Digital Start To Finish

I usually devote this column to fixing and enhancing pictures in Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS3 and, more recently, Adobe Lightroom. For a change, I thought I’d share my digital start-to-finish process, covering what I do, and what you can do, in the quest to make a picture-perfect inkjet print.

To illustrate this article, I’ll use an image I took from a light aircraft while flying over the magnificent sand dunes in Namibia (the oldest sand dunes in the world) during a workshop I was leading for VSP Workshops ( The end result of my digital enhancements, complete with a Brush Aluminum frame (available in Photoshop’s Actions palette) opens this column.

quick fixStep One: Shoot A RAW File. Here’s my original image—a RAW file. It’s dull and flat because I was shooting through a scratched Plexiglas window on which the sun was shining. The sunshine created the effect of lens flare (light falling on the front element of a lens or a filter), reducing contrast and sharpness in my image.

RAW files have a wider exposure latitude than JPEG files and offer the very best image quality. In other words, RAW files are more forgiving when it comes to overexposed highlights and underexposed shadows than JPEG files. Therefore, your exposure can be a bit over or under the “correct” exposure, and you’ll still get a good print because you can rescue shadow and highlight detail up to a stop or even more.

quick fixStep Two: RAW Process. Do as many enhancements and adjustments as possible in your RAW-processing program (here I used Adobe Camera Raw). Technically, RAW processing is less destructive to a file than processing a JPEG file in Photoshop. But don’t freak out! My guess is that, realistically, for most readers, you’ll never see the difference.

quick fixHere’s the result of my RAW processing. The colors are more vibrant and the contrast has been greatly improved because I used the sliders in the Basic tab of Camera Raw to fine-tune my image. Plus, I used the Straighten tool to fix the tilted horizon line. How cool is that!

quick fixStep Three: Finalize In Photoshop. After you do your enhancements in your RAW-processing program, you can make additional enhancements in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (or other image-processing programs). Here, I used Photoshop CS3’s Unsharp Mask/Smart Filter to sharpen only the sand dunes in my image and not the sky. That’s called a selective image enhancement, rather than a global image enhancement. In Camera Raw, only global image sharpening is available.

Smart Filters work like adjustment layers and layer masks, letting you “paint” in and out a filter’s effect. And, by the way, you should always sharpen an image as a final step.

quick fixStep Four: Calibrate Your Monitor. I know calibrating your monitor really should be a first step, but I wanted to start off this column with topics that are more fun! Anyway, if you don’t calibrate your monitor, your prints won’t match what you see on your screen-and your picture can be way off color, as is this one.

You can learn all about monitor calibration and the many calibration devices that are available at the PCPhoto website, (search for “calibration how-to”).

quick fixStep Five: Download Printer Profile. When you use a printer profile (available on the website of your printer and paper manufacturer), you’re telling your computer which printer, paper and ink you’re using for the best possible result. However, if you don’t calibrate your monitor, the profile won’t do you much good.

quick fixStep Six: Set Your Resolution. For the best-quality print, set your image resolution to 300 dpi. Also, when upsizing an image, say, from 8×10 to 11×14 inches, selecting Bicubic Smoother after clicking the Resample Image box will give you the best-quality enlargement. To downsize an image, select Bicubic Sharper.

quick fixStep Seven: Pick Your Paper Setting. When it comes to printing your picture, it’s essential that you use the printer’s driver to select the paper on which you’ll be printing. Pick the wrong paper, and you’ll use too much or not enough ink, and your colors will be “off.”

I guess there’s one more step in the digital start-to-finish process: Have fun during all the steps!

Rick Sammon has published 27 books; his latest include Idea to Image, Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0, Rick Sammon’s Travel and Nature Photography, and Rick Sammon’s Digital Imaging Workshops. He has produced a DVD for Photoshop Elements users, 3-Minute Digital Makeover, and three DVDs for Photoshop CS users, Awaken the Artist Within, Close Encounters with Camera Raw and Photoshop CS2 for the Outdoor and Travel Photographer. To see more of Rick Sammon’s work, visit; visit for Quick Fix archives.

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