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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.
Ben: All right, Lucky! You have got this really nice portrait that you have got in here, and I know and you have already done a lot of stuff to it. What have you done, roughly? Lucky: Well, basically I made another layer on top of a layer, and I blurred out the background, made a huge lens blur so it can kind of flush everything, all the harsh colors and all the harsh blacks and the whites. And I cloned out a car. Ben: That's right. There was an entire car, that's there.
Lucky: Yeah, that was a car there. And I kind of lightened up those tones in her face over here, just to kind of even out the color differences. I brightened the highlights in her eyes, and I defined some of the shadows in her facial features. Ben: Fantastic! So as you took the image, it had pretty deep depth of field, and so you were feeling like Ben: the background was competing with her. Lucky: Mhmm, yeah. Ben: Okay, I think you decision to blur it was exactly right, and you have done a great job, and your car removal is amazing.
It actually looks like there is just a parking space there. That's incredible. So this is great. This is very often how-- actually, this is always how it works. You sit down and you do just the edits you think you need to get the image working right. And very often, whether you are doing the printing or someone else is doing the printing, there is another set of edits that need to come over it to make it ready for print. So you gave me this image, and I looked at it and made a couple of decisions about some things that I think needed to happen to get it to look good on paper. And I have done this print here, which, because of our paper choice, I now think I want to go back and do it different way.
Our background here is not as black as it could be, because we had to switch paper, I've Ben: have got a nice dark black over here. Lucky: Okay. Ben: I am going to try and push that up a little more, but also I am going to see if I can get us back to this other paper that's holding a better black. So that aside, there are some other things that I did. What do you see different between the print and here? Lucky: I see more highlight tones in her hair, kind of how it stuck out, and more, in her shirt, I can see more texture than down here where it's just kind of like lines and stuff.
Ben: Okay. Lucky: So there is a big color difference in texture there. Ben: And the reason I did that is that I was looking at her shirt. There is very little contrast between the light threads and the dark threads, and I was afraid that was just going to have the overall appearance of just a big ball of gray. And so in addition to having more texture, popping these tiny little highlights out is how we start to get an image that starts to look more silvery. The great silvery prints that you see sometimes see hanging in galleries and things, what gives them that silvery rich texture is they have got really nice white highlights and they have got a huge range of grays spread throughout the tonal range.
And here we have got mostly darker grays. So by brightening up the whites, we are also in that process pulling out some lighter grays and just giving ourselves more variation. And that's also what I tried to do in her hair here. So I would like you to make those edits now. I will walk you through them. Lucky: Okay. Ben: Here you can see what I did. Ben: And you already know everything you need to know to be able to pull this off. You have already been working with adjustment layers, Levels Adjustment layers, and you are already plainly comfortable with the way you can mask them to constrain your edits. So we are going to do the same thing.
Also, incidentally, the other thing that I did was I brightened her face a little bit. Lucky: Yeah, I can see that. Ben: And you had the right, you were making the right choice to brighten her face. You just didn't go quite far enough, and we will see why and we'll see what the difference is. Ben: So, start by making a new Levels Adjustment layer. Let's start with her shirt. Lucky: Okay, so Levels. Ben: Levels, yeah. Now, what do you think you need to do here to get those working? Lucky: Can I take one of these? Ben: You could use the droppers, yeah. Lucky: The dropper and then would I just? Ben: It's going to be a little bit difficult--they are so small. Trying to nail the black part is going to be hard.
I think it's going to be easier to just work with the sliders. So start with the white end. Lucky: Okay, so pay attention to her shirt, right? Ben: Exactly, just try and ignore all of this. Lucky: So, I am making it more white. Ben: You are making it more white. Now as you do that, the midpoint is shifting so that it maintains the same relative relationship to white and black that it had before. So you are also lightening up those midtones, but we want to take some of those midtones and darken them, so that we are getting a broader range of black and white and more gray. So with your white in there, you are good. Now take your Midtone slider and start moving it on. Try it moving to the right first. Aha! Ben: Now we are starting to get some contrast. Yeah. Lucky: Yeah, there we go.
Ben: Now in doing that, you have darkened her shirt again, which is fine. So maybe try cranking the white a little more in, and basically, you can just start massaging those two sliders until you think you see the texture that you like. Lucky: All right! It's good. Ben: Now, why don't you also bring up the black a little bit because we don't have a strong black? Ah! There we go. Okay, now my only concern is this is now pushed so far that we got a--we have introduced a few new problems.
Ben: This shadow has gone really, really dark. Lucky: Oh, yeah. Ben: These shadows are looking a little unnaturally dark. So now I think actually we got to back off this a little bit. Pull the white back out a little bit to reduce the contrast. Okay, and now you are going to need to pull the Midpoint slider back in a little bit. That black move really turned things around. That's looking a little bit better. In fact, now I think you're maybe--maybe that's more of the path. Pull the white back in. Lucky: This way? Ben: Yeah, okay good, get it right. And now back off the midpoint a little bit, a little bit to the left. Yeah, maybe actually a little bit to the right.
Yeah and just try and hold those blacks. Ben: That looks pretty good. Lucky: Okay. Ben: And we are eyeballing this a lot. We are going to do a test print. Obviously, in doing this, we have now introduced radiations burns to her, which we really don't like. So we would like to fix all this, and I think you already know how to do that masking. You want to paint this in. Lucky: Uh yeah, that would be awesome. So-- Ben: My recommendation would be start by filling this with black because then all you have to is paint her shirt. As it is now, you would have to paint everything that you don't want and that would be a lot Ben: more painting. Lucky: Okay.
Ben: So the easiest way to do that-- one of the easy ways to do that is go to Edit > Fill, and just make sure this is set to black. Okay, so now we have no adjustment at all because the mask is all filled up. So now if you grab a brush and some white paint-- Lucky: And then start coloring her shirt? Ben: Yeah, we are going to fix that. Lucky: We can turn that down, can we? Ben: Right now, leave it and we will patch it later. Lucky: Okay. Ben: So as you do that, you are punching a hole in the mask and letting that Levels adjustment go through, and we are basically getting this really nice texture.
And we are getting something that's looking a little less overly gray. Okay, that looks pretty good. Now, notice this bug in Photoshop before. You have painted your mask and your histogram is gone here. If you just click on one of those little sliders--there we go-- now it's back. Okay, now this is interesting. The histogram is now showing us only a histogram of the data for the area that is visible. So this bit you have masked right here--and I know it's this shape because I can see the little silhouette of what the mask looks like-- you have actually nailed it pretty well.
We have clipped all this stuff--that's what that is--but for the most part you have got white set right. We have crunched the blacks a little bit. All of these blacks to the left here are going out to complete black, and I think that's okay. So you nailed your white point really well. What we need to do now is fix that. You started to go for the Opacity slider, which is one way of doing that. I tend to use gray swatches more because I don't--I can paint over other colors of paint. Why don't you start by knocking this back by half, which would be like this dark gray right here? Lucky: This one? Ben: No, no, darker one on the second row, yeah.
Lucky: Okay. Ben: And now try painting over that. Lucky: Okay. Ben: So what's going on is if painting white lets the full effect go through and painting black prohibits any effect, painting gray is somewhere in between. It's a lot like painting with opacity. The difference is, when you paint with opacity, you can't go back over an area that you have Ben: already covered. Lucky: Oh, yeah. Ben: You have basically overridden that white with gray. If you wanted to choose another gray, you could paint over it, so that's an easy way to experiment. So what do you think? Lucky: Yeah I like--I definitely can see the lines in her shirt, which make it stand out more, so I think it looks good.
Ben: Okay, we might need a test print to be sure. You want to try and fix her hair now. It's the exactly same process. Okay. Lucky: Yeah, so I am going to make a new level. Ben: Exactly, start with a new Levels adjustment. And I would start with the white point. Now this one is rough because she has got a lot of parts of hair, a lot highlights that are already on the verge of overexposure. Very good, that's exactly right. That's pretty good. Lucky: Okay, yeah. Looks good. Ben: All right! So now get your mask in place.
Another shortcut for doing that: if black is already your background color, you can just hit Command+Delete. That fills the mask with the currently selected background color. Ben: So now you are ready to just select white and start painting. So good. Same thing. Don't worry about whether painting is blowing out highlights. You will patch those with gray paint in the mask later. So again, for each of these areas, we are just following the histogram that's relevant to those particular areas.
We want to be sure we have got, in this case, the brightest tones to be white. We are not going for the darkest tones to be black, but we are manipulating those darker tones. And we are doing that by the numbers because, as you saw, you can't really trust the screen. It looked fine onscreen. And don't worry about matching my print. Definitely follow what you think you like. You know it's--you can tweak this all day long. Ben: All right! I think that looks pretty good. Lucky: Yeah, okay. Ben: Let's now patch some of those overblown areas. Lucky: Okay, so would I hit more, maybe this? Ben: Yeah you could start in the middle. Lucky: Okay.
Ben: Here we go. That's 55% gray. Painting black is going to take the effect out altogether. So a dark gray is going to put a little bit of it in. That looks good. And get down here and maybe a little bit right there. Any of those white spots are just going to be eye magnets. Why don't we see a before and after? Click the eyeball on that layer. Ben: So there is no adjustment. Lucky: Oh yeah. Ben: And there is some. You'll want to go back later and patch this up. You spilled out over here so that's getting a lot... We'll worry about that later. The last thing is her face, and this is a pretty simple one.
Give me another Levels Adjustment layer. And this time you don't want to necessarily use the white point because we just want her skin tone to be a little lighter, which I think is going to be midpoint adjustment. Drag it to the left. Now she is running the risk of going low contrast on her face, but that's better than increasing contrast and getting a lot of skin texture sometimes. Maybe pull the light point in just a little bit. See, the thing is, as we pull white point in, overall contrast increases and now her nose Ben: is getting shinier. Lucky: Yeah.
Ben: That's why I was thinking maybe just midpoint. Ben: So why don't you back off of that a little bit? I think this is one where we can't tell that the adjustment is right until we get the mask in place. So fill it with black and paint in her face. So in these edits we are also, we're leaving the background completely black. I made that choice just because I knew you had gone to a lot of work to try to get the background less significant in the image, and I thought leaving in black is a way of playing it down.
If you wanted to brighten it, you could. I don't think that's necessarily a bad choice. Ben: You also have to decide, do you want to brighten her neck up at all? Lucky: Maybe, yeah. Ben: And that's tough because it is in shadow which kind of makes it look a little more three-dimensional, which is nice. Lucky: Let's just try it. Ben: Okay. Lucky: Oh, I don't really like that. Ben: All right! Why don't we undo there? Lucky: Okay. Ben: Pull the midpoint to the left a little bit. Ben: Let's get her just a little bit brighter. Ah, there we go. Now I would just recommend one last thing, which is, her face is in sunlight and we are now saying through our edits that skin and sunlight should be this color. Then her arms Ben: are really tan. Lucky: Yeah.
Ben: So, maybe try and paint a highlight just along the outside of her arm. You don't need to--I'd go with a bigger brush actually. So we don't want to hit the inside of her arm necessarily. You can just put a little bit of shadow right where--a little bit of highlight right where the sun would be hitting. All right! If you think that's too much brightening, then go for a middle gray, so that we are only painting in some of the highlight. That's looking better. Ben: Okay, she looks a little sun burned maybe. Lucky: Yeah, maybe. Ben: But we can touch that up.
In fact, that's what I did here. I just got a very softer edge here. Bigger brush, softer edge will do the same thing. So this is the kind of process that you need to be going through for the final step in all of your images. Do what you did here: stack up all your layers, do all of your editing. But when it comes down to print, you want to go through and look at each of these different texture areas and see, is it really just gray or do I really have the contrast in there, and pay attention to--get a Levels adjustment assigned, get a mask on it, and then pay attention to where black and white are in that mask.
Also, this is not just something that you need to do for black-and-white shootings. It's all the same process when you are shooting color. You still have tone and color that you need to worry about. I think we need to get this on paper and we will see if you need to do anymore. Lucky: Okay. Ben: Thanks.
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