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When you’re evaluating print quality, knowing what to look for is almost as important as knowing how to achieve it. Many technical factors contribute to print quality. Here’s a list of things to look for when you’re evaluating print quality – yours and others’.

It’s not that every one of these factors has to be optimal to achieve great print quality. It is that every factor you optimize enhances print quality further.

Well Focused

No Motion Blur

No Sharpening Artifacts

Extended Depth Of Field

Extended Dynamic Range

Appropriate Lightness

Highlight Detail / Separation In Values

Shadow Detail / Separation In Values

Mid-tone Contrast

Gradation

No Posterization

Low Noise

No Noise Reduction Artifacts

 

Believable Color … or … Color Transformed With Intent

Color Without Artificial Color Casts

Variation In Single Colors

Saturated Color

 

Appropriate Materials

Appropriate Scale

Appropriate Presentation Materials

Appropriate Contextualization

Appropriate Price

So what’s ‘appropriate’? That all depends on the statement being made. The real question is, “What is the artist trying to do? And how well did they achieve that?” You can successfully break the rules if you break them for a reason.

Amazing!

View more creative music videos.

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There’s no mystery to what it takes to make great prints. There are just many things to consider before making them and many steps to take while making them. Set clear objectives, map the process out clearly, master the skills in each step (or collaborate with people who have mastered specific skills) and you too will be able to produce great prints.

Here’ an overview of what it takes.

1       Know What To Look For

More than half the battle is learning to know what to look for. While there are many things to look for, and many exceptions that can be made, the guiding principle can be simply stated as reproduce fine detail without process artifacts. Focus, depth of field, shadow and highlight detail, smooth gradation, minimal noise, and flawless surfaces are all prized. Exceptions are useful if they are made for a reason. Find out how great prints can be by looking at some of the best prints produced in galleries and museums. Nothing is quite like the real thing

2       Choose A Versatile Inkset

All inks are not created equally. To make the best prints, choose the best ink sets. The best ink sets produce rich blacks, neutral neutrals, good gray balance, and saturated colors. They offer substantially reduced gloss differential and metamerism. They’re fast drying and permanent; both light fast and water resistant.

3       Choose An Expressive Substrate  

Take a little time to explore your options. There are many great papers to choose from. And you can print on other substrates like wood, metal, and plastic. Each material brings unique expressive dimensions to your images. Experiment and evaluate before you commit. Make it a point to continue exploring your options in this fast evolving field.

4       Use Color Management Correctly

Take these six steps. One, make profiled conversions into a wide-gamut, device neutral editing space, like ProPhoto RGB. Two, calibrate your monitor using hardware. Three, set good Photoshop Color Settings that alert you when color management operations are about to happen and give you choices for how they will be handled. Four, softproof before you print to choose a rendering intent and make output specific adjustments. Five, navigate your printer driver correctly, choosing high quality profiles and one kind of color management not two. Six, control your environment, editing and evaluating proofs and prints in neutral well-lit surroundings.

5       Proof Before You Print

Color management get you 90% of the way there, but to get the last 10% you need to proof before you make your final prints. To get the best prints possible, you often need to take extra steps like restoring deep shadow detail, sharpening for substrate and size, compensating for scale and viewing light temperature to name a few. It’s this last 10% that often separates good from great prints.

6       Frame a Sense of Destination

They say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” But will you be happy with where you ended up? Before you start out, take a little time to decide where you want to go and how you want to get there and you’ll avoid wandering aimlessly and taking fruitless sidetracks. You won’t waste time and you’ll be much less likely to abandon your quest out of frustration. So, look before you leap. With a clear idea of what you want to achieve, the steps you need to take will become clear and you’ll be far more likely to achieve your goal.

7       Adopt A Flexible Workflow

Practice a workflow that will ensure that you get the highest quality precisely and efficiently; one that will allow you to modify your work in the future in the least amount of time, should new tools arise, new techniques be developed, or your vision changes. Stay flexible; use and know the difference between editing with metadata, smart objects, layers, and adjustment layers. Adjust luminosity first, hue second, and saturation third. Work globally before working locally. Memorize the steps you take and the order you take them in. Proceed in a logical fashion. Optimize. Softproof. Proof. Print. Make exceptions for good reasons.

8       Use A Preflight Checklist

Pilots and doctors use checklists. You should too. No matter how smart or practiced you are, you will forget something. A simple checklist will keep you on track and make sure that important details don’t get overlooked. Using a checklist will help ensure optimum quality while saving you time and money.

9       Optimize the Data In Your File

Your print will only be as good as the data in your digital file. Printers will reproduce not only the great work you’ve done but also the flaws you’ve left unaddressed. Learn to optimally process digital files. Set good black and white points. Optimize midtone contrast. Clear color casts. Enhance saturation. Avoid introducing posterization, and excessive noise. Sharpen your images appropriately. Using brushing, selections and masking you’ll find you can enhance your images in many ways, including and even far exceeding traditional methods of dodging and burning. Learn to not only to do your images justice but to breathe new life into them.

10      Prepare Your File For Output

A monitor is different than a print. So data that looks good on a monitor needs to be adjusted to look good in print. Softproofing will help you choose a rendering intent and make output specific adjustments for your choice of paper, ink, driver, profile, and rendering intent. Proofing will help you compensate for the rest; overinking, output sharpening, adjusting for scale and viewing light.

11      Sharpen Appropriately

Sharpen in a logical three step process; capture, creative, and output. During raw conversion, sharpen for input (lenses), avoiding artifacting. During image optimization, sharpen creatively for effect (often selectively). Before printing, sharpen for output conditions, taking into account printer, paper, and size.

12      Print At An Appropriate Scale

You can’t make a poster out of a postage stamp. Don’t print images so large that flaws become distracting to the viewing experience. Choose an appropriate scale. Portraits in miniature offer very different experiences than life size representations or larger than life murals. Choose a scale that enhances the statement of your images. Bigger isn’t always better.

13      Maintain Your Printer

Today’s inkjet printers need a surprisingly little maintenance, but they still need a little. Learn to align heads and clear nozzle clogs. Ensure the data stream to your printer is fast and uninterrupted. Keep your printer clean of ink and lint. Maintain an average temperature and humidity. Do this occasionally and color shifts and banding will become rarities for you.

14      View Your Proofs and Prints In Good Light

For photographers, light matters; at the point of capture, while editing, and when viewing proofs and prints. Choose lighting that is bright and of the right color temperature. While industrial and commercial applications favor 5000K, most displays for public viewing favor 3600K. Use full spectrum bulbs, like Solux, when you can. Your prints will look better under better light. All your hard work will go unrecognized if your prints are presented in the dark.

15      Handle With Care

Take care in the way you handle substrates before, during, and after production. Store them in dry environments in snug, sealed, unbendable containers that are dust and detritus resistant. Once produced, use slip sheets to reduce abrasion Avoid bending, scratching, scuffing, and burnishing.

16      Annotate Accurately

Sign them. Number them, even if they’re not part of a limited edition. Note them with provenance or production history; date printed, paper, ink, and coating used. Use pencil for matte surfaces or pigmented ink for glossy surfaces. “Permanent” pens are waterproof but not lightfast. Do this either on the front or the back of the print, but do it on the print, outside the image area, so that if support / presentation materials are damaged the print won’t be.

17      Polish Your Presentation

Even the best prints will go under appreciated if they are not presented with care. There are many ways to enhance the presentation of your images; portfolios, binding, mounting, framing, etc. Be creative. Set a tone that compliments your work. But, don’t let the presentation compete for attention with your work.

With the mystery of the process of making great prints dispelled, the real mystery will quickly reveal itself – the expression of your unique ideas and voice. The choices you make during the process are what makes your work interesting, not the process itself. This is where the real work of art begins and where its real rewards are found. Ideally, you’ll find this to be a path of discovery and self-realization. If, at the end of the process, you arrive with a changed view of yourself and the world you live in, then you’ve truly made a journey worth making, a journey we’ll all want to revisit by viewing your prints, time and time again,

Read more on digital printing tips here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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Enjoy the photographs that US media selected as the best of 2016.

Time

Newsweek

CNN

NBC

ABC

World Press Photo

The Atlantic

USA Today

Huffington Post

Washington Times

National Geographic

Nature 

Time’s 100 Most Influential Images

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Different HDR renderings accentuate different artifacts

HDR (high dynamic range) imaging captures extreme contrast ratios and subsequently renders them for LDR (low dynamic range) devices, monitors and / or prints. The very things that make HDR renderings appear natural can make them appear unnatural if taken too far.

Midtone compression

You can’t avoid midtone compression, they get caught in the middle when the relationships between highlights and shadows are compressed. But you can take steps to minimize it by being sensitive to this when choosing compression settings and amounts and by taking subsequent steps to expand it.

Tonal inversions

Some compression routines and settings can be so aggressive that they create inversions or solarizations of specific tonal relationships. Avoid this, there is no subsequent cure. If you like the overall effect of an aggressive setting and the inversion is contained to one area of an image you can render an image twice, once for the overall effect and once for a specific area, and then blend the two together using Photoshop’s layers and masks. 

Saturation Distortions

Saturation changes when lightness shifts but color stays the same. Because HDR produces effects that can be aggressive and localized to specific set of tones, the saturation shifts that accompany tonal compression often appear unnatural. Selectively adjusting the saturation of specific hues, with tools like the HSL panel in Lightroom or Camera Raw, can often convincingly cure a majority of these side effects and hide the rest.

Halos

HDR softwares help restore midtone contrast by accentuating contours. When used aggressively this edge contrast can produce halos.

Over the years, these algorithms have dramatically improved their ability to treat the halo (light line) separately from the line (dark line), suppressing the first more than the second. Sometimes, to avoid distracting halos at the border of skies, you may want to make a second rendering for the sky and blend it with another rendering using Photoshop’s layers.

Exaggerated Texture

The contour accentuation that HDR softwares use to help restore midtone separation can exaggerate texture, for better or worse. For this reason, HDR software routines can be excellent detail enhancers that produce different results than the standard image sharpening tools. Once again, the trick is not to overdo it.

Noise

Noise accentuation in HDR images is a bi-product of tonal compression and the routines designed to exaggerated micro detail. Just like LDR exposures, to avoid unnecessary noise use the lowest practical ISO setting. In addition, use exposures that are bracketed by two or fewer stops. Finally, plan to reduce noise after rendering; recent noise reduction algorithms are capable of producing remarkable results.

Banding

To avoid banding (most visible in smooth gradations) use exposures that are bracketed by two or fewer stops. Process files in a high (16) bit depth. When you see banding appear during rendering, change the settings that produce it; there is no satisfactory cure for banding in post-processing.

The vast majority of objections to HDR imaging come from observations of examples where practitioners were oblivious of or insensitive to these regularly occurring artifacts. When HDR renderings are made with these potential pitfalls in mind, the objections disappear. In many cases, viewers don’t realize HDR software was used in the production of a photograph. Some HDR renditions challenge classic photographic aesthetics and offer new ones. If viewers do recognize that these artifacts exist in images and they are appropriate for the visual statement being made, not unconscious bi-products but conscious choices, then viewers who are open minded may experience a sometimes surprising new window onto the world.

Read more on HDR techniques here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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Enjoy this collection of quotes on Talent.

“Talent is nothing but a prolonged period of attention and a shortened period of mental assimilation.” – Konstantin Stanislavsky

“I believe that every person is born with talent.” – Maya Angelou

“Talent is an accident of genes – and a responsibility.” – Alan Rickman

“Hide not your talents, they for use were made, What’s a sundial in the shade?” ― Benjamin Franklin

“Whether or not you discover your talents and passions is partly a matter of opportunity. If you’ve never been sailing, or picked up an instrument, or tried to teach or to write fiction, how would you know if you had a talent for these things?” – Ken Robinson

“Self-doubt kills talent.” – Edie McClurg

“Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter.” – Stephen King

“At first I wasn’t sure that I had the talent, but I did know I had a fear of failure, and that fear compelled me to fight off anything that might abet it.” – Gordon Parks

“The greatest talents often lie buried out of sight.” – Plautus

“This is how I define talent; it is a gift that God has given us in secret, which we reveal without knowing it.” – Montesquieu

“I built my talents on the shoulders of someone else’s talent.” – Michael Jordan

“The best way to get more talents is to improve the talents we have.” – Edward Bickersteth

“Some people possess talent, others are possessed by it. When that happens, a talent becomes a curse.” – Rod Serling

“Sometimes, indeed, there is such a discrepancy between the genius and his human qualities that one has to ask oneself whether a little less talent might not have been better.” – Carl Jung

“The real issue is not talent as an independent element, but talent in relationship to will, desire, and persistence. Talent without these things vanishes and even modest talent with those characteristics grows.” – Milton Glaser

“Ordinary people think that talent must be always on its own level and that it arises every morning like the sun, rested and refreshed, ready to draw from the same storehouse — always open, always full, always abundant — new treasures that it will heap up on those of the day before; such people are unaware that, as in the case of all mortal things, talent has its increase and decrease, and that independently of the career it takes, like everything that breathes… it undergoes all the accidents of health, of sickness, and of the dispositions of the soul — its gaiety or its sadness. As with our perishable flesh. talent is obliged constantly to keep guard over itself, to combat, and to keep perpetually on the alert amid the obstacles that witness the exercise of its singular power.” – Eugène Delacroix

“It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one’s nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ.” – W. H. Auden

“One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not the owner of my talent; I’m the manager of it.” – Madonna Ciccone

“There is no such thing as a great talent without great will power.” – Honore de Balzac

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.” – Jack Nicklaus

“Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Hard work pays off – hard work beats talent any day, but if you’re talented and work hard, it’s hard to be beat.” – Robert Griffin III

“Effort without talent is a depressing situation… but talent without effort is a tragedy.’ – Mike Ditka

“Men fail much oftener from want of perseverance than from want of talent.” – William Cobbett

“Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: ‘Are your ready?’” – Johnny Carson

“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.” – Eric Hoffer

“There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, and the great charm of all power is modesty.” – Louisa May Alcott

“Talent is always conscious of its own abundance, and does not object to sharing.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Genius is talent set on fire by courage.” – Henry Van Dyke

“Talent is a flame. Genius is a fire.” – Bernard Williams

“Talent does what it can; genius does what it must.” – Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

“Talent does whatever it wants to do. Genius does only what it can.” – Eugene Delacroix

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers.” – Jack Kerouac

“Talent for talent’s sake is a bauble and a show. Talent working with joy in the cause of universal truth lifts the possessor to new power as a benefactor.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” – Erica Jong

“If a man has talent and can’t use it, he’s failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know.” – Thomas Wolfe

“I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.” – J. K. Rowling

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.” – Erma Bombeck

“Your talent is God’s gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God.” – Leo Buscaglia

“Never confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.” – Marlon Brando

“Success is what you do with your ability. It’s how you use your talent.” – George Allen, Sr.

“One needs more than ambition and talent to make a success of anything, really. There must be love and a vocation.” – Jessye Norman

“A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“If you’ve got a talent, protect it.” – Jim Carrey

Explore The Essential Collection Of Creativity Quotes here.

View The Essential Collection Of Creativity Videos here

Discover more quotes in my social networks.


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