How to create perfect photo prints

Common sense surely tells us that photo printing has hit an all-time low. Film is as good as dead, and digital photography allows people to share their work without ever producing a hard copy. Nevertheless, the joy of displaying a big, bright print remains undiminished.

Theprintspace, a high-end gallery and photographic art printer in the East End of London is bustling, with a stream of clients arriving to collect prints.

Stephan Batteux, who manages HP’s portfolio of inkjet products in Europe and the Middle East, claims sales of home photo printers are “on the rebound” following the recession. Meanwhile, online print service PhotoBox claims to print a staggering one million images a day.

Yet, photo printing is ripe with peril. If you mis-edit an image before posting it to the web, you can quickly delete it and start again. If you make a 30 x 20in fine-art print you’ll have spent at least £15, and that’s if it wasn’t professionally mounted or framed before taking delivery.

Photo services tested

We test four of the leading online photo printers

In this feature, we’ll show you how to avoid making such expensive mistakes. We’ll reveal the camera and editing techniques required to make your prints work on paper.

We’ll also reveal how to get the most from your home inkjet printer – but if you prefer to hand your work over to the photo printing professionals, we’ve thoroughly [a herf=”” title=”We test four of the leading online photo printers”]tested and rated four leading online services[/a] to help you decide who to entrust with your treasured snaps.

Screen vs paper

Photos look different on screen to how they look in print. Printing on paper is subtractive – the ink on the paper absorbs some light wavelengths and reflects others.

Displaying an image onscreen is additive: light is shone from behind filters coloured red, green and blue. This difference means you need to tread carefully to translate an image from one medium to the other.

“Images always look nicer onscreen,” said David Moy, production director at theprintspace. An image on the screen is backlit, so it’s similar to looking at a transparency on a light box.

Screens also make images look sharper: the higher density of image-forming dots on photo paper is often greater than the number of pixels available on a home monitor, meaning problems with sharpness may hide themselves until printed.

Sharp shooting

Get a body that’s reasonable, and spend as much as you can on the lens

The process of producing an attractive print starts when you press the shutter button. Image sharpness is paramount. Sharpness is defined primarily by focus, so make sure the subject you’re taking a picture of is crisp in the viewfinder (preferably an optical rather than digital viewfinder).

If in doubt, set a higher ISO and use a faster shutter speed to freeze the action. Or, for landscape shots, place your camera on a tripod, use a remote shutter release to minimise the risk of camera shake, and apply a small aperture (f/16 is ideal) to get as much of the frame in focus as possible.

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