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Tutorial: A large black and white print of the harbour at Staithes

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A large black and white print of the harbour at Staithes

From camera image to finished print : a tutorial



During a recent trip to the North Yorkshire coast, Keith took a lot of photos. This article looks at the processing of one group into a panoramic image, and it’s subsequent editing and refinement into a large black and white print.

The article shows how this was done, but is more aimed at showing the journey to the print (the ‘why’), rather than a direct ‘how to’ tutorial.

There are many links to more detailed articles explaining techniques and software in more detail.

staithes fine art print tutorial

Taking photos for the print

It was a warm overcast day in September, getting brighter.

The colour photo below is a single shot using a 17mm shift lens on a Canon 5Ds (50MP full frame) taken from across the harbour at Staithes.

Even at 17mm, it doesn’t get everything in the shot, so I decided to take a series of photos and then stitch them together later.

Do note that if you ignore the section about image stitching, this article would be just as relevant if I was making a large B&W print of the single shot below.

view of staithes harbour

Have a look round if you like…


Here are the source images I”m going to use (24mm focal length, 1/100 sec at f/8)

selection of photos to stitch together

Taken in just a few seconds hand held (panoramic photography does not always need to be laborious or need a tripod).

Before stitching, I’m going to process each RAW file into a TIFF file, using Adobe Camera RAW – part of Photoshop CS6.

Whilst you could process the RAW files in Lightroom, that would pretty much be the end of using it. I’m going to use other software for the stitching and subsequent editing.

The RAW files

I’m ensuring that each shot has the same white balance settings, but other than that, the lighting conditions mean that I don’t have any problems with clipping highlights or shadows.

raw image processing parameters

The only lens correction I apply is to fix some slight chromatic aberration (see the fixed version in the inset below).

I’m stitching with Autopano Giga, which will take care of geometry and any vignetting.

removing chromatic aberration

ACR allows me to save the images directly

processing raw files to tiffs

I’m saving them as 16 bit TIFF files in the large ProPhoto colour space.

I’m making a B&W print but want to keep as much of the original (colour) camera data in the file as possible for when I do the conversion from colour to B&W.

image format and colour space

As you can see, each 16 bit TIFF file is just over 300MB

large tiff files created at 16 bit

If you’re just looking at printing a single image you can skip over the stitching section of the article

Stitching

For stitching the images, I’m using Autopano Giga 4.2. (APG)

For a relatively simple stitch like this, you could use Photoshop, but APG is just so easy to use, and handles complex source sets with such ease that I use it for anything beyond a simple two image flat stitch.

It’s what I used for creating my 21 Gigapixel view of Leicester city centre a while ago.

I’ve a review of the very similar APG Version 3, which goes into many more details.

The files are just selected to work on…

files imported into Autopano giga

The software takes a minute or so to work out how the images tie together, and produces a basic stitched version.

initial set of stitched images

Moving to edit the image, lets me try different projection geometries.

The default view is cylindrical.

projection geometry settings

I’ve now got a rather wide view in a cylindrical projection. The view shows the whole image, but do bear in mind that I’ll be cropping it to make the image for a print.

cylindrical projection

for a view that is quite thin and wide, there is not much difference in a spherical projection (see my reviews of APG 2.6 and APG 3 for a lot more about this). The small yellow boat shows themost obvious changes.

spherical projection

It’s worth stepping through some of the projections, such as the Hammer one below, just to get a feel for the view.

hammer projection

Here’s the view I’d have got with a 180 degree fish-eye lens – apart from the fact that it would have been a full circle and even with a 50 MP camera, of quite low resolution once I’d cropped it.

fish-eye projection

An orthographic projection is interesting, but not once you see how stretched are some of the buildings to the edge.

orthographic projection

A Pannini projection is one I often use for groups of buildings.

pannini projection

There are quite a few controls which will flatten the basic version shown above.

pannini projection adjustment settings

The Pannini flattened…

pannini projection with edges compressed

It’s also possible to replicate the view of a full rectilinear lens (such as the recent Laowa 12mm I reviewed)

As you can see ‘rectilinear’ rapidly fails once you get very wide.

rectilinear projection

Fortunately APG 4 has a history feature that allows you to flip between choices.

history display for checking previous settings

After a while I decide to pick a crop from the basic cylindrical view.

I’ll have more about my editing choices in the conclusions.

I now need to render a full version of the image – there are many options. As ever, see the reviews for details.

image rendering options for stitched image

Important ones to set are the type of output file.

I want a Photoshop format file – this is quite important for very large images over 30,000 pixels wide, where you need the .PSB format

choosing large document format to handle large file sizes.

I’ve also changed the default resolution to 300 ppi – this also gives me an indication of the ‘native’ print size. If you look back to the previous photo you can see the size for 72 ppi. This immediately tells me that the resolution of the image is more than enough for a big print. If I was working to a specific desired print size, I might change the aspect ratio or re-do the crop, but all I know at the moment is that it will be printing on 24″ roll paper.

For subsequent editing I want the overall image file, but include the parts that made it up, just in case I need to do any manual correction.

It takes a few minutes to stitch the 50MP images, and I get a rather large file.

file sizes for images

Tweaking the stitched file in Photoshop

The image is going to be converted to B&W later on, but first I want to get the overall tonal balance more to my tastes

Before this though, I need to fill in the few missing parts of the top of the sky and check for any stitching errors – something I’m always looking for if there are waves/ripples in the view.

Since I’ve produced the ‘include everything’ version of the file, there is a base layer of the entire stitched image.

stitched image with individual layers

Above this are the individual images – warped to fit, but not equalised for vignetting.

Turning on one of these layers shows the source image.

image showing one of the component images

Back to the base layer, looking more carefully (at 100%) shows where the sharper centre of one image matches up to the slightly softer edge area of another.

border between stitched image sections

It’s actually not that bad – I ran several sharpening filters to the image above to exacerbate the visibility of the join.

There was a small area of obvious ‘join’ in part of the image. You can see below where I’ve added a mask (black) and then painted in a small part of one of the layers to fix it.

The effect is subtle – I only found a few areas that would benefit from this. They were all in parts of the image showing movement between shots (the water).

blending parts of different images with stitched composite

A look round the image (at 100%) shows plenty of detail – this is without sharpening.

If by some chance you are thinking this a bit soft – go back to the full size examples and put this view in context.

detail of image at 100% magnification

If you are still thinking I should have used a sharper lens, then my only comment is that I’m making a 22″ x 43″ print and it -is- sharp enough… ;-)

A look at the alpha channel that APG creates shows where I’ll need to create some extra sky.

The alpha channel is of no use in my work, so I normally just delete it.

alpha channel of stitched image

A soft brush for cloning lets me extend cloud patterns into the gaps. I set the opacity to ~50% and very lightly brush in fill.

You could try content aware fill, but I generally prefer doing it by hand. Look at the clouds in the image first and get a feel for their structure in the area you are filling.

cloning parts of image to fill in gaps

Now I’ve a basic image I’m happy with, I can move on to adjusting its tonality and balance between lighter/darker areas.

Edits and some masked curves

I’ve decided that the light part of the cloud in the distance is too obvious and lacks detail/contrast.

I’m already thinking of doing this B&W print on a heavy cotton rag art paper and want detail (but realistic detail) in the sky.

You have to decide for yourself how much adjustment is needed to match your own vision for the print.

Anyway, I want to just apply the curve to the sky, so I’m adding in a mask to the curves adjustment layer.

I’ve temporarily made the mask visible, to show where it stops the curve from being applied, and check that I’ve not missed anything.

mask applied to adjustment layer

The curve is aimed at changing the overall contrast balance of the sky. The mask ensures that it only affects the sky, whilst the soft edge of the mask ensures that effect won’t be obvious.

There is much more about this process in my making a BW print article, but I’d note that this aspect of editing needs some care and looking at the end result at a number of different zoom levels to satisfy myself that I don’t have the dreaded (for me anyway) ‘halo effect’.

If you’re unfaamiliar with this I’ve an article where I looked at the problems of the ‘Halo effect’ that you can get with some B&W conversion software.

Move your mouse over the image to see the application of the curve.

The curve brings in a lot of detail in the bright area. It also darkens the whole sky, but doesn’t make the darkest parts too dark.

Having the curve this shape also reduces the danges of halo effects along the skyline, but you do need to keep a careful eye on any mask edges.

The histogram above shows the unmasked area, so is essentially a histogram for the sky.

If you’re unfamiliar with this use of a curve layer, just experiment and you’ll quickly get a feel for how curves affect clouds.

Taking the now generally darker looking image, I give it a boost with another curves layer

Once again mouse over the image to see the application of this second curve to the whole image.

The sky now has most of the overall tonality I want, and the village/boats/water are more prominent in the image.

final colour image

At this point I temporarily apply a BW conversion layer. I can tweak the sliders and get a feel for how any adjustments in colour channels will affect the image.

One thing I noted was how the red roof tiles changed quite markedly with only a slight change of the red channel slider.

test application of a greyscale adjustment layer

I’m going to use MacPhun Tonality for the B&W conversion. I could also use Topaz BW Effects, Nik Silver Efex Pro, or with a bit more effort, some layers in Photoshop. Before moving on, I save the Photoshop file (with layers) and then flatten the image to a single layer.

Converting to black and white

Opening up the image gives me a basic BW conversion.

I’ve quite detailed reviews of MacPhun Tonality , Topaz BW Effects and Silver Efex Pro if you’re curious about the tools I’m using.

The principles below would work just as well with the others I mentioned.
using tonality pro for black and white conversion

The examples along the bottom are from my ‘City Light’ set of Tonality presets – these were created for architectural work, so are not really optimised for landscape.

It’s possible to bump up local contrast (clarity and structure), but be very careful, it is easy for the processing to become painfully obvious, such as the example below, with a lot of microstructure.

I know this style seems popular on many a forum, but I find it ugly and intrusive (much like lot of ‘HDR’ style images).

increasing micro structure too much

I end up giving a slight boost to the structure and clarity settings.

My main issue is that the eye is still not drawn enough to the centre of the image.

Time for a bit of subtle vignetting.

I start with a hard vignette to get a feel for where the effect is being concentrated.

hard edged vignette filter

Moving the centre of the vignette downwards help concentrate more on the village and boats.

shifted centre for hard edged vignette filter

After softening the edges of the vignette I apply it to the image – roll your mouse over the image to see.

One other adjustment was a small tweak to the colour settings to get the lightness of the red tiles looking balanced.

With little adjustments like this, you need to look at the image as large as it will go on your monitor and step back a bit to see how they alter the overall feel of the image.

adjustment settings for Tonality plugin

I now have an image I’m largely happy with, but for the lightness of the sky in the top left.

black and white version of image after processing with Tonality Pro

Time to save again – I really don’t care about filling disks, they are cheap, and I have a 12TB server sitting in another room ;-)

assorted files saved during editing

A few more curves

As I said, I’m still not quite OK with the top left.

A new curve layer drops the brightness of the whole image.

darken image with an adjustment layer

As you’ve no doubt guessed, I’m going to mask it, so the effect on most of the image won’t matter.

Once I’ve ‘painted in’ a bit of darkening (you can see it in the ‘curves1’ mask below), I decide the centre of image needs a bit more of a boost in the middle – not just the vignetting, but a little more refined..

For how I’ve edited the image, a print might look fine in a brightly lit gallery, but a bit dim on a wall at home, so I felt it still needed a bit more emphasisis of some of the middle.

This is the sort of knowledge that comes from experience, and regularly printing my B&W Test image on new papers and printers.

second adjustment layer for lightening parts of image

This is an extension of the vignetting I did in Tonality Pro, but this time I’m lightly painting it in where I want it

You can see the application of the two masked curve layers in the masks below (look carefully and you can see I’ve also darkened the top right corner a bit too.

Remember, Curve 1 is the darkening one (corners) and curve 2 is the lightening one (middle of image).

two final curve adjustment layers

Now roll over the image below to see how this affects the whole image.

The whole process may seem a little laboured, but it reflects my view that it’s often worth splitting up adjustments into different groups, and not trying to do everything at once.

This is a problem that people sometimes find with plugins used with an application such as Lightroom. I really can’t imagine making a print like this in Lightroom, other than to use it for the initial RAW conversion.

With practice I might only spend a few minutes doing this sort of editing – I’ve stretched it out a lot here, and it will have taken you a lot longer to read than it does for me to do.

Sharpening and printing

Before printing, I need to apply a bit of sharpening.

For many years, my tool of choice for this is Nik Sharpener Pro – know how it works and in returning the sharpened image as a layer, allows me to mask out sharpening where it’s not needed. As ever, there are many other ways – I cover some of this in the BW print article.

For the cotton rag paper I’m using, I only need a bit of sharpening for images form my 5Ds. A little bit of structure and local contrast give a bit more depth to the image, without being noticeable.

light print sharpening

The difference shows up in the building lettering (shown at 100%) where the extra contrast will help allow for the limited dynamic range of a matt paper.

Almost by coincidence the image is at the size I want, when printed at 300 ppi.

image dimensions

It works out to just under 90 megapixels – not bad given the very heavy crop…

The monochrome print

For this print I’m using an Innova 310gsm cotton rag art paper, with a light ‘etching’ finish. It’s one I tested in the Canon PRO-2000 printer review I recently finished.

[Note added after Innova launched the new paper at Photokina 2016 – it is Fabriano Printmaking Rag (IFA-107)]

I’m printing using the B&W print mode of the Canon driver (similar to the Epson ABW print mode).

Once again, there is a lot more about this in my printer reviews (Epson/Canon/HP).

The paper is on a 24″ width roll, which I’ve set with a 120cm custom page length.

Even though it’s a monochrome print, I’ve kept it in the ProPhoto colour space right from the start (at 16 bit), partly because I know that Sharpener Pro only works on RGB images. I could have moved to a greyscale colourspace (such as grey gamma 2.2) after the B&W conversion, which would have made for smaller files, but to be honest, I forgot, and it makes no differences.

Not quite – if it was GG2.2, the preview in the PS print preview below would have looked better (I’m using PS CS6).

print dilog for printing image from photoshop

The image just happens to be the right size for the paper when printed at 300 ppi – I’d not have been troubled if it was anywhere over 260 ppi. If it was much less or on a much bigger printer, I might have looked at resampling.

Anyway, here’s the print (under halogen lighting).

The completed print

Here’s a more detailed photo.

detail from the print

Conclusions and other options

One of the reasons I chose to write up the process I went through was because this wasn’t immediately a ‘great’ image/print that formed itself in front of me as I looked at the view.

I’m sure that on a nice summer’s day the village is packed with tourists and can be a very pretty place.

To me it has more of a working feel to it, or maybe it was just the weather.

There are a number of decisions I’ve made right from the time I was at Staithes.

Is it my ideal view of the scene? [from a single visit]

I did walk along the whole harbour wall and this felt a good view.

The weather could have been better, but clouds help give some atmosphere in a BW print, and the slight darkness of the image fits how the place felt to me.

Why shoot a panoramic view?

It’s a wide view, that I felt ‘had a print in it’, but I couldn’t match it up to a single shot – even using my EF11-24mm lens at 11mm didn’t get it all in.

I also know that a wide shot at 11mm will show noticeable distortion with a rectilinear projection, and need cropping top and bottom, limiting print size, even with 50MP.

There is also an effect you get with cloud patterns with rectilinear ultra wide lenses, where the clouds seem in a rush to get to the corners.

view of staithes harbourYou can see this in the single shot taken with the TS-E17

Using a cylindrical projection removes this.

I also have some slight concern in using the term ‘panoramic’, since the print is not even a 2:1 aspect ratio. The stitched source image definitely is, but the print is perhaps more accurately just a wide angle view ‘using’ a lens that doesn’t physically exist.

Should I have had a tripod with me?

Nope, the images are just fine as-is. I use tripods for my architectural work, and when the light is too low.

Should I have used a sharper lens?

Sure, the EF24-70 2.8L is getting on a bit, but for a pano shot like this I like using it and have no real issues with using it hand held on a Canon 5Ds. If I’d had it in my bag, the TS-E24mm is the sharpest 24mm lens I have.

Why black and white?

Atmosphere and it suited my impression of the place.

Why that paper?

Apart from the fact that it’s rather nice brand new fine art paper that I have a huge roll of?
[Fabriano Printmaking Rag (IFA-107) 310gsm ]

Well, I wanted a softness to the image, and printing on a lustre finish paper would have a lot more contrast and deep black that didn’t fit this outdoor scene for me.

The village of Staithes is on the relatively remote N. Yorkshire coast and does have a bit of a hard edge to it. This is not a pretty Cornish fishing village.

Why haven’t you included more details about the actual printing?

The B&W print mode on modern printers like the Canon PRO-2000 is so straightforward to use, that apart from the print sharpening and getting the tonality looking right on the screen, there is not much more to do than set the paper type and size before printing. It helps that the BenQ SW2700 monitor I’m using is calibrated, but once I’ve printed out my B&W test image on a paper, seen how it looks, and satisfied myself that it works well, I pretty much have all the info I need.

For some images I may make small test prints of sections of the image, but it just wasn’t needed here.

I specifically cover B&W printing in all my various printer reviews if you want more detailed information.

Why the crop from the pano?

A long panoramic print can have several centres of interest that draw you around the image, particularly when it’s a large print some 6-7 feet long.

I decided I wanted an image that worked as a single wider than normal print and the centre of interest drew you in to see the finer and finer detail that there is in the print.

From a composition point of view, there was also too much space between the moored boats and the yellow dingy.

the full size stitched image

In the cropped version, the slight imbalance in the row of moored boats also gives a bit more tension that works with the darker feel of the shot.

I did take a few other sets of images, but the views just didn’t quite work.

Is it one of my favourite images – no not really, but as I’ve worked on it and thought about the view, it has grown on me somewhat…

Will it go on the wall at home? – Yes, Karen really likes it.

If you’re curious about my picture making process, then the next article to read should definitely be
Making a picture – Looking at the creation of an image, right from getting out of the car to look round the scene.
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  • James Aston

    Great work Keith, really impressive the whole process, from capture to print Such a great insight in what you need to do, to process the image.

    • Keith Cooper

      Thanks – it’s good for me too when I need to do something similar again – just to have some notes ;-)

      • James Aston

        For sure, i went out to Harringworth, after seeing a picture by Michael Westmoreland, in a local hospital, these tips helped in building up multiple shots into a pano, then using the P800 to produce. There’s a lot of bridge work going on, with Network Rail, replacing some of the original red brick work, weekends are the best time if anyones going, there’s no lifts & cranes in the way.

  • mark johnson

    This is fantastic. Thanks for putting in the effort to document and share this. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a rare thing to follow the process from camera to print.

    • kacoooper

      Thanks Mark

      I was trying to show that even with stitching and other ‘complex’ techniques it doesn’t need to be a lot of work to get a big print – there is another article with even shorter workflow making a print of the sunset from my loft – that and the 14m print (a -lot- more work ;-)

      BTW I’ve been asked to do some talks at the UK ‘Photography Show’ at the end of March where I’m thinking of making this one of the example prints that I’ll produce.