Transmitted Light Photography--The Lost Art of Backlighting

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In order to find this out you're going to have to give a company a chance to do your reproduction, and that's why we have always offered a guarantee that if we couldn't match an original to the artist's satisfaction, we wouldn't charge for the proofing. That way, you are free to try us and see if what we are saying about our quality is really true. We work with all artists and photographers on any size job.

In fact, we do far more small jobs than large jobs because the nature of giclee printing means we do lots of small print runs as they are needed. We know artists and enjoy working with them. While many companies complain that artists are too picky, we've found that, in general, we're more particular than they are, which is why so many artists and photographers are thrilled with our work. Basically, the old advertising slogan of 'No job is too large or too small,' would apply to us.

No, but that doesn't mean their prints look bad, they just don't do the things required to produce the entire tonal range of a an image without losing any color gamut, and to be able to produce the same color 6 month or 3 years later. These things require significant skills and equipment which are not the same as those needed in photography, photo developing, copying, etc. Many people think that if a photo lab processes their film accurately and gives them good photo prints, they must also do good scans, captures or good giclee prints.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Some of the worst quality scans and prints we have ever seen have come from very good photo labs and photographers. Unfortunately for artists, the general perception in the digital printing industry is that art printing is a nice sideline to increase your profits by printing on canvas. At a recent sign industry trade show there were seminars on how to improve your bottom line by producing fine art prints, as if sign shops were in any way qualified to reproduce artwork.

We like to point out that unlike many other companies who offer fine art printing services, this is a main part of our business, not a sideline. It's not just a way for us to generate extra revenue with our other equipment. We have specific equipment purchased specifically for photo and fine art printing, and have different equipment for our other types of printing so that our quality is the best for each type of printing we offer. This is one of the most common questions we're asked. Basically, there is no way to be completely safe from this type of abuse and the best thing you can do is work with a reputable printer that you trust.

We do several things to make it easier for our clients to feel comfortable in working with us. First, we have a reputation to protect. Unlike some companies who don't have much invested in their business, we have significant amounts of time and money invested in building our business, and nothing would jeopardize that faster than taking advantage of our clients. If that trust were ever violated, it would be very difficult to continue to do business. Second, we state our guarantee that the only prints we make of each piece is part of the limited edition on our certificates of authenticity.

Having this statement in writing makes many artists feel more comfortable. We do often place small thumbnail images of artwork on our website's gallery page to show off the work of our clients. We've gone to a great deal of effort to ensure that the larger versions of these images cannot be saved or printed to keep visitors to our website from illegally copying our clients work.

We have also used portions of a select few images on our printed samples so that prospective clients can see a printed image on each media to better judge their qualities. Because the samples are small, about six inches square, and to protect the image from copying, we only use a section of each image and clearly give the artist credit so that there is no question. Lastly, we don't sell artwork. There are many businesses that provide print making services as well as acting as galleries or agents to sell the work. We are receiving more and more requests from artists who would like us to offer prints for sale, and it does seem like a natural extension of our business, but we feel this situation might make some artists uncomfortable, as there is no way to verify that all the prints being made and sold are properly accounted for.

This is why we have not offered any prints for sale. Until we can devise a system that will not create an atmosphere of distrust that we see with other printers who sell reproductions, we will continue to refrain from selling prints. Ultimately, anyone who has access to your images and wishes to cheat you could find some way to do it. In our case, we never have nor ever would sell a client's reproductions without their knowledge. We would have far more to lose in doing this than we could ever gain.

A Certificate of Authenticity is a document provided with each limited edition print that certifies that print is authentic and provides details such as the specifics of the original and the number of the print in the edition that the certificate is for. Not every artist provides certificates with their prints. Open editions or any series of prints that aren't numbered and signed by the artist wouldn't typically need one, but they are common and make a nice selling point.

Galleries in particular seem to like them. We used to offer certificates, but it was too difficult for us to produce them since all our equipment is designed for large prints and not the small certiciate size prints, so we stopped offering them. Most certificates are very simple and can easily be produced by the artist on a copier or desktop printer. The certificate should include the details on the original, such as the name of the painting, the size, the medium and the dimensions.

Other information such as the date is was painted and any interesting background on the painting is often included. It should also include the details of the reproduction, most importantly is the size of the edition and the number in the edition of the print. On average it takes about two weeks to complete the scanning or capture of the original, initial color correction and proof. If you provide a digital file with the original, it takes about a week to complete the color correction and proof. If a file is submitted with no original or proof for matching purposes, it takes days to print a proof or to print the actual job if a proof is not requested.

The initial phase is the most time consuming since it involves the color correction process, but it is best not to rush this portion of the process since it could negatively affect all your subsequent prints. Once the proof is received by the artist, they can either approve it as is, approve it with changes, or request changes and a new proof.

If a new proof is necessary, allow about days to complete this new round of color correction and proofing. Once the proof is accepted, printing usually takes about days, depending on the size of the order. So, about three to four weeks from start to finish is average, but if you have a particular deadline, we will juggle as best we can to accommodate you.

If you have a major rush and we must bump other jobs to complete yours, a rush charge will be required. Reprint orders are usually completed in days and can be done faster if necessary. Since we keep the final, color corrected files on hand and ready to print, the reprinting process goes fairly quickly. This enables artists to accept orders for prints and fulfill them within a week, thus reducing the need to carry an inventory of prints on hand.

This is probably our most frequently asked question, and one of the most difficult to answer. The real answer is you should charge as much as someone is willing to pay, but that's not very useful. The lower the cost of the original, the more expensive the giclee print would be as a percentage of the cost of the original and vice versa. That's really just a guideline, but it's a good range to start with. Ultimately, the market will decide the value of your prints. In our experience, you should be careful not to price your prints, or your originals, too low.

With artwork this sometime has the reverse effect and makes customers feel the print or original isn't as good as prints that are more expensive. It's important to find the right balance to get your prints priced where they will sell the best. Yes, we go to great lengths to ensure this. The equipment we use is very color stable, as are the inks.

Since the inks are produced to exacting industry standards, and we only use the manufacturers inks, there is no measurable color shift from one batch of ink to the next. To further ensure there is no problem, we regularly recalibrate to account for any variation in the ink, equipment, or environmental conditions that could affect the output. We also keep a small proof of each original on hand so that if there is any question about the accuracy of the color, we have something to refer to as a control. This is useful in the case of an equipment malfunction or other unusual occurrence.

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None of this is usually necessary, but it's important to have these controls in place just in case. Our policy on this is that we will provide the finished files at a smaller size that is large enough to use for postcards, greeting cards, brochures, advertisements and websites.

We can also provide the raw, un-color corrected files. We will also provide the full size files for those who wish to pay our regular prepress rates for scans and color correction time. The reasoning behind this is that the smaller size files are large enough for anything but printing the full size reproductions, so unless an artist is planning to take our scans to another printer, they would have no need for them.

If they do want to take our scans to another printer, then they need to pay our regular scanning and color correction rates, as the rates we charge artists are greatly discounted when we are also doing the printing. The only other reason for the artist to have copies of their files is for safe keeping should anything happen to our files. See "What do you do if something happens to my files? We're sorry to have to implement this policy, but too many people were taking advantage of our scanning and color correction expertise without paying for it.

Once your images have been color corrected and the proof has been approved, we make backup copies of the files for safe keeping and a duplicate is kept offsite, so there are three copies of the file for safety. Plus, our main storage has a redundant backup system to protect against equipment failure. We can also make a reduced-size copy of your files on CD for you to keep as well.

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This is included in our prepress package or can be ordered separately. This has the added benefit of allowing you to use these color corrected files for other purposes such as promotional brochures or advertisements. In the unlikely event that something happened to every copy, the process could be done over, but this would a big inconvenience to everyone so we take these steps to ensure this doesn't become necessary. So far, we have never had a problem with a single primary copy of an artists file, so none of the backups have been necessary.

We do more work outside our home state of Utah than we do locally. We have large numbers of clients on both coasts and even do work for clients overseas in places like Monaco, Greece, New Zealand, the Caribbean and the French West Indies.

In reality, we seldom get to meet the artists we work for in person, instead relying on phone calls and e-mails. This is even true for local artists who find it more convenient to work the same way. So, no, it's not a problem if you don't live near us and no we don't know of other companies who do this work that we are comfortable recommending. While it's helpful to have the original for color matching purposes, it's often not possible or practical.

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In those cases we recommend sending us a quality 4x5 or larger transparency, or having a professional digital capture. Slides, negatives or prints will work too, but not as well. Slides are fine for small reproductions, but at sizes above 11x14, the film grain starts to affect the quality, especially at sizes above 16x Negatives can also be used but the color is frequently different than the prints that were made from them due to the fact that whoever developed the prints probably made adjustments that aren't reflected in the negatives.

Negatives are also typically more grainy which is usually not desirable. Prints can also be used but the quality will not be as good as from a transparency so they are not the best choice. We will obviously need to rely on your feedback for color correction when we don't have the original, but this usually goes fairly smoothly.

You do have to change your expectations for the first print, however. Since we only have the transparency for reference, and these are frequently not exactly right, there could be some fairly significant adjustments necessary after the first proof is reviewed. So, don't be shocked or disappointed if the first proof is off in these cases. If your transparency is very good, the first proof will sometimes be the only proof. We've been called geniuses by our clients on more than one occasion because their first proof was judged perfect, when in reality, the photographers who shot the transparencies deserved at least half the credit.

If your work is created digitally, then you obviously don't need any scanning or photography of your art. You can submit your file electronically with your order, or you can also send them on disk or CD.

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We always recommend a proof since many artists are working in RGB color mode on uncalibrated systems, which can lead to some significant variances between what the artists sees on their monitor or printer and the information that is actually in their file, which is what we will print. Even if this is not the case, a proof is always a good idea so that you can see exactly how your prints will look before ordering any quantity of them. If you find any corrections are necessary, you can either make them yourself, or have us do it. We prefer CMYK tiff or Photoshop files as they allow the artist to see their work in the color space it will print in, but RGB files are also fine, and can actually provide better results when printing on glossy medias such as photo paper and canvas.

This is actually not necessary with a full color management system, such as the one we use. This usually takes some explanation, so here is our simplified color management lesson. In order to print accurate color from any printer, a color profile must be created.

There are variations on the process, but basically a calibration is done by printing a set of color swatches and measuring them with a spectrophotometer, establishing an ink limit, and then creating a profile by measuring a set of to color swatches.

This has to be done for each combination of printer, printing material, resolution, dot pattern, print passes, etc. Periodically, the calibration or linearization must be updated to account for variations in humidity, printer performance, temperature, etc. So, as you can tell, it's quite a bit of work to create high quality color profiles.

Like most things, there are high end and low end ways to create profiles, just as their are high and low end ways to use them. The simple, inexpensive way to use a color profile is to open an image in Photoshop or another image editing program, and apply the profile directly to the image. This will, in effect, change the image so that when it's printed with that same combination of printer, material, resolution, dot pattern, etc.

It's in this scenario that you would need a color profile for your image to print correctly.

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While this method employs color management, it's not a color management system. In order for you to get accurate color in this setup, you have to have the specific profile for the combinations we mentioned before. Once applied, the image is altered and will only work with that combination. If any single aspect of the job changes, the color will not be accurate.

As environmental conditions change over time, the profile also becomes invalid. As you can see, this becomes a logistical nightmare and it's the main reason why this method tends to produce less accurate color, and less consistent color from one job to the next.

It's really because it's so much work to keep track of all these profiles, remember which ones are applied to which images, keep track of the version of the profile that's applied when it get's recalibrated over time, etc. A full color management system, like the one we use, works a little differently. It detects any color profiles assigned in a file, called input profiles, and converts the color using the profile we've created, which is the output profile, so that the color will match as closely as possible.

All the different output profiles we create are stored and used by a dedicated raster image processor, or RIP. The RIP keeps track of all the color profiles for every printing material, dot pattern, resolution, and more, and automatically uses that profile when the image is printed.

All the profiles are maintained in one location, and if any of them get updated or recalibrated, the new version replaces the old version so any time an image is printed, the most recent profile is always used. Likewise, if any parameters such as resolution or dot pattern change, the proper profile is used. This has several additional benefits. Because the profiles are managed by the RIP, it takes the management of all those thousands of profiles and their updates, and makes the process automatic, freeing us up to concentrate on the quality of the profiles themselves.

It also means that your original image is never altered. We can use the same image on any printer or material, with any kind of ink and at any resolution, and have them all print essentially the same. Without a full color management system, each different use of the image would require a different file, and each of those files would have to be updated or recreated every time they were printed. So, you can see why an actual color management system is ideal, and it's why there is no reason for us to provide color profiles for you to apply to your images.

Yes you can, but that doesn't mean you should. If you honestly feel you can do as good a job as a professional, then there is no reason to have someone else do it. If, however, you don't have the proper camera equipment, the proper lighting, and the skill to pull it off, spend the money and have it done right. If your transparencies are poor, the reproductions will suffer and it's not worth it to save a few dollars. If you're using a digital camera that doesn't have sufficient resolution, you will have a loss of detail and sharpness and shouldn't expect the same quality you would get from film or a high res digital capture.

Below on the left is an example of a digital photo taken by a professional at a photo lab compared with the same image on the right that was captured with a high res digital back in our studio.

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You can see the difference in detail that was captured by our process. We could sharpen and improve the digital camera image, but it will never be as good because it doesn't contain as much information. That being said, if you do wish to photograph your own artwork, here are some things to keep in mind. First, use the highest resolution camera you can get your hands on.

We have special software we use to enlarge smaller files for printing at larger sizes, and it does a remarkable job. However, the more information we start with the better the results will be. So, even if you have to rent or borrow a camera, get the highest resolution you can. Cameras at megapixels are not that hard to find, and there are some professional cameras now with resolutions as high as 36 megapixels or higher. The extra effort you go to in getting a higher resolution photo will make every print from that image that much better.

Try to shoot the photo as square to the original as possible. It's not too difficult to fix a certain amount of skewing if you aren't perfectly square to the original, but it may cause the focus to be off from one side of the image to the other if you're not square. Also, if you don't have professional lighting, you'll have to make sure that you get bright even lighting when you photograph your original. Shooting outside in the sun can work as long as you don't get glare off the surface. You want to avoid bright and dark areas in the photo, so you shouldn't use a flash unless you have a high end setup that will allow you to diffuse the flash for even lighting.

Also, unless you're using a professional lens, and sometimes even if you are, it's a good idea to not have the image fill the entire frame. Lens distortion is common on the edges of less expensive lenses, and even occurs to some extent on professional lenses, so if you make the image a little smaller in the frame, you are more likely to have consistent focus and sharpness. If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to get the best quality from your own photographs.

They will not be as good as a high res studio capture, but if you follow all these suggestions, they should be acceptable. Yes, but make sure you know what you are getting. There are some fine prepress shops out their that produce very nice scans, but there are fewer than there used to be due to the change to digital photography. We get files from people all the time who do the scans themselves or have a friend with a "really good scanner" and the results are usually disappointing.

Don't forget that if the scan is bad, the prints will be bad. Ultimately, the print is just an accurate representation of the scan, so there is no way a bad scan will produce a good print. We often do comparative scans for clients who don't believe that our scans are that much better than theirs.

When we print their scan and our scan side by side, it usually convinces them and ends the discussion. The example below will help illustrate this. This example shows a scan that was done by a professional photo lab. They shot the transparencies for one of our clients and offered to do his scanning as well. He assumed their scans would be good since they were professionals and their photo processing was of good quality.

Below is a comparison of their scan with our uncorrected scan. This first comparison shows the overall image so you can see the color difference. Since internet images are low resolution, it's difficult to tell the difference in detail from this example.

You'll have to take our word for the fact that the color in ours is correct, but you can see that the shadow areas in our scan on the right still show detail while the other scan on the left does not. In the next sample, we show a close up of some detail areas so you can better see the difference between these scans. The scan on the top shows the shadows are so dark that you can no longer see the detail in these areas and the finer details like the brush strokes have been lost.

There has also been some loss of color with the blues turning gray. Some of these things cannot be corrected for. While we could work on the scans from this photo lab and make them better, the artist would have to pay for this work and they would still not be as good as the raw scans that we did ourselves. Even these detail areas are reduced from the actual size of the scan, but you can see that a reproduction printed from our scan would be far superior to one printed from the other scan.

There are many fine scanning and prepress operations out there, but there are also many that are not, and since we greatly discount our scanning prices for our printing customers, there should be no cost savings by using a different service provider for this important step. If, however, you already have a high quality scan of your artwork, it would be foolish to pay to have it done again when we could easily use this existing file.

So, keep costs in mind, but don't sacrifice the quality of your reproductions to save a few dollars on the setup costs. That depends, but probably not.

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Most users don't have calibrated systems and color management software that drives their desktop printer. Without this, the results from a desktop printer will not be accurate, even if the prints come out as expected. This, in fact, is the biggest problem. An artist will adjust a file until it looks good on their screen or from their printer, and then send us the file, not realizing that the print they've made isn't really an accurate representation of what's in their file.

That's why we always recommend a printed proof so that the artist can see what the prints will look like coming off our system and they can then make adjustments, or have us make them, to compensate for the difference. That way we can look at your files on our calibrated system and if we see any significant difference, we can make adjustments so that your image will print like you intended. Actually, we probably can exactly match your original, but it can be very expensive to do, so most artists settle for a very close match.

This is really up to the individual and we enjoy trying to make a reproduction that is indistinguishable from the original. We once did a reproduction of a delicate pastel that was so exact, when we were through, the artist came to take the original for safe keeping and took the reproduction by mistake. However, it can take many rounds of color correction and proofing to make an exact match, and since the people who purchase the reproductions will never have the original for comparison, you have to decide how important such a precise reproduction really is. We think it's very important for the prints to be a very close match and accurately represent the "feel" of the original, although some artists are relatively unconcerned about the accuracy and just want the prints to look "good," and we can do that too.

It's always a good idea. With transparencies, there is only one way to view them that will give you an accurate representation, and that's to view the transparency on a color corrected light table. Since most people don't own one of these, they hold the transparency up to the light and judge the color not realizing that the color will look very different depending on the type, color temperature and intensity of the light source. We frequently get transparencies that the artist feels is very accurate and then is surprised when they receive the first proof, thinking that the proof is off when in reality it's a fair representation of the transparency they thought was accurate.

Certain films create excessive contrast and cause some colors to shift, and the scanner has more trouble accurately capturing some colors, so with all these variables, a proof really is necessary so both of us can see where the color is and decide if adjustments are necessary. You certainly don't want to find out the color is off when you receive your first prints. Of course, if you send the original or an accurate color representation, we can make any necessary color adjustments before you ever see the proof. As for files you submit, see the answer to "Will the prints you make from my file look like the ones from by desktop printer?

This is covered to some extent in some of the other questions, but there are several degrees of accuracy possible with each reproduction and you have to decide how close you want the prints to be compared to the original. In order to get an exact or very close match, it is often necessary to make subtle color corrections to different areas of the painting. For instance, if the entire transparency has picked up a blue cast, it's very easy to remove this, but in most cases one area of the scan will have too much blue, but removing blue cyan from the entire image will throw off other colors that don't have too much blue.

The trick is to selectively correct only the areas that need it and to adjust any area that is off so that the entire image matches the original. We have developed a proprietary technique that makes the scan an almost exact match to the original painting, but it requires we have the original, which isn't always possible. If your transparencies are off, this can involve so much work that it's almost as if we are repainting the original.

Once the image is close, it can take several proofs to check the progress of these corrections and make the subtle adjustments that ultimately separate a quality reproduction from a poor one. Neutral colors are particularly difficult because even a small adjustment can have dramatic impact.

Most artists have experienced this and understand how tough this can be. Since we charge for each proof, which includes the color correction time, we don't like to make a large number of proofs without showing the artist first. That way they can make the decision as to whether or not the image needs further correction. Often, artists will accept color variances that we would have fixed had it been left to us, and in some cases, the artist will see some differences that they actually prefer to the original.

So, while we are extremely good at making these adjustments, and we try to adjust the image to be perfectly accurate with each round of corrections, it takes as many as are necessary until the artist is satisfied. We have no interest in prolonging this process because while we are paid for each proof, the money we charge isn't even close to compensating us for the time we often spend performing the corrections.

We see ourselves as the artist's partner in the reproduction process and we want the reproductions we ultimately produce from this work to be as good as possible. We realize that if we charged our full rate for this work, many artists would either accept a less accurate reproduction, or not be able to afford to make quality prints. So, we charge enough to cover our expenses, but it's in the best interest of all parties to complete the proofing in as few steps as possible and get on with the printing.

The Decor canvas is printed at dpi with a 6 color ink set on a lighter weight Fredrix canvas. The inks are water and scratch resistant, so no top coating is needed and this is our least expensive art canvas. The Designer Canvas is printed at dpi on a medium textured, white canvas with 7 color eco-solvent based inks, which are waterproof and don't require any top coating. However, because these umbrellas are designed to spread light and not maximize it, many photographers will utilize 2 or 3 lights to maintain power when photographing a large group or product.

The black cover on this umbrella blocks light from escaping and effectively bounces the light back like a reflective umbrella. This cover can be removed easily to convert the umbrella into a standard shoot-through. These umbrellas are ideal for photographers lighting large areas or groups of people. These umbrellas are perfect for creating dramatic portraits with cooler tones. When choosing size, the general rule of thumb is that the larger the light source in relation to your subject, the softer the light will appear. What size of umbrella will fit in your gear bag or case?

You need to make sure that the light produced by your preferred light source is filling up your umbrella without spilling over the edges. The best way to determine the position of your light is to take an underexposed test shot of the face of the umbrella. If you notice a hot spot or unevenly bright area of the umbrella, adjust your light source further back on the umbrella shaft until the light coverage is even.

Many newer speedlites allow photographers to change the zoom or focus on their flash. You may also choose to place your light source closer to the umbrella. When you move it closer, you get a tighter circle and it will produce deeper shadows on your subject and more noticeable light fall-off.