Get to Know the Installation Location Before Shooting for Large-Format

Guest blog by Billy Elkins

Billy Elkins

In my last blog, I wrote about communication and went over the five-part process for photographing for large-format printing. Let’s look more specifically at scouting the final installation location. This is the part that is usually the most intimidating for photographers who are not used to photographing for large-format.

Often it is not a simple single surface. In fact, most of the time, the location is more complicated. As the photographer, we normally do not have access to the location of the installation so knowing as many details about the location as possible is important when capturing the image. The previous example from the Sarasota International Airport illustrates that perfectly.

Riverwalk image after final installation at the Sarasota Airport

The image for the airport had to be installed on the back wall directly behind the baggage claim area. This presented a few challenges because of the actual baggage claim window, a large advertising display screen, a column in the middle of the wall and the actual baggage claim conveyor belt system.

Like any other large format photography project, having a photograph of the installation location is useful for conceptually trying to decide how to capture the right image and from the right angle and the right size.

Understanding the location of the final image applies to all large-format photography projects. If you consider vehicle wraps, wall murals or trade show displays, they all have their own installation challenges that, as the image maker, we need to be aware of for the best results.

For this next example project, I was commissioned by LexJet to create an image for their “Carnival” themed trade show booth. The booth itself was 50-feet wide, and they wanted the photo to be the whole backdrop. The installation would be printed on LexJet Simple Flo Wrap Vinyl, and then installed on the back wall of the trade show exhibition floor.

The final image size ended up being 50-feet wide by 25-feet high. This was huge! When you entered the trade show floor, you could see the “Carnival” in the background and could smell the popcorn from the booth. I worked directly with the marketing team to create different versions of the background so they could integrate the best option with the rest of the booth design.

The fair image installed behind the LexJet trade show booth.

So how did we do it? We visited the Florida State Fair and spent most of the day capturing different scenes that were potential backdrops. I brought my full bag of lenses, and we decided on a focal length of 50mm, it is the closest focal length to what we actually see. I made very tight overlapping images so that we had as much resolution as possible knowing that final image size needed to be so big.

And because the marketing team was going to experiment with the concepts after the fact, we had to capture as many different scenes and as large as possible. The idea was to give the feel of walking right up to the carnival. In addition, we crafted images to be used for the rest of the booth and to be used for sample material give-aways.

Technical Details:

  • Camera – Nikon D800
  • Lens- Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Focal Length – 50mm
  • F-Stop – f/9
  • Shutter – 1/650
  • ISO – 200
  • Frames – 20 overlapping NEF files

The image was merged using Adobe Photoshop CC Automate > Photomerge. I provided a final layered PSD file to the marketing team so they could make any adjustments for layout and for printing.

Prints That Win: Back Alley Beauty

When Chicago, Ill.-based photographer Michael Novo attended a destination wedding as a guest several years ago in Monte Carlo, he captured a brilliant shot of the bride on the stairs with a point-n-shoot camera. Everything was perfect: the lighting, the composition, the ambiance and of course, the bride. Excited about his newly discovered talent, Novo came home from Monte Carlo and immediately purchased nicer equipment. However, as he started delving deeper into the world of photography, he realized that perfect shots don’t just happen.

“I learned that I couldn’t rely on the light to just be right. I had to create the perfect lighting. I got lucky before, having the right lighting and right setting,” Novo says of his initial foray into professional photography.

After treating it as more of a hobby and dabbling a bit, he decided to show his work to some trusted friends in the industry. They offered some constructive feedback and suggested that he take classes and compete. Novo started working with a bog-box studio with two additional local area photographers, doing 40-50 wedding per year. Initially, he was hired as the third photographer, eventually moving up to second, and finally earning the Lead photographer position. Although he was gaining experience with the studio, the much-needed training was still elusive.

Finally, after about two years of event photography, Novo discovered a couple of photographers who drew him in with their style. He attended two separate 5-day workshops with Knoxville-based Bryan Allen. Allen’s Savannah and Knoxville workshops were beneficial in helping Novo learn the artistic aspects of photography. Working with technical specialist Kevin Kubota helped him learn more about the lighting and editing facets of the industry. He continues to work with both mentors and will be joining Kubota for a motorcycle tour through Italy later this year.

Through all of the training, workshops, event opportunities and practicing that Novo has accomplished over the years, the best piece of advice for improving his craft came from Grand Master of WPPI, Jerry Ghionis. The advice? One word: “compete.” As Novo learned when he first started competing, “you really aren’t as good as you think you are, but with each competition, you learn something. About you or the art, or the competitors. You go in against the best of the best. There are no levels, no ‘beginner’ groups. You are immediately tested and pushed to your limits. That’s how you improve.”

His wedding portraits are created to bring out the personalities of his clients, and that’s just what he did with his Sunset Print Award-winning print “Back Alley Beauty.” As a first-time recipient of the prestigious Sunset Print Award, Novo said the opportunity to capture the happy couple as they walked into their nuptials was too hard to pass up. “It’s important they see their style in the images. I’m taking the photos for them, not for me.”

Looking at his body of work and seeing the joy he brings to his clients on their special day, Novo realizes he’s come a long way from that first destination wedding image he captured. For him, it’s not how often one of his images is viewed, it’s about evoking emotion. As for his signature style, he says, “You might view it [an image] often, or you may view it rarely. But you will always feel it.” As long as you feel it, he’s done his job.

LexJet Print-N-Stick: Encouraging Students to Explore the World

When Ashton Elementary School teacher Rachel Montisano wanted to liven up her classroom while simultaneously providing an interactive educational environment, she reached out to LexJet for some ideas.  Michael Clementi, LexJet’s in-house printing guru, recommended that she use LexJet Print-N-Stick Fabric.

“The use of large-format graphics has allowed me to create an interactive environment for my first-grade students as we study different topics,” says Montisano. With the bright, matte surface, easy repositionability and cleanly removable adhesive, the Print-N-Stick was the right product to bring the world into Montisano’s classroom.

Recently, her students were asked to research and report on the different animals found in the Arctic. As they stood at the head of the class to give their presentations, an image of polar bears frolicking near a snow-lined river served as the back drop for the students. Montisano says, “the students added animals and wrote their own captions and labels on the image. They were so excited to use what they had learned and make it a part of the large, realistic scene.”

Now that their trek through the Arctic is finished, the students will be whisked away to the Amazon rain forest. Once again, they will be asked to research the plants, animals and other interesting critters that call the rain forest home. Excited to see what the students’ imaginations will bring, Montisano says, “they will create their own plants and animals to add to our rain forest graphic, turning our classroom wall into a life-sized page from a non-fiction picture book.”

However, this new graphic will not just be for the students’ education and enjoyment, “they will make a presentation to parents,” she says. “As everyone walks through the rain forest, the graphic – and the special additions – will help them explain to their parents everything they have learned about the Amazon.”

Montisano is thrilled with the results of the images on the Print-N-Stick Fabric and says that the size and scope of the graphics played a huge part in bringing the environments to life in her classroom, which continue to generate excitement and learning amongst the students. The vivid colors, the ease of working with the product and the photographic image quality all contributed to a successful experience for the Ashton Elementary first graders.

“Working with this product allowed me to use thematic teaching – incorporating reading, writing and science in the same project – and it has been so rewarding to see such enthusiasm from my students,” she says.

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.

Prints That Win: Vigilante

“Vigilante” by Billy Dzwonkowski

As a child, Billy Dzwonkowski would take pictures of trains, but the Bradenton, Fla., artist didn’t realize then that he would one day be a preeminent photographer. “I liked taking pictures, but I had no idea I wanted to make a living doing that. I wasn’t on the yearbook staff in high school and when I went on a trip to London, I didn’t even take a camera,” Dzwonkowski says.

Later in high school, fate stepped in and subtly guided Dzwonkowski to a world behind the lens. He was in marching band with photographer Al Gordon’s son. He was the unofficial marching band photographer and would often suggest that Dzwonkowski come by the studio so he could teach him the art of taking pictures. It wasn’t until two years later – on his 20th birthday – that he took Gordon up on his offer, and he hasn’t looked back since. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and it never gets old,” he said.

Prints That Win: On Fire

Orlando, Fla. photographer Gary Shaver has no shortage of beautiful scenery surrounding him, but with so much beauty, it takes a keen eye to catch what some may miss. As part of the Orlando Camera Club, Gary and the group often go on “shoot-outs” to local hot spots like Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Bok Tower to practice, learn and teach in a group setting.

While on one of these shoot-outs, as Shaver was teaching other members of the club some tips and tricks about photographing flowers, that he noticed a bloom about three-quarters of the way opened. “Once I lined up the shot, I realized there was a full bloom in the background that created a fiery halo around my partial bloom,” said Shaver. “Then it was a matter of using the deflector and diffuser and adding a little texture during editing.” The result was his Sunset Award-winning shot “On Fire.”