Friday, 31 January 2014

Storing My Photographs and Sharpening for Print

Ever since completing the exercises leading up to the first assignment: ‘Workflow’ for Digital Photographic Practice, I have been keeping all my course photographs and also less serious photographs (which I still considered as important) backed-up on a separate external hard drive. I have also been keeping all of the course photographs and work on my computer, so that I have it in two separate locations.

   Furthermore, and because memory is relatively cheap these days, I have also (midway through Digital Photographic Practice) bought another external hard drive in order to archive my most important work and store the rest of my photographs in a more orderly manner. By orderly, I was referring to naming the folders conveniently so I could find the required photos if I needed to go back to them. Dating the folders was something I felt would make this process even easier. Having the work on two external hard drives meant there was less chance of both of them (and the computer) being damaged or stolen.

   I have (near the start of Digital photographic Practice) purchased a printer, which I have felt has made a startling impact with my work. This was because of the very faithful colour rendition of the prints compared to my old printer - provided I used the correct paper and settings for the printer profile. The colour rendition was very similar in my eyes to the colours on my (calibrated) computer screen and I must admit it was satisfying seeing the prints appear on the paper as I wanted them to. I was also pleased that (so far) my tutor had been quite satisfied with the prints too.

   So far as sharpening my images was concerned, I have become quite wary about over-sharpening images on jpeg files in-camera (the RAW files remain unaffected). This was because I had noticed how the over-sharpening of jpegs produced artefacts that looked unnatural (albeit at 100% on a computer screen). I was therefore very curious to discover how different degrees of sharpening affected an actual print compared to an on-screen image.

   My inkling for this exercise was that 'over'-sharpening for print would produce results that made the photographs more detailed, without being detrimental in terms of extra grain or artefacts. This inkling was due to my observation that prints seemed quite soft compared to on-screen images, even when choosing a 'low' sharpening setting option inside Lightroom 5 before print, which I had recently started doing.

Images 1 and 2 (No Sharpening and Minimal Sharpening)
   In short my inkling was not wrong and I was surprised how much sharpening could be applied before artefacts started appearing. With the first print (Image 1), I applied no sharpening and the print, I was not surprised to see, seemed soft; even in areas of detail like my subject's eyes.

   With the second print (Image 2), I decided to increase the sharpening by using the 'High' sharpening setting inside the 'Print' module's dialogue, where in the previous print 'no sharpening' had been selected. I was a bit surprised to find that the increase in detail was 'minimal' to my tastes. However, there was some more detail in the eyes when looking closely at the print. Soft skin areas were very similar to the 'no sharpening' version.

   For the third print (Image 3), I chose to increase the sharpening further by adjusting the sharpening sliders inside Lightroom's 'Develop' module to quite extreme values: including a '129' value for sharpening amount, which was more than I usually would have applied. I also applied the 'Standard' sharpening setting within the 'Print' module to further increase the sharpening effect. This time, the effect was more substantial, with extra, visible fine detail in the eyes particularly, compared to the previous two prints. Soft skin areas remained very smooth.

Image 3 (Significant Lightroom Sharpening)
   Lastly for Image 4, I decided to be very aggressive with the amount of sharpening applied, by using a different sharpening technique altogether, namely the 'high pass filter' inside Adobe Photoshop. I used a high setting of 6.6% on the filter, using the 'Overlay' blend mode on a duplicated layer from the original image, so the effect was strong (compared to the Soft Light blend mode). I also chose to apply the 'Standard' sharpening setting within the 'Print' module of Lightroom again, to further enhance detail. The reason I chose to be so aggressive with the sharpening in this final print was to see how much an effect this drastic sharpening would have on the print as the previous prints of the image had induced quite minor changes in terms of detail.
Image 4 (High Pass Filter Sharpening)

   I found that there was a dramatic increase in sharpening, which I had expected. However, there were not many artefacts, which was good to see considering the amount of sharpening. There weren't many artefacts in the on-screen image either though but crucially, the print of Image 4 looked a bit 'cleaner' than the on-screen image, while still retaining visibly more detail compared to the other three prints.

   If I had to choose a print to actually use out of the four printed I would probably choose the third image because of the slightly smoother skin seeing as the photograph was a portrait. If it had been a landscape however, I would choose the fourth image's sharpening values (although the degree would be a little less drastic).

   In conclusion for this sharpening for print exercise, I've found you can aggressively sharpen and retain more detail but at relative print size in relation to pixel density, without compromising in the form of perceivable artefacts. To add to that, depending on which processing software/printer you use, from my experience, the prints do not come out as sharp as seen on the computer screen. Therefore it is beneficial in my opinion to ‘over sharpen’ if the image is intended to be printed. This also means you have to be wary of not using the ‘print version’ for web use as the onscreen image appears sharper in my eyes compared to the corresponding prints.