There are countless ways to go about this entire printing process. Simply put, this is the method that I have personally developed while preparing for an upcoming gallery show, in which the main images will be large prints I created at home. This works for me, but it might not work for you. I encourage you to use this as a jumping off point, and tweak your process so that it meets your needs.
This is a follow-up post to my 6 Reasons You Should Be Printing Your Photos post. I'm printing exclusively with the Canon Pixma Pro 100 and couldn't be happier with the results. Remember, have fun and happy printing.
This seems fairly straightforward but it's something to stop and ponder. Image/shot selection is a big part of being a photographer, and in some cases sets apart a great photographer from a good one. Whether it's showcasing your best work for a portfolio, providing the proper variety of images for a client, or choosing a piece to print for a show, selection can make or break the project. Evaluate each photo objectively, looking at the technical. If there are technical issues that can't be fixed, consider not printing that piece.
This is a topic that we discuss in my workshops because it's often overlooked, especially when photographers are just getting started, but it's an important aspect of photography. Generally speaking, a properly exposed image is going to look better printed than one that has clipped shadows or highlights. Hopefully, you are working with a raw image and can push and pull those pixels to get your image ready for print. As with any rule, there are always exceptions. Especially with astrophotography your histogram is going to be peaking more on the left due to an overall darker scene including a night sky.
Check for details, dusts spots, and sharpen if necessary. Zoom in on your photo, especially in the water and sky, and inspect for any elements that you do not want to be part of the final print. Maybe it's a fence post, telephone wire, or piece of trash left by a beach-goer - if you're printing large those things will stand out. For some types of photography, such as photojournalism, removing elements from an image is a huge no-no. For our purposes here, we want a clean, attractive image that will be free of distractions. When you're out shooting, try to get this all taken care of before pressing the shutter; it's just good practice. Use Lightroom's spot removal tool to inspect the image for dust spots. This is when you realize that shooting at narrow apertures can yield some spotty results (see photo above - yikes!) I routinely use a small handheld air blower to clean the front and rear lens element each time I switch lenses. This saves so much time in post production.
Print a 4x6 proof. This may seem like an unnecessary step but it accomplishes two things for me. First, it gives me a sense of how my photo is going to look printed and how the digital image translates to the paper. Maybe the screen isn't calibrated? You'll find out if/when your print looks off. Second, if the print is good, I have a small copy to sell at my next gallery show or use as a giveaway promo. I currently have a box of these ready to go for my next event.
Finally, print it large. By following these steps I haven't yet ended up with a throw-away large format print.
As a side note, one thing I have been doing, before placing the paper into the printer, is using a Giottos Rocket Air Blaster (same one I recommend for removing dust from your camera lens), and blowing air across the paper to remove any random dust and debris. I'm not sure if the printer cleans the paper at some point in the printing process, but I have had issues with debris on the paper causing the ink to not print to the paper in isolated and very tiny spots.
So far, all of my big prints look great - no unwanted distractions, color correct, and ready to display.
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