Digital Darkroom

Here's how to get perfect prints

You’ve bought your camera and filled your memory card with photos, now what? The answer depends largely on what the end is for your photographs. If you are a novice with little interest in the finer points of photography, but want to post shots of friends and family on the Web, then you won’t need expensive and complicated software. If you want to fine-tune your photographs and maybe make large, high-quality prints, then you should consider investing in a software program and printer that suit your needs.

When it comes to photography, there are two basic post-camera processes. The first is asset or image management, and the second is image editing. Having a good way to catalog and cross-reference your files from the start is important so that you can find, group, and post or print photos with ease. A good asset management tool, such as Adobe’s Lightroom, is a solid option for amateurs who wish to organize large numbers of files and have access to some digital darkroom features, as well as the ability to produce a Website directly from the software. It is designed for use with Adobe Photoshop.

Long the industry standard for professionals, Adobe’s latest suite of imaging software, Photoshop CS3 ($649), has raised the bar once again, offering a vast array of tools with which to manage and edit images. Anyone with a serious interest in digital photography will find it well worth the investment; but there is a steep learning curve as well as a high price tag. (For additional pricing options, visit Adobe’s Website.)

For basic image editing, such as removing red eye or overall color correction, Mac users will find that iPhoto, which ships standard on Macs, is more than adequate. The latest version also handles RAW files, and you can easily post your photos to the Web directly from iPhoto. If you own a PC or wish to experiment with more advanced editing techniques, without investing in expensive software, there are several good freeware options, such as Google’s Picasa and Linux-based GIMP.

Perfect Prints

So you’ve wrangled your images into some semblance of beauty and order. Next step, printing. Most consumers can do well with an all-in-one device such as Hewlett-Packard’s Photosmart C8180 All-in-One (www.hp.com; $399). But if you want to produce really high-quality photographic prints, Epson rules the competition. Consider a dedicated photo printer such as Epson’s R800, an eight-color device that produces good-quality images; it generates prints up to 8″x10″. Another option is the Epson R1900 ($549), a midrange printer that delivers high-quality prints up to 11″x14″.

Professionals can opt to invest in a printer such as the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 ($1,295), which handles print jobs up to 17 inches wide, enabling it to make 16″x20″ prints. The Canon PIXMA Pro9500 is also a contender in the space but at a slightly lower price point. The 10-color printer, geared toward professionals, features support for fine-art paper with two separate paper paths, including a front feeder for heavyweight  paper types; it prints up to 4800×2400 dpi and professional-quality black-and-white images with matte black, photo black, and gray inks.

Once you’ve managed and printed your images, there is one last step in the process: backup. Consider online options such as IBackupand Mozy.

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