• Please use real names.

    Greetings to all who have registered to OPF and those guests taking a look around. Please use real names. Registrations with fictitious names will not be processed. REAL NAMES ONLY will be processed

    Firstname Lastname

    Register

    We are a courteous and supportive community. No need to hide behind an alia. If you have a genuine need for privacy/secrecy then let me know!
  • Welcome to the new site. Here's a thread about the update where you can post your feedback, ask questions or spot those nasty bugs!

A non-technical discussion on print sizes

Tim Ashley

Moderator
It's an interesting question Mike. I've been working almost simultaneously on two series, one of which is B&W and printed at 30" wide and the other of which is colour and printed at 5x7.

The creative reasons for this are varied and would be hard to describe but there are some interesting side effects. I've had to plan the captures as far as possible for the large print series so as to ensure that I have a big enough file to get the enlargement looking good (by which I mean, not obviously small sensor drawing, which would have been a different but equally valid creative decision) whereas for the 'small' series, which is a much longer term project and might require me to take a shot anywhere at any time, I have to be sure that whatever camera I have with me, and whatever the light, I can make a decent print. Which means small, as the lowest common denominator between all the cameras I use.

But it has led me to feel that some shots are so well-planned or distantly travelled to that they deserve to be captured at the maximum quality possible 'just in case'.

This has led to me taking a 4x5 field camera with me whenever I am anticipating or planning anything special. It doesn't always work because I can't always have every focal length for every camera with me and it is much more my style to travel light. But it assuages a nagging feeling that if I'm driving 150 miles for the shot I should do it justice!

The other thing I've had to learn is the dark art of making large prints: the choices of sharpening and proofing and profiles and papers seem much more important for very large prints, and worth learning new tricks for.

Another lesson has been that some small cameras can make huge prints, if the exposure and the subject are right. I have 30" wide shots from the Sigma DP1 and the Ricoh GRDII which are more than acceptable, though you do need a certain amount of favorable headwind...

In the end, to use a Sean-ism, it's about the drawing. A good 30" print from the smaller kit can impress but it is different in nature to that from a 20+mp or large format camera, as you would expect.

Then there's the whole question of what goes on from the viewers' point of view rather than the photographers'. I went to an exhibit at the V&A last year where some prints were up to 70" wide and had been shot on 10x8. They were hung in very tight spaces so you absolutely could not step back to view them from the distance of their own diagonals, which is the old rule of thumb. This was clearly intended to force the viewer to appreciate the amount of detail in the print but it did impress on me the fact that unless the creative effect you want is less detail or small sensor drawing, you can never have too much resolution or detail because folk will often press their noses close up.

I'd be really interested to hear of other peoples' experiences and rationales for choosing print sizes.

Best

Tim
 
I've never tried a really big print from digital, but made some 40 X 50" enlargements in the B&W darkroom many years ago. But I think it was mostly driven by "because I can"

Now I let the subject determine the print size, based entirely on the visual impression the picture makes. I recently had one of the famous "Mandolin" pictures printed 16" X 24" and was not happy with it. At that size the image loses all subtlety and dominates the frame in the wrong way.

I want to try some large (24 X 36") prints from my landscapes, but don't have inexpensive access to a printer that large.

I was very impressed by the huge landscapes in the Annie Leibovitz exhibition. Way larger than I'm accustomed to viewing and appreciating.
 

Chris Kresser

New member
The creative reasons for this are varied and would be hard to describe but there are some interesting side effects. I've had to plan the captures as far as possible for the large print series so as to ensure that I have a big enough file to get the enlargement looking good (by which I mean, not obviously small sensor drawing, which would have been a different but equally valid creative decision) whereas for the 'small' series, which is a much longer term project and might require me to take a shot anywhere at any time, I have to be sure that whatever camera I have with me, and whatever the light, I can make a decent print. Which means small, as the lowest common denominator between all the cameras I use.

Tim
What I find so interesting about your post, Tim, is that it highlights how helpful - and perhaps even necessary - it is to determine the "final destination" of a project before too much work begins. The outcome probably wouldn't have been optimal had you started shooting with your GRDII and then later decided you wanted to show that work in 20x30 prints in a gallery. And would a 4x5 view camera be the best tool for an exhibition that involved only 5x7 prints?

As I've considered these questions for myself, and read more of Ben Lifson and Sean's articles about similar topics, I'm finding that I'm increasing drawn towards small cameras like the GRD2, DP1 and GX100 (which I recently acquired). Since I got the GX100 I haven't touched my 5D. I imagine that may change in the future, but I'm loving the flexibility and freedom of working with such a small camera. By setting it as Sean suggested in his review (manually "zone-focused", aperture-priority, etc.) and using the CV 35 viewfinder I really feel a creative spark that I haven't felt for some time when I'm making more technical decisions while shooting.

Getting back to the original topic, since 90% of my prints are currently made at 8x10 or smaller, the advantages in terms of size, weight and flexibility of a camera like the GX100 outweigh the inferior quality of the file when compared to my 5D most of the time.

So in this sense, print size can drive the other choices we make in terms of equipment, as Tim pointed out.

Chris
 

Sean Reid

Moderator
Hi Chris,

My own feeling is one might want to break from the usual paired associations between the format size and the print size. Stephen Shore, for example, traditionally has his 8 x 10 negatives contact printed at 8" x 10". Nicholas Nixon did the same with his negatives of the same size.

By the same token, its interesting to see what happens when output from small sensor cameras gets taken to large print sizes. The technical quality (the niceties of resolution, gentle tonal transitions) etc. will obviously fall apart a bit but I'm interested in what's there once those are let go.

BTW, I'm glad to hear that you're getting on so well with the GX.

Cheers,

Sean
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Sean,

I completely agree with you that these associations between format and print size are merely guidelines. As you point out, sometimes the most interesting results can come when those guidelines are broken.

I've been noticing that with the GX100. At first I was hesitant to use it in low-light situations where the small sensor would be a "liability". But I quickly found that I often enjoyed the look of the pictures, even when they were underexposed or grainy. You talked about this in your review, but it's fun to see it in action.

Best,
Chris
 
Hi Chris,

-snip-
By the same token, its interesting to see what happens when output from small sensor cameras gets taken to large print sizes. The technical quality (the niceties of resolution, gentle tonal transitions) etc. will obviously fall apart a bit but I'm interested in what's there once those are let go.

-more snippage-

Sean
What's left, it seems to me are the very basics of photography, line, shape, form, contrast, direction.

But not every digital photograph has enough of those essentials to survive being stripped of "the niceties..."

<Chas>
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Mike,

There are a lot of considerations.

Is there one destination for your final output:

Billboard/megaprint: The angles subtended at the eye may in fact be no different than a print at 8x10 on your wall seen at 20".

However the very same size magaprint lining the boulevards of a Yacht exhibits and viewed at 3ft may need more detail. (It may surprise you that a 1DsII can give 10 ft high prints that are compelling for walk by viewing in the latter exhibition circumstance).

Contact Print: An 8x10 contact platinum is in itself an artform, that one approaches not only for composition, subject, feelings and thoughts that are evoked, but also with a reverence and appreciation for the dedication and craftsmanship embedded in the print that make it work so well.

The same negative printed any method at some supersize viewed in the same room is utterly different! Why is that so?

Well the experience is entirely different. In one case one is looking at the fine rendition of the negative to the print as a special "unit of art" that one can walk up to, approach and peer into.

The same image as a perfect 10ft high print in a hallway will dominate you. It's power relationship and therefore meaning has changed. The part of the photograph so tiny in the contact print may become well defined and now particular and have a real say in what you are receiving from the print. That very component might have been hardly noticed in the contact print.

So print size does alter esthetics.

Offering a wide array of sizes:

It's interesting that some people make the very same print as

3 copies at 20"x24"

12 copies at 16"x20"

30 copies of 8"x10"

Now I cannot fathom how one can look into someone's eye and say it makes no difference! To me, unless the viewing distance is defined in relationship to the print size, the picture is different because we are looking at it differently. Doubtless some prints can be made different sizes to the artist's satisfaction. However this deserves honest appraisal for each instance.

The print size should be based on the artist's intent as to how the print should be best viewed.

Detail rich or not: Ask what do you want to show and at what distance. If you wish to show the pores in the skin of 90year old man then you need 2x more detail perhaps than the same size image of a young person of the same size because in that case, such fine detail might nor be wanted at all.

Similarly, a picture of a Frank Gehry's steel and concrete buildings may not need as much resolution to express what you want. What you would need is to take the photograph with regard to covering the high dynamic range of the stainless steel and dark shadows. There's very little detail however to be resolved! By contrast the same size landscape feature with rocks, flowers, grasses, bees and butterflies would demand as much resolution as you could achieve. If you cannot record the detail, obviously you cannot show it when a large print is made.

Now there's the issue of style. For some people, grain is fine and delightful. So don't worry if you run out of pixels.

Bottom line is that one should have a vision of the kinds of use for the nascent photograph. My own solution is to choose my 5D mostly, 1DII for sports/action or 6x7, 6x12,4x5 or 8x10 film for detail rich subjects beyond the grasp of my modest digital cameras.

In each case my eye is on the final delivery.

There is no one way of getting to the final image since it depends on one's needs and what one considers important for the look you want to achieve in the final home of the print.

I'd start from the end use, your intent and work backwards. I most often use just one lens and simply go closer and take overlapping images of the whole scene to get more detail. That way one can usually escape the limitations of a small sensor.

Asher
 

Tim Ashley

Moderator
(snip)



I'd start from the end use, your intent and work backwards.

Asher
That's the best piece of advice you'll get Mike - but I would add the subsidiary point that if in doubt as to what the end might be, capture as much detail as you humanly can because you can always lose information in processing but you can't gain it!

Tim
 

Mike Shimwell

New member
Thanks everyone for your input. As you can imagine I don't always know the final destination, but I have seen the difference that changing print size and viewing conditions make.

Just a few thoughts triggered by the comments:

- Independent of resolution, size has an impact on how I perceive pictures. I oftern print at about 15 by 10 (and perhaps that shapes my photography?), but as I print I'm becoming very aware that some images don't carry enough weight at that size and others already seem overblown. Perhaps this has something to do with intimacy?

- Sean, I suspect that you are right, at least to some extent, about the large print bandwagon and I am also taken with exploring with what happens as the image starts to very visibly degrade. Using the GX100 at high iso and with underexposure creates a very sketchy look that I've grown to really like when the prints get a bit bigger.

- Tim, I appreciate the idea of working on projects with a set print size. I wonder, which do you find easier to create succesful images for the small colour or large black and white series? I've had an idea of working on a series of small prints of about 6 by 6 inches perhaps, almost like trying to make a set of jewels, but haven't kicked it off yet as I've too much else holding my attention at present and, apart from only having limited time, don't want to dilute other work yet.

- Chris, I too have a 5D and 1Ds3 sitting a bit forlornley in the bag, whilst the GX100 goes everywhere. They will be used again, but I found with the GX100 that it stirred my ideas and vision in a way I decided to follow for a while.

- Asher, I am surprised that a 1Ds3 can make 10ft high prints that are engaging from 3 ft away, but I have been constantly amazed at what is possible and made a very clear decision to work much more on making pictures than worrying about the technical side for a bit (I find the technical much easier anyway with a mathematical background etc)

Cheers

Mike
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
....
- Asher, I am surprised that a 1Ds3 can make 10ft high prints that are engaging from 3 ft away, but I have been constantly amazed at what is possible and made a very clear decision to work much more on making pictures than worrying about the technical side for a bit (I find the technical much easier anyway with a mathematical background etc)
Mike,

That was a 1DsII not the 1DsIII. It all depends how detail rich the image has to be. Nicolas Claris here and others have won major awards for their maga-displays with the 1DsII! I've also see a massive street billboard made from a Nikon Digicam picture several years back!

Asher
 

Michael Fontana

pro member
>I'd start from the end use, your intent and work backwards.< Asher

That's my approach too.

If the °posters° will be in defined rooms, I'd wach them first, and decide basing on that.

You might notice too, that beeing in a certain size, the images will look at you - "expanding", meanwhile if they' re just a bit smaller, you walk to them - " introverted, or using your words: intimacy."

Off course, it depends on the images itself; as these two mentioned attitudes are parth of the individual image itselfs; therefore some photos will work out better in a modest scale, meanwhile some other ones cry to become big.

During my study, I blew up, too, and controlled the final size with projecting slides at the wall.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Thanks Diane for your kind words.
This is a billboard (AFAIK the right term in English, and the size is 4x3 meters - roughly 12x9 feet) in Paris subway:
Very colorful, eye-catching displays, Nicholas. Congratulations on the win and the project! I share your pleasant shock at how well the Canon 1DsII's images translate to very large displays.

Indeed, carefully created Canon 1DsII's images can be used for some very large displays. But so can those from the 1D II. Earlier this year (2006) several of my images were used by Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario for an exhibition of Frank Gehry's recent work. For the largest images (approx. 22' x 12', two pictured below) I carefully up-sized the image files 100%. Probably like yours, the images were then printed on vinyl with a VuTek system. When I visited the exhibit I really was shocked at the quality of reproduction!



(The two images shown above are here and here.)

These and other images were also used in light boxes outside the museum as well as at the CN Tower and they, too, looked terrific.

It's really quite a photographic world we live in today, eh?

Congratulations again!
Take a minute to read the original thread here.
So yes, the 1DsII can really make excellent mega-prints! So don't trick yourself into printing paralysis. Just think of how much detail has to be seen at what distance. Also make sure you read everything Bart has written on increasing file size (and shrinking pictures). Read some of that excellent technical discussion here.

So we do have a really rich resource in previous discussions. Lets use the OPF search engine more.

Asher
 

Mike Shimwell

New member
Take a minute to read the original thread here.
So yes, the 1DsII can really make excellent mega-prints! So don't trick yourself into printing paralysis. Just think of how much detail has to be seen at what distance. Also make sure you read everything Bart has written on increasing file size (and shrinking pictures). Read some of that excellent technical discussion here.

So we do have a really rich resource in previous discussions. Lets use the OPF search engine more.

Asher

Asher (and Nicolas and Ken!) - amazing. I thought I'd done well when I made a 30 inch wide print from my 5D... all I need now is something worth printing that big and someone wanting to pay for it.

Also, we really do have a rich resource. But, more than that, there's a real sense of community about the forum. I really appreciate your constant calls for kindness and humility, and the respect and care that people generally show for each other. To be able to share and discuss photography and pictures without discord and backbiting is something that I appreciate greatly.

Mike
 

Nicolas Claris

Administrator/Moderator
Just for your information, here is the orignal full frame shot we used:


1DS Mk2 - ISO 320 - 1/400s - ƒ10 - EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Yes they have been some work and PP on the file ;-)
If I remember correctly, her head (or was it just the hairs) comes from another pic of the serie, the sea and sunset as well…
 
In the exhibition space the big prints worked really well and rather than being imposing remained inviting.
This brings to mind a comment from the BBC series "The genius of photography", which was along the lines that a life-sized print may evoke a more emphatic reaction to human subjects in the picture.

Thomas
 
Top