Printed Picture Dynamics – The Good, Lackluster, and Frumpy

Question: with all the technical control afforded by imaging software, advances in digital camera technology, and constantly-improving pre-press and pressroom controls, why do many high-end publication images appear… somewhere between lackluster and frumpy? All aforementioned technology considered, every image in your publication should routinely appear razor sharp and highly detailed, but in too many cases, they don’t! It’s in your best interest to recognize this situation and ask why? Maitland 15

When you look at the feature article pictures in your publications, are you totally knocked out with the results? Are all images showing clarity, detail and definition? If your answer is “yes,” you can stop reading this post now; you are in a fortunate minority. Most publication Editors will answer this question with a quiet “not always,” even though their staff and contract photographers are true professionals. The photos are always well composed and technically accurate, and yet they still lack something.

B4&A-1Here’s a thought. You know those Architectural Digest and National Geographic-grade pictures that nearly assault your eye? Those full bodied, highly detailed mages have that special oomph of detail and authenticity that bumps them way above average Photoshop images. I was fortunate enough to work as a photoengraverfor many years early in my career, producing images for that level of publications, and now find it visually difficult to tolerate frumpy pictures. To me, it’s the visual equivalency to listening to an orchestra out-of-tune. It’s simply unacceptable at this level.

B4&A-2
Years ago top-shelf image preparation required precision optics, expensive equipment and highly-trained craftsmen. But in 2015, anyone with a digital camera, a computer and an understanding of the process can produce amazing work. Why then do we continue to see *frumpy pictures on the pages of high-end magazines?

There is only one reason. Frumpy pictures persist because of a lack of understanding about the unique requirements of the printing process. Magazine production departments are full of very talented designers and artists. They are thoroughly versed in the tools and techniques of both Photoshop and InDesign, but perhaps not so much in the fundamentals of light and color. Even professional photographers who finesse and obsess over their beautiful gicleé prints probably don’t fully understand litho color reproduction.bellingham-giclee-printing

The process of lithographic reproduction is quite different from that of inkjet printers. Let me change that. It’s entirely different, involving unique (highlight and shadow) tonal range adjustments, saturation settings, and even image sharpening. Printing presses have special dietary needs, and when fed correctly, they produce spectacular results. But when fed a generic photographic diet, they produce only generic results. Not exactly what you’re looking for.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you need to understand how light behaves. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and get you on track to capture and produce amazing color. In the next post I’ll propose causes for why frumpy happens. Watch next for “In the beginning. Lost in translation. A sin of omission.”


*frumpy pictures are soft fuzzy and lacking in detail

About Herb Paynter

I'm an author, photographer, and video producer living in Fort Pierce, Fl. I've been in the color game for more years than I care to admit. In that time I have picked up some insights and experience that I like to share.
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