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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.
So I've got this color image that I want to print here. It needs quite a bit of work to get it usable. This was a pretty high dynamic range situation. The camera metered for the sky, which is great, I protected all these beautiful wispy colored clouds here, but I lost the foreground in shadow. So I have already gone and made a bunch of adjustments. I first worked on the contrast to the clouds to see if I could really get them the way that I wanted, because that's kind of what had attracted me to this in the first place. And once I found out that I could get the sky looking nice, I went ahead and brightened the foreground.
The problem is that it looks just a little flat, so I decided to then add an additional brightening through a gradient mask to give it more depth. So I have got brightening here that's ramping off as I head towards the horizon. Finally, I decided to add a little bit more depth by painting in some shadows here in the mountains. So I've got some darkening coming in here to try and add some more plains of depth of here. So now I am thinking about the color. The image is very red, and I think I like that, but I'd like to also see what it would look like if the color was a little more natural.
All of these white rocks down here have gone kind of pink. I could have made that adjustment in Camera Raw which is definitely a better way to do it. I'm going to just quickly go in here with my Levels eyedropper the Midpoint dropper and click on something gray, it's turning my image green, there we go, that's getting the rocks more white, that's a more natural color down here. But it's really messing up the sky. This might be more accurate color, but I sure don't like it as much as the less accurate reddish image here.
And it might be that this scene really was this red, and I don't remember it's been a few years, but I'm going to go with this. This may not be the most accurate color. Sometimes color accuracy is actually not something you're going for. I am going to make a subjective choice here to render the color a little false, a little red, a little too warm, because I like that. My other problem with the color is it's lacking in saturation. I'd like it to have to more oomph, and so when that happens, your first impulse is usually to go to the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer or dialog box and start cranking the Saturation, and I just really don't like that at all.
My colors have shifted from red into orange, they are starting to band and posterize over here. It just doesn't look realistic, it's a really false kind of color. So I'm going to ditch that because actually I think my saturation problem here is more one of tone. If I throw on a Levels Adjustment layer, I find that sure enough my black is weak. Bumping that up puts my saturation back where I want it, also gets me more contrast overall. I think it's making the image a little too dark. I am going to brighten up the Midpoint and boost the black point a little more and put things right about in there.
I am liking that as an overall look, but now it's time to do the thing that I have been talking about: I need to think about the different areas of brightness and look at their white and black points independently. The cool thing is I have kind of got these areas of brightness already separated out because of the layer masks that I have already made. My biggest area of concern is this brightness here in the front. I am just not quite sure if it's right. So I am going to look one more time at this adjustment, and I think it could go a little bit brighter. Obviously, the edge of the data is way out there, that's not bright enough.
I am going to crank it in more into here. I don't really have any highlights that I need to worry too much about blowing out. There might be one or two in there. I am not going to worry about those. Of course, prints always go darker. So I am going to leave it in here. I think this image is ready to go. I have got two options. I can soft proof it and let Photoshop take care of the color, or I can not worry about the print matching my screen and hope that driver color does the best job. I am going to walk you through soft proofing here. I am going to go up to my Proof Setup into Custom and make sure that my Device to Simulate is set on my paper, in this case it is my Hahnemuhle Matte Paper that I am printing on.
I need to choose a Rendering Intent. I am going to go here with Absolute Colorimetric because that tends to modify the blacks, and I like the blacks in this image, but it's messing them up. I have lost a lot of detail in here, I don't like that. Watch what happens when I shift it back to Relative Colorimetric: this stuff all opens up, these oranges in here go back to normal. So I am thinking this is probably how I am going to go. I am going to turn off Black Point Compensation just to see what it looks like, and that actually kind of puts it back to looking like Absolute Colorimetric, so I am going to turn that back on. I'll take a quick stab at Perceptual, and it's flattened some of this out, it's not as contrasty as it was. So I am going with Relative Colorimetric.
I have these Display Options here that we haven't talked about, mostly because I don't think they work very well. If I click Simulate Paper Color, it washes out my image because what it's trying to do is say, well, rather than show you white, I am going to show you what I think the color of the paper is and how it might shine through some of ink. And it gives me this washed out look. The thing is the paper never actually washes out this bad. The ink doesn't wash out to reveal that much of the paper color. So I tend to not use that. I have another option which is to try to get it to simulate the black ink of the printer.
Again, my image shows this washed out view, and the actual print is not going to be this washed out. So I tend to ignore these two options. Now it may just be that for the particular printer paper combinations that I print on the most, these aren't accurate. That might have to do with paper profiling. Maybe on your printer with the paper you use, these do show a more accurate proof. It's worth doing a print with Photoshop managed color and taking a look at these and seeing if they give you a better match than without for--and based on my experience with my printer and my paper, I find that they don't.
So Relative Colorimetric with Black Point Compensation I hit OK, and it's saying that this is what my image is going to look like. I like it, I think it looks fine. I am not seeing bad color shifts, I am not seeing a terrible loss of black or of contrasts, so I am thinking this is pretty good. There is a way to find out if any of my colors have gone out of gamut, and that is to go up to the View menu and turn on the Gamut Warning. At this point, any colors that are beyond the gamut of the paper would have gray pixels superimposed over them. I can show you what that would look like by simply throwing some colors out of gamut, I'll throw on a Hue/Saturation layer and crank my saturation. Ah! Look.
It's now saying that these really awful shades of orange are out of gamut of the paper, meaning I can't necessarily trust how they are going to look. So Gamut Warning can be handy if you're having trouble keeping your colors within the gamut of your paper, but I don't have any really extreme colors here. I am not too worried about that. I'm ready to move on to printing. I like the way this is looking. I like what my soft proof is showing me. So to ensure that what I have proofed on screen is what goes out to the printer, I'm going to switch Color Handling over to Photoshop Manages Colors.
I am, of course, working in my Adobe RGB Color Space because that's a nice big color space, without being too big, it's the color space that's just right. So I have got my Photoshop Manages Colors. I need to pick the paper that I'm printing on, and I need to be sure that my Rendering Intent and Black Point Compensation are set the way they were in my Soft Proof, if I want the image to look like that proof which I do. Then I am off to Print settings to make sure that my Paper settings are set correctly and to be very, very sure that no printer driver color correction is happening and those are all set correct, I can hit Save and then I can print.
I am not actually going to print with Photoshop color, though. As you saw earlier, I found out that my monitor profile isn't quite right. I need to go back and tweak it, make some new ones, I haven't had a chance to do that. So actually I am going to go with Printer Driver Color. I am switching to Printer Manages Colors. Now just a few years ago if you were serious about printing, and you'd dialed in Printer Manages Color, serious photo nerds would have really laughed at you, but nowadays Printer Driver Color is a really viable perfectly reasonable choice for getting good prints. They won't necessarily look like they do on screen, but in a lot of cases, you may find that you like them better than what you saw on screen with your Proof Situation.
Certain textures just might be rendered differently. So I am going to go with Printer Manages Colors. I am going to hit my Print Settings button here and make sure that I am set for the paper that I want, and I need to be sure that Printer Color Management is turned on. I don't have that option right now, which means I need to go back up here to Color Matching, hit EPSON Color Controls and then make sure that these are set accordingly. I want Color on. I don't want any Color Adjustment. I am going to hit Save, and I think I'm ready to print, let that come out of the printer, and we'll see what it looks like. All right! Here it is.
I am pretty pleased with it, actually. I like that I have got a nice contrast in here, it's fading off nicely, I still have a good detail back here, the clouds are good. There are some completely dark places over on the edge of the frame. I think those work okay. Overall, the contrast, the white and black point and mids of this area, this area, and this area are all good. I had to tackle them each separately. I know I've been saying that to you over and over and over in lots of different contexts throughout this course, but that's really the key to getting good prints is understanding that each part of your image has its own little dynamic range situation that you need to figure out.
You have got to get those bits of your tones set right. When you do, most of the time your color will fall into place. If you need to skew color in one direction or another, that's fine. Just be sure that you never skew it so far that you introduce artifacting, banding and posterizing, and that kind of thing. I went with driver color here. I think I got a good print. It's not matching my screen. My screen is more saturated. But that's often going to be the case. This paper is not going to hold the same level of saturation as my monitor. A lot of times when you print, if you're really used to seeing the image on screen, and you are not soft proofing, it's a good idea to walk away from the monitor for a while before you look at the print. Get that monitor image out of your head, try to judge the print on its own terms. Again, reflected light is very different from transmissive light. It's never going to match exactly.
But if you're really thinking this image is going to be emitting light and really saturated and whatnot, you are always going to be disappointed. If you step away from the monitor, open a different image, don't look at it for a while, and then try to judge your print on its own terms. One other thing to be aware of, recent studies have shown that the longer you look at a scene, the less ability you have to process contrast in that scene. I am not talking about just images, but any scene that you see in the real world. The idea is that visual processing uses up so much of your brain's power that we simply develop the ability to cut down on some of that visual processing after we've looked at something for long enough.
Basically, if I look at a scene, and it doesn't kill me after a while, my brain decides okay, there is only so much that I need to know about that, and it stops processing contrast. I have noticed before that when I have spent half an hour or 45 minutes working on an image really tweaking it and printing it and tweaking it again, what happens is I keep adding more contrast. Very often I come in the next day, look at it and go, whoa! That image is too contrasty because I was losing my ability to perceive contrast the longer I spent with the image, and so I was constantly cranking it up. It's not a bad idea to do a print, walk away from it and try to come and look at it with very fresh eyes.
Let it sit for a while and then maybe think about some more adjustments, maybe even spread that process over several days if you're working on something with a lot of fine detail. So, that's a complete color printing process there. Again, this all gets easier with practice.
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