How to create perfect photo prints

If you own a DSLR, don’t fall into the trap of thinking upgrading your camera body will necessarily result in instantly sharper images. “Get a body that’s reasonable, and spend as much as you can on the lens,” advised Nick Scutts, supervisor at Jacobs’ West End photographic store. “Ultimately, that’s going to dictate what your picture quality is like.”

Don’t neglect the exposure, either. Getting a shot right in camera is infinitely preferable to attempting to repair it later: practice, practice, practice, or use automatic bracketing to take a series of images with varying exposure compensation.

Shooting in RAW provides the greatest editing latitude, and increasing the apparent exposure of a dark image will sacrifice less detail than attempting to darken a shot that’s over-exposed.

Equipment first

The greatest potential for coming unstuck is attempting to create a huge print from a compact camera. Not only do compacts offer worse quality than DSLRs, but their lenses are tiny and cheap by comparison.

The greatest potential for coming unstuck is attempting to create a huge print from a compact camera

That means more chromatic aberration and less sharpness, which may not be apparent when viewed on screen, but will niggle once printed.

Mark Chapman, CEO and founder of PhotoBox, agrees that some images simply don’t enlarge well. “We’re often in a position where we have to go back to the customer and say ‘sorry, but this just isn’t going to work,’” he said.

You should also work within the limits of your equipment. If you know that a certain lens is soft towards the edges, either restrict the size of prints you’re attempting, or crop in to exclude the original corners.

Calculating an image’s theoretical maximum print size is straightforward. Take the number of pixels along an edge and divide by the DPI of the device you’ll be printing on – this gives you the maximum length of an edge in inches before your image runs out of data.

An image with a 3,000-pixel edge, for instance, will produce a 10in-wide print at 300dpi. Just be aware that with particularly good images you’ll be able to push things a little; with poorly focused or soft images, it’s likely that this equation may prove optimistic.


A colour space defines the number of colours a device can reproduce. Almost all compact cameras, and DSLRs left on their original settings, shoot in sRGB.

If you’re a JPEG-shooting DSLR owner, it pays to shoot and edit in the larger Adobe RGB colour space. Those happy to burn through memory cards and hard disk space should shoot in RAW, however, which doesn’t write a colour space into the file permanently.

When it comes to editing, it makes sense to give yourself as many colours to work with as possible, so keep your file in Adobe RGB until the last minute. (Users of Adobe’s Lightroom software have a bigger, third option: ProPhoto RGB.)

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