Better Digital 2

The second instalment of a short series of tips on digital images – see also Better Digital 1

Image size and Resolution

Image size is measured in pixels. When supplying images you will seldom if ever be told what size is needed. A rough guide:

· Full page 3000×2000 px or larger
· Half page 2400x1800px or larger
· Quarter page 1800x1200px or larger

Always set the resolution of images at 300 dpi unless specifically asked to use another figure. Most editors etc have no idea what resolution means, and few seem to know it can readily be changed. Much of the confusion comes about because in Photoshop the ‘Image Size’ dialogue box can be used to do two rather different things. It can change the image resolution and it can ‘resample’ your images. Resampling alters the number of pixels in the image, making it larger or smaller (with photographs you will always want to use either ‘bicubic’ or ‘smooth bicubic’ resampling in Photoshop, although other software offers algorithms that may at times give better results.)

Changing resolution doesn’t actually alter your images, but simply changes a few bytes in the file that contain the resolution figure, which is an instruction to the output device about how to work out the size to make a print. Make sure you un-check the resample box in Photoshop when changing resolution – or you will also resample and thus alter your image size.

Various programs claim to work magic when resizing your images, and over the years I’ve tested and reviewed most of them, usually getting a free copy. My conclusion was that for any normal purposes you don’t need them, but that some, particularly SizeFixer will give a better result if you need to blow up a small image for a giant print – and have a very long time to wait for the result.

Image Quality and Format

Unless specifically asked for TIFF files you can supply JPEG. If awkward customers particularly want TIFFs you will find no problem in converting high quality jpegs to tiff format in Photoshop and sending these!

For supply on CD I would normally use Jpeg quality 11 in Photoshop or 92% in Lightroom
For e-mail, I cut down the file size depending on the page size requested as above and supply at quality 9 or 10.

TIFFs should be supplied uncompressed, in PC byte order. All files should have the appropriate colour profile, sRGB or Adobe RGB, embedded in the file.

Images for reproduction should normally be supplied unsharpened, or only with very slight sharpening (use ‘unsharp mask’ or ‘smart sharpening’ or a specialised sharpening plug-in – my favourite is Focalblade. In Lightroom I always apply ) There should be no visible sharpening artefacts.

You should leave it to the printer (or whoever is preparing work for the press) to apply appropriate sharpening for the printer and output size.

If supplying images for presentations or web use, sharpen these appropriately for use on screen. Again there should be no visible artefacts.

Black and White images
Black and white images are also usually best supplied as RGB files, using the appropriate colour profile, sRGB or Adobe RGB, embedded in the file.

If you know your colour images are going to be used as black and white, it is best to do the conversion yourself. Photoshop offers various ways to do this, and one of the simplest that gives you decent control is the ‘Channel Mixer.’ Lightroom and CS3 have a superior ‘Grayscale Mixer’ and plugins such as B/W Styler give ease of use and special effects as well as similar control for users of earlier versions of Photoshop.

If your black and white images are to be printed as colour, you can produce richer results by the use of small amounts of colour in highlights and shadows – as we used to produce by selenium and other toning methods.

Normal colour printing uses the 4 inks Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK, and the printer needs images that are separated into these four colours. However this is a highly technical process and depends on the inks, printer and paper, and it it usually best to supply files as Adobe RGB (or possibly ECI-RGB for European printers.)

If you have to convert to CMYK, you should try to find out from the printer the appropriate CMYK colour space to use, such as SWOP Coated V2 CMYK.

Never let any file leave your hands without appropriate metadata. The proposed ‘orphan works’ legislation makes it even more essential to ensure as a minimum that your name, copyright details and contact details are included.

Metadata includes both EXIF data and IPTC data. Cameras write EXIF data into the file on every image that you take, but scanned images don’t have it. Some cameras enable you to write a comment into every file – and mine is my copyright notice. However most software seems unable to read it.

IPTC stands for International Press Telecommunications Council. IPTC data is written into the image file, either as an IPTC header, or using the Adobe XMP format. You can download an IPTC metadata panel to add to recent versions of Photoshop (CS and later.) Some older software cannot read the XMP data, but this is now the standard format.

The uploading module in Lightroom and similar software makes it very easy to set up presets for regularly used metadata (such as photographer, copyright, contact details etc) and also add keywords during the uploading of batches of images from memory cards. You can also easily add headline, caption, country code, date etc.

Workflow is a consistent series of steps that you carry out on each image. Mine relies on Adobe Lightroom and can be summarised:

  • Import – copies to hard disk, makes backup, adds keywords and other metadata, adds to image catalogue
  • Selection – deletes unwanted images, gives others a rating (keep, process, etc)
  • Processing of selected images – adjusts exposure, brightness, curve, removes dust, red-eye etc,contrast, reduces noise, sharpens, chromatic aberration, vignetting etc (some handled by presets, some automatic, other image specific)
  • Output – writes files of preset size, quality, colour space etc for particular usage to selected locations

Recommended Software

PC Users: Adobe Lightroom
MAC Users: Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture

A very few selected images will need local manipulation in a program such as Photoshop. A good cheaper alternative that can do virtually everything most of us need is Photoshop Elements. There are other programs, but these are so commonly used by photographers that they are usually the best choice.

Other RAW conversion software may sometimes give better results than these, although the differences are generally not great. But none offer the ease of use and in particular the ability to catalogue your images. For Nikon cameras, the ultimate results seem to come from the Nikon Capture NX software, but its a pig to use compared to Lightroom.

I routinely process everything in Lightroom, writing full-size jpegs at quality 92 of selected images – that can be resampled if necessary if I need larger files for a particular purpose – or even converted to TIFF if necessary.

I run a second selection on these results and resize and convert to sRGB for web use, using ACDSee Pro (I got a free copy of this, but had previously bought it as my general purpose image viewer.)

Those few images when I want a high quality print – perhaps for exhibition use – I’ll try using Capture NX, and see if I can get a better result. Then I’ll do a little tweaking in Photoshop before either printing or sending out for printing.

Some free/cheap software for PC:

Raw Therapee
This looks excellent for converting RAW files to jpeg, giving results on the few images I’ve tried as good as the most expensive software. Where it seems to miss out is in workflow and speed.

A dirt cheap plug-in for Photoshop (it can alsobe run standalone) that, when I tested it, out-performed a commercial program costing over ten times as much. It automatically corrects pincushion or barrel distortion and has the great advantage that it can work for any lens on your camera. If you have a lens that isn’t already covered you can take some suitable pictures and get it added.

This is a good file viewing program that also allows you to do some basic image correction, as well as allowing you to use some Photoshop plugins. It is free for private, non-commercial use and very cheap for business use.

There may at some point be a Better Digital 3 in this series – but don’t hold your breath!

2 Responses to “Better Digital 2”

  1. Studio413 says:

    Comments» ONLY WHEN META_DATA is secure will it work…I still advocate for including meta-data….but it won’t stop ORPHANS….

    1. Lloyd Shugart – May 30, 2008

    There are many issues with the law as proposed…mainly it just further creates hardship and litigation…….the only reason it won’t overwhelm the Fed Court system is that it will not be financially feasible to pursue protection of the copyrights, because the bill guts any damages and the attorney fees. As it stands now it will promote USE FIRST, and ONLY AK FOR PERMISSION if you get caught.

    The only true way to slow the creation of Orphans issue is MANDATORY ATTRIBUTION, since our laws lack any moral rights, and Morals can’t be legislated to any effect. At least with Attribution, and google the living Artist will be able to be found. As Tammy indicates in her letter to congress the current proposal will only create further morass.

    Lloyd Shugart
    Unintended victim


    full copy of Tammy’s letter here

    I read your letter on a Techdirt #12 posting, and I must say that of all of my readings on this issue. Your letter is on point of the real effects of this legislation, as it relates to creators, especially the visual artist.

    I am the POSTER CHILD for why this is bad for the copyright creators.

    I come from an experience that is real. I am in year 3 of a copyright litigation that, my legal bill now exceeds $500,000.00 USD.

    US copyright laws currently lack “MORAL RIGHTS”…. before any “ORPHAN WORKS LAW” should be considered the copyright laws need to address at least “Mandatory Attribution” bc I don’t think that moral rights can be enforced by law.

    My case involves thousands of images that were marked with my “CMI” embedded into each and every image, with metadata….client removed said data, and then licensed my images to hundreds of third parties who then licensed my images to thousands of additional third parties under their “Affiliate Marketing Programs”

    So if you are an artist and are concerned with your artwork then you better be concerned with this proposed legislation, and the impacts it will have on your ability to sustain yourself.

    As an aside, although I was the copyright owner, I was the defendant in this lawsuit. I was forced to incur $500,000.00 USD in legal fees to protect my copyrights. As a result I now have thousands of images being used by thousands of people whom are all using my images to make money….they have not paid one red cent for these assets…I can not pursue each and every one of them….and those that I do can claim as a defense that the work is either in public domain or an orphaned work, or that it was an innocent infringement.

    How many readers have the kind of USD it take to protect your copyrights, even under the laws as they now stand? If the orphan works law passes as now proposed it will cost more to protect your rights both in real dollars and in your personal time, and emotions.

    Propet USA v. Lloyd Shugart WD WA. Federal Court

    Lloyd Shugart

  2. Hi Lloyd,

    I’m very much in favour of mandatory attribution and have in various places written about the lack of attribution by the media in the UK (and elsewhere.) But it is perhaps a separate, though related issue.

    According to copyright lawyers I’ve heard talking hear, removal of metadata – such as copyright data – from a file is already in breach of UK copyright laws, though so far as I’m aware this has not been tested in court.

    The current US copyright law is in my opinion a major part of the problem (and of your particular problem), as it devalues normal copyright protection by making normal copyright – as recognised by the Berne Convention – valueless in the USA. Several hundred of my images are in unauthorised use in the USA and – unless I register them with the US Copyright authorities there is nothing I can do to prevent it or get recompense. There isn’t I think any doubt about the existence of copyright or my ownership of it in this case.

    So although I oppose the idea of so-called ‘orphan rights’ and the proposed legislation, I’m not convinced it will actually alter the current position so far as I am concerned. Basically the US is and will continue to be a haven for copyright outlaws whatever so far as those of us in the rest of the world are concerned.

    But certainly I would be in favour of clarifying that the removal of metadata is an offence. I’m also completely in favour of the US really moving in to properly recognise and implement the Berne convention and fully recognising foreign copyrights, as well as getting rid of their current registration setup to come fully into line with Berne.

    However not putting metadata in your files on the grounds that it is not secure is certainly like shooting yourself in the foot. It remains a valuable protection even though it can be removed.

    I’m also considering adding a visible footer to all images I place on the web, which will be a few pixels of white space under the image containing my copyright message and stating that it is a copyright offence to remove this footer without a licence from me to do so. It seems to me a fairly neat way to remind people of the copyright position while not compromising the image.

    Most of the unlicensed re-use of my own images (outside of the USA) has been by people who are acting in ignorance and are not in any case worth suing – though I usually start by sending an invoice and have collected on some of these. Although the UK system can’t give the punitive damages some people manage to collect under US law, it probably works better most of the time.

    If we want to see a workable orphan rights system then I think the Canadian example might be a good one. It gets rid of the idea you can use stuff for free, collects reasonable fees for usage and should avoid litigation.


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