Tuesday, June 21, 2011
DPP Solutions: Quick Tips For Making BIG B&W Prints
Large monochrome prints require some different strategies to get the best results
Some people say if you can't make a good print, make a big one. Although mostly said in jest, there's some truth behind this sentiment. Large prints make a big impression. It's just that simple. Many pros have a printer in the studio that can make at least 11x17-inch prints. If you have one that can go even larger, you probably already know everything in this article. Here, we're focusing on photographers who don't have a lot of experience in crafting a large black-and-white print on their own.
Making your own large prints can get expensive in a hurry. Obviously, you want to maximize your time and resources, so doing it yourself isn't the best option for everyone. If you're looking to save a lot of money by making your own gallery-quality monochrome images, it might be a good idea to do a quick reality check. Yes, once you have an image and settings dialed, you can print fast and efficiently, but if you're only looking to make occasional big prints, consider working with a good lab instead. Many photographers simply have no patience for the process, which can be time-consuming. On the other hand, if you want to have complete control over the printmaking process, and especially if you want to be able to make a series of prints, doing it yourself makes good sense.
It's one thing to make a good black-and-white print, but the rules change slightly when you throw in the notion of a large size. The first tip seems obvious, but you'd be amazed at how many savvy photographers disregard it.
TIP Have Enough Resolution For Your Chosen Dimensions. It's best if you can print without interpolating, but if you do have to res-up the image file, be sure not to overdo it. No image can survive too much of a push, but in black-and-white, the tolerances are slimmer. Individual image characteristics determine how far you can go. As a rule of thumb, don't exceed 25%. There are excellent programs available like Perfect Resize, formerly known as Genuine Fractals (www.ononesoftware.com), and skilled Photoshop users have made a craft out of resampling images, but we're talking about a general guideline.
In a B&W image, a viewer will see sharpness where there's a drastic contrast shift. Think of a transition from a pure black area to a pure white area. This contrast yields a distinct line and therefore distinct sharpness. When the image is interpolated, the algorithm will add pixels along that transition—this is fundamentally what the process of interpolation is, adding pixels where there are none—and in the example of the pure-black-to-pure-white transition, the algorithm tends to add middle gray (the average between pure black and pure white). Instead of a crisp line of stark contrast and sharpness, the viewer sees a soft transition from black to gray to white. This softness seen in an 11x17 print is bad enough, but in a 30-inch-wide or larger image, the effect becomes a significant distraction, and for many photographers, it's just unacceptable.
TIP Set Your Black Point. Just as interpolating can create an overall appearance of softness, setting a black point is incredibly useful for setting contrast and therefore a look of crispness to the image. Small prints can have the appearance of higher contrast than the same image when printed larger, because in the small print, all of the tones are compressed into a smaller space. In the large black-and-white print, setting the black point helps redefine the overall image contrast.
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