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Robert D Feinman

Make Prints Better than the Photofinisher

If you are not satisfied with the prints that you get from your local photofinisher, do it yourself and get much better quality!
Here is a print as returned by the photofinisher. It has multiple defects.
First, although you can't see it, the edges have been cropped off.
Second, the sky is purple and the grass is too dark.
Third, the image is too bright in the center compared to the edges.
All these defects can be corrected and a much better print obtained.

Image from Photofinisher
Print from Photofinisher

Our first step is to scan in the original negative. (If you are using a digital camera start with your camera file, preferably without any manipulation).
Here is the scan of the negative without any adjustments.
Notice there is quite a bit more image than shown in the print. Even without any adjustments the sky is better and the colors are truer. When adjusting for prints photofinishers attempt to balance the colors in the scene to a neutral overall gray. In a scene with a lot of a single color (here green) they overcompensate and thus we get the purple sky. This is called "subject failure" in the trade, but should really be called "photofinisher failure".
We scan with the same settings for all images so that the color of the subject or the light source is not a factor.

scanned negative #1
Scanned Negative

Since this picture was taken with an ultrawide angle lens there is vignetting in the corners of the image. Complete steps to correct for this are shown in my tip:
Fixing Vignetting of 16bit Ultrawide Angle Images

For now we will just show the results of these adjustments.Notice that the sky is much more even in tone, although the foreground is still rather dark. This is a result of the late time of day which caused such long shadows.
If you consult my tip on an optimized workflow, you will find that the next step is to sharpen the picture using the unsharp mask.
Since these samples are being shown small for the web, this step won't be very apparent.
See here for details on sharpening techniques.

Fix Hotspot
Vignetting Fixed

The next step is to do overall color and brightness adjustments using the curves feature. Using the curve shown gives the image below it.


In many cases apply an "S" shaped curve will brighten the highlights and improve the contrast in the dark tones.

We can stop at this point, but some experimentation can be useful.


curve #1
Curve #1
brightened using curve #1
Brightened Curve #1
Lets start to become more creative.
Slight variations can produce different effects.

We add this blue adjustment to the prior curve and brighten up the sky. By setting a control point in shadows we prevent them from changing tone while allowing the sky point to make the sky bluer.

extra blue
Blue Curve #1
extra blue image
Blue Enhanced Image #1
Here is another variation which emphasizes the yellow light of the setting sun. Doing the prints yourself allows you to decide how to interpret the scene. You can strive to reproduce the original or alter it to create a mood that you felt at the time.
yellow toned image
Yellow Toned Image
Lastly, you are not constrained by the format of the original image. I was trying to create a panoramic feel by use of the ultrawide angle lens, but the 35mm film format doesn't match a panoramic shape.
In addition I brightened the green so that it would look better in a web browser. For an inkjet print, I would balance the colors differently.
Click here to see one final version.


Final Image
Final Image

Here is a second example.
This side is from the photofinisher:

image 2

So the moral is: If your prints look bad there may be nothing wrong with your image. Get a reprint or better still do it yourself!

Here is one possible version done at home:
final image 2
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© 2003 Robert D Feinman