Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
I recently decided to start producing more video content for my YouTube channel. This is an experiment to see where it goes. I’ve always enjoyed making videos, just as I’ve always enjoyed photography. Both were a medium to share my thoughts, experiences and creativity, but in very different ways. I love photography, because it’s a moment frozen in time. A moment you can explore at any time for any amount of time, there is something very powerful about that. Video lets me share my thoughts and experiences in a more personal way. It also can be a more immersive experience. I’ve launched a couple of video series so far, and I have more ideas to share as well.
Advanced Post Processing Workflow Series:
I have 2 episodes available already for my Advanced Post Processing Workflow Series, with more on the way soon. My goal for this series is to illustrate the tools and techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop that make up my basic workflow as well as some of my thought process during post processing. I’ll start with a single RAW file and show how it gets transformed into a final master file. I’ll also show the steps I take to prepare the master file to share on different mediums.
Adventure Vlog Series:
My goal for this series is to bring people along on some of my adventures, and eventually share photography tips and the artistic process. This is pretty challenging to do on my own, but I’m sure with practice I’ll be able to realize this goal as well.
I also plan to record some gear review videos. I’ll share some of my favorite gadgets, and gear and why I like them, or ways I think they could be improved. I plan to review my Nikon D850, some lenses, and some other fun gear like drones, gimbals, filters, and several others.
I have a many other ideas as well, including some collaborations with fellow Photo Cascadia members. Video production is very time consuming and challenging. For now, it’s inspiring having a new challenge. If people enjoy it and the channel grows, I’ll continue producing new videos. I encourage you to check out my channel, and if you like the videos, remember to like, subscribe and share them with others who might like them as well. You can keep up with all my latest video uploads here: https://www.youtube.com/user/zschnepf77
I am writing from a mountain lodge in the Italian Dolomites on a trip with Photo Cascadia teammate, Erin Babnik, so this article will be short and sweet. We spent a couple days before our winter workshop photographing at the end of a small valley with dramatic peaks all around. Our experience there reminded me of two things that are true about landscape photography that are well known but often difficult to remember and practice. First is that landscape photography is as much about the weather and the light as it is about the landscape. Second is that the weather and light is always changing. Every time weather and light change, they in turn change the landscape and our opportunities to see and tell visual stories about that landscape…as long as we are willing to be patient and keep coming back to the scene to see what it is offering us.
All the images below were taken with my phone except the last one, which is a raw file from my camera transferred to my phone. Record shots taken with my phone help me document and track the changes and help me visualize the potential for the images I took with my SLR that I will develop when I get home.
We arrived at the tail end of a winter storm that had coated the trees and peaks in a glorious blanket of new snow. On our first sunrise foray the remnants of the storm were still clinging to the peaks and the scene was moody and dark. Even though we couldn’t see the tops of the peaks there was enough to indicate their looming presence in the clouds above. In the moment it was easy to become disheartened that we didn’t get the dramatic sunrise light we pre-visualized. But looking back at this image I realize that the scene has a lot of character and mystery.
Later that day I noticed the clouds were beginning to lift. I shouldered my pack and headed back up into the hills. On this visit the mountain was playing with me. Intermittently it would reveal itself to me before the clouds would swirl in and hide it again. And it always stayed in the shadows, while the foreground came to life, brilliant in the full light of the sun.
At sunset we ventured out once again, this time to a higher vantage point right at the base of the peaks. The peaks were in full view but still capped by atmospheric plumes streaming from their summits. Although the sun was setting behind the mountains, the clouds captured the golden light and reflected it down, illuminating the cliff faces and snowy landscape in front of me.
The next morning we came back at sunrise a final time. Now the clouds had moved above the peaks and were soft and broken in the calm after the storm. Sunrise light lit their undersides and danced across the faces of the peaks, casting a warm glow across the winter scene.
I loved witnessing the changes and moods of this beautiful landscape over a the 24 hour period that I spent photographing it. It was also a good reminder of what I learned as a photographer long ago, but often lose site of in the rush of life…that it is often the weather and light that make a place special and wonderful visual experiences can unfold if we are willing to be patient and spend some quality time just watching and noticing.
As we do most years the Photo Cascadia Team will take a few week break from the blog for the holidays and downtime. We will be posting again in mid-January. In the meantime we put together a short slideshow with some of our personal favorites from the year along with behind the scenes shots of our adventures.
Our most sincere thank you to all of our viewers, clients, friends and family. We are only able to continue to do what we do as a team because of all of you. If we didn’t have viewers we would be creating site content only for ourselves which isn’t even close to as exciting as creating it for all of you. If we didn’t have clients none of us would have a business. If we didn’t have friends we would be missing the elements of fun, collaboration and sense of community. If we didn’t have family and the support from them it would make what we do less rewarding and no one to share our sucessess with. There is much to be thankful as another year draws to a close.
There is the quote “once a year go someplace you’ve never been before”- Dalai Lama. In an age where nature photography has changed significantly the last 5 years we can all benefit from trying to get off the beaten path now and then. By this I mean it both figuratively and literally. Figuratively to look for new and different images in well known areas and literally looking to visit the roads and trails less traveled. With this in mind may the new year bring all that you look forward to and more with and without a camera in hand.
In this article, I’m sharing 20 of my favorite tips to enhance your autumn photography. I hope you can put some of these ideas to use as you explore with your camera in the fall.
1) Create a surreal mood by trying to include a sunstar that showcases your subject. The sun sets as an anchor point that guides your viewer to the subject.
Images from Yosemite National Park in the Lower Yosemite Valley
2) Create a warm overall balance with your images when including the colors red, yellow, and orange.
3) Early mornings in autumn are fantastic for finding mist and atmospheric conditions.
4) Look to include the color red when photographing autumn colors and blue skies.
5) Try to add variety to your autumn collection of images by including wide-angle images, telephoto images, abstracts, and macros.
6) Don’t forget to look on the ground and include fallen autumn foliage. Using a very wide angle approach and getting as close to the ground can offer a very different perspective.
8) Use a mix of different shutter speeds to get varying moods of autumn images. For example, I like to use fast shutter speeds to capture the leaves as they fall. I use long exposures to create a softer mood with the movement of water, clouds and foliage.
9) Include many element layers when photographing wide-angle scenes. I look for a foreground that will immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Use composition techniques to connect the foreground and background through the use of leading lines and depth. The more layers the more three-dimensional the image.
Image from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon
10) Reflections double the color and add that wow factor to autumn images. Look for ponds or small lakes that are more likely to be calm and still.
11) Don’t be afraid to include people in the image to give a perspective of scale and mood. To really add another dimension to the image look for people doing activities in the autumn surroundings.
12) Look for themes or commonalities when photographing autumn colors. One of my favorite themes is photographing barns and churches surrounded by color.
14) Try to find higher vantage points that offer a unique perspective of the autumn colors that most people don’t see. Many hiking trails in parks have this option. It’s always a special treat when you reach the top and you look down into a valley of color, or endless mountain ranges, or the stillness of a lake below.
15) Take it a step farther and look into adding aerial photography or drone photography into the mix. This can lead to fantastic images of winding roads through fall colors.
Images from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon
16) Autumn season is a great time to look for weather changes and unique weather systems. These types of conditions adds a special element of drama to the images.
17) Get out into the backcountry and away from other people for to photograph lesser known landscapes. I love to get deep into the mountains and find idyllic mountain settings combined with fall color.
18) Shooting a variety of subjects and elements when it comes to autumn can enhance your fall color portfolio. I like to include lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, forests, and ponds just to name a few.
19) Get out in the rain. One of the best conditions for shooting fall colors is overcast weather. I especially like it when it’s slightly rainy which gives the fall colors an extra boost of vibrancy.
20) Have fun and try to be creative whenever possible. Get out of your comfort zone.
I remember reading one of Galen Rowell’s books on photography, one of the themes he consistently talked about was shooting during times of transition. Seasons, weather, light, and atmosphere are a few notable examples of elements I try to capture in transition. If you can combine more than one of those elements in transition together, the chance of capturing a spectacular moment increases. It really stuck with me, I think most of my best images are captured during rare transitional moments. A storm moving in, or out during sunset, or sunrise is hard to line up, but when you do the results can be spectacular. You can also get rained out and not see any good light, but the potential to see something spectacular is much higher while these things are in transition. The images below are good examples of capturing different elements in transition.
This image was captured in Joshua Tree National Park late February this year. I was on a photo trip with good friends Sean Bagshaw and David Cobb. We got caught in a wet storm the day before, but the forecast was calling for clearing skies followed by clear blue cloudless skies for several days. I had always wanted to photograph the Cholla Garden in the park. With transitioning weather, light and the seasons all coinciding I thought our odds were pretty good to capture something special. The next morning, I was a little dismayed at first. The clouds weren’t lining up to catch the under lighting of the pre-dawn sunrise. We waited patiently and as the sun was rising above the horizon, it shone though the breaking storm clouds creating the spectacular light rays in the background as well as backlighting the needles creating the wonderful glow.
When I was planning to photograph Keyhole Arch on the Oregon coast, I was trying to line up a transitioning tide, with transitioning weather as well as light. This session was challenging. The tide was coming in, a storm was clearing out, and the sun was setting. The next challenge was capturing a wave flowing over the rocks, another transitional element. Everything lined up and I was able to capture what I had envisioned in my head. This shot is all about transitions, it’s also a good example of how much planning goes into certain photographs.
Mt Hood Majesty
I attempted this photo several times, but was never able to capture the light and conditions I had in mind. This is a popular backcountry ski spot and Mt Hood generally isn’t the coldest mountain, I could never time a weather window with good light and pristine snow. Finally, I decided to do it right. I watched the forecast for a cold winter storm followed by a window of clear weather. I finally saw a weather window that looked promising and decided to go for it. I packed up my winter camping gear, and set off at 3am from my house in Portland. I started hiking in the dark in the middle of a winter storm. It took me 7 hours to snowshoe up to this ridge because of all the fresh cold powder snow that had fallen. Long story short, I spent 4 days in my tent on the ridge hoping to capture the pristine snow in good light. On the last night of my camping trip the storm started clearing up, but not in time for sunset. The next morning I was up really early and was treated to the most incredible morning of photography of my life. The landscape was completely covered in a pristine layer of deep, cold powder, the air was crystal clear, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind. The mountain that had been hidden behind the storm the whole trip was revealed in spectacular fashion as the sun rose. All my hard work and planning payed off and I was able to capture a very rare moment.
This image of Gothic Peak near Crested Butte Colorado is another great example of capturing multiple elements in transition. Sean Bagshaw and I found this location during our trip to Colorado a few years ago. The Fall color was exceptional, but we knew the scene would be even more incredible if we could line up the fall color with the first snow of the season. A few days later, while we were in another part of the state, we saw a snow storm would be moving in and quickly back out. We packed up and made the drive back to Crested Butte. We hiked up to this location in the pitch black, frozen snow. We arrived on the ridge well before sunrise. It was extremely cold on the exposed ridge, but the sun was rising and we could see our prediction was materializing. The fall color was at it’s peak and the storm had left a pristine layer of snow. It’s pretty rare to be able to line up conditions like this, Sean and I felt privileged that we were able to witness and capture this rare moment of elements in transition.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” —Mark Twain
A little secret that is well known to educators is the concept of the “good lie”. It encapsulates the idea that any course of instruction is bound to be incomplete or imperfect, but learning has to start somewhere. When we first begin to study any complex subject, we need some structure, some kind of foundation on which to build our understanding of it. For example, when I was beginning my studies in art history, my professors introduced me to the subject of ancient Greek sculpture by emphasizing the evidence regarding known sculptors, what each had contributed to the art, and why any of it mattered. I later learned just how much of this introduction amounted to optimistic conclusions based on ambiguous evidence, but that education brought me to higher levels of understanding. By the time that I started working on my doctoral dissertation, my research was focused on some of those points of weakness as areas where I could make my own contributions, and my professors were encouraging such questioning because the “good lie” was only ever a starting point.
Learning photography involves a similar progression through structured principles into personal discoveries. As landscape photographers, we learn our craft as a combination of in-field methods, compositional rules, location research, weather chasing, and post-processing solutions—all of which amounts to the “good lie” in our field. Together, these ideas provide a useful framework through which we can develop our creative sensibilities, but the framework itself is merely a way in.
To be sure, craftsmanship is an essential part of the photographic process, and good technique is often crucial to the success of a creative motivation. The sheer spectacle of technical virtuosity alone can provide a special frisson: prickly sharpness, masterfully controlled tones, or precise calculations of celestial events—all count among the many technical accomplishments that tend to delight viewers of landscape photographs. Regardless, perfect technique hardly amounts to the holy grail of photography. Despite its many virtues, technique is fundamentally reproducible, is always subject to becoming obsolete, and can become a visual crutch and a developmental cul-de-sac. For anyone who wants to keep progressing in their photography, creativity is the higher good. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded about craftsmanship and to acknowledge that creativity is a messy place.
Keeping the following caveats in mind can help to ensure that perfection doesn’t become the enemy of the good.
A Perfect Lemon is Still a Lemon
There is an old joke about a person looking for his keys under a street lamp. When a passerby asks him if he’s sure that it’s the area where he lost his keys, the man replies, “No, I lost them a block away, but the light is better here.” The process of making a good photograph can go wrong in the same way, by letting some unimportant factor dictate a direction. I often find participants on my workshops abandoning a great composition that they saw because it would require some minor compromise, choosing instead to photograph something less interesting that they can make ‘perfect’. Sometimes you just have to seize a moment or follow through with an idea however you can because it will result in a powerful photo regardless. Even if it means that you have to use a high ISO or shoot handheld instead of using a tripod, it’s better than not getting the shot at all. When technique starts dictating which ideas to pursue, then it’s probably time to cut the chains and enjoy some creative freedom. No amount of masterful technique will improve the photos that we never make!
The Devil is in the Details
According to the law of diminishing returns, sometimes ‘good enough’ really is…good enough. The value of technical quality does have its limits. After all, the world’s most compelling photographs do not tend to be studies in technique, and most viewers do not even notice many of the technical shortcomings that typically make photographers cringe. Laboring in the service of perfect technique can easily become an unnecessary hinderance to progress, causing a photographer to leave projects unfinished or to become too frustrated to begin a new one. I remember once spending days on processing a photograph with a delicate color palette, shifting hues and tones by minute amounts ad nauseam in my efforts to achieve the perfect balance. I shared some of the variations with a friend who has an excellent eye for such details and who was very enamored with that photo. He carefully compared all of the versions and finally said, “I doubt that any of these differences even matter,” and he urged me to release the photo and move on. It was great advice.
Imperfections Can Create Character
As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportions.” He finds this strangeness in the abnormally large eyes of the woman he loves and delves into describing the depths of her character that he sees through them. Beauty in photographs can also come about through such strangeness, typically created by some imperfection in the pictured elements or by some irregularity in their presentation. A leaning tree or burned out snag can break up regularity and give character to a forest scene in the same way that film grain or soft focus can. Even ancient Greek architects seem to have understood the power of imperfection when they made temple columns bulge in the middle instead of being perfectly straight vertical elements; the more emphatic examples suggest an interest in giving the temple some life, some character, as if its columns were bulging like muscles while supporting the temple’s entablature. Similarly, a high level of refinement can sap the life out of a photograph, causing it to it look too mechanical. It is possible for a photograph to be lacking in vitality simply by appearing too perfect.
Craftsmanship has always been one of the great joys of artistic creation for me, and I both exercise and teach it with great enthusiasm. “The good lie” is good for a reason, providing an important foundation and a perpetually useful touchstone. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that it has its limits, its exceptions, and its missing links—and sometimes making a substantial contribution to your portfolio means stepping outside that box. The pursuit of perfection has the potential to elevate a photograph significantly, but it can also smother its fire or prevent us from creating a photo at all. Ultimately, it’s the pursuit of our own goals that should tell us which direction to go. When creativity is hiding in the shadows, we’ll never find it by looking in the light.
Have you ever had issues of technique keep you from pursuing a moment or an idea? Do you have any photos in your portfolio that would not exist without some compromise? Please feel free to share in this discussion with a comment below!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It’s been hard for me to fully express exactly what impact I am feeling from the Eagle Creek Fire. Those that haven’t experienced the Columbia River Gorge or don’t know it as their backyard like I do may think it’s simply another forest falling victim to the flame. For those that know it like I do, it’s a crown jewel of Oregon. Considering I am not that religious in a traditional sense I say going to nature is my temple; with the gorge being the temple I have spent the most time in.
Certainly, there are much larger catastrophes in recent memory in the states let alone across the globe. Even a storm like Hurricane Harvey that resulted in thousands of homes and business being flooded and loss of life is severe and unfortunate. Now we have Irma. My heart goes to all those impacted. Even in the Gorge there have been changes impacting lives generations before us. Simply look at how the Columbia River changed by building the dams and the impact that had the Native American tribes. We are not the only ones that have ever been impacted by significant changes in the gorge both human and nature caused.
When I first heard of the fire I felt myself starting the rolling coaster of emotions like you would go through for any grieving process. In this case hearing how it started it was anger. Then I moved to shock, then to sadness knowing the fire was growing and going through all these places I planted my feet many times. Places I have enjoyed with good friends, with family or solo for alone time. I even lost sleep a couple nights thinking about it. Again you may not understand but let me tell you a little more.
2017 Eagle Creek Fire – Photo Credit: Chris Liedle
I grew up in the “Gateway to the Gorge” on multiple acres and a creek where I would play outside for hours at a time before the days of many parents worrying about too much screen time and the need to force kids outdoors. This area has been a part of my life for decades. I am convinced it’s what helped put the yearning for nature in my blood at an early age resulting in countless days taking hikes, capturing photos and simply exploring throughout my life.
I have stood in ice cold flowing water with the snow line above my head until my feet went numb and loved every minute of it. I have hiked in the pouring rain with no one around, wondering how much it needs to rain before a tree falls to then see a tree fall. I have hiked to highest point to see the view and almost got lost coming down. I have chased the light up many gorge trails and then back down. I have driven the old scenic highway with half a foot of fresh snow and not a single vehicle track except my own. I have endured the strong East winds that funnel down the gorge like a freight train getting pelleted by ice, snow and rain. I have visited busy scenic areas thick with crowds to off trail locations rarely seen where the only sound is nature itself.
Taken underneath Pony Tail falls looking out into the lush greenery. Many years back a small group of us were photographing along the stream that you see in this scene. One of them, Phill Monson, found a semi buried old wooden sign that said Pony Tail falls. It had fallen from unknown causes from the tree it was attached to and broke apart yet you could still see the name Pony Tail. I have it on my desk to this day.
We are all saddened because we know it’s special to live close to an area like this. An area filled with lush plant life, refreshingly crisp water and magnificently rugged terrain. It’s a place where all walks of life come to escape hectic schedules, connect with nature or simply to reflect. I have come to the Gorge many times where I was reminded that I had too much desk time since my last visit and I walk away rejuvenated to tackle what life brings at me next. The beauty can leave you awe struck on your first visit. I have seen it firsthand. It’s National Park worthy if I can be so bold. It’s a treasured place to be protected.
It’s frustrating to us all how the Eagle Creek fire started and no doubt we would all feel a little bit differently had it started due to natural causes. Instead it was a group of teenagers lighting fireworks in a precipitation starved forest without a single care as to what might happen. We will need to let the law enforcement aspect take it’s course yet I do know it’s not much good spewing out hate towards those that did this as I have seen online. We are better off channeling that energy to do something positive. We all have been or will be a teenager. As a teenager we all had at least one experience (or a few) which, after the fact, we realize was stupid and could have been much worse, where we thankfully learned our lesson with little to no consequence. Unfortunately in this case the consequences were to a level most of us could not fathom. If those that are responsible for the fire are reading this I would tell them to continuously look for ways to spend time volunteering to give back to nature and serve local communities. This will help you move forward yet never forget it.
This was a very memorable day from quite a few years back. Myself, Zack Schnepf, Jeremy Cram and Marc Adamus spent pretty much all of daylight exploring off trail. It was slow going try to go the path of least resistance while minimize impact to our surroundings. Finally after hours we came across this scene. Well worth the adventure.
Like many, I am sadden about the changes that took place to our shrine, The Gorge. It doesn’t come without heartache yet it’s certainly not the end and I have to look at it as a new beginning. The photos seen to date show the gorge was not burnt completely to a crispy blackened wasteland like we might see on a sci-fi show after an apocalypse. Even the areas heavily damaged will come back to life in their own unique way with the eventual signature gorge green sprouting through the ashes. Yes, it will take time but nature always returns and sometimes in ways that amaze and surprise us. I am barely old enough to remember seeing Mount Saint Helens erupt. It’s been decades yet now it’s an impressive place to visit even though it’s different than it was before the eruption. The same will hold true for spots greatly impacted by this fire.
This should give you a general idea of what to expect in areas that are heavily damaged. This is in the vicinity of Angel’s Rest and was taken about 7 years ago which was about 20 years after this fire happen. I had visualized this photo on a prior hike without camera gear and bad light. I came back about a year later to make this along with a similar one in winter you can see here.
Those that know me know I tend to live my life with the glass half full as it’s too short to think otherwise. Even after my initial stages of disbelief and grief I am now moving on and look forward to the regeneration of our beloved gorge. I feel fortunate to be close enough to continue to have more experiences not only personally but for my wife and me to do the same with our young children who have only started to explore the many areas the Gorge has to offer, even if some of them will be different now.
As a side note, I have seen a number of comments online from individuals very eager to help the gorge come back to life again by taking on the task of figuring out what to do next. It’s great that many of us want to give back now more than ever. I would suggest that we leave the determination what needs to be done for damaged areas up to forest professionals and Mother Nature. We should look to donate our time, and or money if inclined, to organizations that support the gorge like Friends of The Columbia Gorge as one example.
Lastly, lest I forget to say thank you to the many firefighters, police and first responders that worked tirelessly, and continue to, on the Eagle Creek Fire to avoid losing lives, homes and historic structures as the fire is not yet contained as I write this. Your efforts are immensely appreciated.
This was one of those rainy days, that we frequently get between October and June. I stood here in the water with my feet and hands pretty close to numb while water was dripping off my head and camera. I probably should have protected my camera better yet it survived while I thrived.
I believe this was the first time I met Sean Bagshaw in person, before we started Photo Cascadia and became good friends. Myself, David and Sean were exploring Eagle Creek trail on this day. I remember thinking this scene was better with someone in it as it helped provide scale so I was glad he was “in the way” for this photo.
The gorge after fresh snowfall. Looks beautiful dressed in all white. This is not your iconic scene but hiking deeper into the gorge to find the more rugged and wild side. This is where peaceful scenes can be found in any season.
I found this wandering the forest near Larch Mountain on a day thick with fog and melting snow from the trees. Anytime a slight breeze would come I ended up doused with water from the branches as they ensured I didn’t leave the scene dry.
I was hiking I believe in the area of Triple Falls for the afternoon. I was taking my time coming down because the sky was pretty socked in and wasn’t planning to take a sunset photo. Somewhere I glanced a break up in the clouds that seemed to be increasing. I jogged the last 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile with heavy backpack to get to the car, drive here and take this photo before the light faded.
This was taken close to a decade ago. I crossed the bridge and almost thought about not taking a photo because I was nearing the end of my day of hiking and photography, telling myself “next time”. I am glad I took a few minutes to capture this. Since that year I have not seen this canyon devoid of large logs or trees. It’s above Oneonta Falls.
Photo and Text By: Sean Bagshaw
The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area has been the backdrop for many of my favorite outdoor photography experiences. I have found few other places on the planet as beautiful, mysterious, rugged and alive. Over the years I have hiked many of the canyons and creeks, alone, with my family and often with other photographers. I took this photo of Gorton Creek while exploring above Wyeth with several of my Photo Cascadia colleagues a few years ago. I remember it was a life affirming day. I think this small scene does a good job of sharing the essence and the magic of the entire area. I hope it recovers quickly.
Photo and Text By: Zack Schnepf
Here is one of my favorite locations in the Gorge. I think of Oneonta Gorge as Oregon’s green slot canyon. It’s another unique and special location to me. The lush green moss and ferns coat every surface and the steep walls rise up into a lush forest. I love how the trees grow right out of the steep walls. It truly is an incredible place to experience in person.
Note: Readers have asked some great printing questions in various locations, so I’m compiling them along with my answers at the end of the article so they are all in one place.
I often get questions about how I prepare an image for printing with an online print lab for best results, so I’ve collaborated with Artmill.com to create this tutorial which we hope will help you get great prints.
Printing online can be as simple as uploading phone pics to a lab directly from your smart phone or as advanced as working one on one with a professional print master to go through a multi-step hard-proofing process to fine tune every aspect of the final piece. Most of us who are photography enthusiasts will take an approach somewhere in the middle. Just a few simple pointers can really elevate the quality of your prints.
In the video below, I take you through my process of preparing an image for printing online. In both Lightroom and Photoshop, I cover how to address color accuracy, contrast, sizing, sharpening and the most common print challenge…prints that come out too dark. In the video, I unbox the print so you can see how it turned out.
Artmill was kind to provide the promo code OUTDOOREXPOSURE for my viewers/readers. You can use it at http://www.artmill.com to get 15% off your first order.
For more tips on printing make sure to read Zack Schnepf’s article on the Photo Cascadia blog: www.photocascadia.com/blog/5-essential-tips-when-preparing-images-for-print
You can also view my tutorial on soft proofing in Photoshop: https://youtu.be/ND_GzCueX4s
Just to be clear, I don’t work for Artmill and I was not paid to do this video. We felt some information on this topic would be welcomed and they were kind enough to provide the printing. The print itself will be auctioned as part of a fundraiser for the public library here in my home town.
Your Q’s generated by the video and my A’s:
Q: I’ve been wanting to try an online print, but worried I would mess it up.
A: If you haven’t printed online before I suggest ordering a small test print on photo paper first and if you like what you get, then order a larger, more expensive print. Some labs even offer a free small sample print on your first order for proofing purposes.
Q: I have had such awful experiences with online prints! Always dark, grainy, out of focus.
A: It’s important to remember that the print can only be as good as the original image file. Issues that may not be noticeable at a small size on screen, such as noise or soft focus, will become very obvious in a large print. It’s important to zoom in to 100% magnification to inspect and evaluate images. If you see noise, focus or other issues that bother you at this magnification then they will be visible in a large print…and the larger the print the more visible they become.
Q: When you were in Photoshop did you increase the size of the image? I always thought this would make it blurry and lose sharpness and detail.
A: Yes, I did enlarge the image in the video…both in the Lightroom example and the Photoshop example. If you want to print a photo bigger than the size it comes out of your camera it must be enlarged somehow. You can either do it or the print lab will do it…but somebody is doing it. There are two ways that Photoshop can enlarge images for printing. It can either increase the number of pixels in the image (interpolation) or it can increase the “size” of the pixels (decrease the pixels per inch). Taken far enough, both of these methods will eventually lead to decreased image sharpness and detail. But Lightroom/Photoshop now do an excellent job enlarging. I find that I can at least double the output size of my original image file and still get excellent results. For example, without any enlarging an image from my 30.4 megapixel Canon 5D4 will print at roughly 15 x 22.5 inches at 300 ppi. This means that I can enlarge up to 30×45 at 300 ppi with very good detail and even up to 40×60 or larger if the image is very clean or when printing on textured paper or canvas, which doesn’t show as much fine detail anyway. Depending on the viewing distance, you could potentially go even larger. I have printed wall murals 15 feet high that look great because you have to stand back several feet to view them. They are not as sharp up close, but that’s not how they are meant to be viewed. So, if you want to print images larger than they come out of your camera I say go for it!
Q: Before you apply the sharpening for print, do you remove all other sharpening that might have been applied before in Lightroom?
A: I learned from the photography gurus, Mac Holbert and Jeff Schewe, to think of image sharpening in three phases: input sharpening, creative sharpening and output sharpening. Input sharpening is the fine sharpening you can do in LR or Camera Raw to tighten up the fine edges and optimize clarity that is lost with digital cameras (caused by low pass filters and pixel bleed). Creative sharpening is the interpretive and often localized sharpening (or blurring) and clarity work we do during the developing process to help guide the eye, create depth and dimension and showcase elements. Output sharpening is the sharpening done to an output copy to optimize the image for the particular output at the particular size. For example, an image sized to 1000 pixels wide for viewing on the internet has different output sharpening needs than an image sized to 18,000 pixels wide for a 60 inch print on canvas. All three of the sharpening passes are independent of the other and need to be determined on a case by case basis based on the qualities of the image and the intent of the photographer. But, in short…all three types of sharpening work together so don’t remove one to add the other. You do want to carefully evaluate and adjust them as you go to make sure that they are working in concert with each other, however.
Q: Do you also increase the exposure, contrast and vibrance when printing on your home printer?
A: Yes I do, but at home I can also soft proof with the ICC profile for my printer and the paper I’m using and I can run test prints and make adjustments until I get it just right…so the process is a bit more scientific.
Q: You selected the printer resolution of 2880 x 1440 in Output Sharpener Pro. How did you know what to select there?
A: This is another question you could ask your lab to find out what settings they use and be the most accurate, but the differences will be slight. On my own printer that is the ink dot resolution I print with. I didn’t ask Artmill what printer resolution they use so I went with that to be safe. Choosing a lower resolution in Sharpener Pro adds more sharpening to compensate for fewer dots of ink. If I don’t know the ink dot resolution the printer will put down on paper I feel it is better to err on the side of under sharpening than over sharpening.
Q: Are the Nik/Google plug-ins still available? It was great when Google made them free…but then I heard they were going to stop offering them. If they are still available then people should grab them while they can.
A: Yes still available at the moment. There are other options as well, including PhotoKit Sharpener 2.0 by PixelGenius, Topaz and others.
Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.