Today's talk at the camera club was given by Graham, the owner of the Digital Works professional print shop in Hallam. Hallam is about 20min drive from my house and I have sent my photos there for printing. The two hour talk tonight was very educational, as it concerns a very integral part of photography: how to get the best print to show off your photos. I am writing this down so that I do not forget what I have learned tonight. Of course, this is only a fraction of what Graham delivered.
First of all, one must be aware that in the real world what we observe is reflected light. After taking the picture, we view it on a computer, which is transmitted light. When the picture is finally printed, again, we view the picture in reflected light, hence it is closer to reality. Whether on a computer or in print, the picture you see is pretty much affected by the ambient light, which can vary a lot. Even daylight varies at different times of the day. Artificial light is consistent; albeit consistently wrong. To get the best and consistent viewing light on your computer while doing post processing work, Graham recommends the Phillips TLD 95, which can only be ordered from a wholesaler (Middy's - closest to me is on Mountain Highway in Bayswater).
There is a difference in quality between prints made in a mini lab like Harvey Norman, and in a professional lab. Although both use photographic paper (not photo paper as sold in Harvery Norman. Photographic paper is light sensitive, as used in the old days), a professional lab uses a better quality photographic paper which has higher silver halide content. While a mini lab always tries to optimize your pictures for you, a professional lab faithfully reproduces your image on their machine which is calibrated several times a day. Digital works gives you a choice of Matte, Gloss, or Metallic paper. Graham explained the difference between them and when you might want to use them. Also, you can choose to protect the print surface using different types of overlay (not laminate), and mount the picture in canvas, foam board, or just normal mounting board. Plus you can print up to very large sizes.
Graham says that very large prints do not necessarily require anything more than 200 dpi resolution to get good quality printouts. At 200 dpi they may look soft when viewed at close range, but he demonstrated that people viewing large prints always stand a few feet away. At that distance, you don't worry about pin point sharpness.
He believes that the sRGB colour space, although smaller than Adobe RGB, is most suitable for image capturing in most cases, as the printing equipment and photographic paper are only able to handle sRGB. I must say I learned quite a bit about colour gamut tonight. He also explained about the gamma adjustment and how it affects black and white tonal range. I must try this out.
I think that is more or less what I have managed to retain from the 2-hour talk tonight. I walked away convinced that if you are serious about getting the best quality print, you will need to use a professional lab. A home-use printer invariably uses inkjet technology. Even with the better chromagenic ink (of which I frankly don't have a clue about), Graham demonstrated side by side that the lab-processed picture is noticeably better.