Thursday, 7 November 2013

Attention to detail

There's a lot more to this lark that just popping out and taking some photos. Even things that I'd take for granted as a hobbyist photographer become intricate extended tasks.

Take, for example, the simple act of causing one of my photographs to appear on a piece of paper.

First up, how will it look? In terms of the image itself, carefully calibrating my monitor and using the correct colour profile is a good starting point. Then I have to consider that there has to be some upscaling - digital is still nowhere near matching the equivalent resolution of film so a 300dpi (that's print resolution) image won't blow up as far as a print from film without some work being done.

Commercial software is available that uses clever algorithms to enlarge digital images but it's expensive, especially when you've just shelled out on a copy of Photoshop. Fortunately Photoshop has come a long way and resizing within the program is now pretty good. In the old days we would use the 110% Rule to get around Photoshop's previously shoddy upscaling - enlarge an image in 10% steps up to the desired size. You could write an action (Photoshop's equivalent of macros) to do the job but it was still a tedious and long-winded task (a bit like my blog posts).

Anyway, satisfying myself that the image will look OK in print is the tip of the iceberg. Next the thing has to be printed. I've got a pretty good printer but it's just for previews - I couldn't guarantee print quality and I'd also have to set up a framing area. The way things stand that would probably be in the kitchen, so until I win the lottery or somebody buys lots of my photos (hint hint) I have to outsource my printing. This means a bit of research, and this is where the strengths of the internet can, to a certain extent, become it's weaknesses.

Having so much information available also means that, whatever you look at, there's bound to be somebody who doesn't like it. And they're the people more likely to write about whatever you're looking for. So one print house will start looking pretty good value, then - for example - there's a review that suggests their black and white printing can suffer from a slight colour cast. As soon as one person writes that, more come out of the woodwork with their own horror stories and you get a disproportionate view of the product. Like so many things on the internet it becomes an exercise in digging for the truth by averaging out multiple sources.

I've just spent the best part of a day sorting out a print house and the test prints should be delivered tomorrow.

Assuming that the prints are satisfactory, the next consideration is to decide what form your product will take. You know you can take the photo, you know you can get it printed, now it's a question of working out what customers want. There's an almost infinite variety of mounting and framing options out there, all made accessible by online printing. Do you offer everything to everybody? Just concentrate on a few mounts/frames and hope you've got the tastes of the majority of your website visitors? It's a minefield.

My personal solution is to not offer much at all, except for a couple of 'halo' products. That's not just laziness, there are, in my opinion, very good reasons. Firstly, I don't want to baffle every visitor to my website with an endless list of print sizes, mounting options and frame types. Just think of the scope for the most chaotic drop-down menus you've ever seen. Secondly offering prints only means they can be posted in a tube, then framed by the customer to their own tastes. I know some photographers who would say that this compromises the image, that the wrong frame can ruin a photograph and to a certain extent I agree. On the other hand I prefer to assume that anybody contemplating buying a print from me has the visual taste and disposable income to do the job themselves in a way that matches their own taste and decor. It seems logical and easy for both parties.

It's a long way from just bashing out a quick inkjet print to show to your mates.