As I previously mentioned, there has been some pressure to move my images into the realm of print. While I’ve enjoyed the digital photography realm simply for the matter of not having to have prints for every image you take, it’s also pushed me into a whole different direction. What do you have to consider when you move into the print medium?
The first thing I had to address was monitor calibration. There’s no doubt in my mind that a properly calibrated monitor was necessary to guarantee the results I would see on an enlargement that was for sale. While I’ve used Adobe Gamma in the past – I’ve always felt that the “calibration” that it provides was inaccurate – mostly based on the fact that it uses your eyes to calibrate the monitor. As I generally think about calibrating at 2AM after I’ve stared at my monitor for several hours, my eyesight isn’t the greatest. I decided to look into a hardware/software solution and landed on Colorvision’s Spyder2 Studio Pro. While it’s not the “best” monitor calibration unit in the world – I felt the software package, software/hardware capabilities, and price (around $215 shipped) were certainly in my best interest. What a difference it has made from my Adobe Gamma calibration to this solution is like the difference between night an day.
Along with calibration, I had to set my monitor to a specific color level. While this is directly tied to the printer of choice, there are several settings to choose from. Monitor color levels are set in temperatures rated in Kelvin; common temperatures include 5000, 6500, and 9300 degrees Kelvin. I settled on 5000K as that is the recommended setting for my printer of choice. My monitor is calibrated properly to this temperature.
The next thing that had to be figure out was to choose a printer. I needed a company that was going to allow me to do my own post-processing without doing any of their own image correction. I also needed a company that would provide what’s called an ICC color profile so that I can proof the image with my calibrated monitor and know EXACTLY what the final product will look like. Cost was also an issue; the reality is that many of the printers out there are very good but price and shipping cost varies wildly. I narrowed my choice down to two companies – Winkflash.com and Costco. Winkflash uses a Fuji Frontier printer and my local Costco uses a Noritsu 3101 printer – both known for excellent quality. Winkflash uses the industry standard sRGB color profile and Costco provides a color profile individually calibrated to each of their printers. (See www.drycreekphoto.com) Cost between these two were very close – but I chose Costco because of proximity and no need for shipping costs. (Winkflash provided a .99c flat rate shipping…not bad…but also not free.) So my printer was decided.
From there the next step is delving deep into the bowels of Adobe Photoshop. While I’ve been using Photoshop since version 4.0 – it seems I still had a lot to learn about processing photos for print. I had to address issues with sharpening images specifically for print – I’ve always felt uneasy with Unsharp Mask – though the new CS2 version of PS has a kewl new filter called “Smart Sharpen” – very nice! I ended up using a product I’ve worked with for awhile – Nik Sharpener Pro. The new v2.0 has certainly been geared more towards your prosumer/professional photographer using a print service as there are now options to sharpen photos for photo labs. Along with sharpening, I’ve also had to perfect my skills with saturation, levels, curves, and a great deal of other things. I must say that even with a lot of experience with PS, it’s an amazingly powerful program that lets you go “deep” into the final output of a photo.
The final issue to deal with is presentation. I’ve worked with a couple vendors that provide “pre-cut” frames and mattes for a very reasonable price. While framing is a skill I would love to learn – the reality is that it’s not feasible for me to do my own framing and matting at this time. Other than that, it’s really just picking the images to print. I’ve enjoyed this new aspect to photography and while I don’t have hopes to “go pro” – it’s certainly nice to take things to this level.