Big Prints

I went hiking on Mount Hood in Oregon a few months ago and I got some pretty nice pictures.  I left the house at 4:00 am to get to the trailhead before sunrise, but I was still a bit late.  The best light was vanishing just as I got out of the car.  Luckily I had a nice time anyway and the weather was fantastic.  I also recently moved into a new house and had a large bare wall to fill.  I decided to print my two favorite pictures from the hike at 20×30 inches.

To date, these are the largest prints I’ve ever ordered.  I was a little concerned about stretching my A200’s 10 megapixels out that far, but it worked fine.  I used Lightroom to do the resizing and upsampled to reach 300 dpi.  That’s 6000×9000 pixels or 54 megapixels.  Keep in mind that upsampling an image in this way will not add any data, but it will prevent square pixels from being visible if anyone touches their nose to the glass.  Printing at this size stresses the lens and sensor in ways that an 8×10 doesn’t even come close to.  After trying this experiment, I’d say 20×30 is probably the biggest you can reasonable print from a 10 megapixel sensor.  The results look great and you can only see the pixel deficiency if you really get close and squint.

If you have a picture that you really like, I’d strongly recommend printing it large.  Print it one or two sizes bigger than you think you should.  Resize the image to at least 200 dpi if you need to and be sure to pay careful attention to sharpening.  Oversharpening is the norm on the web, but on a huge print those ugly halos can really stand out.

What I like about large prints is that you can show a picture that has subtler qualities where an 8×10 has to work harder to grab your attention.  I also like that printing large is a great way to see all of those efforts put into sharpness and image quality finally pay off.  Here’s a shot of the two prints in their new home:

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6 thoughts on “Big Prints

  1. These look great. For the sharpening did you work this out by trial and error? Or did you find good advice somewhere? I’ve thought of printing big at some point – using the same sensor – but I’ve found some of the advice on sharpening less that clear.

    1. My first attempts at sharpening for a big print were with unsharp mask, but that’s a very simple algorithm and can look bad quickly. I decided for these prints to use Lightroom’s sharpening controls. I played with the sliders and then chose “print” and “matte paper” for the sharpening settings on export of the JPEG. I must admit that my knowledge of sharpening stuff is limited mostly to trial and error. I tried to examine the upsampled and sharpened JPEG on the monitor at roughly the size it would be printed at and once I was happy with the results I ordered the print.

      I’m glad I could provide even more less than clear sharpening advice for you. I’d have to agree that most of the advice on sharpening I’ve seen amounts to “change stuff until it looks good”.

  2. 20×30 are definitely the way to go. The only bad thing is the costs of the frames. I’ve settled over time on having 3 large frames and every 3-6 months I replace the image with my new favorites. Nice shots you got!

  3. @bryan:

    I like the images large. They look really great. Makes me want to move up to the Northwest.

    I’ve always been a little afraid to go up that big because of my 6 MP camera. I’ve heard that it’s possible but still afraid, even though my wife wants a nice large image in our apartment. Is this an area where film has an advantage? Is it better to be able to actually scan to a huge digital file from a 35 mm frame and then get a nice image?

    I have to admit that my forays into printing have been less than professional because I just haven’t had opportunities to do it much.

    Good work. I really like the images.

    1. I felt like going to 20×30 with 10 MP was pushing it a little, but I bet it depends a lot on the subject matter of the photo. I’d bet that a sharp IS100 6MP shot could withstand the enlargement. Another option for big photos is canvas printing, but that could be a matter of taste. The canvas texture can mask a lot of the resolution deficiency, but it’s obviously a whole different look than paper and more expensive. If you work out the math, you could probably print out a test swatch of a larger print on your home printer.

      Let’s see, at 200 dpi, an 8×10 would be 1600×2000 pixels and a 20×30 would be 4000×6000 pixels. You could enlarge your 6MP shot to 4000×6000 and then crop out a 1600×2000 portion of it to print at 8×10. That should give you a nice estimate of the sharpness you can expect.

      I don’t know about using 35mm for 20×30. The biggest I’ve gone with 35mm is 8×10. I’m guessing it depends a lot on which film and how well it’s scanned. All of the big film prints I’ve seen in galleries were done on medium or large format. I’d be curious to know how big you can go with 35mm, though.

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