The Online Photographer

Check out our new site at!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dealing with Digital Dry-Down

At the end of the first half of this two-part post, Carl Weese promised to reveal a couple of tricks, one cheap and the other absolutely free, that will help you understand the digital dry-down of your system and improve the number of successful first prints you get.

So here is the totally free trick. When you’ve made a successful print from one of your digital files, after archiving it on multiple media, do one more thing. Size the file to eight inches or so at 72 ppi and then save it as a high quality JPEG right to your desktop. If you print monochrome as well as full color files, save one of each this way. These are now your Master Files. Or, “files that worked.”

Now the next time you need to deal with your latest scan or digital capture, play with the new file until you’re happy, but then reach over and double click that little desktop icon of the appropriate Master File. Mess with the windows until you have a nice side by side comparison, and really look at the pair. How similar are they? If they diverge, is it because the pictures are different, or because the new one isn’t handled well? Last time, I mentioned keeping a histogram palette open in your PhotoShop workspace. With the two files onscreen, not only can you look at them side by side on your calibrated monitor, but simply by clicking on one or the other, you will activate the histogram for each on the palette. If the pictures ought to be similar, but the histograms are clearly in conflict, you need to rethink what you’re doing with the new picture.

Now for the trick that’s only cheap, not free. Photoshop CS (disclaimer: not only do they not pay me, but I haven’t upgraded to CS2 yet) has a stupidly named Automation Function called “Contact Sheet II.” It should more properly be called “proof sheet” since that’s what it is, and nothing about it has anything to do with a true contact print. But it’s really useful. Here are two ways I used it in the past two days. Yesterday, I selected twenty pictures from an interesting couple of hours I spent walking around a wonderfully dreary urban park in strange overcast lighting conditions. I suspect I’ll want to make real prints from some of these pictures. I called up the automation process, and simply ordered it to make a sheet of twenty thumbnails from them, on letter-size paper. I applied output sharpening to the file, and ordered a print with my usual color management running. If I decide to print any of these, the thumbnail and the file from which it was made give me a direct readout of the difference between the screen and the ink-on-paper. When I make the printing files from these captures, I’ll keep referring to the screen and the little proofs.

Today, I was interested in looking at three of my 7x17 inch negatives originally planned for Pt/Pd printing to see if they would make interesting 16x40 inch enlargements, printed with the 4800. When I thought the files were in pretty good shape, once again I asked PSCS to create a “Contact Sheet II.” But this time, the files were huge. A 16x40 image file at 360 ppi with a curves adjustment layer weighs in at 1.2 gigabytes. No problem. I just ordered the automated task and drove off to the post office, dump, bank, and grocery store. When I returned from my errands the file was waiting for me. I applied the monochrome coloration treatment I thought might be right, added the output sharpening, and ordered the print. The proof of these three pictures on enhanced matte cost about a dollar, and told me a lot about how well I’d handled the files. One of the pictures is a cranky thing that I keep thinking has merit, but can’t get a handle on. The other two are slam-dunks. Seeing the cranky thing in company with the secure images, I probably won’t print it. But, I probably will do this again a couple of times, with tweaks, before I output one of these pictures at 16x40 on fancy paper. So this is, while not actually free, a really cheap trick that greatly improves the odds of getting a successful first print.

Posted by: CARL WEESE


Post a Comment

<< Home