How do I ensure my photos stay stunning in print?
Whether you're uploading photos to your SmugMug website so that your mom can see her new grandbaby, or uploading proofs so that your latest bride can choose album photos, we have a few tips to help improve your workflow and get the best possible results.
The right steps depend on your intent for the images: are you archiving family treasures, posting thousands of tournament photos and hoping for quick sales, or posting them into your blog?
We’ll walk you through the steps needed for each scenario.
1. Use the Correct File Type For Your Needs
You can upload and display three popular file types to your SmugMug account: PNG, GIF and JPG. What's the diff?
PNG and GIF files are usually used for the design elements on a web site.
PNG files retain transparent backgrounds and are great for banners, watermarks and printmarks.
JPG is the main file type of the web. Our print labs only print from JPG, and digital download files are delivered as JPGs.
Tip: Shoot in RAW? Treat your RAW files as film photographers treated their negatives - as the original that needs to be archived. While you can’t upload RAW files to your SmugMug account you can archive them in SmugVault, SmugMug's Amazon-based cloud storage service. It's great because it uses the same uploaders and gallery interface you're used to, and it accepts virtually any file type.
2. Color Space: sRGB All the Way!
We highly recommend sRGB for the best web display. So much in fact, that if you upload images in a different color space, we'll convert it automatically for you.
Plus, sRGB is used by all four print labs at SmugMug, so by uploading and viewing your images in the right color space from the start, you know you'll get the best image possible.
We cover color space in more detail here: Why, why, how.
3. All About File Size
All SmugMug accounts give you unlimited photo and video uploads, which means you don't have to pick which photos matter most. We'll keep them safe and sound for you, so you can confidently upload your full-sized JPGs if you wish. We won't alter sRGB JPG files that are within our file size limits.
Important tip: Remember that your upload speed is determined by your internet service provider and the size of file being uploaded. You may not want to upload your full size JPGs so you can upload your photos quickly!
If you are uploading for display only you may wish to resize your photos prior to upload. If web display is your only need then resizing your files to match the largest display size could work for you.
If your images will be printed (by you, your friends and family or your fine art print customers) then you need to be sure to upload enough pixels for a high quality print. We have minimum pixel requirements for each size of print offered through our labs, shown here.
If you are archiving your JPGs then you will want to be sure that you are uploading your full resolution, print quality files (Lightroom 90 or Photoshop quality 10).
BUSINESS and PORTFOLIO: What if you have a thousand photos in your event, but you know your clients will only buy a few prints? Use Proof Delay. This way you can quickly upload lower-resolution files (Lightroom 50 or Photoshop quality 5), then replace only the images that they buy with edited, full-res versions.
Why it works: Your viewers won't really notice a difference between the compressed proof image and an uncompressed version on their monitors. Compression doesn't change the image’s pixel dimensions, so your customers can still order the full range of print sizes that you’ve priced. Plus, your files will upload much, much faster, getting them in front of customers ASAP. You'll only edit files that are actually bought, so you save time. When the order comes in, use your Proof Delay time to make your final edits and replace those images with beautiful, full-res JPGs.
4. Cropping: The Hairy Beast
Cropping is a tricky topic because as artists, the final composition of our photos matters to us! Whether the composition is set in camera, or during post processing, there are some things you should keep in mind for print.
Composition matters. Whether your photos are art prints or family portraits, you’ll want to ensure that all of the important elements/subjects of your photo are included in the final printed product. The best way to handle this is by selecting print sizes that match the aspect ratio (shape) of your photo. Ordering prints with the same aspect ratio of your photo will prevent the need to crop your image to print it.
Many dSLR sensors have a 2:3 aspect ratio. Common print sizes that fit this shape are 4x6, 8x12, 10x15, 12x18, 20x30, 24x36.
Most consumer cameras (and some dSLRs) have sensors with 3:4 aspect ratios, and the print sizes that match can be found in the ‘other sizes’ section of our catalogue.
Canvas caution! Be particularly mindful of your composition when selling (or buying) wrapped canvas prints, as those require lots of additional space around the subject. How to get a canvas-ready image.
For portrait photographers wanting to offer the largest variety of print sizes, our best advice is to compose in camera with lots of space around your subject. If you’re starting with an image with a 2:3 aspect ratio, you’ll need to leave lots of space around your subject in order to accommodate a 4:5 aspect ratio print: the dreaded 8x10! Alternatively, don't even offer 8x10 products and instead sell just 8x12s. Do this easily with a Portfolio or Business account: Simply add 8x12s into your Pricelist.
5. Lab Color Correction: Perfect for you?
It’s important to understand that photos will always look darker in print than on your monitor. Why? Physical prints are lit with reflective light, and your monitor and camera LCDs are lit with transmitted light.
The brightness of the print will be determined by the light you view it in. The way that you see the photo on your monitor will be determined as much by your monitor brightness as it will be by the actual pixel data in the image. The print lab, of course, only has the pixel data from the image to work with!
To fix it: Our labs all offer a color correction service so your photos will print as beautifully as possible, even if you aren’t a skilled photo editor. The process used by EZPrints is optimized to adjust photos for brightness and color pop, and adds a bit of sharpening. Bay Photo, White House Custom Color and Loxley Colour use technicians to evaluate brightness, color pop and white balance. The changes made are global changes to the file as opposed to local adjustments.
If you have a personal editing style, make use of special effects such as vignettes, or produce moody fine art prints, then you will want to order some test prints to be sure that your photos print exactly the way you expect.