Don’t try this at home
I’m sure we have all learned to love and loathe the mobile phone in equal measure. There aren’t many inventions that are both incredibly useful and seriously annoying at the same time. It puts an amazing amount of knowledge at your fingertips, but the apparent ease with which all this information is browsed and exchanged can seduce the owner into believing that they are in control and not the device. Instead of it being the servant, it is the user that is in danger of being the slave.
For print on demand, the main consequence is that customers not only leave deadlines until the last minute, but also expect that we have understood a garbled message cobbled together with typos and predictive text, and printed a dog’s dinner of a file botched with some obscure app. Even if you have emailed them back to tell them you can’t print it, or enquire about a few minor details like what size and how many, they won’t have read it. They’ll be too busy with social media updates or the latest installment on netflix.
Oh and I forgot to mention the urgent phone call about the email they sent with an attachment that’s actually still sitting in their outbox. This is all part of the new norm which puts extra stress on the working day. Instant print it is; instant communication it is not.
I could fill this column easily with tales of customer calamities, but as I’m sure you will have endured many of the like I’ll spare you a catalogue of disasters. But I can’t resist mentioning the group of young, excitable Spaniards who turned up mob handed at the counter. Spanish people seem to have an ability to talk in a continuous stream at some volume and without breathing, or actually listening. So four of them together makes the legendary tower of babel sound as peaceful as a library reading room. They are trying to put together a several sided menu for their restaurant which they are opening the very next day. It’s in english, which they do not speak, so they are trying to put it together through the translator on their phones, while trying to explain to us in a few recognisable words, what they want.
This dialogue is virtually incomprehensible as well as long winded. In fact it just needs Basil Fawlty to appear and ask if we can finish it before ones of us expires. Eventually we have to send them home to do it properly on a computer, which they duly do.
This may be a slightly exceptional episode, but it is typical of how reliant customers have become on immediate communication, and it being transformed into print in the same time frame. And it’s not only words, but pictures. By the very same logic they expect images in print to look exactly like they do on their high resolution, intensely illuminated, colour saturated mini screen, which they are also viewing at a distance, not with their nose buried in the paper.
Yes it’s not very clear, and no the colour isn’t the same, that’s because what you are viewing on your phone isn’t the real file, but an illusion created by the phone company to justify the outrageous claims they made for the camera,and the ridiculous price you paid for it. What you see in print is the real image. Even if the original snap was quite reasonable, all those filters you applied to make it look “better” have completely trashed any real quality or resolution. So the best solution is often the advice to leave well alone.
This applies across the board, whether photography or design, when customers are advised their file is unsuitable for print because of the app or programme they have used, and they ask which one you use. Advising them to use Photoshop or InDesign is probably the worst piece of advice because unless they have more than basic experience, it is likely that the dog’s dinner will end up as a complete banquet.
Ironically this is the one glimmer of hope on the horizon, if customers can be educated to know not to waste their time, or spoil their photography, and begin letting the experts do the work for them. As the general public has moved away from desktop computers, and even laptops, to more handy mobile devices, their professional editing capabilities are considerably reduced. While most people will have heard of an Adobe product, very few will now be subscribed to get the very latest applications, and that will separate the professional from the purely amateur. Even those with an old standalone Photoshop 5 disc (that’s a circular thing with a hole in the middle for anyone under 30) will not have anything like the tools now available. And if they have, they still have to be smart enough to use it.
There’s no question that Adobe’s Photoshop has got a lot more complicated, and while most features are retained from previous versions, anyone without recent experience is likely to find it quite daunting, and may fail to appreciate its full potential. As the updates slip in online,almost on a monthly basis, it’s easy to miss new features unless you follow the information trail and unleash their possibilities. Because the look of the workspace doesn’t change, you might not notice something significant that’s been added.
Following several fine tune additions, May saw a clever new tool for both Camera Raw filter and Lightroom, which share similar editing actions. The Camera Raw filter can be used in Photoshop on all picture files, not just those in the title, so it’s a really useful extension to the basic exposure, colour and contrast options. Adjustments to Clarity and Dehaze were already available as a more subtle alternative to Sharpening or softening the detail in an image, but the disadvantage was that both would affect the colour and density of the image to some degree.
Now Texture as been added and that is able to enhance any surface detail in a non-destructive way.
This really is a magic bullet as previously making digital images crisper meant just increasing the contrast between one pixel and another to “sharpen” the picture artificially. But while this may make it look better on the small screen, it usually looks horrible in print. There is no reason this trick can’t be applied to improve any image, but it’s particularly useful for images that require detail.
I photograph a lot of original artwork, and other items that can’t be scanned on a flatbed because they are too big, or too complicated, and the trick has always been to capture as much detail as possible to reproduce a replica of the original in print.
Shooting a good, evenly lit hi-res photo in the first place is essential, but then being able to improve on the file in post production without affecting the quality and actually enhancing it, is a major step forward in preparing a digital file for print. Essentially all of these improvements allow a more intricate manipulation of all the digital information contained in a file, as long as it hasn’t been beaten up by someone who thinks they know what they are doing with a Mickey Mouse phone app.
So it raises the game for images that have already been taken professionally, but it also means that the average customer’s image may be expertly enhanced as long as they haven’t tried to do anything to it themselves. You can only do so much in post production if you don’t have a reasonable quality file to work with, but as most modern cameras, and even phones, are quite capable of taking a good picture at least now and again, there is a chance you may be able to improve it for print. The advice has to be don’t try and edit it yourself, bring us the original and we can see what we can do.