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Panoramic printing review using Fotospeed paper

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Printing with Fotospeed Panoramic paper

Choices for making panoramic wide prints


Fotospeed produce a range of panoramic papers, sized at 210mm x 594mm (8 1/4″ x 23 1/4″).

These are sized so that you can use them even in quite small (A4/letter) printers.

The papers here are from a sample box they sell, containing sheets of seven different papers.

Keith has been looking at the papers, as well as image choice and photo composition concerns for producing such prints.

Fotospeed panoramic paper

Wide prints – the paper

There’s some discussion about just what counts as a panoramic photo – I’ll take the simple approach of referring to the aspect ratio of the print, rather than the field of view of the scene depicted (for landscapes for example).

The Fotospeed paper is 210mm x 594mm, so an aspect ratio of ~2.8:1

If you print with a 10mm border, you get very close to a 3:1 ratio.

image-crop-size

Border sizes can be an important factor when you set a custom paper size for your printer.

With some printers you can print borderless, so cropping your image to  594mm x 210mm may suffice. However, do bear in mind that paper sizing (especially custom) varies considerably with printer type, driver version and whether you are using Mac or PC. There is a PDF from Fotospeed that offers some advice, and they will offer further advice along with a (free) custom profiling service.

I like some border on my prints, and setting my image size to 190mm x 574mm worked fine with the Epson P5000 I was using.

The sample pack contains 4 sheets of each type of paper, along with 1 A4 sheet of each for profiling.

profiling-sheets

There are seven papers in all. The list below contains links to more detailed reviews of two of them

All the papers are available in packs on their own – details at Fotospeed

Where needed to, I created ICC profiles from the A4 sheets – not the large target ones I normally make for myself, but quite adequate for testing.

The difference in thickness, surface texture and colour is quite obvious.

paper-finishes

Fortunately the sheets have identification on the rear side.

paper-types

The papers all printed well. My normal personal choices would be a bright lustre finish paper, a thicker semigloss baryta style and the smooth cotton.

This is not a paper review as such, so do see the page with all the many papers I’ve tested over the years for more about what i look for in papers – very much a personal choice -and- very dependent on the types of image you want to print.

Basic prints

With relatively small paper sizes like this, you don’t need to stitch multiple images together to create vast files.

Here’s a photo taken whilst recently testing a Hasselblad H6D with a tilted lens [H6D+HTS review]. It’s somewhere around 35mm focal length equivalent on a full frame 35mm camera and some 50 megapixels (the same as my Canon 5Ds)

Billesdon Coplow

It’s the standard 4:3 ratio that you get with medium format.

Let’s see what a 3:1 crop of the image can show.

an-initial-crop

I’m using Photoshop CS6 (on a Mac) here for my editing, but the principle is the same whatever you are using.

A simple crop, with the horizon 1/3 from the top and the hill (Billesdon Coplow, in Leicestershire) about a third in from the side.

Oh horror, I’ve gone and used the ‘rule of thirds’ …roundly disliked by those who think they understand photographic composition and looked on as ‘just a way of looking at an image’ by those who realise that maybe sometimes what looks OK is OK ;-) My own dislike is for it being called a ‘rule’ not the ratio itself.

For a print, I’ll give the blue sky a bit of a boost using Luminar Flex [Review] as a plugin.  Once again, there are many ways of doing this, but knowing that I sometimes need a bit of a bump in colour for a print is one of those ‘experience things’.

flex-for-the-sky

I’ve cropped the image (3:1 ratio), but just want to rezize to 190mm tall.

set-print-size

You might note the resolution at a distinctly non standard 368.7PPI.

Surely I should use one of the magic numbers for print resolution (360/720 for Epson 300/600 for Canon)? Strangely enough, after years of printer and paper testing I discovered that much of this ‘received wisdom’ about print resolution was bogus, propagated by people to whom the numbers mean more than the image. Real people don’t notice such stuff in prints – if you do then take it as a hint that perhaps you should be looking at other areas of your photography and editing workflow. The real thing I was looking for was that the resolution was over 280PPI. and not some huge number because I’d started with a big file. I’m a big believer in the benefits of printing for all your photography, but don’t get lost in the minutiae.

I also need a bit of sharpening for print. Still my favourite tool is Nik Sharpener Pro [review]

sharpen-for-print

I need to create a custom media size for this paper.

On the Mac, for my P5000 I add it to all the custom paper print sizes (roll and sheet) I’ve created for the printer.

custom-paper-size

Look at the list – it includes a 61cm x 7.25 metre (24″ x ~24 feet) paper size (from my Canon PRO-2000 review) for a version of my 14 metre Panoramic print of Leicester City centre.

The next screenshot is from my Epson P600 review, where I created 210mm x 594mm and 297mm x 900mm panoramic custom sizes for A4 (and A3) Lustre panoramic papers from a local supplier.

custom paper sizes

Whilst roll paper may seem an easier solution, printers that handle it tend to be a lot more expensive.

The problems with margins and borders. Different printers have different minimum margin sizes, these may differ at the top and bottom of the page and also with what media setting (paper type) you are using. These limit the printable area of the sheet of paper. Your image can only be printed in the printable area. In this article I’m using a printer that effectively lets me print the whole paper size, so printed margins/borders are completely under my control. Some printers enforce huge margins with fine art papers. You may have ‘borderless’ options with your printer – take care with these since they may expand your image beyond the paper area and crop image edges in the printing.
One way of testing this with your printer/driver is to create a new ‘custom paper size’ for some cheap A4 copier paper – use the normal A4 dimensions (210mm x 297mm), but create a custom size. You can print this as any media type you want (quality will be poor) and see if you can get an image placed as you want. If you can’t get it working with your own ‘custom A4’ paper, then it doesn’t bode well for the pano sheets.

I also need to tell my printer driver to print with the smallest possible borders. This is effectively zero on the P5000, but may well be different for your printer.

print-without-borders

Take care with loading the paper (manually here via the top loading slot for the P5000)

printing-with-P5000

Depending on the paper type and printer design, the paper may or may not need some support.

loading-pano-paper

This image is from just a single shot, however you can use any source image, such as this one composed of a series of shots stitched together from an early morning view of this small lake in Colorado.

lake-crop

The image I produced (a seven foot wide print) was actually nearer 2.7:1 aspect ratio, so you can see the 3:1 crop has thinned it a bit. With the strong symmetry, having the horizon run right through the centre of the paper is an easy decision here.

big-file

I’ve a lot of pixels to play with here, and they are ‘real detail’, so I can pick one of the high ‘magic number’ resolutions (720PPI)

I also printed this at the highest resolution of the printer.

Here’s some of the fine detail at 100% (it’s been sharpened somewhat for printing).

print-detail

So, can you see the difference in the print?…

On glossy paper I reckoned I could just about see a difference with a hand lens. I handed two prints to Karen (my wife and business partner) and she could see no difference between 360PPI/1440dpi and 720PPI/288dpi. This is why as a photographer you need other people’s input in judging aspects of your work. See ‘What are you doing with your photos‘ for more about this oft-overlooked aspect of people’s photography.

Black and white

What about some black and white prints? The P5000 printer I’m using prints very nice B&W prints on all these papers, using the driver’s ABW print mode. If you’re using a small printer without a B&W print mode then be prepared for potential colour casts (greenish or purplish tints under some lighting). In many ways great monochrome printing is much more difficult for printers than good colour. All our printer reviews look at B&W print quality, and we have an entire section of the site devoted to aspects of B&W photography.

First up. there’s this view towards Bawdsey on the Suffolk coast, taken whilst I was reviewing the 26MP EOS RP.

full-size-bawdsey

I’ve cropped to 3:1 and converted to black and white. In this example I’ve used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, but there are many ways of getting a B&W image from colour.

The ABW mode works well on the Lustre and Pearl papers.

printing-using-ABW

Note here how I’ve pushed the horizon right down towards the bottom of the frame. The dark beach opposes some of the brighter cloud diagonally opposite.

bawdsey

This is where you start noticing the effects of print size on how you look at the image, and what you see.

If you click the image you can see it at a much larger size – note how the key elements of the image are visible in different ways to the small web image above. Smaller detail starts to become noticeable, such as the Martello tower and distant Bawdsey Manor (where Radar was developed before WW2).

The effect of print scale on our viewing experience is often not appreciated when people start making much bigger prints. See more about print size in my article ‘The art of the big print‘.

Switching to vertical

Vertical pano prints are a lot less common. This is a vertical crop from a photo I took back in 2004 with an 11MP Canon 1Ds [Fish Creek falls, Steamboat Springs, Colorado].

Fish Creek falls

It’s a slightly thinner (3:1) crop of a 60″ high print I created a few years ago for a local restaurant.

It’s printed on the Baryta paper using the ABW mode, which I know from my review of the paper should give me pretty good results.

abw-print-settings

Here’s the original 2004 colour image.

I know that with modern software such as Gigapixel AI I’ll have much less difficulty in making appreciably larger prints from those 11MP images. See my article Printing low megapixel images at large size for more.

fish-creek-fals-original

Photo composition choices for panoramic prints

Composing individual photos, or sequences to be stitched to wider aspect ratios, takes some practice.

Going through some wide angle shots and creating a series of 3:1 crops will quickly give you a feel for placement of image elements. It’s much easier these days since with the move from 4:3 to 16:9 for television, we’re a lot more used to seeing wider thinner images.

3:1 is quite thin though – even CinemaScope is not this wide. 21:9 is a modern video extra wide implementation although remember 3:1 is the same as 30:10

It’s wide enough that it can easily pull elements of your image apart from each other. Add some feature in the middle to further the split and it can easily feel like two photos that happen to be side by side. The wide thin shot can just as well be thought of as cutting the top and bottom from your normal frame as being a wider angle.

Horizons and other landscape features can hold things together, but wider thinner aspect ratios can be a challenge. If you don’t mind using the rear screen as a viewfinder, then two bits of gaffer tape to mask the frame to 3:1 will give you instant feedback for experimenting. The urge to try Sergio Leone style closeups of people will be a strong one… ;-)

If you’re printing groups of people, then unless it’s a school group portrait, fitting much of your subjects into the view is tricky. This however is a key requirement in cinematography with people when using 21:9. If you’re looking for inspiration check out some of the articles written about composing for ‘Scope’, such as this excellent [PDF] essay on the changes CinemaScope brought to film composition.

In the first example earlier I ended up picking what fits into the so called ‘rule of thirds’ I won’t go into this in depth other than to notice that it seems to annoy a lot of people ;-)  My interpretation of it (when teaching) is that it’s a very easy ‘guideline’ to ease beginners away from putting every subject in the middle of the shot and every horizon across the middle of the image. More than that, it helps people think a bit more about what is where in their frame.

I’m loathe to introduce any more such guidelines, lest they too become ‘rules’ – that said if you want a guideline for 3:1, why not try dividing vertical lines along ‘fifths’ – just watch out for trying to shoehorn your image into any preconceived ratios (especially the more complex ones you might discover).

Take this view of Seattle, arriving by boat.

Seattle - arriving by boat

It’s actually a crop of the image below, which is printed at about 4 feet across.

Seattle

The smaller crop looks much better at the size of this paper – the larger print lets you see the detail and if you stand a few feet back from the print gives a good feel for this view of the city (from the ferry from Bremerton).

Print the second image at the size I’m testing here and the detail is just too small for the print at a good viewing distance.

Take this very wide view (multi shot stitched) from Grand Mesa in Colorado [click to enlarge, as with most images here].

Grand Mesa view

This print is about 8 feet wide – it was created for a restaurant that went bust (after paying me, but before delivery), so it’s stood in my print room (laminated onto board) ever since, looking for a wall (free to a good home – collection only! ;-)

The crop below is 3:1 and works nicely at the size of print I’m looking at here.

cropped Grand Mesa view

Quite a lot of detail, but without the sweeping nature of an 8 foot print that encourages you to move when viewing it.

Here are some prints, along with that huge one just for scale…

panoramic prints

Thoughts and conclusions

Printing larger images is a great way to help consider how well different aspects of your photography are fitting together.

However, the expense of a larger printer or roll paper support is not possible for many, so I’m interested to see the options that this pack of paper gives you. Given the expense and unpredictable nature of printer margins, I’d definitely suggest starting on the cheapest basic matt paper here, so as to be confident that your images will print as you want them.

Breaking the aspect ratio limits of your camera (3:2 or 4:3) has been a great way (for me) of changing how I see scenes, whether landscapes or my architectural photography.

Taking an image and trying different crops has never been easier – there is nothing sacred (IMHO) about the frame you are given, whether film or digital.

If you’ve wondered about printing something a little different, give ‘Panoramic’ a try.

The papers were supplied by Fotospeed in the UK

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