Friday, June 17, 2011

Printing Family Photos for Normal People

Stacks of Prints Waiting To Be Cut
Isn’t this better than using a third party service? :-)

I’m convinced that many of us who are die hard photographers are really tinkerers who love a challenge. We are the anal retentive types who can spot a flaw a mile away and we strive for perfection. In short, we are not normal.

On the other side of the spectrum are our loved ones who admire our work and give us great accolades for our effort. They are the ones who motivate us to do our best and inspire us to try harder when they give us “that look of disapproval” when we try something that is a miss. We love them though and for many of us, those people are our spouse, parents, aunts, uncles, etc…

These folks have a much lower bar than us. They show us their cell phone or cheapo point and shoot camera shots with a twinkle in their eye and say “isn’t that great”? Because we love them, we say “yeah, that’s awesome” but inside we think – I would have deleted that one.

Sound familiar? Well Mr. or Ms. Picky Pants, this article is for you. This article will turn your believe system upside down, but it’s worth reading and appreciating. In the end you’ll appreciate it and more importantly your loved ones will be thrilled with what you are about to do.

The Problem

Whether it be Father’s Day this weekend or Mother’s Day in May, or even a simple visit from family members – we all find ourselves with the need to go through that shitload of pictures that have never seen the light of day to get something on print for our low-tech loved ones. If we employ our usual workflow with the volume of photos that we have that would make Mom smile, most of us would be spending the next 2 years imaging photos. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have time for that. I wish I did – I really do – but I don’t.

Step 1 – Lower Your Bar and Let Your Love Ones Pick

In pro photography rule #1 is only show your best work, but we aren’t dealing with pro’s here. Here it’s family , so those rules don’t apply. Instead, let your loved one sit down with you and pick out they images THEY want to put in their photo album. Use a collection in Lightroom or a folder on your disk, but either way get those photos they love – YES EVEN THE TOO YELLOW, BLURRY, NOISY, IMPROPERLY EXPOSED ONES – in one spot.

Step 2 – Raw Scmaw, Give Me Some JPEG’s

Sample Canon RAW+JPEG LCD Setting Screen


Now before you come at me with pitchforks let me say that I’m a big proponent of RAW. I wouldn’t take a photo without it, but sometimes efficiency is king. In this case our target audience typically doesn’t get quality to the same degree do, so if you tested them I’d bet you’d find that they’d be just as happy with an unprocessed shot as one you spent an hour doing a rush job fix up on. With that in mind, the challenge with RAW is that you’ve got to work to make that file not suck whereas that image you saw on the back of your camera (which is always a JPEG thumbnail – even if you shoot RAW) looked pretty darn good.

My advice is get that image back by either shooting RAW and JPEG (which if you have the card space and aren’t shooting fast action sports, is the easiest thing you can do). If you can’t do that then generate JPEG files from RAW using Canon’s DPP or Nikon’s Capture NX (for Canon and Nikon respectively). These products will give you a JPEG that mimics what you would have got if you shot RAW+JPEG in camera.

NOTE: While Lightroom will let you create JPEG’s from your RAW, if you don’t do anything in the develop tab they WILL NOT look as good as the in-camera JPEG or the OEM generated JPEG’s from DPP or Capture NX (and don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise – they really don’t).

With those JPEG’s in hand move to the next step…

Step 2 – Get those JPEG’s into Lightroom

While this isn’t a strict requirement, I use Lightroom for all of my image resizing. It is fast, accurate and reliable so I don’t’ use anything else.

If you shot RAW+JPEG to begin with then you’ll have your images in there already, but if not then import the images you created from Step 1. The objective here is to get all the JPEG’s of the photos you want to print into one place.

With your big pile of nice JPEG’s (including those few you couldn’t help but tinker with), it’s time to make them only as big as they need to be to get the best results. Again, here I trust Lightroom as I’ve done lots of prints and it has never let me down.

If your family members will let you get away with it, create 4x6 images for this step (if necessary buy them a new photo album) so you don’t’ have to deal with cropping of any of your photos. The native aspect ratio of your images are 4x6, so choosing this means you can fly through this step with the only delay being the speed of your computer.

What you want to do here is generate images that are 6 inches on the long side that are the same resolution as your printer (Canon is 300 and Epson is 360 pixels per inch). There’s two ways you can do that from Lightroom:

  1. Choose Export from the File Menu and mimic the settings in the image below (works with Lightroom 1.0 or greater, but the appearance of the dialog may look a little different.
  2. Create a Hard Drive Publish Folder using Lightroom 3.0’s Publishing Manager as shown below.

Lightroom’s Publishing Manager & Export Dialog
are nearly identical on the right side
so the same settings apply

Pay close to the Image Sizing portion here and the fact that I’ve chosen quality of 100 and the sRGB color space. Using these settings (and print sharpening is optional but generally necessary) you will get good results with modern day Canon and Epson printers.

This isn’t a tutorial on Lightroom 3’s Publishing Manger, so I’ll just simply say for those that don’t know that it’s a convenience feature that allows you to keep your photos in the published location (this case is a hard drive folder for Mac and PC) in sync with changes that you may later do in Lightroom by republishing. I like it in this case because it’s a folder with the images sized just the way I want them for what I’ll do in the next step.

The reason why we resize our files this way is because we want to be able to control the resizing and Lightroom does a great job (perhaps better than your printer or print service). You aren’t wasting a single pixel because your printer can’t use those pixels that have been lost. Furthermore, we chose a quality of 100 so to your printer or layout application that processes these files, they’ll be usually be able to lay them out pixel for pixel with what they will need from printing without upsizing or downsizing. What this means to you is that you’ll usually get better results than if you just sent a bunch of big files where the printing service will do the same thing – but perhaps not as good.

Step 3a – Submit the Files to a Print Service

If you are smart you’ll just call it a day here and take those files to your local Costco on disc or you’ll send them to, Smugmug (which uses EzPrints or Bay Photo), etc… This is the fastest way to get results that will be plenty good for your family members. If you are foolish like me and want to put that great printer to use, then read 3b below for the masochists guide to getting prints for your loved ones.

Step 3b – Layout and Print

Okay I’m going to piss off the Mac faithful here because this is one case where the PC has no equal on the Mac (that I’ve seen thus far). While Lightroom and Aperture have some crude tools for doing print layout, the onus is on you to do the layout design. However when you use QImage (PC Only) you just need to select the photos and click the print size you want and it takes care of the rest – in seconds. The images are laid out in the most efficient way possible for your paper. Here’s an example of the first two pages of my 86 4x6 images print job after Canon’s Print Preview dialog got them (note: horrific colors are because Epson and Canon’s print preview windows aren’t color managed so the colors will always look hideous – ignore that):

QImage took the odd sizes and laid them out first (Page 1)

QImage took the rest and laid them out in a pattern (Pages 2 – 5)

I’m using a Canon iPF6300 for this job because it uses roll paper, so I set my print job up for 24x20 inch “sheets”. QImage would send them to the printer as different pages so they would get cut after each page, but I could have used sheet paper as well. I chose No Spaces at Top or Bottom to minimize paper waste and cutting hassles.

Here’s a look at how QImage looked (which does color manage) when I did my layout:

QImage Layout was a Simple Select All and Click
It took care of the hard stuff that Aperture & Lightroom
expect you to do yourself (see page 1 earlier)

Printing from QImage

While I’m using a Canon printer in this case, QImage is most often used by Epson printers and is device independent. You can read my QImage review for more info on using it, but despite its quirky appearance at first it’s not too difficult to use.

You simple need to select your printers paper profile (which you should be used to if you do your own printing), the rendering intent, and print. It’s your typical printing workflow, but if you have done your own printing you know that simple is never really simple. In this case I’ll include my dialogs of how I did my print job on my Canon iPF6300, but it should apply to all Canon printers (even the cheap ones) when you use QImage:

QImage will give you a dialog to select your profile using readable names

Click the “…” to get to the Profile Selection Dialog shown earlier
Choose your desired Rendering Intent
(My preference is Relative Colormetric on Epson and Perceptual on Canon)

With the above dialogs set, you can just print as normal. Canon users are used to the export module which doesn’t exist in QImage, so I’ve included some screen shots of how I set my print job – you can mimic the same:

Main Page
Click Get Information to get your paper type
and choose No Color Correction

Page Setup is Critical
Choose a Page Size that makes sense for your paper width and job size

Page Layout only needs the No Spaces Checkbox to save yourself some cutting time

You can now print and if you really used the JPEG’s that I suggested, and you are using your camera properly, the prints should be quite satisfying on most papers with Epson and Canon printers.

For this job I chose to use Canon’s Premium RC Photo Luster which is like Epson’s Ultra Premium Luster. While both of these papers are low quality for fine art prints, it’s premium quality for consumers. Both are excellent papers that render the colors very well and offer a price point that is easy on the wallet (about 24 cents per 4x6 print for ink and paper according to Canon’s Accounting Manager software).

Now I’ve got stacks of prints as you saw in the beginning of this article that are waiting to be cut. Nobody said self-printing was cheap did they? I’ve got good results obtained in about an hour (most of which was waiting on the software and later the printer).

The Real Message

This was a somewhat humorous attempt to remind readers who are like me to lighten up and print out those images (preferably through a third party service) so that your loved ones can enjoy the fruits of your labor (i.e., see your photos hidden on your hard drives). Your prints for purposes like this don’t need to be perfect, and odds are you’ll be surprised to see how forgiving 4x6 prints are to the flaws you see on your huge display. You’ll also enjoy seeing your work in print and the smiles on the faces you present the prints to.

Yes, we are photographers and we should be perfectionists for our work we show the world. However, we are people too and sometimes it’s okay to just do things like normal people do.

Have a Happy Father’s Day Weekend!

Ron Martinsen
Photographer & Proud Father of 3!

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1 comment:

Kaz said...

Hi Ron, thank you for the very practical advice!!! I process in a similar manner to deliver 4x6 JPEGs to family and friends. I also purchase 4x6 photo paper when they have the half-off sales at Fry's, print some photos (sometimes from Costco) and stick them in the inexpensive 4x6 photo books from Target. People seem to be happy with them.

I love your articles. Kaz