Landscape the year round was Stephen Spraggon’s topic in his presentation “Four Seasons In One Day”. Stephen has been to Reflex before and this was another high quality session. A locally based photographer Stephen makes a substantial part of his income from the Somerset countryside and across the south-west. He showed us that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted and is a regular user of The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE also on IOS and Android) and OS Maps. Above all time, patience and a lot of practice are key, as, I would imagine, are a decent set of notes.
The essential piece of equipment, aside from glass and body, is a sturdy tripod. Stephen related that all his landscape photographs are tripod mounted, necessitated by shooting at low ISO’s, 50, 100, sometimes 200 chasing minimal noise, which when combined with deep depths of field mean low shutter speeds.
There are hundreds of different tripods on the market and choosing the right one is as much about perceived need, experience and value for money as it is weight or brand. Basically tripods come in two parts. The legs and the head. As with everything else photographic you can spend as much as you like as design and function are moderated by the materials of construction: aluminium; carbon fibre; magnesium and alike. The heads can have pistol grips or a selection of knobs and locks to keep them steady and again money is no object.
Tripods for landscape are probably the ones open to the most compromises and certainly involve the most decisions. This is primarily due to the weight rigidity pay off. Your average 1600mm f5.6 Leica lens weighs in at 62kg so needs a particularly rigid tripod, though, lets face it, the people who are going to lug it around are probably accommodated in its 4 x 4 Mercedes support / camera bag and do not include the photographer. The weight of what the photographer wants to support, comfortably, is the primary factor and that is going to be the heaviest combination.
The variation of weight and the requirement for good rigidity to ensure stability over fairly long exposures in sometimes hostile weather conditions. This extends to both legs and heads. A 3 way geared head, one that has knobs that finely control movement and provides sturdy locking in three planes, means a lot of engineering and materials in its manufacture. That means, to keep the weight down the serious landscaper with deep pockets is probably going to go for one made from magnesium which ensures that the cost goes in the opposite direction to the weight.
Height is also a factor. If you are going to get that vital foreground object in focus you will often have to go in low. A decent height can also save the back when using the view finder or if your live view doesn’t have a tilt facility to it. An adjustable centre column is also desirable for those in between heights. Then there are the way the legs are locked into position, these days almost always via screw locks though there are still tripods around with catches.
So the rock steady, shake free image is in the bag, still or video (video ‘pods tend to be more rigid, heavy, technical and expensive, especially the heads) but a tripod can also help in creating panorama’s by keeping a fixed point around which the camera turns whereas hand holding it sometimes works to skew some uprights (parallax error where the lens acts as the eye). Or maybe that’s just me. Either way slower shutter speeds can be selected with no penalty in terms of camera shake.
The key is in setting up the tripod on the level in the first place. Most tripods have levels built in as do most camera these days. It is always wise to check that the camera stays level throughout the pan. It is an easy technique to get good looking results from. The key is to make sure the settings on the camera are the same all the way through (meter in aperture or shutter priority first then set the camera to manual for the capture) and to leave plenty of overlap. Essentially what is on the right of frame 1 is on the left of frame 2. Most cameras have grids that can be viewed when composing, thirds being the most popular but some have fifths and other variations. These can be used to ensure a decent overlap for stitching the panorama together using the same right left pattern.
Although 180 and 360 degree pans are popular, there is good mileage in smaller three or four frame panoramas especially when the camera is used in portrait mode which allows for more ground and sky. It also allows for greater detail and much larger prints. The downside can be the size of the stitched image, especially with larger megapixel count sensors, so there can be some useful mileage in using lower resolutions when constructing, especially the wider portrait version, panoramas.
Stitching the images together is far simpler than it used to be, thanks to options within Photoshop and Microsoft’s ICE (or MICE) is free and very easy to use for both horizontal and vertical panoramas.
Easy to do and fun why not give it a go?
Club and committee member Myk Garton took us through fifteen years of photography last meeting, showing a wide variety of subjects and a definite progression as experience grew. Digitally a Fuji shooter from day one Myk started with an Instamatic, which many of the audience could certainly identify with.
Currently showing nearly 27,000 photographs on Flickr, Myk has had images adopted by local festivals, publications and alike and had a successful exhibition at the Totterdown Canteen last year and has organised one there for this for the club next month. He is also leader of the programme group for the club.
A lot of us, including the club, use Flickr, of course, which has suffered in terms of development from the decline of Yahoo, and is now with its fourth owner the American photo company SmugMug. SmugMug is a pay-to-use photo-sharing website and image hosting service which allows users to upload both HD photos and videos, so whether or how long the 1TB Flickr option is still available is an interesting point – and I only have 5,000 images on it at present. Not entirely sure how long that would take to download one by one.
Myk showed us the value of persistence and repetition in personal development and we have talked before of the value of doing something deliberately, critically, sometimes the same thing differently. We can end up taking the same style of images because that is what we do. It carries with it the threat of becoming stale, static, uninspired. What we need to do is to keep moving and that requires photography aforethought, not post production afterthought. “I’ll fix it in post” is very different from knowing from the outset what we will need to do to an image in post production.
A lot of that comes from knowing our equipment and its limitations. Our preferred manufacturer’s latest megabuck sensor may well be capable of dealing with a fifteen stop dynamic range but in the real world, where some of us live, we have to get by with our five year old sensor that was designed eight years ago and can just about handle plus or minus 3. In RAW. We learn that through taking photographs in different lighting conditions.
Then we learn to bracket and to merge to create our own HDR photographs, and what we need to do to those images to make them acceptable to our tastes. Or we learn to use on camera or off camera flash or continuous lighting to fill the darker areas allowing us to meter for the lighter ones. We learn how to modify the lighting we have to blend in with the image we want to create.
And so we fail. A lot. Fail as in laying a Firm Anchor In Learning. We learn to critique, starting with I like this because …. I don’t like the way this is because …. and we do something about it next time based on that. That way we not only learn our equipment but we develop a style. That style may change over time, either as an evolution or as a deliberate attack on our comfort zones – or both, but it allows us to make the stories we capture our own and to keep on doing so.
The other key, besides persistence, is to look at the works of others with that same critical eye. Our goal is constructive criticism. That can be other club members, exhibitions, magazines, websites, tutorials, talks and other presentations, newspapers, awards, the list is as long as you want to make it, we don’t lack for opportunities and it doesn’t just have to be Ansel Adams for landscapes, Cartier-Bresson for street and David Bailey for fashion. There are plenty of others and it does well to look regularly and above all critically. It is, after all, the images people take that make the mark, not the camera they used.
Variety is also important. This can be in set up, composition, treatment, subject, lens, aperture, shutter speed, lighting conditions, the list is as long as you want to make it. Above all it is about taking images. That is, when all is said and done, why we bought the camera in the first place. We can get a lot more out it with just a little deliberation coupled with a little curiosity. In the digital age we have the capacity to take hundreds more photographs as very little extra unit cost compared to the days of film, but the deliberation that the costly additional frame imposed on us was and is a useful thing.
Apologies for missing a post, IT problems. Our guest speaker was the always welcome Peter Weaver, who will be returning in a couple of weeks to judge Round 3 of the Open Competition. This was followed by a video tutorial and a table top session. Peter showed us many instances of his own photographic journey and this set me to thinking about one particular aspect which we have talked around but not directly addressed in a while, that of taking pictures of people.
There are many forms this can take from the happy snap via passport style documentary through street to high art. For all of these we are going to use the same basic formula with appropriate, or lack of appropriate, vigour, starting with the background, putting our subject in it, lighting it then recording it. We are speaking generally.
So, background. Avoiding the classic lamp post/tree branch growing out of the subject’s head takes a bit of practice. Border patrol needs to become a habit when our attention is mainly on the subject, but that is easier said than done, especially when we are starting out. Choosing the background against which we will contrast our subject helps in getting this right. Not fool proof, but it works more often than it doesn’t and that little equation can be affected positively by establishing a routine and sticking to it.
Two easy to stick to rules for backgrounds are fill the frame with your subject (goes for all single subject photographs) and blur the rest. In the first of these we can either zoom with the lens or zoom with our feet. Perspective doesn’t change the same way when we zoom with the lens as when we zoom with our feet, as different focal lengths will handle background compression in a different way (sort of, it’s the subject to distance that changes in order to keep the subject the same size in the lens).
Putting the subject into a pre-selected background minimises the chances of there being unintended distractions in frame. Basically, if it doesn’t add to the story you are trying to convey, get rid, either by moving to another location, cropping tighter or changing the angle between lens and subject.
In the studio we might generally light the scene at this stage and refine with the model in it, which is fine where control is total, but we don’t always have this option. In more public and more chaotic situations, “Running and Gunning”, we might need to see what we are lighting first but this is really a personal preference and down to the workflow we adopt – not all workflows are automatically the most efficient but we are after the most effective and that means thinking critically about them from time to time.
Where ambient light is variable it is preferable to put the model in the scene, then light. Variation is part of every point on this process as each time something changes we have a different image and opportunity. Being prepared for the opportunity is a vital step in capturing it.
Posing our model is relative to the formality of the shoot. The corporate head shot is probably the most convention bound of these as portraits of friends informal. Inflation of ego aside, it always amazes me that the item by which their audience is going to judge them most, the corporate mug shot on the annual report, on advertising, on the web, commands such little time in the executive’s “busy” day. Herd instinct aside, the corporate headshot is a very conservative market. Everything can be pre-lit because so very little changes.
Admittedly there are poses to generally avoid because body language is very specific in what it conveys. Posing is also gender specific, at least by convention, so we have the idea of male poses and female poses, which, in actuality, are merely what society expects.
Then the lighting. Lighting is as straight forward or as difficult as you want to make it. Essentially it is the interplay of light and shadow and it is something over which we have varying control over depending on the environment we are shooting in.
A home photo-studio doesn’t have to be expensive to build, and if we start out with flash, as many of us do, then we have a very versatile and portable light source that has many uses, the light from which can be usefully and quite cheaply modified for hard light (grids, snoots, beauty dishes and reflectors) or soft (soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusers and flags). What we get in the studio is control.
Light is by far the biggest factor in any photograph. It’s in the name, as we have discussed before. Its qualities are exactly what we trade in. That balance of light and dark we control has four elements: quality, position, intensity and colour and the modifiers are how we go about it when using artificial lighting or a mix. The portability of modifiers (well the smaller ones, a seven foot octobox may not weigh a lot but the slightest of breezes will turn it into a sail) doesn’t preclude them being used outside (and here).
As, more often than not, we are using a mixture of ambient and boosted light, the options for control are broad. For non-artificial lighting we have the exposure triangle, white balance and filters to affect the look of the light. We have exposure compensation, full manual too.
It is all dependent on the way things are arranged in the frame of course. Composition is no small matter. It is as important as the light, indeed it is at least half of what we do to capture our vision, that thing that grabbed our attention. It’s about making a statement, or taking that statement and making it our own, but remember : “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
— Paul Caponigro
Our thanks to Gerry Painter for a very informative evening, using his photography to show how to play light and dark using a basic home studio. Gerry showed us how to get great results using a sound grasp of how light and flash work, and the basics of posing your subjects for effect.
And it doesn’t have to demand a big budget. There are hacks you can take in order to get the look you want without, necessarily, spending a fortune. You certainly don’t need a full-time studio so you can use flash for portraiture, but a studio does present the peak of the idea of a controlled photographic space. We have touched on this before this season with club member Steve Dyer when we talked about a basic off camera flash set up, and I would suggest that post is worth a re-read from the point of view of building the hardware side. It also links back to two earlier posts, one covering hard and one covering soft light modifiers.
Photographing people is, quite possibly the major part of photography. Certainly, it makes up a large, perhaps the largest, sector of the professional market. What people are paying for is not, necessarily, a straightforward record, but a record of a connection, one that brings out their personality, a fraction of a life, something which speaks of them and of the moment. Even though we live in the age of the selfie there is still a perception that there is something else to be had from the viewpoint of another.
Even so, the motivations behind the selfie, which love it or loathe it are massively the largest by number photographs posted online, 24 billion 2016 according to Google, are not so simple. The motivations for those so bent on broadcasting their lives to the point of dying of it, more people were killed taking selfies than in shark attacks that year, are not just narcissistic.
Within this huge volume, the data for Instagram alone, and what can be derived from it, is far from trivial, there are, apparently, three categories of motivations : Communication – those who want to inititiate conversation; Autobiography – those who are recording key moments in their lives, not necessarily to bait a response, but as a record they can look back on in a handy format; and the smallest of the groups, the Self publicists – those with a personal or professional need to be “out there” and recognised. “It’s a different kind of photography than we’ve ever experienced before” (Steven Holiday, Brigham Young University) important because it is today’s social history for the future. It can also prove expensive, in more ways than one.
Even so, the basic human form hasn’t changed and that means there are more natural and flattering angles than others, and Gerry took us through some of the basics. First off there is not taking pictures square on, something you can sometimes get away with on male subjects, but almost never seem to work with female ones. And there is a big difference to be had through the simple expedient of shifting the by slightly putting one leg slightly forward, shifting your model’s weight and causing an S-curve. Shifting the weight onto the back leg Leaning forward from the waist and raising the chin smoothes lines around the neck and invites the viewer into the picture. For effect this doesn’t have to be exaggerated, indeed it can look slightly comical if it makes the model look overbalanced. This works for male and female models. As does crossing the arms, which with the other moves described, makes the body look more dynamic.
If the model is sitting then the relative height differences are going to become exaggerated and the crops tend to be much tighter. The leaning forward posture still applies otherwise the model looks like they are backing away. Elbows on knees will tilt someone forward and an accompanying tilt of the head makes things much more personable. In all cases, the eyes are the most important point of focus. If there is one other thing that is universal is the general advice that it is better to have the model angle one shoulder towards the camera.
Gerry packed a lot into one evening not least the need for a connection between the model and the photographer, especially with a model who might not be used to having his/her photograph taken. A lot of people don’t like having their photograph taken. A lot of people buy a camera to make sure they are the comfortable side of the lens. Our job is to put them at their ease. This can be easier said than done and the reasons are pretty hard-wired because the thing we as photographers are looking for is the thing we as individuals do not want to give away.
Experience in other fields leads me to believe that the single biggest factor is the attitude of the photographer towards the person being photographed. Put simply, the attitude you give dictates the attitude you get back. If you are wound up and edgy guess what your model is going to pick up on? Give out a “This is going to be a nightmare” and you get a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s as much to do with what we do before we start shooting as it is during the shoot. It’s about time spent introducing ourselves and what we have in store for our subject. It’s about promoting the shoot as a joint project either side of the lens. It’s about making being the model on a photo-shoot as something enjoyable. You only have to get part of the way to free things up.
On a slightly different note, regular club members will know that Myk Garton last year had a successful exhibition called AS I SEE IT at the Totterdown Canteen (141 Wells Rd Totterdown Bristol BS4 2BU). Myk has got the club a return gig which will be called AS WE SEE IT and photographers within the club have opted to show in the exhibition which will be in May June this year. This is a great opportunity to get and see the club in action. Opening times are 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. seven days a week, More on it as we get closer to the date.
There comes a time when, like our speaker Ann Cook FRPS FRGS MBFP FBPPA, on a welcome return to Reflex, you have a considerable amount of work to reflect on. OK there is a considerable chance that yours won’t cover the extensive geography that Ann has been able to cover, but as that old Honda advert used to make the point about, to someone, your life is exotic.
What are the stories you can assemble from that work? In the term of the story, the narrative, we are often told – and it has been asserted here too – that a photograph can only tell one story or it becomes confused. That is the perspective of us as photographers, the makers of this story/image/narrative. From the point of the viewer we make our own story, of what lead to this, what this is and what happened next. As humans we are hard wired for stories, we make narratives if detailed ones aren’t provided to us and we will meld and fold the one’s we are given into new ones of our own. The stories are not necessarily complete, nor do they have to be.
The photograph is, in this instance, a pointer, a way post, but the destination is one of our own making and each and every one of us has a slightly different destination prompted into mind. That’s quite a lot from what is, essentially a subject, a fall of light and a background. Ann made a lot of taking the opportunities presented to us – those that fall to the prepared. As she said, again a recurring theme in the blog, you make your own luck. Ann illustrated that being shepherded on a bus, as long as you are sitting next to the window to control boarders (what’s in frame) and reflection, is no barrier to getting stunning vistas that go on to sell. Being aware and being prepared gives us a far better chance of being successful.
Even so, we still need an empathy with our subject (the imaginative assigning to an object feelings or attitudes present in oneself – being as one with, a part of, the atmosphere of what we are photographing). This because not everything that drives the narrative in a photograph is visual. We often hear talk of “Connection” and that, more often than not, is driven by composition. Back to that old thing again, for sure, however, the arrangements of objects within a frame is a very powerful driver of viewer connection with a photograph.
Lines, for instance, have different emotional qualities (at least in art theory), depending on their shape and direction. So: converge parallel lines to create a vanishing point (a concept that has been around since the Renaissance) to create depth and perspective; diagonals are dynamic, suggestive of movement and change; horizontals give a composition a sense of quiet and peace; vertical lines feel powerful, solid, permanent; straight lines feel formal, deliberate, man-made; curved lines, especially an S-shape, feel casual and add sophistication, nature, grace. Shape, similarly, has a profound impact on the feel and connection of an image, as does the use of space.
These are all tools, and there are many more and they are there for learning and there for using even there for ignoring but the thing these three attitudes have in common is deliberation. Being deliberate about the way we frame and organise objects for impact on our viewers. The fact is that to photograph that thing in our minds eye we need to become fixed on the essence of the thing we are looking at and then become a problem solver, just like Ann’s bus problem, which gives a different prospective on Kappa’s assertion that if it’s not good enough it’s because we aren’t close enough (in this case to a window to prevent reflections and stray elbows).
These last two paragraphs may look like separate and only vaguely related points, but they are not. In order to visualise those concepts of line, shape and space we have to be looking for them. Ann’s two pictures from Angkor Wat, one of the temples and one of the crowd that had gathered to look at the temples, were taken from different angles but from the same spot. One is quite serene the other very crowded and busy. They each have a different tempo. The one has a diagonal line of the rising sun behind the black mass of the unlit temple, the transition between night and day. The other, a huddle following the natural curve of the shore line several rows deep feels much more energised. The lines of people become a shape of its own. To get the crowd picture Ann had to wait for the crowds to thin, to keep the impression of the press of humanity but also to make it something that the eye can relate to. Incidental or otherwise the fact is the contrast between the two photographs made for a tension that one without the other simply did not have. OK the crowd scene was never going to be anything other than a throw away line, but it told a truth that the sunrise picture did not.
Ann had us look and decide which versions we preferred on many of the images she presented between a colour version and a black and white. The black and whites seemed to take on more from the interaction of shapes and of course there was a fair split in preferences. Basically the advice in these digital days is shoot in colour and process suitable images to black and white. The choice is a lot easier if we start with the idea that what we have is a black and white photograph. The conventional technical wisdom is shoot in colour and process in black and white, but in order to bring these two things together it is useful to know what are the effects of choosing monochrome.
Black and white is a bit of a misnomer as what we are truly looking at is pretty much everything in between. Absolute black is one end of the theoretical scale and absolute white its opposite. We render the images through the tonal contrast that colour produces when converted to shades of grey. There are a lot more than 50. You can desaturate your colour image and adjust the contrast accordingly, you can play with colour channels (subtle rather than huge effects usually) or you can go through the camera’s black and white options, they pretty much all have them, but they will all be jpeg. Some may be DNG or TIFF files, but that is a function of your camera. There is the HER route, or the filter routes that you can apply through apps like Snap seed, photofunia, funny.pho.to/ etc etc. Above all monochrome tends to make more of shape and line by taking information out about colour, but as with everything else it is a matter of personal taste. Black and white will not overcome bad composition or lighting.
So, a lot to think about, Ann Cook, thank you for another interesting and stimulating evening.
Chair’s night and who should we have as Guest speaker? None other than David Bailey, Yeah, you read me right. David Bailey. The David Bailey, you know, the one that used to work at Asda? One of those 164 David Bailey’s who were used by Samsung to promote the NX1000 back in 2012? Being David Bailey and a photographer has been of the occasional advantage, as David outlined, though any namesake can expect to spend a certain part of their waking day in disambiguation. Especially if, at least part of your day, involves doing the same thing.
David’s theme was on the role of serendipity, the happy accident, which we have looked at as a result of the planned and the purposeful pursuit of the photograph. To be sure there were some very specific happen-stances along the way. Like the NX1000 campaign, where he got to meet the most famous of the David Bailey’s and the over the shoulder query on a London bound train, among others. In between there were long periods of learning. Each and every frame is a learning opportunity, if you have the mindset to turn it into one. Each and every frame is a unique fragment of time and geometry. Whether it is the one we were looking for …..
Bailey, as the 60’s trend for one named photographers labelled him, was, and is, by David’s account, a prodigious producer of frames, sometimes only he can see the difference in. There is a difference to be made here between the practised artist looking for what s/he knows is there and the amateur blindly firing off frames in the hope of hitting on something worth keeping. The camera becomes the instrument of discernment when it is in the hands of someone who can use it as a tool to pursue a clear idea relentlessly. The effect of a planned serendipity, the happy accident that comes from being the right person in the right place at the right time, often lies in the fact that the photographer kept on photographing those small differences until the story gelled with the one they had in mind. In this way photography is as much a process of revealing as constructing.
We have previously referred to four kinds of happy accident:
Firstly: that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”.
Secondly: chance from purposely acting towards a defined end running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action, where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.
Thirdly: chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.
Fourthly: the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”. (James Austin: Chase Chance and Creativity).
In Austin’s words David was talking about “Chance interacting with creativity”, here through four evolutionary stages from spray and pray to an ingrained, experience and evidence based work flow. This is not exclusively about style. Style will evolve with practice and a critical eye and determine the way that the forces in the happy accident come together. It will also alter subtly over time. It is about persistence an open mind and the habit of looking, really looking, persistence and anticipation. And persistence. It has long been the case that as a brand you hire Bailey because he is Bailey. You get the Bailey style, the Bailey view. More likely you don’t as he doesn’t do commissions these days, but the point is this has taken decades to evolve and it didn’t happen by itself. And it is still happening.
In the second half David moved to wedding photography as an example of a shoot closer to what the rest of us have a concept of, either as the photographer or the subject, major and/or minor, in illustrating chance interacting with creativity.
There is a long list of “Must have” shots in the expectations of clients. These have grown over the years, farmed by fashion magazines, celebrity weddings, the “Wedding industry” as the costs, technicalities and expectations of the exceptional have grown. It is a journey through a very special day and it has a number of moments in it, actually built in it. Yes these will become the prompts for reminiscences, as will the things that went right and wrong, to other events that came before and after. As time passes photographs move from being a record to being a prompt for triggering those memories.
So stiffed backed and formal are the traditional wedding shots that some of them look like they came off a production line and this in part, I suggest, became a driver for what, in some instances, have become full blown, multi-day, intercontinental celebrations. Yet, even if the day runs on the rails that the timetable of essential images suggests, there will be moments of interaction that make each part unique. Those angles, those interactions as things come together or go their separate ways, children/animals going off script, laughter, the unexpected glint of light from the bride’s father’s shotgun.
Now, note, we can get those through any of the four stages above described. The more developed we are, however, in terms of spotting, forming, framing and taking the opportunities presented, the more of them there will be and the more these things will contribute to our style. In short it is our journey from looking to seeing.ai
A most compelling evening (well if you are a camera club member) had courtesy of Keynsham Photographic Centre. Simon and Neil took us through papers, sizes and types of processes KPC offer and their knowledge and enthusiasm went a long way to explaining why KPC is a destination of choice of so many serious photographers here-abouts. Around 2 in 3 of those present were already users but we all had something new to learn about the services they offer, which are quite extensive. I have always found them to be helpful and friendly and I am happy to pass on a recommendation to use them.
Why print? There is an emotional and a logical answer to this. The emotional one is that we do seem to react differently to a print than to a projected image or one on a phone or other screen. This is certainly the case with the written word. With pictures it might be an age thing, with those of us of a certain maturity having an emotional tie to what we started with, the family albums and so on, but as these are family history it is not uncertain that these emotions are passed on. It might be the way we view what is art. Even slides are, these days, often rendered digital. Prints have a longevity that digital files cannot match.
The logical one is more existential. Our photographs aren’t photographs until they are printed. They are computer files that are capable of being rendered as images given the right, seldom very cheap, equipment. To that extent they are, at best, semi permanent records. They exist not as pictures but as 1’s and 0’s and that makes them vulnerable to damage, loss and redundancy in many different ways.
One of the questions that came up in discussions was the notion of the minimum resolution (pixels per inch or PPI) as a ratio to print size that is compatible with a reasonable quality print. In order to look at this we need to look at and differentiate between two measurements that the computer file we turn into a picture holds – and which can be reset via (photo editing) software. The first is Pixels Per Inch and the second is Dots Per Inch, or as we will refer to them PPI and DPI.
There is a previous post dedicated to this and a good start if your interest is more than passing. Essentially the PPI is a measure of the resolution of the computer file when shown on a screen and the DPI a measure of the resolution that a printer will reproduce the computer file as a digital print. They are not the same thing, they are not interchangeable, the connection between them is that you cannot use DPI to overcome low resolution in the PPI. That might not seem like much of a connection but it is a common error, at least it is a common misunderstanding.
Just as one is not strictly reliant on another there is an optimum setting for both, but it is not a single magic number or formula. This is because different manufacturers of camera sensors and printers construct their wares in slightly different ways to slightly different priorities. The only rock solid constant you can apply is garbage in garbage out aka GIGO. What doesn’t help is that there are always going to be subjective elements to the ideas of output and acceptable, but we can set these aside.
A slight diversion, but one that is worth taking, is the purpose for which we are taking our images in the first place. The digital age has brought with it a number of outlets that, even 20 years ago, were pipedreams or even unimaginable to most photographers. Film cameras would enjoy their predominance for another 10 years in the “serious” and professional markets. A decent living could still be made from stock photography. These days there are far more outlets and they demand different things of the data files they publish. What remains is the fact that proper prior planning prevents poor photography. Start with the end in mind and choose formats etc accordingly.
The argument for recording images in camera RAW is that all the information is left in. The argument for JPEG is its universality and space saving compression. The fact is you can shoot in both and convert your final image from RAW to JPEG or any other format (has to be some other format as you cannot save in RAW). In your final version of the image is the information that other devices are going to use to present your image, including colour space, PPI and a whole lot else. The point here is that you are going to have to make, or let programme defaults make, these decisions to determine the look of your output (as best you can).
So, long way round to the answer we were looking for but the fact remains, that for all the reasons above, there simply is no answer to the question of a ratio of file resolution to print size because Pixels are not the same size on all cameras – 24 mega pixels on a 35mm sized sensor take up more space than 24 mega pixels on an APSC sensor. There are approximations, guidelines and above all, experience. Let’s look at rules of thumb, but first a caveat.
Pixel peaking, the urge to zoom to the maximum and suck the teeth at the lack of relative clarity, is neither helpful nor useful, outside of certain photographic publications desperate for some comparators in a world where you really have to go some to find a “bad” lens or sensor. It’s the aggregate of the pixels used that we view and a badly composed photograph is a badly composed photograph regardless of the amount of money you have spent or your equipment’s DXO rating. We are here looking at making a print of what you have got, regardless of your motive to print it.
Lets first talk of PPI. Smaller sized prints, say up to 10 x 8 (ish) we can get a reasonable print at 125 ppi. That is to say at arm’s length it’s going to look OK. Press your nose against it or use a magnifying glass it is going to look pretty rubbish. I have to say that such a view point rather spoils the whole point as, again you are looking at the aggregate of the pixels after all, or as I like to call it, “The picture”. This is a fall-back position only, If your default is 72ppi (i.e. it’s designed to show up on your computer or phone screen) then you are not going to get much above a 6 x 4, maybe 7 x 5 at a pinch, out of it (feel free to prove me wrong because you are only going to find out by using your combination of equipment and the printer you choose). The best lies between 200 and 300 ppi, by more or less common agreement. KPC ask for 305 PPI. Basically of you use the 300 end of the range you are likely to be close to the optimum for most commercial printers at standard sizes. Refer to your supplier for the necessary information. To change images PPI we use editing software like Lightroom, Gimp or Affinity.
But we were looking for a rule of thumb. Any minimum figure is a result of the combination of equipment particulars and specifications and materials used.
So, take the longest edge of the image (measured in pixels) and divide by the longest edge of the desired print size (measured in inches). If an image measures 3,840 x 5,760 pixels and you want an 8 x 10 inch print. 5,760 pixels ÷ 10 inches = 576 ppi. That’s more than enough resolution. If you want make a 30 x 20 inch poster out of that image, you’d have a resolution of 192 ppi (5,760 ÷ 30), which isn’t high enough for optimum, if we are looking at least at 200 PPI. This is a minimum remember, so adjust accordingly.
Alternatively, and my personal method, size the image in inches at a ratio of 1:1. So an 18 x 12 print is sized as an 18 x 12 image in my editing software (Gimp). The resolution is set at 305 by 305 dots per inch as I use KPC, and the image, in pixels, is 5490 x 4118. The down side is the file size, the upside is its going to fit without faffing around.
So http://www.keynshamphoto.co.uk/ and start printing!