Reflective vs Backlit Photo Viewing

23Jan10

Recently, I decided to give Kodak Gallery and Adorama a try for prints. My own photo printer has been out of commission for months with an aging to-do note to bring it back into service. In the meantime, ordering small prints online is cheap and easy. I ordered a collection of prints from recent This Is What I Saw walks in Tilden Park and a few family snaps.

The family snaps were beautiful. Well exposed with great colors. However, the darker, underexposed prints from Tilden Park were, in fact, too dark. They had lost their light, their color, their presence. To be sure, printing is not as simple as it may seem, and generally involves working an image for print and profiling printers and papers. I have several books on the subject because an education is needed to do it properly. But clearly my darker, underexposed project imagery will have to be significantly reworked for printing. And in the end it’s the print that matters.

What seems to be the case is that the dark prints work onscreen because they are backlit. Today’s LED displays (or displays in general) add a vibrancy to pictures that is not there in print. Instead, a print relies on reflective light, and a dark print will simply absorb more light and reflect less. Something is lost in my current translation and I’ll have to work through a processing plan that allows my vision to come across in print, maintaining a balance of dark imagery and reflective brightness. Previously, I had been underexposing the pictures to get the look I wanted, but I have already changed this so that I “properly” expose the pictures and then modifying the exposure in post processing. This should give me more latitude to adjust the pictures for both online and viewing and printing, but I’m sure it will be a process of trial and error to get it right.

In the meantime I need to get that printer back up and running! When ordering online so many variable are out of my control – paper choice, layout, and the ability to adjust the image on the fly.

Side Note: When choosing which pictures to print I was much more selective in editing. Clearly, when it comes to committing to print we are much more critical.



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