Do We Have An Obligation To Not Disclose Locations For Nature’s Sake ? – Kevin McNeal

•January 9, 2012 • 89 Comments

One of the main objectives for any landscape photographer is to photograph new places. Landscape photographers spend countless hours on the Internet,researching, hiking, and exploring all in the name of discovering and being the first to photograph a new place. For obvious reasons we aren’t the first people there but we may be the first to photograph it. So you come back excited from finding this new place, process the image, and then finally post it. Now that you have posted the image, the reviews are in and people love it. But they now want to know where this place is? You know the question I am talking about: “ Love the image and I was wondering if you could maybe tell me where this image was?” I have even been asked even if I could provide GPS coordinated for a particular place. This is where the focus of this article arises; do we have an obligation as a nature photographer first and foremost to reduce the impact of man’s footprints. Does this include not divulging certain locations when asked by fellow photographers. I know I have been guilty of providing locations that I have photographed previously. Whether this is right or wrong the issue needs to be addressed. Forget the fact, that for some professional photographers this is a competing business of locations.

If we go this route, then we have to be aware of the GPS metadata and whether we should remove it before we post. I know with some forums they give you the option to remove the ability to identify the location of your image from other viewers. When I have gone this route I often get emails asking me why I did this and whether I  would provide the locations to them anyways. They seem to be annoyed with my lack of forth coming; any other photographers experience this ?  Then there is the subject of tagging and keywording the location that allows the image to be “googled” and thus allow the image to get more traffic. This in turn can be good for business.

One of the main problems is with Internet and the popularity of photography forums. A photographer can post an image of a unique place and within days the same forums are filled with similar images from the same place. We often feel the need to share locations to avoid the label of being “selfish”. I am sure there are other words better then selfish but I will stick with that for this article. While teaching workshops I come across many other photographers who hold other photographers in contempt for not sharing. So what is the right thing? I guess this is why I am writing this. I feel an obligation to nature to reduce the impact from other photographers flocking to these areas. I do have a responsibility to keep areas of nature untouched the way they were suppose to be. But is this good for my business, especially in a market that is so competitive for every penny. The counter argument is how can a few others really do any damage to any location. Well in short, it only takes a few opinions’ like this to add up and over a short period of time the damage is irreversible. Many photographers online can receive over 20,000 views on a particular image; that is a lot of photographers that will now want to visit that certain location. I am not sure if there is any answer other then taking away the stigmata that comes with not disclosing locations. As nature photographers we need to avoid asking others where the image was taken or if they can provide any details on the place. It should be okay to say no to these questions. This is just my two cents. I would love to know what you think?

Any suggestions to this dilemma?

The Photo Cascadia Blog Has Moved!

•November 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Over the past couple of months, the Photo Cascadia team has been working hard to launch the newly renovated version of www.PhotoCascadia.com.  The new site is cleaner, easier to navigate and the image galleries are gorgeous.  If you haven’t been to the new site you are officially invited to come on over and give it a tour!

Come check out the new site!

One of the changes that came with the new site is that the Photo Cascadia blog is now being hosted there instead of on Word Press.  Our past articles will continue to be archived at the old blog for a while, but all new articles will be published at the new location. If you are a subscriber to the Photo Cascadia blog, make sure that you visit the new blog and subscribe via email or RSS feed so that you will continue to get notice of new articles when they are published.  If you are not yet a subscriber to our blog you are officially invited to join us.

Make sure to subscribe to the new blog feed so you don't miss any articles.

In its new home, the blog still features the same helpful and free photography articles that Photo Cascadia has become known for. All our archived articles have been moved over for you to reference and search as well. There are some real advantages to hosting the Photo Cascadia blog on the new Photo Cascadia site. The blog now has the same clean look and interface as the new website and you no longer have to go a different web address to access blog content. Additionally, now that the blog is integrated with the main site, all the menus, galleries, news, workshop listings and contact forms are easier and more efficient to access from the blog. Finally, housing the blog at the same address as the rest of the website will, in time, improve our search engine visibility so people will have more opportunities to find us on the web.

We look forward to seeing you at the new blog and are excited to continue sharing our passion for outdoor photography with you!

Opal Creek Wilderness – Long Overdue Return

•October 27, 2011 • 4 Comments

By Adrian Klein

Over eight years ago Molly and I took my son Logan on one of his first backpacking trips. I had just bought my first DSLR that summer but knew nothing about photography. The trip was certainly more about checking out a new location and getting out for a weekend in the woods than anything else. I remember the trip well, a fantastically beautiful place relatively close to home that I had not heard of before. We still have a photo up in the house of three of us sitting on a large boulder in the creek near camp playing the card game Uno.

This year I looked at the images I captured back in 2003 and realize I have come a long way with my photography skills. Almost all of them would not make the cut today. Having a large gap of many years since visiting allows for a worthwhile retrospective to see how my work has changed. It was indeed fascinating.

Fast forward and it’s 2011. For years I have said I would go back and I put it off to go elsewhere. This year I had the perfect excuse to go. Abnormally high snow fall last winter in the Northwest kept the snow packs solid and deep on the mountains well into summer. Although there are a several “summits” in the 4,500 to 5,500 feet range the falls and creeks are located around 2,000 feet which makes them accessible most of the year.

Fortunately I was able to coax my now teenage son to go back to Opal Creek with me for a 3 day trip. We got the packs stuffed and headed out to reminisce and create new experiences. Below are some of the images I captured and details about the area.

Forest Gems

Getting There:
There are several ways to get in but only one that is realistic for most. The others are longer multi-day trips. From Portland, Oregon it’s less than a couple hour drive to the main trailhead. Directions: http://www.opalcreek.org/experience/directions.aspx

Dazed N Confused

The Hike:
The majority of the hike in I would classify as easy. The first few miles are only a few hundred feet elevation gain on dirt and gravel road. This means expect summer weekends to be busy. I have seen even jogging strollers with families making their way. That all comes to an end at Jaw Bone Flats, the old mining town converted to nature education center and a handful of cabins for visitors and residents. After that it’s a regular narrow hiking trail with a 2nd log bridge that needs to be replaced (you can still cross at your own risk which we did). After the bridge the numbers dwindle. We camped 4+ miles in from the trailhead and saw few over the 3 days. If you are camping there are numerous spots near Jaw Bone Flats, much less after that but they are there if you look. More details about getting here and the hike: http://www.oregon.com/Hike_Opal_Creek

Hues of Green

When To Go:
Considering the majority of locations around 2,000 feet elevation and below in the Northwest are accessible most of the year there are not many limitations when to go. I have seen images taken in the area with fresh snow on the ground. I would prefer early summer with the rich fresh greens if I had to pick one. As for time of day, you are down in a canyon which means you have ample shade. Expect to be in full shade for the remainder of the day by 3 or 4pm, even in summer, which obviously has benefits allowing photographs whether it’s overcast or sunny.

Opal Creek Wilderness

Photography:
This post would not be complete on this blog covering a location without discussing the photography aspect. As you can already see by the images in this post there are many opportunities and they will differ based on when you are there.

Color Depth: The images show how much color can change based on water depth, camera angle and light. It can vary from too deep to stand in to no more than ankle deep. With all of them giving various shades of opal color.

Man & Nature: If photographing man made items in nature tickles your fancy then you have a number of possibilities. The image I included of the old US Navy fire truck is one of my favorites in Jaw Bone Flats. There are other old cars, woodstoves, mining tools and more.

Reflecting Light: The light reflecting from the foliage covered walls and forest can be rather intriguing, as seen with the abstract image in this post. It may look like a bad acid trip from a Grateful Dead show. I can assure you it’s not. Many opportunities like this exist in the area when the sun is coming into the area or leaving.

Challenges: Whenever you have rushing water in a canyon the foliage is rarely completely still. Even when the wind was calm in the area I often found brush moving somewhere in the image near the water. Despite bumping up to say ISO800 I had still had movement issues most of the time.

The Shallows

S Falls

Final Words:
If forests and streams are your interest when it comes to hiking and photography, this place is a must. It’s certainly a gem in more ways than one and is hard to believe this area almost met it’s demise to logging less than a couple decades ago. I know we need wood in this world but we can certainly learn to conserve to help protect spectacular places that would be completely altered for generations to come if logging came to town.

Dinner and a warm fire at camp w/ my son Logan

Tips for Backpacking with Camera Gear (ultralight)

•October 21, 2011 • 12 Comments

Tips for Backpacking with Camera Gear (ultralight)

By David Cobb

 

I owned my first “real” camera before I took my first “real” backpacking trip, but they have gone hand-in-hand over the years, and my techniques with both have changed and improved over time. My backpacking and photography grew with long-distance hiking as I learned more about composition while taking thousands of images to document my backcountry trips. My backpacking grew by learning how to pack lighter and lighter over time as I walked further and further. For distance hiking, I needed to walk 20-40 miles (32-64 km) a day in order to complete a thru-hike of 2,500-3,000 miles (4,000-4,800 km). Now I’m returning to the places I only documented before, to re-photograph them in a much more artistic way and under much better light.

Fellow photographer and long-distance hiker Jonathan Ley took this on our walk across Iceland.

Whether it was a walk across the United States or Iceland , I tried to keep my backpacking weight below 30 pounds (13.5 kg) if possible, and closer to 20 (9 kg) when I could. First, let’s start with the pack: Many long-distance hikers use a homemade version saving both money and weight. My backpack of choice is ULA (Ultralight Adventure Equipment), I purchased one of their early models and haven’t needed another since. There is no internal or external frame to the pack, so you already begin 5-7 pounds (2-3 kg) lighter than most backpacks on the market. You may wonder if you need the added support those other backpacks offer? You don’t. You’re packing light, not packing the usual 50-60 pounds (22-27kg). For the internal frame I use a Z-rest, this also doubles as a sleeping pad when I’m in my tent.

My ULA Bag and my Z Rest doubles as a backpack frame.

I go lightweight on my tent too, using a Six Moon Designs Skyscape tent which is affordable and weighs in at 15 ounces (.43 kg). My ground cloth is painters plastic purchased from a hardware store. Some distance hikers prefer nothing, but others use Tyvek as a ground cloth. A Six Moon Designs prototype tent got me through a 1,100 mile (1,800 km) north-south walk along the Canadian Rockies during some pretty nasty weather, so I trust their gear.

Six Moon Designs Skyscape

I cook with a lightweight and homemade alcohol stove created from the bottoms of old pop cans. It cost me about a quarter to make, and weighs about as much. I pack my stove away in a small titanium cook pot to save space. The stove burns denatured alcohol which can be purchased at any hardware store and I carry this fuel in a small plastic water bottle.

My homemade alcohol stove and cook gear.

Food is a personal thing, but for me that too is lightweight, cheap, but also nourishing. I cook my own food during the winter, then dehydrate and vacuum seal it or I purchase it in bulk from a grocery store before vacuum sealing it. For this I save about $6 per meal, packing space, and weight. I’m also a firm believer that if you eat better, you shoot better. When I cook, I just boil water and add it to my dinner bag for rehydration, and eat. No dirty dishes to clean, so I can head out early to photograph a sunset. Clean dishes also come in handy when I’m packing through grizzly country. I’ve walked through large portions of Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, and the U.S. Rockies and have never had a camp incident with a grizzly bear or any wild animal for that matter.

I carry as little water as possible to keep my backpacking weight down. Each quart of water weighs about 2 pounds (.9 kg), so the less water I carry, the less weight I carry, the easier the walking, the less water I need. Much of my packing is in the Pacific Northwest where water can often be found every 5 miles at the most. I don’t need much more than 12 ounces (.34 kg) of water for a stretch like that, so I carry a water bottle that can be purchased at any 7-11. I like the bomb-proof Nalgene bottles, but find them way too heavy. For extra water when I get to camp, I pack with an empty Platypus container, then fill it when I get near my camp destination. I carry a small water purifier, or sometimes just iodine tablets to save weight.

My sleeping bag is a packable Feathered Friends “Hummingbird” 20 degree bag coming in at 13 ounces (.37 kg). I have a liner in this which brings it down to a 10 degree bag. Obviously for winter camping your bag will weigh more as you carry warmer bag, but this is my 3 season bag. I wrap this in a garbage bag to keep it dry in case I fall in a stream or if my pack gets wet in a rain storm.

Since I pack less, I also wear less on my feet. I know some people need more ankle support and prefer boots, but for me the old adage that every pound on your foot adds 3 to your back holds true. I either wear tennis shoes on my feet, lightweight Merrels, or sometimes even Tevas while backpacking. The lighter my feet are, the faster I move, the better I feel.

I also carry a few toiletries, rainfly, headlamp, compass, maps and such to round out my camping gear, so let’s move on to camera gear. I first decide what kind of trip this will be, this limits the gear I’ll carry into the backcountry. Am I going to photograph wildlife only? Then I’ll carry a zoom. Will this be a landscape photography trip? Then I’ll carry my super wide-angle and wide-angle lenses. I’ll also carry my Kenko Pro 1.4x to add a bit of zoom possibility to my 24-70mm lens. I don’t carry my macro lens when backpacking, since I can usually find enough macro subjects when I day hike. I might however carry my Canon 500D diopter (or close-up) lens, this allows my 24-70mm to take close-up macro-like images if I get the itch.

So, let’s assume I’m on a landscape photography backpacking trip. I carry my camera over my shoulder (with lens and polarizer attached) in a small camera bag. My super wide-angle lens is packed away in a Think Tank lens holster. This holster adds padding and also attaches to my extremely small butt-pouch (I wear this pouch backwards when packing in, as it supplies easy access to map, compass, and water) that I use to day-hike to photo locations once I’ve made base camp. I carry extra cards and batteries in my shoulder camera bag, and rarely use grads in the backcountry, but instead I bracket while shooting to blend images later in post processing. For a tripod I carry a carbon fiber Gitzo 1128 Mountaineer Sport Tripod. There are a few lightweight ball-heads out there too: Fiesol and Really Right Stuff make them and fellow Photo Cascadia team member Chip Phillips swears by his Markins Q3 Emille  which at .83 pounds (375 grams) is the lightest ball-head I know of that can sturdy the weight of a good camera and lens.

Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw took this image of Chip Phillips and I as we descended Sahale Arm in the North Cascades.

There you have it. I’m a firm believer that by packing lighter you get there faster, easier, and have much more energy to shoot once you get to camp. You have a few months now to get in shape for backpacking season, and to slowly collect some lightweight gear, so I hope this brings more enjoyment to your outdoor experience and allows you more time to “see” photographically along the way. Obviously these are just guidelines to ultralight backpacking techniques, and in the long distance hiking community there is the saying to “hike your hike,” so it’s certainly not my way or the highway here. If you’d like to pack a small chair for your bad back, then do it – just leave the axe at home.

Photographing The Night Sky by Sean Bagshaw

•October 8, 2011 • 14 Comments

Night photography certainly isn’t new, as David Cobb pointed out in his article on long exposure night photography. There have always been diehards willing wait hours to expose a single image for chance to reveal the magic light that only cameras can see at night. Night photography has long been the realm of the persistent, strong willed and sleep deprived few. But recently there has been an explosion of interest and participation in night photography largely due to the capabilities of the latest generation of digital SLR cameras.

Tell The Night - Oxbow Bend

One of the biggest challenges of photographing at night has been capturing the night sky. Traditional film photography required very long exposures to get anything to show up in the image. If the sky was part of the composition this meant that the stars would stretch out into long streaks (star trails) as the Earth rotated on its axis causing the stars to move across the sky. Star trails, when done well, can be a very visually interesting and artistic element of an image, giving a sense of motion and the passage of time. However, I don’t think star trails can match the amazing beauty and reality  of a stationary star field on a clear, dark night, the way that we experience it with our eyes.

Some intrepid night photographers, called astrophotographers, use special tripod mounts with elaborate computer guided motors that turn the camera to match the motion of the stars in the sky. Such an apparatus allows one to take long exposure images of the sky with sharp stars and no star trails. Astrophotography is only useful for taking images of the sky without the land, however. Due to the turning of the camera on the mount any fixed objects in the composition, such as land, buildings or trees, will be motion blurred while the stars remain sharp.

Solitude Camp

Enter the current generation of digital SLR cameras, which have completely changed the game when it comes to photographing the night sky. The ability to increase the ISO (sensitivity to light) of modern SLR cameras to very high settings has made it possible to take images of the night landscape with a sharp star field. By increasing the ISO setting between 1600 and 6400 the increased sensitivity to light allows an exposure of 15-30 seconds to capture what would have taken anywhere from many minutes to many hours using traditional methods. At 30 seconds, using a wide angle lens, there is only a very slight degree of star trailing visible. At 15 seconds star trailing is almost unnoticeable.

The ability to quickly and easily capture night images that include the night sky has caused night photography to become highly popular in the last couple of years. New and more amazing night sky images are showing up on photographer websites and photography sharing forums every day. I took all the images accompanying this article on early morning photo sessions during my recent trip to Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. I’m really just starting to learn about what is possible. There are many photographers out there who are doing some truly amazing and ground breaking night sky work.

Solitude Lake

Following are my basic tips for getting started taking high ISO photographs of the night sky and a list of photographers and resources you might want to check out for further inspiration and education.

Fly Before The Dawn - Oxbow Bend

Sean’s Basic Night Sky Photography Tips:

  • Look for a location with very clear atmosphere, few to no clouds and as little light pollution as possible. A bright moon will light the landscape but cause the stars to dim.
  • Use a sturdy tripod
  • Use a wide angle lens (12-30mm range). Apparent star motion and depth of field are less of an issue at wide angles, plus you want to include a nice wide view of the sky.
  • Open the aperture as wide as it will go. An f/2.8 or faster lens is really what you want.
  • Make sure there are no objects within about 10 or 15 feet of the lens, turn off auto focus and then set the focus to infinity. Everything will be beyond the hyperfocal distance so the entire image will be in focus.
  • Experiment with combinations of ISO between 1600 and 6400 (if your camera goes that high) and shutter speeds between 15 seconds and 30 seconds. Higher ISOs will have more noise but require less exposure time. Longer exposures will bring in more light making lower ISOs possible, but star trailing will be more noticeable. Remember that at 30 seconds, using a wide angle lens, there is only a very slight degree of star trailing visible. At 15 seconds star trailing is almost unnoticeable.
  • The Milky Way is a very bright and visually interesting feature of the night sky to include in your images. There are many websites and smart phone apps that will help you determine where the Milky Way will be in the sky on any given day and time.
  • Read up on and experiment with different techniques for controlling high ISO noise and processing night images for greatest artistic and visual impact. New techniques are being developed all the time and could fill several books. Some are fairly basic while others are seriously advanced.

Mormon Barn

My Favorite High ISO Night Sky Photographers:

Brad Goldpaint

Ben Canales

Grant Collier

Terje Sorgjerd

Arild Heitmann

Alister Benn

Schwabacher Landing

Night Sky Photography Resources:

http://www.thestartrail.com/tutorials

http://bencanales.wordpress.com/

http://shuttersalt.com/blog/10-examples-incredible-starry-night-sky-photography-and-how-video

http://www.thenocturnes.com/resources.html

http://availablelightimages.com/blog/night-photography/

I hope this has provided you with a starting point for your own night sky photography. If you have any of your own night sky photography tips or resources you’d like to share be sure to leave a comment.

Top Ten Tips For Photographing Fall Color

•October 1, 2011 • 5 Comments

Sleepy Hollow Barn, Woodstock, Vermont

 

 

When it comes to getting great autumn images there are many things that you can do to achieve success. The following list is just a brief summary of the top tips to adding impact. I encourage to go out and shoot as much as you can this fall and come up with your own top ten next year.

 

1)  Use the light to your advantage: It is necessary to consider the light when trying to maximize color when shooting fall foliage. The golden light of early mornings and late evening sunset work best. Avoid the harsh contrast light of midday light that strips subjects of their color. Also, do not be afraid to shoot in overcast weather just be careful not to include too much sky in your shot.

Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska

2)  Find colors that are complementary: Finding color in autumn is easy; trying to make visual sense is not. This means you need to consider how you arrange the colors in your image. Look for ways to match complementary colors or color contrasts. More specifically, I will choose compositions that accentuate the red of the leaves against the green grass or blue sky.

 

3)  Try different perspectives: The best way to achieve this is to use a variety of lenses and focal lengths. There are many ways to showcase autumn; don’t lock yourself into one approach. I always shoot both wide-angle and telephoto. The wide-angle does a great job of showing the larger landscape and the color within its environment. It gives the viewer a better understanding of the whole scene. On the other hand, the telephoto is great for isolating smaller details against contrasting textures. Both give a completely different feel to the mood but equally effective.

 

Tumwater Canyon, Leavenworth, Washington

4)  Shoot with a polarizer: always shoot with a polarizer to maximize color: Using a polarizer can really add an immediate impact to your image. The polarizer deepens the color of blue skies, provides more saturated colors, and reduces glare and reflections in bright or sunny conditions.

 

5)  Include reflections in the visual design: in a sense look for ponds, lakes, or any body of water to mirror the impact of color doubling the beauty. Water adds a sense of dimension and motion that adds to the depth and substance of the image.

Unusual Perspective, Vermont

6)  The tranquility of water and its reflection brings a subtle mood to your autumn images. When photographing using water don’t be afraid to break the rules of thirds. This is the time to go with a 50/50 in terms of composition.

7)  Use color in the image to tell a story: Use color deliberately in your story telling. Color is important but it is how we use it that really tells a story. Use the strongest colors in your foreground to grab your viewers attention; from their find patterns of color that connect the foreground to the background to really connect the image and tell a story. Too often we see one part of the image bold with great colors and nothing elsewhere. The image falls apart.

 

A Glimmer Of Hope, Vermont

8)  Shoot fall colors after a period of rain: Although not mentioned a lot in tips about fall photography. I have found my most successful fall images right after a rainstorm. The reasoning behind this is simple; the wet leaves are at their most vivid and the addition of rain adds another dimension to the image. Remember to combine this with a polarizer to reduce glare and reflection.

 

9)  Look for unique perspectives: Too often we see the same type of fall photography. The stock image of the fallen leaf on the ground; the forest of aspens, or the collage combination of several colors along a backcountry road. Challenge yourself to step out of the box and come up with something completely new. Creativity is what will set your photography above others.

Peak Color In Stowe, Stowe, Vermont

 

10)              Remember to not forget about the basics of photography just because of color: Although hard to describe I believe this is the most important tip to fall photography. Too often I become overwhelmed with the color and start shooting at the first sign of color. Because of the power of color I forget everything else in terms of composition. It is important to step back and take a deep breath. Maybe take a day to take in the sights without shooting. Once you have become accustomed to the color then you can coordinate color with composition. Remember color is just one part of what makes fall photography so interesting. Look for ways to bring all of your set skills into the image.

Alaskan Tundra - Denali National Park, Alaska

So that is a small list of tips to improve your fall photography. It is important to combine these tips with your style of photography to come up with a winning combination. Keep pressing the boundaries of creativity and develop a style that people can recognize as your own.

Changing Seasons, Owens Valley, Bishop, Eastern Sierras, California

Sizing Images For Output Made Easy (OK…Easier) by Sean Bagshaw

•September 15, 2011 • 12 Comments

Sizing digital images for output may be one of the most difficult to grasp concepts in digital photography. Even after more than a decade of moderately hardcore Photoshop use I still find new ways to confound myself in this area. This topic is steeped in misunderstanding, urban legend, faulty logic and general confusion. Screen resolution vs. print resolution? What is the correct resolution for the web? To resample or not to resample? How big can I enlarge an image for printing? Why shouldn’t I upload a bunch of full resolution 21 megapixel images to Facebook or email them to grandma? In the next few paragraphs I hope to make it all clear…although I have my doubts.

Dune Lines

Sizing for print and sizing for screen are two different beasts.

Before you read any further, if you are a recreational photographer who isn’t concerned with optimal image output, you should maintain your blissful state of mind and avoid reading this article at all cost. If you are quite happy using the basic software that came with your camera to automatically size images for email or upload them to Facebook, then stick with that. If you are having no problems uploading your images to an online printing service (Picasa or Mpix for example) and allowing them to figure out how to generate different size prints from whatever you give them, don’t break what isn’t broken.

However, if you have already gone down the road of using Photoshop to size images for different uses you are already in too deep. You have peered around the other side of the curtain. While you can never really go back, the following information may help you keep your head above water…and hopefully keep you from mixing your metaphors.

Let us begin by setting a couple of things straight. First, if you aren’t already, you should maintain sized output image files separate from your master image files. I never change the size of my master image files. They remain, forever, the size at which they emerged from my camera (unless I do creative cropping). When I’m ready to output the image I create a duplicate of the master and I size the duplicate. After the duplicate has served its purpose, it can either be saved with a different file name or deleted, but the master remains at it’s original size.

Second, it is important to wrap your mind around two different types of sizing and not allow the rules for one to bleed over into the rules for the other. One type of sizing is for screen output. The other type of sizing is for print output. Let us begin with sizing for screen output.

A common misconception is that screen images must have a resolution of 72 ppi. As the freakishly intelligent digital photography guru, Tim Grey, recently pointed out in his daily Q&A, when it comes to screen size the only thing that matters is pixel dimensions. To reduce the size of an image on the screen, all that needs to be done is to reduce the number of pixels in the image. We often get caught up in creating 72 ppi resolution images for the screen, but in reality ppi (pixels per inch) only matters when it comes to print size. For example, a 300 x 200 pixel image at 72 ppi will appear the same size on screen as a 300 x 200 pixel image at 300 ppi. Furthermore, the file size for each will be the same. They both are constructed of 300 x 200 pixels.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the images below. One was saved at 300 x 200 pixels at 72 ppi and the other was saved at 300 x 200 pixels at 300 ppi. They both measure 300 x 200 pixels in size on the screen, both are 46.9 kb in file size and they both look identical. The only place where ppi makes a difference is in print output size. In this case the 300 ppi image would print at 1” x .667”, while the 72 ppi image would print larger at 4.167” x 2.778”. We will take a closer look at how ppi and print size are related in a minute.

300x200 @ 72 ppi

300x200 @ 300 ppi

So why are we all sizing our screen images using a resolution of 72 ppi if resolution doesn’t matter? It probably stems from the way the controls in the Image Size window in Photoshop are set up. Inches make more sense to us than pixel dimensions. In the Image Size window it would be intuitive to go directly to the Document Size area and reduce the image by entering smaller dimensions in inches, such as 3” x 2”. At 3” x 2” and 300 ppi the file is smaller, but still 900 x 600 pixels, or nearly 3 million pixels in total size.  The next logical step might be to try decreasing the Resolution to further shrink the image. Setting the Resolution to 72 ppi does reduce the image to 182 thousand pixels; a much more manageable size.  This is due to the fact that the pixel dimensions have been further reduced to 216 x 144 when the resolution was changed.

Using document size and resolution to change screen size is really just another way of adjusting pixel dimensions.

Instead of messing with inches and ppi at all, if the pixel dimensions were decreased to 216 x 144 to begin with, and the resolution was left at 300 ppi, the image size on the screen will still be the same…216 x 144 pixels. What would be different at 300 ppi is the size the image would print, but since we aren’t going to print this image it doesn’t matter.

Pixel number, not resolution, determines size on screen.

To further flog the point, as long as you size an image for the screen based on pixel dimensions, the resolution in ppi can be anything you want. I still tend set the resolution of my screen images to 72 ppi out of pure stubborn force of habit. Nothing wrong with that as long as I understand 72 ppi is no different than if I used a resolution of 300 ppi or 3,000 ppi.

So, what are the correct steps for down sizing an image for the screen using the Image Size window? Usually the goals are to make the image fit its intended screen space and also decrease file size so the image will email efficiently or load faster over the Internet if needed. Here is my suggestion.

  • Go to Image>Image Size.
  • Make sure the Constrain Proportions and Resample Image boxes are checked.
  • Change the Pixel Dimensions for either width or height to suit your need.
    • Many social media sites limit images to 720 pixels on the long side and this is also a good size for email. For an image that will be a bit larger on the screen 1000 to 1500 pixels works well, but the best size depends on the resolution of the viewer’s monitor. For slide shows you can select pixel dimensions that match the resolution of the projector.
  • Click OK and Photoshop will size the image to your specs.

Of course all of this confusion is avoided if you simply go to File>Save For Web & Devices instead. In this window you can take care of a variety of screen output settings, such as color space and file type as well as screen size in pixel dimensions, all in one handy location. Notice that nowhere in the Save For Web & Devices window is there an option to set the ppi…because ppi doesn’t matter for screen output.

Save For Web & Devices streamlines sizing for the screen.

Now that we have established best practice when sizing an image for screen output, let’s take a look at sizing an image for print output. Remember that these rules are different than, and must be kept separate from, the rules for sizing for screen output.

While screen output almost always involves reducing the image size and the file size along with it, sizing for print can involve either increasing or decreasing the image output size depending on the size of the print you want and the resolution of the camera that made the image. The size of the print and the resolution of the camera determines whether you will need to resample the image or not. What is this resampling I speak of? Resampling is changing the size of an image by either adding or removing pixels. This is what we were doing previously when we were downsizing an image for the screen, we were removing pixels.

While there is just one way to size an image on the screen, there are two ways to size an image for print. 1) As with screen size, you can change the print size by changing the number of pixels in the image. More pixels produce a larger print and fewer pixels produce a smaller print. 2) You can also change the print size by changing the size of the pixels (it’s actually how closely spaced the pixels are, but it helps me to think of it as pixel size). If the number of pixels in an image is kept the same, bigger pixels will produce a larger print and smaller pixels will produce a smaller print. How do you get larger pixels? When you reduce how many pixels fit in an inch (ppi) each pixel is larger and vice versa. So, the fewer pixels per inch, the larger the pixels and the larger the print size.

OK, I lied. There are actually three ways of sizing an image for print. 1) You can change the number of pixels (resampling). 2) You can change the size of the pixels (resolution). 3) You can change both the number and the size of the pixels at the same time.

My preference is to size an image for print without resampling (adding or removing pixels) if possible. While all recent versions of Photoshop do an excellent job of resampling, at some point the process of adding or removing pixels to change the size of an image does start to degrade the quality. Upsampling usually causes more problems than downsampling when it comes to printing.

Based on testing done by Mac Holbert, as well as my own experience, I have developed some basic guidelines for deciding whether I’m going to change the resolution, change the number of pixels (resample) or both when sizing for print output.  As previously stated, my first choice is to size the image by changing pixel size (resolution) and avoid resampling if possible. We have all heard that 300 ppi or perhaps 360 ppi is the optimal print resolution. The reality is that the human eye can’t tell the difference between 200 pixels per inch on a page and 400 pixels per inch. In fact, I have used resolutions as low as 150 ppi on canvas with no noticeable difference in quality from 300 ppi. A colleague says he often prints at 100 ppi and is happy with the results. However, at some point the enlarged pixels at lower resolutions will become apparent and will degrade the image quality. Where this point is precisely, I don’t know. Depending on image detail, some images may be able to hold up at lower resolutions better than others. To be safe I use 180 ppi as my minimum print resolution on paper and 150 ppi on canvas.

Going the other way I can’t say I have ever noticed a quality loss from increasing the resolution too much, although I haven’t tested extremely high resolutions. From my 21mp camera I have sized images down to 6 x 9 inches by increasing the resolution to over 600 ppi and they print fine on my Epson 4880. I generally downsample to 200-300 ppi if I’m uploading the image for printing at a lab. Some online labs, such as those using the Chromira printer, indicate that is what they want, so I oblige. It makes sense to downsample in this instance anyway because a 200 ppi file will upload much faster than a 600 ppi file for the same print size but it will look just as good to the eye.

If I can’t achieve the print output size I want after lowering the resolution to the 150-180 ppi range, then I know it is time to resample. Photoshop does an amazing job of upsampling to quite large sizes. Without any resampling, an image from my 21mp camera will produce a 20 x 30 inch image at 187 ppi. Photoshop can upsample that image to 24 x 36 and even 30 x 45 at the same 187 ppi resolution with very minimal loss of quality. I have even printed several 40 x 60 prints with great results, especially when viewed at a normal viewing distance for that size image. The degree to which you can successfully enlarge an image for print depends on the quality and resolution of your camera sensor, your camera technique, your developing technique, the amount of detail in the image, the media the image will be printed on, the viewing distance and your own expectations.

So, now that I have thoroughly confused you with all that, what does my workflow for sizing for print output look like?

  • Go to Image>Image Size.
  • Uncheck the Resample Image box (we want to size without resampling if we can).
  • Enter the desired print output width or height in inches.
  • See what the Resolution will be at that print size.
  • If the Resolution has not dropped below the 150-180 ppi threshold, click OK and you are ready to print without any resampling necessary. Because you haven’t resampled the number of pixels in the image you won’t notice any change in the size of the image on your screen.

    Enlarge for printing without needing to resample.

  • If the Resolution has dropped too low you know you will need to do some resampling.

    Not enough resolution. Resampling needed.

  • Check the resample box and then change the Resolution to something acceptable (180 ppi or higher).
  • Remember that the higher the Resolution you choose the more upsampling will be needed to reach the print size you want. Too much upsampling will lead to loss of image quality so you are trying to find the best balance between too little resolution and too much upsampling.  Really big (billboard) images can get away very low resolution (50 ppi) because they will only be viewed from very far away.
  • Now, with the Resample Image box still checked, enter the desired print dimensions in inches if they aren’t already what you want.

    Resampling to acheive print size and maintain minimum resolution.

  • If you are making a substantial enlargement via upsampling you can use the Bicubic Smoother rendering option to smooth out edges that become pixelated, but for moderate upsampling the standard Bicubic option works just fine.
  • Click OK and Photoshop will add (or remove) pixels to generate an image that will print at the size and resolution you have asked for.

At one time it was believed that upsampling in 10% increments gave better results. However, the interpolation software in Photoshop has been improved to the point that, for the last decade or so, there is no noticeable benefit when applying this technique.

I should also point out that Photoshop isn’t the only application available for sizing images. Pretty much any image editing software gives you the ability to size images, although the sizing options in the most basic programs are severely limited. Adobe LightRoom has an export feature that makes the job of sizing images much simpler than Photoshop, although all the general principles and rules discussed above still apply.

So there it is…sizing images for output demystified (or at least not further mystified I hope). Remember to keep the rules for sizing for screen and print separate. Once you have sized an image for any particular output you may want to make further preparations such as sharpening, converting to a different color space, changing bit depth and selecting file type for saving. As we covered earlier, it is important that any sized image be saved separately from the master image file.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or anything you would like to add to the discussion for the greater good. This information and much, much more is available in my image developing video tutorials which can be purchased and downloaded at OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

 
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