing images you need to take into account two factors, the
size of the desired print and the resolution your printer needs to give
a good result. Now it is very important not to be confused by a
printer’s rated resolution. Just because a printer has a resolution of,
say, 2880dpi doesn’t mean this is the resolution you need to send it.
Far from it. Printers put dots on the page. The printer’s resolution
reflects the size and spacing of these dots. However, each of these
dots is not the equivalent of one colour channel in your photograph.
The dots a printer puts down are usually only of a single colour
intensity or maybe the printer can place a limited number of different
dot sizes, so it can represent maybe eight shades of the colour. Thus
to get 256 levels of cyan the printer has to put a group of dots down.
Most desktop printers work quite well if you send them an image of
between 200 and 360dpi. So say you want a digital camera with which you
can produce prints on your inkjet printer of 8 x 10 inches. 8 x 10 at
300dpi means an 2400 x 3000 pixel image, or around 7Mpixels. Now
there aren’t many consumer level cameras that can do this. But
resolution can be interpolated (fancy word for increased through
guessing). Photoshop, for instance, allows you to resize an image and
you can add pixels to it. I have found that most digital camera
pictures can be interpolated up by a factor of two with no problems,
and usually by a little more. So instead of a 7Mpixel camera, one of
the 3.3Mpixel ones will do fine. In fact if you only occasionally print
8 x 10 and usually only 5 x 4 you can happily get away with a 2.1Mpixel

These three versions of the same
image have been saved with differing numbers of bits per channel.
With lowering colour resolution objectionable banding occurs in areas
that should be smoothly shaded, like the sky.

a. 8 bits per channel for 24 bits

b. 4 bits per channel for 12 bits

c. 3 bits per channel for 9 bits

Starting Out – Film versus Digital Cameras

This article explores grain and noise, how they relate and other issues in choosing between film and digital capture.
There are two ways to capture images photographically, use a film camera and scan or use a digital camera.


Film is certainly, on the surface, the cheapest option. You probably
already have a film camera of some sort, but new ones are very
reasonably priced. You will have read that film is so much higher
resolution than any digital camera around. That is true up to a point.
Film is an analogue device, meaning that it is not sampled at fixed
points, like a digital camera does. This does mean that, theoretically,
there is more information in a piece of film. However there are two
things that can get in the way of you having all this data to play with.

Film has a fine structure called grain. It looks like noise. Slow
films, like ISO 100, have smaller, more even grain and so is less
noticeable unless you enlarge massively. Fast films, like ISO 400 and
above, have large grain that is more noticeable at lower enlargement
levels. What this means is that above a certain resolution, determined
by the speed of the film, smooth areas of the image, like skies, become
noisy. There is still information there, it is just noisy.

Another issue with film is what resolution you can scan it at. Now you
can always get the film scanned at very high resolution. The down side
is that this can be expensive and you are not doing it yourself, so you
do not have control. However, this is a very valid approach for many
people. If you scan yourself, the option is to scan the prints or the
film. Scanning the prints is a viable option but don’t believe you are
going to get incredibly high resolutions by scanning this way, even if
your flatbed scanner is capable of it. Prints are a second generation
and is limited by the optical, and increasingly the digital, resolution
of the equipment used to produce them. Anything above 600 dpi is
probably pushing it for most prints, especially drug store ones. You
can buy a film scanner that will go to much higher resolutions.

One last issue with film is dust and scratches. Film is prone to
attract dust and can be easily scratched. Removing these marks can add
significantly to the time you spend scanning images.

Digital Cameras

The sensors in digital cameras capture a specific amount of
information. A two megapixel camera captures that many pixels, usually
no more and no less. As discussed last issue, you can increase the size
of the image file by interpolation, but you can only do this so far.
Digital camera images have no grain. At a low ISO setting (for cameras
that allow you to vary this) and with fairly short exposures, like in
daylight, the images from a digital camera are beautifully smooth. As
the ISO setting is increased and/or you take longer exposures, noise
starts to appear. You also get more noise the hotter the camera is.
Many cameras now have some sort of noise removal processing built into
the camera, which does help.

Pictures from your digital camera are available immediately. There is
no processing and scanning to do, they are just there. Now this is only
truly the case when your camera is saving the image in a standard file
format, like JPEG or TIFF. Proprietary formats, like RAW, need to be
processed by special software before you can commonly use them in, say,
Photoshop or PhotoPAINT, or processed by Photoshop’s own Camera RAW
plugin. This still takes less time than having film processed but does
add a delay.


Digital camera images are very seductive. Most people find it very hard
to go back to film once they have had a taste of the immediacy and
smoothness of good digital images. But film is cheap (except when you
shoot a lot) and is still in some ways the best to do long duration
trips with. Digital cameras allow you to vary the ISO setting from shot
to shot, something you can’t do with most films. However, you will be
very hard pushed to blow a two megapixel point and shoot digital camera
image up to 1m x 1.5m in size. The higher resolution digitals are very
capable and it is my belief that top end camera, like Canon’s EOS-1Ds
Mark II, with a 16.7Mpixel sensor are the equal of film in a 35mm

The truth is that there are pros and cons with both. Which works for you depends on funds, expectations and usage.

This extreme blowup is from a Nikon
D1x camera set at ISO 100. You can see that the sky is very smooth,
typical of all digital cameras at such a setting.

This shot, taken with a Canon G1, is
a similar extreme close-up and shows the noise that appears in all
digital camera images with very long exposures, here over 4 seconds. In
fact the G1 has handled this better than most.

This extreme blow-up is a tiny
section of an ISO 100 slide. Even here you can see both the grain and
tiny dust particles that stop the sky being nice and smooth, as it
would have been with a digital at a low ISO setting.

When Size Does Matter รข

Some images just need to be printed large.
Whilst most of us stick with small prints, 4″ x 5″ up to 8″ x 10″, we
are really missing out on things. Photographs, like all other forms of
visual art, have a natural size. Highly detailed, intricate works
perform very well in the smaller sizes, such as 8″ x 10″ or 11″ x 14″,
because they invite the viewer to move in close and become absorbed in
the detail. Other images work much better in a larger size. In
this article we will examine all the issues around how and why to print
in poster size or larger.

How To Print Large

Step 1 – Assess the image

Have a good look at the image in whatever form you have it, whether it
is a normal print from the drug store or a digital file from your
camera. Assess things like its sharpness, level of detail and subject
matter. Subject matter is a highly important issue to how large you
should print. Shocking or confrontational images may be better small.
At a recent exhibition I saw some wonderful photographic images of
Auschwitz that were printed small, around the 8″ x 10″ size. They
worked well in this size because their level of detail invited you in
close. But by being small the subject matter did not push you away.
However such images could also have been printed large. In this case
the emotional response of the viewer would have been very different
because of the impact the larger size would make. Thus you also need to
evaluate what impact you want your image to have on the viewer, what
statement are you trying to make. This is the big difference between a
fine art photographer and a snap shooter. The fine art photographer
will have a clear intent and message that guides how they present their
images. Now this could be as simple as “the beauty of nature” or as
complex and confrontational as “man’s inhumanity to man”, but it will
still be there.

Step 2 – Size and resolution

From the above work out what size you wish to print at and with what
technology. The type of printing you will use determines the resolution
in dots per inch that you must supply to the printer. (see the endbar
Resolution Issues) Continuous tone devices like the digital
photographic printers available at professional bureaus will need
higher resolution input than your ink jet printer may, but they will
produce a smoother result. Tied into these considerations are the
surfaces you will print on. Glossy photographic type paper will need
more resolution than printing on canvas or watercolor paper. This is
because the texture of the material hides many inadequacies in the
image data and adds apparent detail. Plus when you print on artists
materials, like uncoated watercolor paper, the ink dots will spread more, making
the image smoother.

Take your chosen size and multiply it by the dpi rating you need to use
to get the absolute size of the image you require in pixels. For
example a 24″ x 36″ print at 100 dpi requires a 2400 x 3600 pixel
image, or an eight and a half mega pixel image.

Step 3 – Input Options

If you work with a digital camera you simply need to transfer your
images to the computer. With digital cameras I always shoot at the
highest resolution the camera is really capable of, unless I know I
will only ever use the image for a low-res task, like a web site.
Shooting at the highest resolution gives you the most options.

Those of us who still shoot on film and then scan have more to think
about. You can either scan the film or a print. It is always better to
scan the film if possible. A print is a second-generation version of
what is on the film. It will be slightly softer than the original on
film plus there is always some texture to the paper it is printed on
that will also scan in. This said, I have achieved wonderful results
scanning prints on a cheap flatbed scanner. Just make sure that the
scanner is clean and dust-free, and that the print is also clean and
free of fingerprints, etc. Scanning the film will offer the best
results and more potential resolution. 35mm film scanners are
relatively inexpensive and produce lots of resolution. Remember that you can also get
scans done at a bureau at reasonable price with as much resolution as
you need. This is a cost-effective choice if you only need high-res
scans occasionally.

When scanning photos I recommend using the maximum optical resolution
of your scanner. A 1200 x 2400 dpi flatbed scanner has a real optical resolution of 1200 dpi even though
you can set the resolution as high as 9600 dpi. I find it is better to
interpolate up in PhotoShop if necessary. Also if your scanner can
provide more than 24 bits of color data per pixel over to PhotoShop (or
whichever imaging program you use) do so. This gives you more data to
work with. If this is not possible, so as much of the color correction
and contrast adjustment within the scanner software as possible. This
ensures that you will have the most useable color information available
in PhotoShop.

Step 4 – Removing information

There may be some information in the image that you need to remove. At
this stage you should generally cleanup the image by using the clone
tool to remove all dust and hair marks or scratch marks. Another thing
to examine is noise in the image. This may be digital noise in a
digital camera image or film grain in a scanned image. Especially if
you have to enlarge the image substantially this may be very
noticeable, so it is better removed now. One solution is to apply a
Gausian Blur filter, the other being the Speckle filter. Note though
that you have to be careful not to soften the image too much. Since
noise is most noticeable in areas with little detail you could mask
areas and only blur those.

Step 5 – Adjusting resolution

If your input medium provides enough or more resolution than you
require there is not much to do at this stage. Use the Image ->
Image Size dialog in PhotoShop to set the size and resolution you
require, making sure that you select the Resample Image checkbox.
Images of the right resolution will still normally go though this to
adjust the dimensions and dpi rating but without changing the file
size. Say you have scanned a 4″ x 5″ photo at 1200 dpi and you are
printing it at 40″ x 50″ at 120 dpi. The number of pixels won’t change
but you will still need to tell PhotoShop the correct dimensions and
resolution so it can print correctly.

What do you do if you have to increase the
size of the image? Simply
use the Image -> Image Size dialog as above to increase the
resolution with the interpolation method set to Bicubic, which
generally offers the best results. For larger size increases (more than
2x) also do this but it is sometimes better to perform this in a number
of smaller steps (say 1.5x to 2.0x) with some sharpening applied inbetween rather than in one big jump. Try both ways and come the result.

Step 6 – Sharpen the image

All scans and digital camera shots usually benefit from some amount of
sharpening with PhotoShop’s Unsharp Mask filter. This is especially
true if you have increased the resolution of the image. The danger here
is that as well as sharpening detail you want additional detail, like
noise and film grain, will be sharpened. If you got step 4 right this
should not happen. Remember that the dialog box allows you to adjust
the threshold of color difference below which no sharpening occurs. The
radius of the sharpening should vary depending on the size of your
image and beware of going above 150% sharpening. Adjust the settings
until you get the effect you want. Then examine carefully various parts
of the image. If you are not happy with the result use Undo or the
History list to go back and try again. Remember that you can also
sharpen only selected parts of the image.

Step 7 – Adding information

If you have done a major resolution increase you may need to add
information to the image. This all depends on the intended use of the
image. If you are a dab hand with the mouse or graphics tablet you can
draw in fine detail, like small branches in the trees, etc. You may
also be able to clone parts of the image. When doing all this work
first duplicate your image layer, then create a new layer above this
and draw on that. By working with separate layers you can ensure that
you can easily change your mind or even create different images from
the same photo by selectively turning layers on and off.

Resolution Issues (as opposed to issue resolution, which is a job for a psychologist or guru☺)

There is a lot of confusion about resolutions, mainly caused from the
fact that there are two ways to specify it. You can express image
resolution in absolute numbers of pixel terms. This is the best and
least confusing way as you can easily convert to the other form from
here. We know that a 1280 x 1024 pixel image contains 1,310,720 pixels,
and with three bytes or 24 bits of color information per pixel this
will occupy around 3.9Mbytes without compression. The second expression
of resolution is as measurement dimensions and the number of pixels or
dots per unit of measurement. Thus it could be an 8″ x 10″ image at 300
dpi. This in itself is not confusing but its usage can be.

Printers and scanners often express their resolution in dpi. For
scanners this is a reasonable approach. An older Nikon film scanner has a
resolution of 2,700 dpi. Thus a full frame 35mm negative has a size of
24mm x 36mm, or 0.945″ x 1.417″. It thus produces a scan of 2700 x
0.945 by 2700 x 1.417 or 2551 by 3825 pixels. Within PhotoShop, by using
the Image -> Image Size dialog, we can change the dimensions or the
dpi resolution to any setting we like without changing the numbers of
pixels by un-checking the Resample Image checkbox. Thus we can make
this roughly 1″ x 1.4″, 2700dpi image a 8.5″ x 12.7″, 300dpi image
without the need to change anything except how PhotoShop sizes the
image. The important thing is the number of pixels you have. You can
spread these thinly over a large area or pack them tightly into a small
one, but the number can stay the same.

The problems with dpi resolution expressions come with printers. When a
printer says it has a resolution of 1,440dpi all this means is that it
can place 1,440 dots per inch of cyan, magenta, yellow or black ink. It
can not put 1,440 dots of pink, purple or skin tone per inch. Note that
I am not talking here of continuous tone printers, like dye sublimation
printers, only of inkjets and color laser printers. To get colors other
than the actual ink color, numbers of dots need to be laid down close
together in a process called dithering (not the sort a Libra does when
confronted with having to make a decision). If the size and closeness
of the dots is good enough and your eyes are far enough away you see
this as smooth, continuous color. This means that such a 1,440dpi
printer may not be able to print photographic images at much better
than 300dpi. So you don’t need to make your images 1,440dpi resolution
to print them on such a printer. You can easily determine what
resolution you really need by testing. Take an image with lots of
detail at various scales. Change its resolution to that of the
printer’s dpi rating. For example we’ll do this for the author’s 300dpi
large format printer. Then generate additional image files by
resampling this original down to, say, 150, 100 and 50dpi. Print all
the versions and compare. You will notice that, at some point, you
really stop getting more detail even though the resolution sent to the
printer was higher. You can do more at in-between resolutions to
fine-tune this. For my printer it is around 80dpi. This means I gain
nothing by preparing files of higher resolution for printing. They are
just bigger to store, slower to work on and take longer to send to the
printer. Whilst 80dpi might seem very low to you it is important to
remember that most of us never view a huge print up close. So an 80dpi
36″ x 48″ print at a normal viewing distance can look as sharp or
sharper than a 400dpi 8″ x 10″ print in your lap.