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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Create Great Digital Prints 
By Gary W. Stanley

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We are fortunate here at Vivid Light Photography to have a rather large readership and a loyal following. As an editor, you quickly get a feel for where the pulse of this industry is centered, and where the hunger for information lies. I often relate an example of this when lecturing. I carefully put together my slide-lecture program filled with images from past trips. I skillfully (I hope) illustrate photographic examples of composition, exposure, and technique. When the program is over, folks gather around our display table where my prints are displayed. 

I, of course, am expecting to answer such questions as: Where did you take that shot in Zion? What film did you use? Which lens is your favorite? How long have you been photographing?

Wrong! Those kinds of questions are far less frequent today. Now it's: Is that digital? What printer do you use? What paper do you use? What scanner do you recommend? How many DPI do you print at?

Lately I've also been hearing: I'm thinking of switching to digital, but will I be able to get high-quality prints from a digital camera the way I do from a slide? If so, how many mega-pixels will be enough, for say an 11x14 to 16x20 print? Oh yeah! And will they last? I suppose as I look at the gallery prints that I've now produced since going over to digital I could end this article right now and say: Absolutely, no problem! However, I have a funny feeling that you'll probably want some more of a definitive answers.

Let me say that this article is designed to make you feel more comfortable with this whole digital concept of going from picture to print. If you need to know all the technical jargon that digital brings with it beyond the basic information needed to produce a quality print, see my friend Tim Grey, and subscribe to DDQ (Digital Darkroom Questions). Tim is far more interested in that sort of thing than I ever will be.

I prefer a more simple down-to-earth approach to all that this digital craze has brought to us. I totally understand just how easy it is for you to want to shrink back from this and say: Wow! This is overwhelming, how will I ever learn it all? Shooting with film was so much easier, I only worried about the simple things; you know, focus, composition, exposure and stuff like that. Trust me here: if you're looking for simple, I'm your man!

Let me walk you through my own simple work flow for getting from picture to digital print.

Sad But True: You may have heard this now popular statement: "I'll fix it in Photoshop!"

I've got some better concept: Garbage in, garbage out. Good technique will always produce a better image than just good equipment and Photoshop tricks.

Just think about it for a minute. If you take the time to carefully capture the best image you can, right there in the camera at that very moment, you may not have to "fix it in Photoshop."

You may only need a very limited knowledge of programs like Photoshop to adjust and get your image ready to print. Instead of Photoshop being a crutch or band-aid, it can be your friend, a very useful tool for the photographer interested in making a great print.

Good Technique: That statement alone is worth a chapter in a book. People will often ask me if a particular lens is sharp or not. My answer to them is this: if you do what you're supposed to do properly, chances are, the lens will do what it's supposed to do properly. Well the same holds true for those of you interested in printing your digital images - whether those images are created with a digital camera or scanned from slides.

Start with good technique. Use that tripod to stabilize and steady your camera. Use a cable release to keep your hands free of the camera. Carefully compose and focus on your subject. Make a proper exposure being careful to keep highlights from blowing out. Use filters when needed, such as a polarizer or warming filter. Use a graduated neutral density filter (the square or rectangular ones) to control the contrast range between shadows and highlights.

"Wait a minute, that's what I had to do when I shot with film!"

Amazing isn't it? And you thought there was such a difference between film and digital capture.

How Many Megapixels? I have found that there is a tremendous amount of detail and quality in an image captured digitally. While there are some 8, 11, and 14 megapixel cameras out there, I happen to use the Nikon D100 with the 6.1 megapixel sensor. I consistently make 12x18 prints from the images shot with that camera. I have seen equally great results from the Canon 10D and other cameras in the 6 megapixel range.

OK, It's In The Computer: Let's assume that once the image is in the computer, whether from scanned slides or from a digital camera, we're all basically on the same playing field. Yes the slide will have a larger file size, but the digital image will have great overall exposure latitude. An important tip here too: a quality film scanner and good technique by the user is very important to the end result when print making, and so too when making adjustments to your image in your RAW imaging software when capturing digitally.

I use the Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 for slide scanning and either Photoshop's CS with Adobe Camera RAW, or Nikon's own Capture software for importing and/or adjusting RAW images. In either case, make some minor adjustments to the image to get it close to where you want it, before making final adjustments in Photoshop (or your image editing program).

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