If your printed photos look different from the version on your computer, the culprit may not be the lab. Chances are, you just need to make a few adjustments for better results. If this sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry, you’re not alone. This subject is one of the most common sources of frustration for photography students. While it may appear unnecessarily technical at first, it’s not nearly as complicated as you might imagine. Below, I’ll detail the main considerations to get you back on track.  

1) Shooting Too Tight for Cropping

On most DSLRs, an image straight out of the camera appears as a rectangle due to the 2:3 aspect ratio. When enlarged, this translates to an 8×12 print. This creates an issue for those who wish to make a standard 8×10 print. Your image is essentially too large to fit on the paper. As such, the lab has no choice but to cut two inches off of the photo. Those two inches may very well be part of your subject’s head, making for undesirable results.

The solution: If you are interested in making 8×10 or 16×20 prints, shoot a bit loose, leaving several inches of empty space around your subject. When the lab crops to your desired print size, they won’t have to cut into your subject.

2) Using the Wrong Color Space

If the colors of your print look very dull or just plain inaccurate, you may have used the wrong color space. Check your camera menu right now. Does it say Adobe RGB? If so, you have just found the cause of the problem. Simply change it to sRGB in your camera menu and don’t look back. The reason is simple; it gives the most consistent results. Not only does it work well for printing, but also for images shared on the web. Now there will be some experts who proclaim Adobe RGB to be superior as it technically captures more colors. While this is true in theory, it does not translate well in practice as most printers are set to sRGB. If you’re not sure, ask the lab what color space they recommend.

3) Not Setting the Proper Resolution

Have you ever received a warning of “not enough resolution” when ordering a print online? If you were to ignore it, the print would come back rather pixelated, lacking in clarity and sharpness. The trick is to resize the file properly for print purposes. In your image editing program, change the Resolution to 300 DPI (dots per inch) and set the height and width to your desired print size. For example, 300 DPI at 16 x 20 inches. When you save, select JPEG and set the quality slider to the max for the best print results.

Photos and Text by Chris Corradino