Framing snapshots and creating calendars and coffee mugs with your images can be fun, but have you ever considered producing your own limited edition art prints? An art print conveys quality and creativity and by limiting the number of prints produced, you establish value to your series.
It isn’t necessary to be a professional artist, photographer, or print maker to produce professional-looking results. All you need is a digital camera, computer, printer, special paper, a pencil and a desire to express your creativity.
In this tip you’ll learn how to create your own limited edition art prints the easy way. We won’t be tackling anything too technical, just a few basics about choosing a subject, setting up your camera, taking a great picture, adjusting your image with computer software, and then successfully printing and displaying your image. Are you ready?
CHOOSE A SUBJECT
Whether it’s a person, place or thing, choose something to photograph that is meaningful and beautiful to you. If you intend to sell your prints, consider locations and objects as your subjects and think about creating images that evoke a human emotion or convey a concept. For example, a new spring plant signifies growth and fresh new beginnings, a calm lake at sunset represents serenity and peace, a group of pears in a bowl may suggest togetherness, while the vast expanse of a landscape could be interpreted as freedom or loneliness. The list is endless, so explore, unleash your creativity, and experiment.
SET UP YOUR CAMERA
It helps to be prepared when you’re taking pictures and setting up your camera for the best possible shot takes only a few minutes. You can take good photos with a compact camera, but a dSLR camera has a higher quality sensor and the ability to interchange lenses for different perspectives, this translates to creative freedom and high-quality images. I’m using the Canon EOS Rebel T1i for this demonstration.
Image quality: More pixels are required to print a high-quality, sharp image (approximately 300 pixels per inch) than to view an image on your computer monitor (approximately 72 pixels per inch). The larger your print, the more pixels you need. Since high-capacity memory cards are available now at relatively low prices, I recommend setting your camera image quality at the highest resolution possible. A high-resolution image gives you creative freedom to adjust and crop without losing so many pixels as to reduce the quality of your print. You never know when you’re going to capture that magical shot.
The IMAGE QUALITY setting is located in the MENU. All digital cameras offer a high-resolution JPEG setting denoted by a large L, or FINE. Some digital cameras offer a RAW setting that allows you to shoot uncompressed images with greater capacity for adjustment and enhancement. Keep in mind that a RAW image file requires additional processing with proprietary camera software or a third party application. Unless I’m shooting in a situation with varying light, I often set my camera to the highest quality JPEG setting. Digital cameras vary so check your owner’s manual for specifics.
ISO: One of the many advantages to shooting with a digital camera is the ability to adjust your ISO, also known as your digital camera’s sensitivity to the light. For the optimum image quality, I recommend setting your ISO to 100 or 200. If you’re shooting in a lowlight situation without flash, raise your ISO to allow for a faster shutter speed and reduced blur. Some camera sensors are capable of producing a quality image at 800 ISO, but I don’t recommend raising the ISO higher than 400. A higher ISO often translates to discolored pixels appearing in your image, also known as “noise.”
Shooting mode: By shooting in one of the Creative Zone Modes you have more control over your camera and the resulting image. Unless I’m photographing a moving subject I shoot in AV – Aperture Priority Mode. This allows me to control my depth of field (the amount of blur or sharpness in the background) and the camera selects the best shutter speed for the proper exposure.
TAKE A GREAT PICTURE
Once you choose where and what you’re going to photograph and set up your camera for the best possible shot, think about light and composition.
Light: Great images combine content, composition, creativity, technical ability, and timing, but all are secondary to the presence of light. The quality, direction, intensity, and color of the light all have an effect on your image.
To develop your awareness of light, look at the world around you at different times of the day and observe how the light falls upon a tree in your backyard, or a building in your neighborhood. Learn to read where the light is coming from by looking at shadows. Longer shadows occur when the sun is lower in the sky, during sunrise and sunset; short shadows occur when the sun is high in the sky. Notice if the shadows are hard-edged or soft-edged. As a general rule of thumb for beautiful images, plan your photo shoot for early morning or late afternoon. The sidelight creates dimension and form on the landscape and results in more compelling images.
Direction of light: Whether natural or artificially created in a studio, the direction of light dictates the outcome of your image.
Back light is created when the light is coming from behind your subject. This can be the trickiest lighting to expose for. Depending on the desired effect, adjust your shutter speed and aperture to expose for the darker parts of your scene, or reflect light into the shadows.
Sidelight occurs when the sun is low in the sky, emphasizing texture and creating dimension in your scene. Most professional photographers choose to shoot landscapes and still life early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Front light illuminates the entire scene and occurs when your subject faces the light. Depending on the quality of the light (hard or soft) and what you’re photographing, this may be a flattering light. Experiment and see what looks best to you.
Top light from harsh overhead sunlight or studio light can create deep shadows under eyes if you’re photographing people, and it can appear rather flat and non-dimensional if you’re photographing outside at mid-day.
Composition: Although there is no guaranteed formula for taking a great photograph, you can begin to create better pictures by understanding a few basic rules of composition. After you learn the guidelines, your world opens up with infinite creative opportunities because you know the basics. You can then take some risks and create your own unique style.
Rule of thirds: Instead of composing your image with your subject placed right in the middle of frame, try using the rule of thirds to create more interest in your photograph and move the subject off-center. Think of the scene in your viewfinder as a tic-tac-toe board and mentally divide your scene into thirds, then place something of interest at one or more of those intersections.
Line: Line is in everything we see, from the vertical line of a building, the horizontal line of the horizon, the curved line of a winding road, or the diagonal of a fence running through your scene, all are examples of physical lines. You can create implied lines in your mind’s eye, similar to connecting dots in a child’s book. As you compose your shot, look for the lines in your scene and adjust your frame to incorporate this design element.
Scale: Playing with size and the proportion of elements in your scene is fun to do. Anything close to your lens appears larger than things far away. For example, a large object placed next to a small object creates visual emphasis and a focal point in your image.
Most printers include a proprietary software CD or a manufacturer’s website with downloadable software that allows you to perform basic image adjustments and enhancements, such as cropping, rotating, adjusting for contrast and color, and removing red-eye. The Canon printers are shipped with Easy-PhotoPrint EX and Easy-PhotoPrint Pro.
There are many other image-editing programs available, for example, Picasa is free to download online and Adobe Photoshop Elements is a popular image-editing software program that works with most computers and printers.
Print layout: It’s possible to choose a border from your printer dialog box when preparing to print, but for greater artistic control over the final results, I suggest creating a border for your prints within your image-editing software program. The process also includes resizing your image to print consistently on the page.
Follow these simple steps to create a border in Photoshop Elements:
- Open up your image file, press Command/Cmnd+A (Control/Ctrl+A on a PC) to select the entire image, Cmnd+C (Ctrl+C on a PC) to copy the image.
- Go to File > New > Blank File to open the New Dialog box. Enter the width and height of your paper and 300 in the Resolution box. For this example, I’m using 13 x 19 inch paper. Click OK.
- Press Cmnd+V (Ctrl+V on a PC) to paste your image onto the new blank page. Use the active handles on the image to click and drag to re-size your image to fit your page.
- Click on the Move Tool in the toolbox to create guidelines, and make sure your Transform Controls are visible around your image. Align the guidelines on the ruler (make sure the ruler is visible) and create your desired border width. I like to leave a little extra room at the bottom of the print for my signature. Arrange your image to fit within the guidelines and then click the green Commit checkmark to apply the change.
- Save your layered file as a .PSD (Photoshop Document) file to preserve your work and have the option to make changes at a future time. Go to the menu bar and select Layer > Flatten Image and save your file again, but as a TIFF. TIFF images are inherently lossless, uncompressed files (unlike JPEGS) and will generally produce a higher print quality.
An old effect from the days of film lives on as the "sloppy border". This painterly edge-effect gives your image a handmade feel. You can download sloppy border edges online for a minimal fee, or create your own. To create your own sloppy border, repeat steps 1-4 above, then do the following: Click on your image layer in the Layers Palette and create a new Layer. Adjust the size of the window around your image to allow enough space to paint around the edges with the Brush Tool. Repeat step 5 above (Save your layered file as a PSD...).
Now that your beautiful image is shot, edited, and enhanced, it’s time to print your masterpiece.
Choose a printer: Photo printers vary in size, capability, and price with options to print on large paper stock, using dye-based or pigment based inks with multiple ink tanks. Some have rear and front-loading paper options, and most have PictBridge, Bluetooth, and Wireless capabilities. It can be confusing – which one should you choose? Personally, I have a printer/scanner/fax that I use for letters and general printing in my home office, but for more serious photo printing I suggest investing in a designated photo-printer. The decision comes down to paper size, ink, and price. I like to use the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MarkII because it produces beautiful, 13 x 19 prints using the ChromoLife100, 8-color ink system and it’s relatively inexpensive for a professional photo printer. The prints resist fading up to 100 years when kept in albums, and about 30-years when framed under glass and exposed to light.
Choose a paper: High-quality prints have two important items in common: good inks and good paper, both of which provide longevity of your artwork. When printing, you’ll need to purchase professional photo paper, worthy of artful display. You can find watercolor paper or thick matte stock paper designated for your printer brand at the local office supply, photography store, or art store and it’s also available online. I’m using Canon Fine Art Paper "Museum Etching" - 13 x 19, and 8.5 x 11. If you decide to experiment with 3rd party watercolor papers, be aware of the limitations of your printer and make sure the thickness complies with your printer specifications.
Print: Read the manual for your particular printer setup and insert the paper into the printer according to the directions. When printing on thick paper stock, use the manual feed on your printer to avoid paper jams. Adjust the print quality in the Print Properties dialog box when printing from your computer and use the highest quality setting, as seen in figure 1.19. Before printing multiple pages, I recommend you “preview” in your printer dialog box and print one test copy to verify that you have selected the correct options for your printer.
Signing the print: Limited edition prints have been standard in printmaking from the nineteenth century. With digital photography and home printing it’s possible to be your own printmaker, and you don’t need to worry about printing them all at once - you can print as you go.
A limited edition is normally hand signed and numbered by the artist, typically in pencil, for example; 14/100. The first number is the number of the print itself. The second number is the number of overall prints you plan to print of that image. The lower the second number is, the more valuable and collectible the limited editions are likely to be.
We covered the basics here for taking a great picture and creating your own limited edition art print. It’s time to get out your camera and create your own work of art!
Erin Manning is a professional photographer, teacher and television personality living in Los Angeles, California. Television viewers know Erin best as the digital photography expert and host of DIY Network’s Telly-award-winning TV series The Whole Picture. She has also appeared as the techno-lifestyle guru on Enable Your Home and is author of Portrait and Candid Photography (published by Wiley). She helps people understand photography and technology by translating technical mumbo-jumbo into everyday words and by facilitating their learning with a clear, friendly teaching style.
The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.
All images are copyright Erin Manning