As a Moab Master Photographer, our studio regularly gets questions from readers and clients about fine art printing. Last week we received a particularly interesting question, which I’d like to share with those of you interested in printing panoramic images. I think that my assistant and Master Printer, Bob Boyer’s, response goes a long way to explaining some fine art printing concepts that we employ here in our studio.
Two of my YouTube videos, one on panoramic shooting and one on determining nodal points, now have more than 150,000 views. I very often get comments and questions arising from those videos, especially since one of them shows one of my stitched panos on a 25-foot long wall mural that we put up in our studio.
I also have a video clip of a 30-foot wide panorama that we installed in Sinai Hospital, a major medical teaching institution in Baltimore.
We received the following email from Heather McClelland:
Thank you for posting two very well explained videos about panoramic shooting and finding the nodal point.
Based on the beautiful and extremely large pano you showed printed on your wall, I’m hoping you can clear up another mystery for me.
I need to make a 139”x88” print. I have a Nikon D810, which as you know boasts 36 mpx. I thought that by stitching together several images, I’d have a file large enough to make a 139” x 88” print, but I’m still not coming anywhere near the 39,600 x 25,200 pixels I somehow believe I need. Do I really need (139” x 300 ppi = 39600 and 88” x 300 ppi = 25,200) that many pixels to make this size print?
Please help. I’m in over my head!
Well, as usual how many pixels you need, which ultimately translates to “on the wall DPI”, all depends on viewing conditions and image detail you want when people view the image at close distances. Obviously this is a truism. So let me give you some guidance that we go by in the real world (that would be our studio).
300 DPI is sort of arbitrary in the first place. It’s derived from what will be MORE than enough resolution for just about anyone to be indistinguishable from a smooth, continuous photograph and not see any notion of “pixels” on close inspection.
As you might have noticed, Adobe’s default resolution for a print in the Lightroom print module is 240dpi. Some people insist that 600dpi is what’s required to meet that “close inspection” criteria. It’s similar to depth of field which is ENTIRELY based on what acceptable resolution is, depending on magnification/print size. A perfect example is how most older lenses with DOF markings are not at all adequate for anything beyond a small 8x10 print.
Sorry for all of the background but it’s necessary because at the end of it all it’s a judgement call based on the particular photo/scene, where it’s displayed, and the distance from which most viewers will be looking at it. So, here are a few tips:
For our purposes wall murals look GREAT at “screen resolution” on the wall. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 100dpi on the wall. Think about it in terms of how close people are to their monitor when looking at images. Quite close relative to how close they are to a mural on the wall. Somewhere around 100dpi will allow them to experience something that big at the same perceived level of detail as they looking at the image on their monitor at very close distances. That’s usually pretty good.
Anything approaching 200 DPI is usually far more than enough for a very large print in typical display distances, even close distances. Very large prints are not usually viewed while being held in your hand at distances closer than arms length. Fine art papers such as Moab Juniper Baryta, Entrada Textured Rag, or Somerset Rag hold up very well in these circumstances and are our go-to papers.
The material the image is printed on counts a lot. Very smooth glossy papers are quite capable of showing very high resolution when critically inspected. Matte papers in general are usually not remotely capable of actually resolving 300DPI. Canvas materials, such as Moab’s Anasazi, are usually not capable of resolving a whole lot more than 100DPI.
As mentioned it’s also very scene/picture dependent and how much the scene requires very fine detail to work. When in doubt print an enlarged section of the photo on a small piece of paper and view it in the context (distance and lighting) and material (glossy, matte, canvas, etc.) you plan for the whole print.
Best wishes and good luck,
Bob Boyer Master Printer (Les’ assistant)
I hope this is helpful to you in your large format fine art printing.