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In this course, photographer and author Ben Long explores the art and the craft of creating beautiful, archival-quality inkjet prints. The course looks at the anatomy of a print job: how a printer works, how to adjust and prepare your image to get the best results, and what happens to your photo in its journey from pixels to paper.
After a discussion of how to choose a printer, the course covers the process of preparing both black and white and color images using Adobe Photoshop. Ben describes how to take images from looking good onscreen to being properly adjusted for best results on paper, covering details such as sizing, sharpening, and color management.
With photographer and master framer Konrad Eek, Ben explores the creative decisions that photographers should address before printing. What size print? How does print size relate to the message of the photo and to the space where the photo will be displayed? What kinds of paper choices do you have, and how does your photo's content relate to the paper you choose?
The course also describes how to properly evaluate a print and how to handle common challenges that crop up during the printing process.
Just to help tie it all together, I am going to take you through a complete process from opening an image to getting a final print. This is going to be a black and white printing process, and as you have already seen, that involves some different steps than color printing. But I am going to get this image adjusted. I am going to need to do the other things in my workflow, sizing, checking the noise reduction, sharpening it, and then finally, delivering it to the printer. So I have this shot here that I took of an old piano. I want this to be a black and white image and the main reason being the little bits of color that are in here, I don't think they really add anything, I think they are actually distracting.
And this image is so much about these hard lines and about the tonality that I think is just going to work better as black and white. So I have already set up a black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop that's doing my black and white conversion. There wasn't a lot of toning to do in the black and white layer. And it turns out that actually just my exposure is pretty good. I had done some work originally in Camera Raw to get a little vignetting, get my exposure set right. So again, those are all the initial edits that you should already know how to do. I get in here, I look at it, and I go this is looking pretty good. In fact, maybe I will just print it, but I am going to take a look at my histogram first just to see what's going on.
So I have profiled my monitor. That doesn't really mean anything because I am not working in a color managed environment right now because I am working in black and white, but it's a brand-new monitor. I'm tempted to really distrust it and what I've been thinking is, oh! I have got some nice whites in here and some nice blacks. Turns out I am right about blacks, I have got pretty good blacks, but I really don't have much in the way of white. So I need a Levels adjustment on here just to get white set properly. So I am going to add a Levels adjustment layer. And I am going to crank my whites over to here, and that definitely did brighten up the image, here is before, here's after. But I am going to think about this.
Any time I see blobs of data in the histogram, I want to think about what they might mean, and what I mean is I got this blob of data hanging out here on its own, what is that? Well, white is over here on the right. This chunk of data is probably the keys. So I have a hunch that if I print this right now, overall it's going to appear pretty dark because even though I have got my white points set to the rightmost point one of my data, the bulk of the image is all of this stuff in here and all of this down here, and I say it's the bulk because I can see that, I can see that it grasp, the majority of the tones are there below middle gray.
Statistically, the image is trending towards below middle gray, that's going to give me an overall impression that's just dark. So I would like to brighten up these parts. The significant part of the data, then, if I take out the keys, really starts about right there, so I think I am going to move my white point to there. I am going to go ahead and just crank this all the way over here. Now, ignore this part for now and watch what happens in my before, after, all of this stuff has brightened up a lot. It's also got more contrasty because I have reduced the amount of space between black and white.
There is less contrast, less distance between the blackest and lightest points, so that's good. I want to do a quick look around and see if in increasing the contrast I've introduced any banding or posterizing in some of these abstract shapes. I don't want them to just turn into really geometrically clean gray blobs or anything, but now I am still seeing nice smooth gradients in there. So I think that's going to be a good edit. The problem is I have blown out the keys here. They have gone too white. So I need to do a little masking. I am going to grab the paintbrush and some black paint and my mask is selected here, so if I paint into these, I'm darkening the keys back up. I really want to watch my histograms while I am doing this.
Now the problem is in darkening up the keys, I think they're actually going too dark, they are going back to their original tonality, which now that I have seen the rest of the image I realized, well, actually they were looking kind of nice brightened up a little bit. So I would like to brighten them. I could add another Levels adjustment layer to brighten these areas up, but easier than that would be to simply not mask them completely. So instead, I'm going to switch from a black down to a middle gray tone and paint with that into my mask.
So that's allowing some brightening to go in, but not all of it. Now I am losing a little bit of detail there, so I think that that little gray tone might be too much. I am going to go out here to a darker gray. There we go. I am painting back in a little bit of detail right here, I am getting some more texture showing in here. But still I'm getting overall brighter tone on the keys. So I think that's going to make for some nicer contrast. All right! I am liking that. I think that's probably pretty good.
One thing that's nice is now that my mask is in place, I can adjust my overall Levels adjustment as I see fit, and when I do that, my histogram updates. So now I can see that with my mask in place, my white point is set really at the brightest part of the masked data. So I am thinking this is looking pretty good. I might ultimately need to get the white point over to here to get these looking okay, but I am going to stick with it right here. I am going to--I think I have read that correctly. So my image is adjusted. I need to think about sizing, noise reduction, and sharpness.
First of all, I can tell by looking at the image, I don't have a noise problem. I was shooting in the fairly bright scenario with a camera that's really good at high ISO, but also because it's an image with shallow depth of field, if there is a lot of noise in the shadow, it's being blurred out, it's being hidden. Overall, I don't think this image has a noise reduction problem. So I am just going to skip that and move onto sizing and sharpening. Sizing of course is done up here under Image > Image Size, and I can see that my image has defaulted or at least come into the camera at this point at a resolution of 240 pixels per inch, which gives me a document size of 15x10.
I'm aiming for an 8x10 here, so I am going to change my width to 10 inches wide, which gives me 10 inches at 6.67, which actually ends up being the resolution that I want, 360. So I don't need to worry about resampling anything, this image has sized properly, I am ready to go. It means the next thing is sharpening. I try to always do my sharpening in a non-destructive manner. I'm going to duplicate my Background layer and sharpen that duplicate. If it turns out after printing that I decide any more sharpening or my sharpening was too aggressive, I will be able to just ditch that Background layer and start over.
Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen, so I am not seeing the effects of any of my adjustment layers, That's okay, because all I'm looking for is detail. I am at 100% at a radius of about 1. Because I do have some noise down in here, noise that's not going to really probably show up in print, but I'd rather not exaggerate it, I could think about a selective sharpening pass. I don't think I am going to need one. I am just going to get it right here with this one global sharpening adjustment. Because a lot of this image is in soft focus, I could increase my Radius to get more sharpness into those blurred areas. I don't think I want that focus.
I am going to actually go below 1. I am going to go down to about .8 or .9. And I'm just previewing this a little bit by holding the mouse button, letting go. And all I am looking for is an exaggeration of halos anywhere in the image, want to bump that up just a little bit to about 110. I think that's looking pretty good, hit OK. All right! I am ready to print this. So, File > Print, and I just need to be sure that my Print dialog box is configured properly. Ah! It's not.
It is set for Photoshop Manages Colors. Because this is a black and white print, I cannot leave Color Management to Photoshop because I won't get a neutral print that way. Photoshop doesn't necessarily understand how this particular printer can achieve neutrality. That's a real proprietary thing on Epson's part. So I need to be sure that the printer is set to manage colors. This is why I was saying I am not really working in a color managed system because with the printer managing colors, there is no soft proofing that I can do. I am going to go into Print Settings, make sure that I have the right paper set, which I do.
Now I need to be able to change color to, say, Advance Black and White and sometimes when that goes off the way that you get it back is you come up here to Color Matching, and you go from ColorSync back to the EPSON Color Controls--this is a Mac thing, it's just a weird thing about ColorSync which is the OS level color management engine. Sometimes it takes over, if you've been printing with Photoshop managed color. With that said, I can go back to Print Settings and make sure that color is set to Advanced B&W Photo. I don't want any Toning. Everything else looks okay.
I am going to hit Save, and I'm ready to print. It's off to the printer. Let's see what it looks like. So this is what has come out of the printer. And it's close, but it's not perfect. I am liking the piano keys, I think they are the right level of brightness. I actually think I have got the right level of brightness in the background, I think I got that edit right in terms of overall illumination. But it's boring looking, it's just this blah of gray. There could be more contrast back here. There are some highlights that could be brought out.
So I want to go back and now work on this background part. The trick here is going to be that I have still got these two main blobs of data in my image. I've kind of bypassed one or brightened up around one of them. The problem is that lower blob of data which makes up the background, I need to spread it out some more, I need more contrast in those darker tones. So I'm going to create a new Levels adjustment. And this time I'm going to take my Midpoint slider and just move it a little more to the right.
And you may be thinking, well, you're going absolutely the wrong direction. The background is getting darker. That's true, but I am going to make up for that by moving my white point over. So what I am trying to do is increase the contrast in the background, and I have done that by lessening the distance between the midpoint and the white point. I'm possibly running the risk of blowing some things out there. I am not sure that I care. I think they look okay, they have still got some detail in them. Of course, the problem is I've blown this out. Easy enough to mask that out with a big black paint brush. So I will just paint over this stuff.
Notice that I am not being real careful, I am not meticulously staying within the lines or anything like that. And that's because I've got a soft edged brush, and this image can just stand up to the edge of this having a rough mask. So I think that's looking pretty good. Now note that I am in Photoshop CS6 here. My histogram in my Levels adjustment doesn't update all the time until I click on the sliders again. So I am just adjusting the white point a little bit to be sure that these very brightest points in here are actually white. I am feeling more confident about that.
Let's print that one. So here is the first print that I did, and now here's where I'm at. Now with my revised print, I like it much more. Again, what I was going after was this area up here. I've put a lot of contrast in it, I brought some brightness, it's just a lot more interesting than it was before. So the mistake that I made that first time was not following my own advice for each different area of big tonality in the image I needed to look at the black white and midtone of each one of those areas separately.
I adjusted the keys properly, I got overall brightness pretty good, but I didn't then go back and consider this area on its own terms and think about where black and white should be just for those. So I think I have got a good print here, I am going to stick with this and move on next and do some color printing.
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