February 28, 2011

Problems Printing Photos? It May Be Your Paper

In my last post, I talked about the most common cause of printed pictures not matching the screen version---lack of monitor calibration. But if you've already followed my suggestion and calibrated your monitor, your prints may still not look like the display. The second area for improvement is the paper you are using to print on.

The easiest and best way to help the print-to-screen match is to use inkjet photo paper that is made by the same company as built your printer. So if you have an Epson printer, use paper made by Epson. If you have a Canon printer, use paper that Canon makes. The printer manufacturer has designed the printer, paper and ink to all work together to give you great results. So feeding your printer paper that was made to work with it increases your chances of getting a good print.

Nearly every inkjet printer maker also provides a variety of different types of papers that work with their printers. To start out, use a glossy surface paper. This type generally helps the printer produce the most vivid colors and the darkest shadows in your photo, which most people like. Once you can consistently produce good prints on glossy paper from the printer company, then be adventurous and try a matte or watercolor paper. Again, select one of these varieties made by your printer company for the easiest solution.

But, you say, the local store doesn't carry photo paper made by my printer company. And besides, they have a photo paper on the shelf that says it works with all printers and costs a lot less than the one my printer company sells. Can't I use that paper?

You can! There are lots of companies that produce inkjet photo papers that don't make printers. Companies like Kodak and Ilford have made photographic papers for decades. Office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot carry their own brands of photo papers. Even the companies that make regular copy paper, like Hammermill, sometimes make inkjet photo paper too. I refer to these types of papers as "third-party" papers; they are made by someone other than the company that made your printer and ink.

But your printer doesn't automatically know how to best put ink on these third-party papers. So you have to read the directions. Inside each box of such paper is an instruction sheet. It usually lists the printer brand, the printer model number, and then the recommended printer settings. Here's an example:

Instructions for using a third-party paper with different printers
To use these instructions, you first locate the printer brand and model that most closely matches your own. Then you make note of the printer settings the paper manufacturer recommends.

So if you were using this paper with a Canon i-Series printer (e.g. i9900), in the printer window you would select the Canon paper type called "Photo Paper Pro", the Print Quality of "Fine" and make two color adjustments, one to subtract 15 points of Yellow and another to add 5 points of Intensity (vividness). By following these directions, you increase the chances that your printer works well with this third-party paper.

The one thing that doesn't work is using one printer company's paper with a different company's printer. For instance, trying to print on Canon photo paper using an Epson printer may give you terrible results. And you won't find any instruction in the Canon paper box explaining how to use it with an Epson printer! They are competitors and their papers usually don't print well on other machines.

There are a lot more paper choices and paper manufacturers out there than the ones I've mentioned in this article. If you would like to learn more about printing on the vast array of papers out there, check out my Basic Printing with Lightroom workshop in Montana this spring.

February 22, 2011

Problems Printing Photos? It May Be Your LCD Monitor

There are lots of challenges in digital photography and one of the most common is getting good prints of our favorite shots from our home printer. There are a number of steps you can take to improve your results. The first one is to adjust your screen so that it displays brightness and color accurately. This is called calibrating your monitor and is best accomplished using a tool specifically for that job.

For simple monitor calibration, I recommend the Spyder3 Express by Datacolor. (Available from B&H Photo.) It costs about $80, works on both Mac and Windows computers, and calibrates both desktop and laptop screens. To use it, you install the software and then attach the Spyder itself via USB cord. The software gives you easy to follow directions and in less than 15 minutes your monitor has been adjusted to display color and brightness appropriate for digital photographs. (Calibrating your monitor will not hurt any other programs on your system.) You will need to recalibrate your monitor about once a month because the display will slowly change over time. You can set the Spyder software to remind you when it's time to recalibrate.

A few of you (especially people with Apple monitors) might be thinking you can use Apple's Calibration Assistant (part of the Display System Preference) or maybe Adobe Gamma (a free application that comes with some Adobe products and is installed under the Control Panel on Windows) to adjust your monitor. After all they are free! I do not recommend you use these programs to adjust your monitor. Both of these tools rely on your vision to adjust your monitor to the proper brightness and color. However, our eyes are not a reliable judge of these qualities. Spend the money for a basic calibration tool and you will get much better results.

Sometimes, however, this calibration process isn't enough to get your prints to come out looking like the monitor. Recently a friend of mine had this problem. He had gotten a new monitor and a new inkjet printer. He had calibrated his screen and was following all the proper steps to print his pictures, but they were coming out nothing like the monitor. This was puzzling! So I took a look at the screen settings directly by using the menus on the monitor itself.

All LCD monitors are delivered with the screen set to be very bright and to display extremely vivid colors. This is fine for surfing the web or writing letters and emails. But it does not make a good match to a photo printer. Images on paper will always look less colorful and less bright than how they appear on screen. So we have to adjust our monitors to be closer to the ink on paper version to accurately preview our printed pictures.

If you have calibrated your monitor and still are not getting a good match, you may need to change the monitor settings directly. Under my friend's monitor menu was a choice for "display color" or "preset modes". (Your monitor's menu choices may be different.) It was set to Standard and this was not working well. But there was a choice for "sRGB", which is an abbreviation for "standard Red Green Blue". This setting is a nearly universal one for digital photography. So I changed the monitor setting from "standard" to "sRGB" and recalibrated the screen. On the next print...Success!

Special note to people with Apple monitors: you do not have the same monitor menu that I talk about in this article. So your monitor should calibrate just fine without having to make a change to "sRGB".

Even if you upload your pictures to Kodak or another online photo lab instead of printing them yourself, calibrating your monitor will help you get good results from the lab as well. Lack of monitor calibration is the number one reason people are unhappy with their lab prints, too.

So to help you get a better match of your photos to your prints, set your monitor menu display to "sRGB" and then calibrate your screen using a calibration tools such as the Spyder 3 Express by Datacolor.

If you would like to learn more about printing your pictures and getting great results, check out my Basic Printing with Lightroom workshop at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. 

Note: I do not receive any compensation from Datacolor. I have been happy with their monitor calibration tools for many years and use them myself.

February 16, 2011

Resetting Your Digital Camera Controls

Hard Hats
If you share a digital camera with other family members, and even if you're the only person using it, sometimes you change controls and forget that you have them set differently. The effect can be disasterous for your pictures, causing you to end up with photos severely over or under exposed or with problem color casts. If you are just beginning to learn how to adjust your camera, it's easy to overlook one critical setting and end up with images destined for the trash can.

But there's a quick way out of this situation. Every camera has a menu choice or button combination that resets the camera's controls back to the way they were when the camera left the factory. So exposure, white balance, flash, focus modes, metering methods, image size and quality all change back to settings that will get you good general photos without any bad surprises.

On Canon SLR cameras, look under the Tools menu for a choice that says "Clear All Camera Settings". Even if you don't think you used any Custom Functions, it doesn't hurt to reset them as well. On Canon Powershots (and other compacts) the command is "Reset All".

For Nikon SLR cameras, you hold down the BKT and metering buttons (marked with green dots) for longer than 2 seconds. (This does NOT reset custom functions.)

Other camera brands have a similar choice. Check the camera manual for the specifics.

One thing that does not change is the date and time you have set in the camera. So after you put all the menus and buttons back to their default settings, you are ready to take photos again without any unexpected results and all will be dated accurately.

February 14, 2011

Golden Retrevo Awarded for the Second Year

I'm happy to announce that Essential Digital Camera has won a Golden Retrevo Award for 2011 in the Photo/Video category. This is the second year in a row that the site has been honored.

Thanks to all my readers who voted in the competition. I'll keep posting articles that help you get the most from your digital camera and editing software.

Keep Shooting!