Your digital darkroom, aka your PC or Mac, is where the magic happens – where you transform the images captured by your camera into the dynamic masterpieces you originally envisioned when you were behind the lens. Whether you’re just tweaking a raw image to get the perfect result, or going that little bit further to rescue a bad exposure, here’s all you need to get started.
Printing at home
These days, even the most humble home photo printers are capable of producing results that rival the output of any high-street printer. Pay a little more for a model that uses multiple shades of the four base ink colours, and you’ll achieve unrivalled quality. Of course, you pay a premium for this quality and convenience, but there are ways of keeping the costs down…
For the best quality prints, choose a dedicated photo printer rather than an ordinary colour printer. Many photo printers are now ‘all-in-one’ models, offering printing, scanning and copying in a single desktop unit. Prices start at £50 for an A4 printer. Some models have eight individual inks, which may mean higher costs.
For genuine photo quality, invest in high-quality photo paper. The main decision you have to make is which finish to go for. Canon, Epson and Fujifilm all make their own glossy and matt papers – you’ll usually get the best results with the same brand as your printer. For fine-art printing, there are plenty of third-party providers.
The biggest cost of running your photo printer is replacing used ink cartridges. One option is to shop around for compatible third-party inks. You could save as much as 50%, though you may not get the same guarantee of colour fidelity or light-fading resistance offered by the manufacturer’s own brand.
Image-editing and storage options
Laptop or desktop?
Laptops are more fragile and often less powerful than desktops. However, if you like the idea of editing your images on location, or just lounging on the sofa, a laptop’s the way to go. Prices are falling all the time, and you can now get a decent Windows 7-enabled laptop for around £300-400.
Many PCs come with slots for SD and CompactFlash cards, but using a USB 2.0 card reader is still the preferred option for image transfer. They do tend to sap power from a laptop when downloading images, so it’s best to have your notebook on charge so you don’t suddenly lose power, or worse, your pictures.
Glossy screens look great, but they are highly reflective, which can result in unwanted glare. Matt screens produce much less glare, but care with positioning is needed to prevent images from looking flat. Whatever you opt for, calibrate it to ensure accurate colour reproduction.
Most new SLRs come with raw-processing and photo-editing software, but it can be hard to use or rather basic. The most popular raw editor is Adobe Camera Raw, which is bundled with Photoshop Elements 10, Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3.
If you regularly shoot large volumes of raw files, storage can be a major concern. As an example, 300 16-bit 12Mb raw files require 8Gb of storage. Even if you only edit a third of these files and back them up once, you’re still looking at around 24Gb of storage. An external hard drive with a capacity of 500Gb – because drives can corrupt and laptops can get stolen – plus a DVD burner for backups is the best solution. This set-up would be enough for 30 8Gb memory cards, which would probably keep you going for a year.
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