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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

Setting the black point should be done on a Levels adjustment layer to give you the flexibility and freedom to make changes without affecting the underlying pixels. In the Levels adjustment dialog box, you'll see the histogram and sliders for black, white and gray; or shadows, highlight and midtones. Press the Option key (Alt key in Windows) and slide the black slider. As you do so, you'll see where the image is being clipped—where dark areas are being converted to pure black. Don't go too far. You don't want too many textureless black areas.

TIP Consider Your Paper. There's almost no limit to the variety of papers available, and each one has its own personality. The three most important elements to consider are whiteness, surface and paper texture. For a large print, the pure white of the paper will increase contrast, but it can give a colder feel. Some have even gone so far as to say that too pure a white yields an image with no soul. While that's a bit much, the starkness of pure white often isn't a great choice for large prints. A slightly off-white paper base will soften the look.

The surface of the paper is expressed in terms like matte and glossy. Every papermaker has its own terminology for its spectrum from a flat surface to a highly reflective surface. Again, this comes down to personal preference, but too much gloss on a large print can make it difficult to view. Glossy sur-faces will reflect light sources and create glare. The larger the print, the more difficult it is to avoid glare because it's more difficult for viewers to position themselves out of the glare, and this problem is magnified in black-and-white prints where areas of dark gray and pure black can become like a mirror. On the other hand, glossy surfaces give the image a lot of snap (this is why Apple stopped offering matte surfaces on many of its monitors a few years ago). It's a trade-off, but in general, we recommend avoiding the very high gloss.

The texture of the paper plays a key role. From totally smooth to a watercolor-like surface, it can have a profound effect on the photograph. The smoother the texture, the greater the appearance of sharpness. A rougher texture gives you a softer look. If your image isn't tack-sharp to begin with, you can mask it somewhat by choosing a rougher texture. In a big print, where every detail is magnified, choose your texture to complement the sharpness and contrast in the photograph.

These quick tips are not hard-and-fast rules to be followed blindly. What we've presented here are some ideas for photographers who don't have a lot of experience making big black-and-white prints, yet don't want to subcontract the task out to a lab. There are whole books and lengthy detailed seminars on this subject. What we've done here is meant to give you some things to think about, rather than being the definitive treatise.


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