Print something. Print it BIG.

The wall was framed
Photo credit: Leonski (cc-by-nd)

If you're like most digital photographers, you probably don't print photos very often. It's become pretty common to go on vacations or day trips with friends and family and then exchange CDs full of photos or Flickr URLs or just send photos around as email attachments. I know lots of people still print photos, but let's face it: lots of people don't.

And, mostly, it's a good thing. Back when folks had to print photos just to see them---and it was never free, not even to shoot them in the first place---they took a lot less photos. Granted, there's a lot more crap we're all subjected to. I heard a story recently from someone about how they'd casually send in photos to their kid's school throughout the year. Photos of field trips and stuff. And how the people receiving those hundreds of photos used every single one for a slideshow that lasted an hour. Kill me now, right?

But there's a lot more good stuff, too. Photography is partly a numbers game. The more you shoot, the more likely you are to get something worth keeping and worth showing.

The thing is, a printed photo is a completely different animal to one viewed on a computer monitor. Even the most mundane photos take on an almost magical aura when you can actually reach out and touch them. They reflect light, you can see and feel the texture of the paper, details you didn't notice before appear from nowhere. A printed photo is somehow grander.

In my experience, the minimum threshold for getting that feeling of magic from a print is 11x14 inches. But the bigger the better. A 16x20 or 20x24 print, especially if you go to the trouble (and expense) of matting and framing, can make a good digital photo downright amazing. This is especially true for exhibitions or competitions. Size matters.

So here's a challenge for you if you haven't printed anything recently: go shoot something and hang it on a wall in your home. Print it at 11x14 or larger. You can get an 11x14 print online for less than $5 and 16x20s for under $20. It's worth it. Get a simple black frame and a pre-cut white mat (around $30) for it. Hang it. Stand back and admire your work. You'll be impressed and so will everyone who sees it.

Review roundup: Remember Albelli photo books?

A little while back a new photo book printing service called Albelli sprang up. They gave us some coupon codes for a free medium landscape photo book. You used those codes and made your books. And the general consensus? Meh.

Have you used a photo book printing service that you love (or hate)? Please tell us about it in the comments below!

As for Albelli, here's what some of you thought of the service:

Dan wrote:

I wanted to wait until I received the book before I wrote a review.  The review is still in development but I'm glad I waited because the book arrived with some problems in it.  The software also has some issues that should be resolved, which I'll mention in a comment on the blog post.

The real problem I have is that four images printed incorrectly.  Two were badly skewed/stretched, one had a handwritten press through from paper on top where I can see a handwritten "43" (it looks like a ballpoint pen was used with only a thin piece of paper on top of the photo for some reason) -- and that's on the first photo!  Also one photo in a collage became nearly completely covered by another photo.

I already sent an e-mail to albelli's service line with photos of the book and screenshots of the application showing the pages that are screwed up.  Here are links to the photos/screenshots I sent them.

I just received the book last night -- shipping was fast since I placed the order on Thursday.

p.s. I used the code but ended up getting a L version (8.5" x 11") book with over 60 pages in it, so I ended up paying albelli $45.  Even if a replacement comes, I'm not sure it's worth it vs. photobooks I've done with Shutterfly and Snapfish in past years.

Alissa wrote:

Well, if there's one thing I can say for Abelli, they're fast! I ordered my book on Tuesday evening, and it was waiting for me when I arrived home today!

The software for designing the book was simple and quick to use. There weren't quite as many layout/design options as with Shutterfly or MPix, but the prices are lower in comparison. For some reason 3 of the photos I chose to upload would not go. I have no idea why–they were taken at the same time and with the same camera as all the others. That was annoying, because then I had to go back and choose new photos.

The book is nice. Smaller than I expected for a medium, but the printing is very nice quality and it's bound well. The one very negative thing was that apparently there is a text limitation on the cover. I was unaware of this and chose the title of "********* Family Vacation" and the front of my book is printed with "********* Family Vac" This I do not like, and if I had paid for the book I would have asked for a reprint. However, since it was free, I'll keep it :-)

Overall, I'd use them again for smaller sized photo books, especially if I'm in a hurry. The quality is good and they were super speedy and quite simple to use, and the prices are very reasonable---even shipping. For larger, more complicated books I'd probably stick with MPix, simply for the greater variety of design options.

Justin wrote:

I've been working with Albelli support since I got the coupon. So far, no luck. The app perpetually uploads my pictures, never finishing. :(

And later...

The latest software updates from Albelli seemed to fix most all of my problems. I was able to upload my photos, and I've gotten the book in the mail.

I agree that the book is small then expected. But it is the advertised size. I almost feel like they should warn me when I put four photos on the same page.

The book seems well bound to me, and I must say that I'm happy with it. However, the printing could be a little better. The pictures look a little grainy too me. Either my pictures are too small or the dpi is not high enough. Also, I'd like the option for glossy versus matte.

Thanks again for the coupon!

Brian wrote:

Like a few other here, the software took forever to load. My last email to them was April 24th, and I finally got a reply TODAY - 20 days later!

At least they apologized for the delay.

I'll try it again as soon as I can, but I'm turned off already.

Ryan wrote:

Well finally got around to it, just terrible.

Bad software with very limited options. No option to put a picture on the cover. Cropping and fitting images in the software basically does not work. Integration with flickr and smugmug works good, but that about it. I would not use the site again until the design aspect is beefed up, this does not come close to the other photo book companies I have used.

Thanks for sharing your opinions. There are a few more comments and mini-reviews in the comments section of the original post we made about Albelli.

Review: Fine Art Printing for Photographers (2nd edition)

Fine Art Printing for Photographers (2nd Edition)Fine Art Printing for Photographers (2nd edition, rocknook publishers) by Uwe Steinmueller and Juergen Gulbins, is an incredibly thorough, well-written, and interesting book about fine-art printing of digital photographs using ink jet printers. It covers all aspects of the craft and is written explicitly for the "ambitious amateur" and professional photographer.

Read on to learn more about the book and find out how you can get a free copy.

I must admit I didn't know exactly what to expect when rockynook announced the second addition of this book. Before I received it, I'd completely missed the subtitle (Exhibition Quality Prints with Inkjet Printers). So my initial reaction was surprise followed by excitement as I scanned the table of contents.

Steinmuller and Gulbins make the case that today's inkjet printers can deliver exhibition quality fine art prints and explain all of the details necessary to achieve that goal.

The authors devote entire chapters to the topics of printing techniques, paper and ink, color management, workflow, practical tips, printing packages and RIPs, black and white, and presentation. And they thoroughly cover each subject with a tremendous amount of detail.

For instance, the first paragraph of the first chapter (happily) explains a topic many people find confusing: the differences between DPI, PPI, LPI, and image resolution; and they explain how those measurements are related and why they are important for fine art printing. They go into similarly detailed discussions of print permanence, the effects of paper thickness and coating, color models and profiles, tonality and color tuning, black and white conversion, and dozens of other important issues. The level of detail combined with the breadth of topics is very impressive.

A great deal of attention is also placed on software workflow (primarily using Photoshop CS3) with a focus on preparing digital images specifically for paper. Topics covered include highlight recovery, contrast enhancement, sharpening, color management, black and white conversion, and more.

The authors don't actually recommend a particular printer, as everyone's needs and budgets are unique, but they do go into detail about things you should look for in a fine art inkjet, paper, and inks. In addition, the appendix gives a summary of many different fine art printers and papers.

Digital fine art printing is highly technical, a fact that is acknowledged and reinforced by this book. It requires a special knowledge of printing techniques, inks, papers, software and image processing. But the authors argue that the "technical nature of fine art printing should not overshadow its ability to awaken the senses." And that "when performed optimally, your printing can achieve a richer color gamut and finer tonal gradations that with traditional book- and magazine-printing techniques."

I learned a lot about fine art printing from this book and I recommend it to anyone serious about getting into fine art printing or improving their prints.

Want a copy of the book? Leave a comment with a valid email address. Two readers will be chosen at random on Wednesday, July 9, to receive a free copy.

Buy Fine Art Printing for Photographers at Amazon.com

This book was provided to Photodoto free of charge for review.

The importance of focus and quick tips on how to get it right

Focus in photography is about a lot more than simply sharpness or being able to see what you are looking at. Focus can enhance a subject by making it stand out from or blend into its surroundings, focus can draw you in, and the right focus can create an emotional connection with the viewer. No matter what style of photography you enjoy, focus can work for you or against you.

Portraits

The number one rule when shooting portraits of people or animals is this: focus on the eyes. (There are always exceptions---like all rules. But really, focus on the eyes.) By virtue of millions of years of evolution, human beings are hard-wired to very quickly recognize and respond to faces. (It's definitely an important survival trait in my family to recognize when someone is angry at you, for example.)

Sure, you could focus on the tip of the nose or the ears if you like (which might work really well in some dog photos...) but nothing draws in a viewer to a portrait like sharply focused eyes and a blurred background.

How do you do it? Use a large aperture (f/2.8 or lower if possible), longish focal length (50mm and up), and get as close as you can.

Landscapes/architectural

Landscapes, photographs of nature or the environment around you, usually aim to capture as much of the view as sharply focused as possible. The idea is to give the viewer a sense of size, of scale. A buffet of sights, a feast for the eyes. Landscape photographers often avail themselves of a little knowledge of hyperfocal distances to keep everything in the scene in perfect focus, from the closest flower to the furthest cloud.

When everything in a photograph is in focus, the viewer's eye is drawn first to important bold elements in the composition such as a strong line, large blocks of color, and rule of thirds intersection points. From there, the viewer wanders through the photograph like a virtual traveler, exploring every nook and cranny and taking everything in.

In the photo above, for instance, my eye goes first to the bottom of the trail and follows it up to the cloud and then over the rolling curve of the ridge to the blue sky above.

How do you do it? Use as small an aperture as you can (f/11 or higher), focus on something in the middle distance (or use the hyperfocal distance), and, if possible, use a tripod. Very tiny apertures (f/11, f/16, f/22) lead to longer shutter speed so tripods are often necessary for maximum sharpness.

Macros

Macros are the ultimate close-ups. Often focusing on a single, tiny subject, macros require special techniques and a lot of patience to get right. I don't have any numbers to back this up, but I'd bet money that the rate of mental illness is higher among macro photographers than the rest of the photography population.

Macros are well-known for their ability to isolate and enlarge a single subject that often goes unnoticed to the naked eye. They're also characterized by extremely shallow depths of field (sometimes just millimeters).

The shallow depth of field is usually a consequence of the very short working distances between the camera and the subject often required of macros (just inches). Counter-intuitively, with macro photography it is a constant struggle to increase the depth of field as much as possible so that the right amount of the subject is in focus.

How do you do it? Attach your favorite macro lens or use the macro mode on your camera, get as close as you can focus, and use the smallest aperture you can (f/8, f/11 or higher). Small apertures and close working distances sometimes mean low light as well so you may need to bring extra light, a tripod, and/or use a higher ISO setting.

Environmental portraits

These types of photographs are a blend of standard portraiture and landscape photography. The idea is that a portrait subject is shown in surroundings that tell the viewer something about that person. There are many different approaches to this type of photography but in general, since the person is primary subject, the person should always be in focus. Whether you keep the background in focus (and how much) depends a lot on the composition of the photo, whether the background is cluttered or clean, and how much emphasis you want to place on each (the subject vs. the environment).

Since these usually aren't close-up portraits (head shots), focusing strictly on the eyes isn't as important.

How do you do it? Use a medium aperture (f/4, f/5.6, f/8), a medium to wide focal length to include some background, and a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the portrait subject.

Page 1 of 212
Google+