Guest Blog Part II: 5 Steps to Large-format Photography

Billy Elkins

Guest blog by Billy Elkins

Large-format photography is a five-part process. In the last blog, I talked about communication being key. We will cover the five-part process and then walk through a real-world scenario that will show just how important that is.

1. Communication with the client. Ask the client how and where the photos will be used. Try to visit the location, if possible. What is their vision? Are there any restrictions to size or are there any obstacles in the way? It is our job as the photographer to gather this information.

2. Communication with the printer. Ask the printer to go over the specifications that they need from the images. Will they be building the final file? What size and type of files do they prefer? Will they be providing proofs to client before printing?

3. Create the image. You need to satisfy the clients needs, but within the specifications of the printer. Any time that all three — you, client and printer — can be together to discuss the details of the project the better.

4. Printing. My background is in large-format printing and I have seen and worked with many types of output devices and media. It has helped to give me more insight into what my photo will ultimately turn into. Having an understanding of the printing devices helps in not only image capture but preparation of the final files may differ depending on the type of output device. This part is just as important as understanding the camera, lens, and software used to create the image. Often this part is overlooked by many photographers.

5. Installation. You may wonder why that part is important to the photographer? It does several things that are beneficial. If you have never seen an installation go up, it is pretty amazing to watch. This is where all the technical parts come together. To see an image that is merged from many images on a computer screen to see being installed at full size (over 40 feet) is incredible. Seeing how the installers work and put the image together helps me envision the final product as I work on the various steps along the way.

The example below was for a large format installation at the Sarasota International Airport. The client was advertising on the back wall directly behind the baggage claim area. The final installation included wall graphics and 3-dimensional cutouts, as well as 360-degree image wraps around columns. The full wall area was 971” x 103.5”, and the image I needed to create was 415”x 103.5”.

The scope of the job was not very difficult, but I was brought in after the original photographer was not able to provide large enough files. In this case, I was contacted by the printer to see if I could create the image at the size they needed. We went over all of the details and I was given the exact location of what needed to be photographed.

Technical details:

  • Camera – Nikon D800
  • Lens – Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Focal Length – 24mm
  • F-Stop – f/11
  • Shutter – 1/160
  • ISO – 200
  • Frames – 7 overlapping NEF files
  • Final image size – 10830ppi x 5200ppi

The image was merged using Adobe Lightroom CC Photo Merge and then brought into Adobe Photoshop to add some minor effects that the client requested.

I provided a final layered PSD file to the printer so they could make any further adjustments, if needed, for printing. The final print resolution was 32dpi. Yep, 32dpi! Click on the photos below to see how the project came together.

Guest Blog: Photographing for Wide Format and Beyond

Guest blog by Billy Elkins

As a professional photographer, I am called some days to make images of products that will be used in an online catalog. Other days I am asked to make images that will span 80 feet long by 20 feet high. Of course, there are all those other sizes that fall somewhere in the middle.

Billy Elkins

How do I jump from one to the other? How do I ensure that the images I create can be used within that vast size range? And what are some simple tips to make this possible?

As a photographer who has clients with varying image size requirements, it can be overwhelming trying to decide what settings and sizes to capture my images. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I capture with the largest size I can within my camera. Inevitably, the one time you decide to capture using a smaller setting, the client will ask for the image that was supposed to be on their mail-out postcard to be used on the company’s new vehicle wrap. Making images large to begin with, I can provide anything smaller later, or larger later depending on their needs.

All printers have specifications for the type of printing they provide. Traditional off-set printers prefer images to be 300dpi at 100% of the printed image size. Wide-format printers have a range of resolutions that they work with depending on the viewing distance of the final print or installation. Again, they may say they prefer images to be 150dpi at 100% of the printed size (for posters or large photo displays) all the way down to 50dpi at 100% of the print size (for vehicle wraps, wall installations or billboards). It is important to understand that having just one part of that equation is not enough information.

Communication is key. And that is the most important tip I can offer. Asking the client about all the uses that the image will have and talking directly with the printer who will be providing final prints allows me to capture exactly what I need. If I know there is a possibility that an image will be used larger than traditional printing, I will approach the photography differently. I will not only bracket (capture varying exposures of an image), but I will also create overlapping images, almost like a panorama, so that I have much more resolution to allow for enlargement of the image. Knowing the final output and use, the final size, and the preferred resolution requirements ahead of time, I can be sure to capture everything I need in the beginning.

I will be talking in more detail, providing real working job scenarios for wide-format printing and the whole process from: communication, to image capture, to post-processing, to printing and installation in upcoming articles. If you have a specific question or other topics related to photography and wide-format printing that you would like help solving, please let me know and I will do my best to help.

Wide Format Photography Tips

  • Before even grabbing your camera, ask your client how large will your image need to be and for what type of application it will be used.
  • Talk to the printer to find out what resolution and file format they prefer.
  • Create mockups whenever possible so that you and your client and the printer are all on the same page.
  • When actually doing the shoot, be sure to over-shoot so that you have plenty of images to choose from especially when you are overlapping to create the largest possible file/image you can.
  • Send proofs to client as soon as possible in case you need to reshoot.

Guest Blog: The Power of Print Competition

By Christie Newell, winner of the 2016 National Sunset Print Award and co-owner of Sonshine Portrait Design in Germantown Hills, Ill.

Christie Newell, M.Photog., Cr. CPP, guest blogger

The ever-evolving photography industry vastly changes on a day-to-day basis. How do we stay ahead? How do we rise above the other photographers around us? What makes us grow? The answer to these questions and so many other questions is print competition.

I have been asked why I enter print competition. It can be misleading and make one think you are competing against other photographers. That is not the case. Yes, I am a photographer who creates art pieces for my clients, but I am also a print competitor, it just runs through my blood. I enter print competitions because I know how much I learn and grow. Improving my everyday work for my clients. By setting goals, reaching beyond what I think I am capable of and either failing or conquering.

Documenting the Emperor’s River in Multiple Moments and Big Prints

When photographer Philipp Rittermann talks about his work, there’s one thing that becomes clear almost right away: passion. A passion that took him on multiple trips to China in the last two years, traveling and photographing the Grand Canal, creating an astounding collection of massive photos in his Emperor’s River project.

“It’s a self generated project that came about when I was invited to show my work in China at a photography biennale. That was my first excuse to go to China; I hadn’t had an opportunity before then. I decided that if I was going to go, I needed to educate myself about it. I came across multiple references to the Grand Canal and it seemed like something to follow. It’s just such a huge country and the Grand Canal would help define my direction; rather than wandering aimlessly for years, and still not really scratching the surface,” Rittermann explained.

The Grand Canal is the world’s largest water project, the beginnings of which date all the way back to 460 BC. “It’s historically, culturally, militarily and economically hugely important in China’s history,” Rittermann said in explaining his decision to follow the river for a combined 10 weeks. “I also figured it would take me through large cites, small cites, rural areas and everything in between, and that this would reveal a pretty comprehensive socio-economic cross section of eastern China today.”

Rittermann wanted to achieve something in these images that he is often fascinated with in photography. “It’s about how photography makes time visible in a way that I can’t experience it,” he explains, describing the technique of capturing and expanding a single moment in time.

Now is very short and it’s continuously moving, so we, as humans, can never see multiple moments next to each other; we are always in the Now. So by photographing multiple moments, and then putting them together I feel like I can open the curtain a little wider,” he says. “I make multiple passes across these scenes. If there is something interesting happening I might take three or four or five frames in that particular area of the image, and then later figure out which moment I want to reveal. It allows me to composite a time-picture of that scene.”

The collection of images is currently on display at The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. “It was actually surprising that they wanted to show it. They were the last ones on my list in terms of probability, but the first ones in terms of desirability,” he explains.

In a few weeks the images will make their way to a gallery in San Francisco. “I would like it if the framed work never came back to me for storage,” Rittermann explained with a laugh, “because they are huge.”

It’s not an understatement either; the printed images are huge, some as long as 10 feet. But what’s even more striking about the photos, all printed by Rittermann on his Canon iPF8100 on LexJet Sunset Fibre Satin, is the incredible detail in each print.

Photographing China“They’re made out of multiple images which are fused together, so there really is a lot of resolution there. You can get your face right up to them and there is a lot to see. They don’t fall apart when you get up close,” he says. “It’s something I really enjoy about photography… That you can climb into an image and go for a walk in it. My requirement for myself is that I don’t put something on a wall that doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny. There is nothing worse than walking up to an image that looks great at a distance, and goes to mush right in front of your eyes. That’s a letdown.”

Barking up the Right Tree with Photography and Inkjet Printing

Jack Kenner’s photography has covered a range of areas through the years, from capturing happy couples at formal events in the early days to shots of exotic and endangered animals across the globe. But his latest focus has been portraits of man’s best friend.

Inkjet printing in-houseHis interest was sparked when a photo he exhibited at an art show, featuring his two West Highland White Terriers in the household dishwasher, was a huge hit. “By the end of the day I was doing dog portraits. Since then I’ve been doing dog portraits on demand from coast to coast. I go all over California and Texas, up to Connecticut, down into Florida and Atlanta, and over to Colorado and Wyoming,” the Memphis-based photographer explains.

He will spend a week or so at dog shows across the country, taking portraits or getting commissions for portraits in other areas, then return home to his Memphis studio, where he does all of the printing himself. Kenner has been doing his own printing almost as long as he has been behind the camera, a passion that was sparked in his teen years.

“Right off the bat I’ve found it was easier to go in and print my own work. I actually got a job in high school as a printer for a commercial lab. I was using enlargers and doing color enlargements,” Kenner explains. The experience there gave him the foundation he would need for his own career, leading to another lab job while he attended Brooks Institute of Photography.

“I’d go to school during the day and work at a lab at night. I was doing commercial printing for photographers in Santa Barbara, California, and I would work all night as a printer, and by that time I knew what color was all about so I would just do my own work. I would print and color correct and deliver it in the morning to the lab, then have to leave and go back to school again,” Kenner says.

It wasn’t until he made a move back to Memphis after a stint in New York that Kenner realized it was time to get back into printing and set up a darkroom in his personal studio. “After that I got into the digital age and in 2000 I bought the Epson 2000.”

It was a few years later when he bought the Epson 7600 that Kenner first came to LexJet. Since that time he has increased his printer inventory dramatically. Currently, he’s working with a battery of Epsons and a Canon iPF8300 to produces his photos.

Photographing dog portraitsKenner’s diverse line of printers enables him to devote one printer to color, one to black and whites and another to canvas prints, but he says, “Now with the 8300 I can do all of it with one printer, which is really nice and simplified.”

Kenner uses three primary materials to print his work: LexJet Sunset Velvet Rag,  Sunset Photo eSatin Paper and Sunset Select Matte Canvas. “The eSatin is just so easy to work with; it reminds me of working with color paper in the old school days. And I’m working now with the Velvet Rag; I’ll actually do multimedia with that. I’ll print on it and then work with an artist to paint on top of it. I’ll also work with artists where I’ll print on the canvas and then come back and do multimedia on top of that with watercolor, oils or acrylics,” says Kenner. Like so many other LexJet customers, Kenner is always finding unique ways of using the products.

Photographic painting“LexJet is a great reference because when something is going haywire with the computer, Photoshop or the printer and I can’t get in touch with the manufacturer, LexJet is always there as a resource,” he explains. “LexJet is an ace in the hole to call on to get good advice, or find out how to fix the problem and get back to work immediately. In the old days I’d have to bring in somebody from out of town and pay them an arm and a leg to come and fix it and then they’d come in and it’d take forever to get the parts in town. Now with these machines and LexJet on the line I can get things happening within the same day. There’s no wasting time trying to get something fixed or figure it out.”

Fine Art Banners with Sunset Select Matte Canvas

You may remember Vickey Williams of Mountain Dreamworks in Ketchum, Idaho, and her recent Sagebrush Cowboy Ball project. That’s not the only interesting application she’s been working on. Recently, Williams has been using Sunset Select Matte Canvas in a unique way: to print outdoor fine art photo banners.

Printing fine art banners on canvasWilliams first started using Sunset Select Matte Canvas as a fine art banner when the supplier she’d been using for cotton and silk fabrics went out of business. “I had to find another solution and I started playing around with the canvas and thought, ‘What would happen if I splashed water on this untreated canvas?’ That’s when I started experimenting with it.”

She needed to know that whatever material she used would hold up against the unpredictable Idaho climate. “Now mind you I live at about 6,000 feet,” Williams explained, “So we get quite a bit of snow. We have seasons with rain, snow, sun, wind, dust and ice… we get everything here.”

To make sure the canvas would hold up and maintain the look of the photos printed on it Williams put the canvas through a long test. “I started by cutting printed test strips and hung them outside,” she explained. “Throughout the year I didn’t see any fading and the archival ink on my Canon iPF8100 did not run. Without any protective coating the ink would start to come off if I rubbed the canvas when it was wet, but knowing most of the photo banners would not be handled I thought this just might work.”

Williams decided to sew hems for pole pockets and went to a local welding company to fashion a 12″ x 12″ x 1″ steel plate with a loop in the middle for attaching the banner wire. “This added a final touch to secure the banners in place and added a rugged rustic look to our fine art photo banner presentation,” says Williams.

Williams wasn’t the only one pleased with the outcome of the banners. Her customers really seem to like them too, though she admits they may not work for everyone. “I can’t compete with the people who do vinyl, but the people who want a canvas look, and a more organic look, are not only fine with it, they love it.”