by Tom Hirsch
You've come home from vacation, turned in the rolls of film or disks for processing, identified and marked each print for identification, culled out the bad pictures and, if necessary, prepared the negatives and prints for proper storage. But you run across a few prints that really stand out above the rest. They are of better than average composition, exposure and sharpness. Are you going to file these pictures with all the rest, waiting for someone in the future to discover these outstanding prints and wonder why no one had ever seen them before? No - you're going to have enlargements made and display them on the wall.
But what size enlargements are best? The answer depends on several factors, such as the sharpness of the images, the subject matter, how many pictures you wish to display, the size of the display area, and how the pictures should be displayed.
If you have about ten photos that you want enlarged, you might want to go with 5 x 7 inch prints. This is also a nice size with fewer prints if your display space is limited. For more than ten pictures, you might want to go with 3-1/2 x 5s.
Having prints enlarged to 8 x 10 will allow the viewer to examine them from a little greater distance. Also, prints of this size will show fine detail more clearly. Make sure ahead of time, though, that you'll have enough display space without crowding the pictures.
You might even want to have some prints enlarged to 11 x 14. That's a great size if composition, sharpness and overall appearance of the photo are exceptional, and you have the room. Sometimes a large print in a small room can be too overwhelming.
When ISO 400 negatives or ISO digital images are enlarged to a size greater than 8 x 10, the graininess or noise of the film might become a factor. If you know that you'll be vacationing in a very scenic area or will be attending an event that could call for one or more 11 x 14 prints, buy a roll or two of ISO 100 film. When shooting digital, you can use the lowest ISO setting available to you.
Whether you shoot film or digital, for 11 x 14 prints, maximum sharpness is necessary, so take along a tripod and cable release, or make sure that you will have some other means of keeping the camera absolutely steady. Many digital cameras and lenses now come with image stabilization (IS) for maximum image sharpness. Remember that the greater the enlargement, the more apparent will be the imperfections, such as grain, noise, and/or camera movement.
An exception to the above generalization is that if you use a fast film or high digital ISO to photograph something such as an indoor or night sporting event, you can get by with the appearance of graininess or noise in the enlargements. However, you should still strive for camera steadiness.
If you have pictures that were shot with ISO 100 or slower film, or taken with a high-quality digital camera at the lowest ISO setting, were taken with the camera mounted on a tripod or with an IS camera or lens, are absolutely sharp with outstanding composition, you might want to consider having them enlarged to 16 x 20, or even 20 x 24. This size print is great for mounting over a mantle or on a large wall. You can also show off your photographic skills by displaying large photos in your office or place of business. But remember that pictures of this size must be exceptional in every way.
Proper exposure is a factor that will have a strong effect on determining which prints you might want to display. If negatives are underexposed, colors in the prints will have a faded, washed-out look. Also, underexposure will show the graininess or noise in a image more prominently.
Overexposed photos aren't quite as bad, especially if they are only slightly overexposed. Going beyond this point, though, will result in greater density and less detail in the shadow areas of a picture.
So now might be a good time to go through the prints that you have carefully filed or stored on your computer, and pick out the best ones for displaying. Let other people enjoy them, too.