A Lifelong Quest for Image Clarity

The title sounds ominous enough.

My first attempts to produce “snappy” pictures in print started in my sophomore year in college. I was the production manager for our college magazine and was determined to make the images in publication pop off the page.

I had no earthly idea how that was supposed to happen. I understood very little about either photography or the print reproduction game at the time. I remember accompanying the school photographer on assignments, asking him to shoot “high contrast pictures.” This was a little vague in direction, but it sounded like it should have an impact on the final print.

At that time I was working my way through college in the Reproduction Department of Tropical Gas Company in Miami Florida, running forms and reports and the company newsletter on the company’s Multilith 1250W duplicator (a small beginner’s version of a printing press).

Every time I wanted to print a black and white photo, I had to have the local “repro shop” produce a printing plate containing a halftone (a simulation of the photograph broken into variable size dots- see above). My halftone images usually printed flat, and I figured the fault had to belong to the photographer.

That was my early approach to QC in photographic images. I understood absolutely nothing about the photo/lithographic process but that was about to change big time.


To see the magic illusion of printed halftones, back away from your monitor by at least 12 feet.

What I came to realize shortly thereafter was that there were several VERY significant steps between the camera shot and the images coming out of the duplicator. Lighting in the photo was important, but it was only the first move in the production ballet. Then the critical steps of film development and photographic enlargement (the print) took place before the totally magic halftone conversion process happened. I found out that shaping the image after the photo was taken was the real secret to printed picture success. My learning “lights” began to turn on. Over the next few years, my quest for printed image clarity grew.

35mm-dev-tankI determined to learn and take control of all the steps in the process, starting with the photography, developing my own films, enlarging my own prints, and shooting my own halftone images. The quest was turning into a plan and was headed in the right direction. The kid was taking control.

My love for the process eventually drove me deep into the high-end lithographic trade, running publication presses and producing color separations.

Funny how life unfolds. Here I am over fifty years later and I’m still on that quest for image clarity. After decades in the litho and photography trades, I’m still on track and still learning stuff. Digital images have replaced film emulsions, computer processing succeeded the rocking of film canisters and print trays, I’m editing on a digital display instead of dodging and burning under an enlarger, and printing on large format inkjet printers instead of spitting paper out of a small quick-copy duplicator.


Never settle for the image that first comes out of the camera. There’s always more detail below the surface.

But the goal remains: the perpetual quest for image clarity. Actually, it’s the same goal I’ve had all along, the game is just played on a larger field. No matter where you are in this visual journey, never stop learning. It’s an honorable and rewarding quest!

That’s the way I sees it.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to push light around to make your images look better, I can help. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go online and get this video series. Get Bright About Light!

Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Opinions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Color Balance is All About Neutral Gray

Sometimes taking a neutral position on things isn’t really the safe thing to do – sometimes it’s downright destructive! Your camera may not be as smart as you think!

WB Camera Setting  

Auto White Balance. Your camera’s Auto White Balance, or AWB is the most popular color balance selection used by most of us believing that the camera will automatically sort out any lighting anomolies, or is at least more capable of judging lighting conditions than we are. But assuming that AWB will diagnose all lighting issues and set the proper color temperature is quite risky. Here’s why.

Color Wheel NeutralThe first thing to understand about color is that in the language of RGB color, equal values of red, green, and blue (like red 128, green 128, and blue 128) will produce an absolutely neutral gray color.

The AWB algorithm in your camera always assumes that there is a detectable neutral gray component present in every scene. It then examines the light reflecting from objects in the scene and locks onto the cluster of pixels whose individual values are the closest to being equal. The AWB algorithm then dutifully forces those colors to become absolutely neutral value. And at the same time, all other colors in the scene are shifted to the same degree. This is the heart of auto white balance. Most times, that works out well. But sometimes the result is disastrous.

AWB works if the assumed neutral color in the scene is suppose to be neutral (gray) in color. The automatic color shift will then truly improve the balance of color in the image.Alaska NiteLight
But, if the scene doesn’t actually contain a neutral gray component; if there is a bluish –almost-gray item (like the snow scene above) in the scene, and you capture the image with Auto White Balance, the real colors in the scene will be neutered. The image on the left was captured with Daylight setting. The image on the right was captured with AWB. Notice that the camera interpreted the bluish snow as “neutral,” rendering it unnaturally gray. The image processor in the camera changed that bluish color to neutral gray, and shifted all the other colors in the scene in the same direction on the color wheel absolutely destroying the emotion of the scene.

Notice that in the color wheel illustration above, yellow is the polar opposite of  blue. When the bluish snow was interpreted as gray, all the colors in the scene shifted toward yellow. This is the way color balance works.

Gray is not a color. If color were political, it would be Swiss (politically neutral). It may sound strange, but color balance is all about gray. Neutral gray is the colorless backbone of accurate color because it contains equal values of all three RGB colors. Gray is the standard by which all accurate color is judged. Auto White Balance in cameras is useless unless there is an element within the scene that is absolutely neutral “color.”

With all the whiz-bang technology and automated functions built in to today’s cameras, we photographers (whether accomplished or improving) tend to be a bit lazy with this AWB setting. Successful photographers (like the ones who inspired you to purchase your camera) didn’t become successful by accident, they learned by making mistakes like this. Their education of photography included learning about how light behaves.

The best color balance setting for any scene is the one you will choose after evaluating the lighting in the scene. Understanding color all starts with understanding how light and color behave. When you get beyond learning composition and and the mechanics of your camera’s controls, you realize that learning about light is THE most important part of photography. You will eventually realize that light is the one thing you MUST learn to control. In truth, light is the only thing you can control in photography.

You can either learn about color and how to control it in your camera the easy way or the hard way. If you really want to understand what makes color work, and learn how light behaves, I can help you. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go online and get this video series. Get Bright About Light!

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Ensure Tack-Sharp Images

Blurry Image

How many times have you captured images that look sharp and detailed as a thumbnails only to have them lose that sharpness when the files are opened in Photoshop? If you’re like me, TOO MANY times. It happens to all of us all too often. But it doesn’t have to. You probably know many reasons why and how to avoid the problems. Here are some of my most careless focus mistakes, and how I’ve learned to avoid them.

Clean the lens

First and Foremost- Clean the lens. Fingerprints and dust on the lens are the most obvious hinderances to sharp pictures and are one of the most commonly overlooked causes. Carry a small clean microfiber cloth (or packets of lens cleaning wipes) in your camera bag at all times, and keep the lens cap on the lens when it’s not in use.


Stopping Down LensFind the optimal f-stop for your lens. Lenses are at their sharpest toward the center of the ground glass. It is widely known that 3-4 stops down from wide open produces the sharpest results. When you stop down a lens, you effectively eliminate the soft nature of the outside edges of the lens. If your shot doesn’t require an extremely shallow depth of field (to blur the background), close the lens down several stops and compensate for the exposure with either an increased ISO number or a slower shutter speed. Closing the lens will also guarantee that more of the subject will stay in focus.

Canon_f_1.4Canon Zoom lens

Use faster lenses. Buy the fastest glass you can afford. THE most critical equipment in your camera bag is not your camera body, but the quality of your lenses. Economy lenses produce mediocre results. Save your money and invest in great lenses (2.8 or faster). A 1.4 prime (fixed length) lens will always produce sharper images, though it will certainly cost more money. Most of us carry at least one zoom lens, but zoom lenses are seldom faster than 2.8, and many are 4 – 5.6. The lower the number, the more efficiently light passes through the lens. Efficiency equals speed.


DOF ButterflyCalculate your DOF. Choose an f-stop that will keep your entire subject in sharp focus. Remember the 1/3-2/3 rule (https://wordpress.com/post/thewayeyeseesit.com/1766). If you want to keep your subject in full focus while blurring the background, do the math to figure out the depth of field that will remain in full focus at a particular distance. Each length lens has it’s own “pocket of precision” or focal zone for each subject-lens distance. Take the time to explore your lens’ capabilities so that you will be prepared.


Manual Focus

Switch to Manual focus. Unless your subject has a high level of contrasting edges and is located in the middle of your field of view, try switching to manual focus. Auto focus is a life-saver most of the time, but a higher contrast non-subject item in the scene could steal the camera’s attention. Camera Auto Focus is designed to zero-in on high contrast. The highest contrast in the scene will always grab the camera’s focus. If your subject is located in subdued lighting, switch to manual.



Avoid hand-held shots below 1/125 sec. No matter how still you hold your camera, your body will always be in motion to some degree. The fact that we all breath and have a heartbeat means that even the slightest human motion will most likely become an issue.


Shutter SpeedIncrease your shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds in hand-held conditions always present problems. Even the slight motion of pushing the shutter button is a contributing factor in this process. While the accepted rule is to avoid hand-held shots below 1/160 sec, I personally make it a point to not shoot below 1/125 sec when hand-held.


ISO-ScaleCompensate ISO for speed. If your shot requires more light, try dialing up more image sensor light sensitivity (increased ISO). Most ideal lighting situations work at 200-400 ISO, but low lighting scenarios may require you to set the camera to a significantly higher sensor setting. But keep in mind that the ISO setting determines how sensitive the image sensor is to light and darkness. Very high ISO will display higher levels of electronic noise in you picture. Noise is the polar opposite of “signal.” Make your choice of ISO carefully if the image is to be enlarged at all.


Tripod with remoteUse a tripod and a remote trigger. The ultimate preparation for capturing sharp and detailed images is to take human motion out of the equation altogether. Once you mount your camera on a tripod, frame the scene, set the focus, set the appropriate f-stop for the depth of field, switch to the electronic shutter (if available on your camera) and set up a remote trigger using either a cable release or smart phone app. Then sit back and be ready to pull the trigger when the scene is right on the LCD display.


SquirrelyIf you’re shooting animal life, move away from the camera and monitor everything remotely. Also consider shooting in small bursts to insure against Murphy’s law.

There are only a couple of reasons for purposely soft images. Portrait lenses are designed to be soft in order to minimize flaws and wrinkles in skin and ethereal or fantasy scenes are best recorded in a wispy or hazy focal point. However, most pictures are intended to produce sharp and detailed results. Try to keep from excessive sharpening of your images in the editing process in an attempt to bring out detail. Every time you sharpen an image in post production you also enhance the non-subject elements in the scene.

Get disciplined about capturing detail in your original shot. Take the time to learn each of these precautions, practice each of them and then review them mentally before you take your shot.

Get bright about light and stay focused.

That’s the way eye sees it. Feel free to leave a comment and enter the conversation. Thanks for joining me. If you like what you read, let me know and tell your friends. Click on the Follow The Way Eye Sees It button at the top of the page to join the regulars. Visit the http://imageprep.net website to see examples of how to improve your image(s).

Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you must understand how light behaves. And I’ve developed 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.  http://gottaknowvideos.com


Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

Rescue the Perishing with Raw Processing

Never give up on an image just because its tonal range seems beyond rescue. If something caught your eye about the scene and you took the time to frame the shot, even if the histogram (upper left of the image) displays dreaded white or black point clipping and the photo is a lowly 8-Bit JPEG image, RAW processing can resuscitate the near-dead.

Genoa Bridge B4The shot above was one I captured while visiting Genoa Italy. The composition and framing were good but the 1) lighting was too stark with the blacks closed in and the whites blown out, 2) the histogram (upper left) revealed clipping, and 3) I only captured the image in JPEG format. Three strikes and your out, right? Maybe not.

Genoa Bridge AfterFirst, give your editing some elbow room. Set the Image/Mode to 16 Bits/Channel. This simple move quadruples the number of tones available for readjustment. Next, open the image in a RAW interpreter software package (take your pick, they all offer the same basic tools). Then, lessen the Contrast and Exposure, lighten the Shadows and darken the Highlights while watching the Histogram, making sure you don’t take your adjustments too far. Finally, Sharpen the image to taste. Since RAW software simply doesn’t allow you to over sharpen images the way Photoshop does, explore the possibilities while previewing the adjustments (holding the Option/Alt key). I took the liberty to add a sepia effect in the Split Toning window (Camera Raw)

Genoa Bridge Histo Genoa Bridge Sharp

What started out as a photo reject actually produced a texture-rich image. Lesson to be learned… NEVER give up.

Click on the Follow The Way Eye Sees It button at the top of the page to join the regulars. Visit the http://imageprep.net website to see examples of how to improve your image(s).

Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you must understand how light behaves. And I’ve developed 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.  http://gottaknowvideos.com

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

Exercising The Art of Restraint

When processing photographic images, the greatest skill is knowing when to stop. This is a lesson I learned long ago. My entire career has been involved with color photography and image reproduction. I’ve invested more years in this area than I care to admit or that you care to know.

Harbor Street Original

A quaint old harbor street in San Juan Puerto Rico. The scene was colorful enough by itself. Very little enhancement was required to portray the scene the way my eyes observed it.

I worked my way through college running one of the printing presses in a large color reproduction house in Miami. We produced much of Miami’s high-end tourist and real estate pulp. An overactive curiosity drove me to learn virtually all facets of the image reproduction process. I invested over twenty years in pressroom, pre-press, color separation, studio photography and image processing, and that was prior digital! As a result, I pretty much understand how to control the whole process now.

In all those years, I was exposed to both craftsmen and cowboys in every aspect of the process.  I observed professionals and amateurs at every station, and I learned something from each. But one thing has always separated the pros from the cons in my mind; the true professionals exhibited the art of restraint. They knew when to stop pushing the process beyond the point of believability; their respect for the tools and the trade governed their production. That mantra of restraint has governed my photography and image processing work throughout my career.


When film and chemistry began it’s transition to pixels and software, I was at the right place at the right time to get involved in the industry transition, consulting with the new giants of publishing: Apple, Adobe, and Aldus and producing the first four-color literature in the industry. At first, the exuberance of the new breed of desktop publishers tended to overproduce everything.

379165 CCil1202

Fascination with new opportunities doesn’t always produce professional results

Like a little girl discovering her mother’s makeup, almost all the initial production was filled with too much of everything; color, fonts, drop-shadows, boxes, etc. The maturity of good taste was in short supply. But within a few years, a level of restraint and professional taste prevailed.

In our years as an Adobe Developer, my company (ImageXpress) produced an AI (artificial intelligence) image processing system for Photoshop called ScanPrep. Much of my photo/imaging experience went this plug-in for the fledgling desktop publishing industry. ScanPrep automated all Photoshop imaging processes and optimized scanned images for accurate reproduction.

The temptation to over saturate and over sharpen images to produce a WOW factor was purposely tempered by the instilled art of restraint. ScanPrep won all the publishing awards for years and was employed by virtually all major publishers, newswire picture desks, and yearbook publishers because it produced striking color images, but kept their appearance within the limits of reality.

This same harbor street processed by enhancement software. The lines are over-defined, the contrast is jacked up, and the colors are over-saturated. Good for expressive applications.

Harbor Street OnOne

Today many popular image processing software packages offer pre-set enhancements and amped effects that are quite beautiful and very popular largely because they effortlessly hype scene images to a surrealistic degree. I personally love the edgy and exaggerated results that I can achieve with this software for art’s sake. Be careful to only use select the images for this treatment. If every image gets over-enhanced, your “style” will get stuck in software surrealism. Keep the body of your work your style.


As with all sharp tools… use with caution.

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | 3 Comments

Depth of Field and the 1/3 – 2/3 Rule

All photographers know that higher number f-stops mean greater depth of field, but maybe some don’t realize that there is an important ratio involved in the field of focus. This ratio must be considered when choosing the f-stop for a particular shot.

While the length of the lens drastically affects how much of the subject will be in total focus, where you set your focus point is critically important. This is particularly true when using automatic spot focusing and manual focusing. Learn to divide the desired focus area into thirds and set the focus one-third of that distance. When you focus on a particular spot, two thirds of the focal range behind that spot will remain in focus while only one third of the area in front of that spot will remain sharp. This is why portrait photographers set their focus on the subject’s eyes. This way the features of the entire head remain in focus.

DOF f-2.8

f-2.8 focused on middle bottle results in only one bottle in clear focus

DOF f-22

f-22 focused on middle bottle results in all three bottles in field of focus

DOF Stagger

Side view show bottles unevenly staggered in 1/3 – 2/3 ratio

A 35mm lens set at f-7.1 will have a much larger focal area than the same lens is set at f-2.8. Below are three examples of shots taken the same distance (16 inches) from the image sensor. What’s important here is not so much the actual focal area, but the fact that as the lens is closed down from 2.8 to 5.0 and further to 7.1, the area of focus (depth of field) almost doubles. Notice that as the f-stops increase in number, the area of focus increases, but the ratio remains constant.

DOF f2.8DOF f5DOF f7.1

The triad cocktail of ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop determine not only the exposure but the precise area of the photo that will remain in good focus. No amount of post-sharpening will rescue a shot with a shallow depth of field. Think ahead and you’ll be very happy that you did!

Visit the http://imageprep.net website to get a fuller picture of how to improve your image(s).Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what produces great color photography, you must understand how light behaves, both in the capture process and in post-processing. I’ve developed 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.  http://gottaknowvideos.com

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

Overlooking the Un-obvious

Squirrel6-RAW Interpreter

RAW file adjusted in RAW interpreter software (Lightroom, Camera RAW, etc) 

Virtually all digital photos contain more detail than can be seen in the image that comes out of the camera. This statement is neither exaggeration nor overstatement, it is a provable fact. When these original images first appear on the monitor (JPEG or RAW) they are the digital equivalent of one-size-fits-all garments. They cover the essentials but rarely reveal significant detail.

Squirrel6-Original JPEG        Squirrel6-JPEG-Levels

Initial JPEG view of RAW file                            JPEG Adjusted in Photoshop Levels

JPG files are simply ballpark or “stock” interpretations of the RAW files. Initial JPEG algorithms are blind to the tone and color contents of the image; they simply apply the very same interpretation to the RAW data. Even if the file is slightly over or underexposed, the same tired JPEG formulation is applied indiscriminately, causing many “good” images to be assumed “bad.”

Even when you view a RAW camera file, you are only viewing a single run-of-the-mill JPEG interpretation of the detail captured by a digital camera. Even within the RAW interpreter, this initial image seen is only a rough starting point. There is always more detail just below the surface of every camera file; more detail than even professional photographers realize.

There are five basic tonal areas to be adjusted and modulated in both a RAW and a JPEG file, though the 16-bit arena of tones lets you push these ranges around amidst many more tones. JPEG files are 8-bit files, which means that they display only 256 tones of each RGB color. RAW files, on the other hand, contain either 12 or 14 bits of information (depending on your camera’s image sensor). 12 bit files contain over 4,000 tones, and 14 bit files provide over 16,000 tones of each RGB color.

Don’t let the word “bit” scare you. A bit is just the smallest metric of tonal value. Think of bits as the number of stair steps between the floors of a building. The more bits (levels of tone) in an image means more freedom to adjust the tones. It’s all about digital elbow room. In the case of image editing… more IS better.

So here’s some common-sense advice. Your camera captures all images as RAW data by default, so save your files in RAW format and enjoy a nearly limitless latitude of tonal adjustments. Raw files NEVER get overwritten because the data is never actually changed. When you save your adjusted image, you typically save the edit as a high-value JPEG file. Any adjustments made to RAW files are merely recipes of possible interpretations; you can spin off an unlimited variety of JPEGs with impunity. No risk, only reward. Working with RAW images will set you free to experiment and explore everything your camera’s image sensor has captured, and… you can save the (.xmp) recipe files individually for future reference and recall. Can’t lose with that!

Visit the http://imageprep.net website to get a fuller picture of how to improve your image(s).Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you must understand how light behaves. And I’ve developed 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.  http://gottaknowvideos.com

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | 1 Comment

Out of the Shadows and Into the Light

Uncovering Hidden Details In the Shadows. There are usually significant details hidden under the weight of the darkest parts of an image. These darker details are very rich and revealing, and to some extent they are recoverable, but they must be carefully extrapolated. The reason why these details are hiding has to do with the default linear tone mapping that takes place in the camera when the image is being captured. While image sensors see light linearly, the human eye doesn’t!

Notice the illustration below. The reason the top gradation stripe looks “natural” is because that’s the way your eye registers light; pretty evenly distributed across the range. The bottom strip is how your camera parses that same volume of light.
LinearCapture Eye-Camera

Compared to human eyesight, digital camera sensors are biased in the way they capture light. It is a known fact that over half the luminance range captured by digital cameras favors the lightest portions of the photos while the darkest tones are quite compacted. When an image is opened in an image editing application, the highlight and quarter-tone detail is lavishly represented while the shadow/three-quarter tones are scantly recorded. Put simply, the image sensor is designed to dynamically record light. The brighter the light, the more information is recorded. Where I come from, this is called blatant discrimination!

It is for this reason that images saved in RAW format can captured a bit overexposed (when referencing the on-camera histogram). There is always more information present in the image than the histogram can reveal. Truth be known, the beloved histogram only displays the relative values of just 128 corridors of tone. Considering the fact that even consumer-level cameras can capture well over 16,000,000 colored tones, there are plenty of the darker tones to open up without encountering objectionable “posterizing” effects.DIM 2-B4

Arch B4 HistAbove, you see a published example of an image significantly lacking in shadow detail. To the left you see the histogram of that image. Notice that the shadow side of the histogram is not slammed up against the left side. This is a good sign. It means that there is still room for adjustment.

DIM 2-After

Arch Aft HistAbove, you see a published example of an image significantly lacking in shadow detail. To the left you see the histogram of that image. Notice that the shadow side of the histogram is not slammed up against the left side. This is a good sign. It means that there is still room for adjustment.

Above you see that same image after the shadow tones have been moved toward the middle tones, resulting in the darkest areas of the photo showing much more detail. Notice the histogram to the left. In spite of the original image being a second generation JPEG, there was ample detail in the shadow region that just needed to be opened.

Also notice that this shift of the shadow tones didn’t affect the quarter-tones and highlights. Remember, detail is a product of internal contrast. If you want to see shadow detail, you’ll have to “expose” the internal contrast within the shadow tones. The key to good photo interpretation is balance, and balance is governed by the type of lighting in the scene (high key, normal, low key, etc.) Learn to interpret the effective light range (either at exposure or during editing) and take bold steps to deliver both smooth transitions and visual detail.

What to do? Because of this digital camera “weighted” light range, three imperatives become evident for editing digital images. First, capture your  images in your camera’s RAW format (perhaps in conjunction with a high-level JPEG format. Second, slightly overexpose your images. Remember, your camera captures vast levels of quarter tones and highlight detail. And third, get serious about spreading out the lower end of the contrast range in your RAW Interpreter software like ON1 Photo Raw, Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. These editing tools present very similar tone adjustment toolsets that allow for significant internal contrast adjustments with absolutely no loss of detail.

Shadow detail is not nearly as fragile as some would purport. The lower range of the tonal range is quite robust. The human eye doesn’t perceive tone separation in the shadow tones as much as it does in the lighter tones. Don’t be afraid to push some of those three-quarter tones north toward the middle range of tones. Your images (and your viewers) will thank you for the clarification. One more note about shadow details; they actually need to be separated to display properly. Separate those tones and watch the details jump out. Visit the http://imageprep.net website to get a fuller picture of how to improve your image(s).

Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you must understand how light behaves. And I’ve developed 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.  http://gottaknowvideos.com

Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Tonality and Appearance, Underpinnings and Core Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dots Definitely Derail Digital Detail

This is a topic that probably hasn’t kept you up at night, until now.

The dynamics and detail of photographs that are reproduced on a printing press can get significantly compromised by the very process that produces them.

The reason the pictures in your magazines do not look as sharp in print as they looked on your computer monitor is because of tiny little dots. The transition between square pixels and round dots is not a seamless one. This is because the halftone process uses variable-size dots to portray the tones and colors found in photographs. The tones in between white and pure (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) colors are simulated by variable-size, solid color dots. The very enlarged picture below shows the process.


The illusion created by these dots is truly amazing and actually works quite well, but the dot matrix certainly presents problems. Notice that you don’t see much detail at this size. However, if you view your screen from about twelve feet away, you’ll literally see a different picture. In truth, the dots employed in the printing process are much too small to be seen by the naked eye, but smaller detail that is evident in the pixel-based computer file literally falls between the dots in the halftone process. There is a pretty severe limit on how much detail can be produced by somewhat symmetrical round dots. Dots definitely derail digital detail. Therein lies both the problem and the challenge.

But not all is lost. Innovative techniques have recently been developed that digitally enhance this process. The real magic happens in the post photography editing/enhancement stage by carefully massaging the four tone-zones of each image’s internal contrast. Professional image sharpening doesn’t happen by choosing the “Sharpen” command from the Photoshop menu, it comes from controlling zone contrast.


But this all must begin with a solid understanding of digital image processing and the pixel-halftone conversion process. Printed images from digital cameras can now produce detail not possible with traditional photo and lithographic processes.

Imageprep Communications Logo v2


Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

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 photoengraver for 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.

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.

Imageprep bannerThis series is a small excerpt from my on-site training two-day series: Image Clarification. See http://imageprep.net/onsite-training.html for more information.

That’s the way eye sees it. Feel free to leave a comment and keep the conversation going. If you saw this post listed on a LI group page, add a comment to the listing in that group! Thanks for joining me. If you like this blog, let me know and tell your friends.

This is the first appearance of the spooky series called Image Tonality and the Histogram. This first installment is open to the public but the balance of the series will be available only to followers of this blog. Sign in now (top right of this page).

See you next time, Herb



Click the Follow button at the top of the page so you don’t miss any future posts.

*frumpy pictures are soft fuzzy and lacking in detail

Posted in Printed Picture Dynamics, Tonality and Appearance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment