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exhibition spacePictures at an exhibition

Preparations for a photography exhibition

We've just spent a couple of weeks preparing prints for a new exhibition in Leicester, England. [2005 article]

Keith has collected together some of his observations and technical information on making the prints that are on display.

You can see versions of all of the photographs that were used at the RAC exhibition pages.

There are many more of Keiths Photos on display in the main Gallery on this site.

Preparing photos for an exhibition

The article here is not meant as a prescriptive guide to how -you- should go about your own workflow, more as an example of how Keith worked, and some of the choices he made.

Updates

2014 - An article about the detailed preparation of a 3m x 2m image for printing at a photography show. Techniques not disimilar to those used for the big prints in the 2005 article on this page.

2012 - I've a big exhibition in May, and will be writing about different aspects when it's open. Making a 14 metre print

2009 - I've just looked at this article again, and apart from updates to various software I'd still take a similar approach. Improved RAW converters have improved the quality of my images, but I still use combinations of ACR, DxO 5 and Nik Sharpener 3 for a lot of work.

The exhibition included a 78"x43" (~2m x 1.1m) print of the beach at Shingle Street in Suffolk.

The image sources

There are some 29 prints in all. They were selected from my collection, to fit in with the 'Geological' theme of the exhibition.

There are:

  • 5 from black and white film, taken with an Olympus OM2 24/2.8
  • 24 digital, taken with a Canon 1Ds using 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200 IS -- all 2.8L lenses
  • 8 of the 1Ds images are in colour and 16 B/W

The 1Ds pictures are at a resolution of 4064x2704 pixels. I used to upsample images in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to the largest 6144x4088 size, but now prefer to do the resizing later, after raw conversion (article with some more on this). The 6144x4088 size gives a print of 25.6"x17" (~65x43cm) if printed at 240dpi.

The B/W film was scanned using a Canon FS4000 film scanner giving an approximate image size of 3800x5600. I used Vuescan to drive the scanner and ended up with 16 bit greyscale tiff files.

Preparing the images

The 1Ds files were all available as raw files, so I effectively had the camera data as fresh as if I'd taken the picture the day before.

As I mentioned in the article "Why use RAW", one of the best reasons for keeping your images in RAW format is that you can go back and reprocess them with the latest in software.

With each image I looked at my existing versions with a very critical eye, so as to decide which ones could be improved, or just didn't look quite right.

All eight of the colour images and two of the 1Ds b/w ones were no longer at what I would call an acceptable quality (as conversions from raw). They were good, but I thought that the improvements in software that I use now would make for better prints.

For re-doing the raw conversions, I decided to use DxO Optics Pro V3*

Update Note 2009 - I'm now using DxO V5 [Review]

The software can be a bit slow and clunky for doing many conversions on a Mac, but the quality of the files produced is excellent. In particular, the correction of lens aberrations is very good.

Other aspects of the conversion process, such as handling the bright bits of the sun in a sunset photograph are better than ACR (more on this in my DxO raw V2 review). I know that on the Luminous Landscape site, my conclusions in this respect are queried, but for images from -my- 1Ds I stand by my comments :-) There is a free demo of the DxO s/w available, so test it for yourself if need be.

For my landscape images I keep a collection of versions of each, including all the Photoshop adjustment layers. There are also flattened 'print' versions of each that have been sharpened and prepared for printing at a particular size. Six of the 1Ds black and white 'print' versions were already at just the size and quality I wanted.

The five images from scanned film were OK, but I thought could look better. I know how much care I took in making the original scans, so I was quite happy to go back to the original uncropped 16 bit greyscale tiff files.

* I should declare an interest here in that DxO have since asked me to contribute (unpaid) to their Beta testing program.

Resizing

I decided to print all the framed prints at a similar size, so as to go in 3 sizes of frame (26"x26" (1) , 26"x34" (24) and 26"x39" (2) )

This meant that images were typically re-sized to ~26"x16", although since each image is cropped to a particular aspect ratio, there is no such thing as a 'standard' size in my work.

Digital

There is a lot talked about the benefits of various software tools for resizing images, but the latest Bicubic Smoother algorithm in Photoshop CS2 takes some beating.

After some experimentation I found that the best results for my particular 1Ds images were to:

  • Convert them from raw with minimal sharpening (but full correction for lens related distortions)
  • Apply a small amount of sharpening (using Focus Magic)
  • Resize / resampling (bicubic smoother)
  • Apply adjustments (including the conversion to B/W)
  • Finally sharpen (sometimes selectively) for print using Nik Sharpener Pro.

I tried Focus Magic and the raw presharpening option in Nik Sharpener Pro for the initial sharpening, but found that Focus Magic with its more complex methods, sometimes produced results that looked better -after- the resizing. The sharpening at this stage is quite light (say 25% in Focus Magic). There is an example of raw presharpening with a sample image in my Nik Sharpener Pro review (when to sharpen).

There are lots of other ways you could approach the task, but after a bit of experimentation I decided that this gave results that -I- liked :-)

For B/W conversion I either used 'Convert to B/W Pro', the channel mixer or 2 H/S layers (sometimes the simple approach produces the 'right' result - see here for a collection of BW conversion techniques)

Most images were then produced with a combination of masked adjustment layers (example from my 'Elements' tutorials) which were mostly curves. Some had a few percent of unsharp masking (radius 150-250) applied to give a bit more punch. There was the usual issue of dust specks on the sensor to deal with, but no problem with the healing brush.

Film

With film images there is the additional factor of what to do about grain. Whilst superficially of higher resolution than the 1Ds files, the film based images were generally of less detail. Sharpening can often just enhance grain and do little to sharpen how the actual image looks. Focus Magic does have a setting for sharpening grainy images, but it needed use with care. I found that the Photoshop 'Smart Sharpen' filter was adjustable so as to give local contrast enhancement without emphasising the grain - quite tricky and taking several tries, but good enough to create ~25"x16" versions for print.

There was also the pleasant reminder of how much dust and crud you get, even on carefully scanned negatives :-) Hmm ... go back to film ... No thanks :-)

Large pictures

There were two images that warranted special work. Both were large (60"x43" and 43"x78") and were to go on a wall, viewed from a balcony where no-one would be closer than 10 feet.

The size was limited to 43" in the shortest dimension by the fact that my Epson 9600 'only' prints up to 44" wide paper.

exhibition space

Part of the exhibition showing ~26"x17" prints and the two very large ones.

Knowing that no-one will get close enables you to be much more aggressive in applying sharpening (see the article about Print viewing distances for more about this)

In particular, sharpening haloes that would be unacceptable for smaller prints, are just not easily visible at 10 feet away.

I made several A4/A5 test prints of sections of the images to see how something that looked quite bad on the screen, came out fine viewed at anything over 6 feet.

Making the prints

After finishing work on an image, I used Nik Sharpener Pro to apply final print sharpening. In images with interesting clouds or flat bits of sky (i.e. most of them) I used the masked (selective) version to not apply sharpening to those areas that don't need it. Even though most of the 1Ds shots were taken at ISO 100 there is still some noise, and after resampling, some very slight luminance patterning (a bit like very very faint grain, but with a regular pattern). By not sharpening large flat areas, the places it might just be visible are not sharpened.

The scanned film prints were selectively sharpened for printing, with attention to grain visibility, so that whilst an important part of the image, it was not overly visible. Suffice to say, a lot more 1Ds images would take enlargement to 26"x17" than film ones.

Prints were made on Epson Enhanced Matt paper, using an Epson 9600 printer with UltraChrome inks (matt black). The printer was driven using ImagePrint, which I like using particularly for it's black and white print quality. All print files are made at 240dpi - I've looked at sending higher resolutions to my 9600 but I have to say the differences are negligable. The actual printing is at 1440 dpi.

The prints are meant to be viewed from at least a couple of feet away, but have been checked to make sure that they look OK at closer distances, although I stand by my observation that anyone who looks at my prints with a magnifying glass just isn't the kind of person who is going to buy one!

The paper is a brighter white than I often use for some prints, but the rich deep blacks add to the impact when a whole lot of prints are displayed together.

The large prints are laminated on to 5mm foamcore with a thin plastic coating that has a minimal impact on colour and tonality.

Conclusions

Keith Cooper and two of his printsThanks to everyone who has ever purchased something via our links.
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Creating images for a large exhibition is quite a task, but has allowed me to refine some aspects of my image workflow, and experiment with others.

The more practice you get, the better attuned you get to knowing what will 'look good' as a print.

If I took one particularly useful lesson away, it would be in judging the best combination of sharpening and resizing images to get a good print.

Whilst tools such as Nik Sharpener Pro really do help in providing optimised print sharpening for different print sizes, you still need to apply some artistic judgement as to how to use them.

One other pleasant surprise was just how good a really big print from the 1Ds can look.

I hope that my comments are useful to others looking at producing prints of their work. I'd any welcome comments and questions about what I've said...

It will be interesting to see the kind of results I'll get when I replace the 1Ds. It will probably be the next version which may well produce images of the size I've printed, straight from the camera.

  • Update 2008 - the 21MP 1Ds3 is a big jump from the 1Ds - the noise patterns are much less visible and the increased resolution is great for large prints - I've an article covering some of my thoughts on using it.
    Moving to the 1Ds Mk3

And finally...

One thing I did forgot was to look at getting anti-reflection glass in the frames -- If I'd thought more about the particular lighting in the RAC I might have ordered it, but I'd already got my local manufacturer making the frames. Some places it's not a problem - in fact most places, which is why I forgot :-(

The only other suggestions are to allow plenty of time to get things ready, and check with the gallery/venue about how the pictures are to be attached to the wall ... and who is going to do it.

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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