Prepping an Image in Lightroom for the Printer or the Lab

Last week Gabriel Biderman wrote a post about making printing part of your photographic process. I loved it. Reading it brought me back to my earliest days of photography. As it is for Gabriel, printing was always a huge part of my creative process. An image wasn’t complete until I mounted and framed the finished print and shared it with others.

Now, in this post, I’ll go over the modern tools and techniques so that you, too, can feel the satisfaction of a finished print.

Lower Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn. Fuji X-T2, 16-55mm f/2.8 at 21mm. 25 seconds, f/6.4, ISO 200.

Tools of the Trade

Although you don’t need an overly robust computer to print your images, you do need a good computer monitor. Why? One word: WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).

A quality monitor, like the BenQ SW240, is the first step to a quality print.

Today’s monitors can easily exceed the brightness and contrast that a print can display, so it’s important for us to be working with a high-quality and calibrated monitor. If you are not working with a high-quality, calibrated monitor, you can never expect your prints to look like what you see on screen.

Every choice we make when editing our images depends on what we see on our display. If the monitor is too dark, we’ll adjust our images so they end up being too bright. If the monitor is too contrasty, we’ll force our images to end up being overly flat. It just can’t be overstated how important using a good, calibrated monitor is to the editing process.

Here at National Parks at Night, we love our BenQ monitors. They cover 99 percent of the Adobe RGB color space and have the manual controls necessary to perform an accurate calibration. Both of these qualities are necessary for them to be considered high-end photography monitors, but they also go a step further by being calibrated straight out of the box.

For less than $400 you can get the BenQ SW240 24" Photovue. For just a little more you can upgrade your screen real estate to 27 inches with the SW2700PT.

Even the best screens in the world, however, will drift out of calibration. Despite starting off accurate, they drift into being too bright, too dark, off color, or displaying too much or too little contrast. So it is essential that we continue to calibrate our monitors as we use them.

Our favorite colorimeter, the X-Rite i1Display Pro. We use this on our monitors at home, and on our workshops too, for calibrating TV displays and projector/screen combos in the meeting rooms.

I have my monitors on most of the day and calibrate them about once per month. If you have your screen on constantly, then you might consider calibrating more often. Regardless of how often you keep your monitors lit, you should certainly calibrate them just before you begin a new printing project.

There are many excellent calibration solutions out there, but we have settled on the X-Rite i1Display Pro to keep our monitors in line. Whichever system you choose, you’ll get some sort of colorimeter and the software to run it.

Once you install the software, you’ll be guided through the process of calibrating your own monitor. At the end of the process, which usually takes only a few minutes, you’ll be asked to save the profile. Craft the name so that it includes the monitor model and the current date so that you can keep track of when you last calibrated. For example: “BenQ SW240-12-15-2018.”

Printing With a Lab vs. at Home

Once you have a high-quality and calibrated monitor, you can rest assured that you are getting WYSISYG. This means you are ready to make some prints! Now you just have to choose between using a print lab or making prints yourself at home. Both avenues have pros and cons.

The Bay Photo Xposer is one of our favorite print formats at the moment, and is a good example of the variety of formats available only from labs.

Using a Lab

For many good reasons, most photographers choose labs for their prints rather than making them at home. Why? Because there are several advantages that are widely attractive.

To begin with, there is no upfront expense. No need to run out and buy a printer, stock up on inks or purchase a small raft of paper. Using a lab is also less frustrating and less time-consuming. This allows the photographer to focus on their work behind the camera rather than spending more time in front of the computer.

While there are advantages to printing at home, saving time (and perhaps even money) is not one of them. For those who want a no-hassle printing solution—use a lab. And be sure to choose a good one. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending more time and money than you expected.

taking time to choose a pro lab to make your prints is a decision you’ll never regret. Your prints will be on the highest-quality papers, they will always be accurate, you will have a wide variety of formats to choose from, and the process of ordering and receiving will be streamlined. Just be aware that not all labs produce the same quality prints and deliver as high a level of service.

While there are many excellent pro labs out there, we use and love Bay Photo for all of the reasons outlined above.

The Epson P600 is a good example of a good home printer for great photos.

Printing at Home

Printing at home can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely frustrating. Inkjet printers (both high-end professional as well as prosumer models) are notoriously fussy. Their nozzles can clog, the paper can jam and sometimes they are just simply bewildering.

But when things are going smoothly, printing at home is pure joy.

The biggest advantage is seeing your images immediately. No waiting! If your print comes out a little dark, it’s a snap to reprint it. Too warm? No problem—adjust the white balance and print again.

Owning your own printer also allows you to easily and quickly experiment with different types of papers. From high-gloss to satin to watercolor paper, there are a host of surfaces and brand options to choose from. Each type has a slightly different look; you may find that you prefer gloss for some types of photography and watercolor for others. Being able to experiment at home makes finding those preferences much easier.

Interpreting Your Capture

This is the fun part! Ansel Adams famously quipped, “the negative is like the composer's score … [and] the print is the performance.” This means we get to take the original score (our capture) and (re)interpret its performance (through editing).

Whether sending your image to the lab or to the inkjet printer in your digital darkroom, this is the step where you can unleash your creativity. From Photoshop to Lightroom to innumerable plug-ins and stand-alone programs, there is no shortage of technology to help you create the best version of your photograph.

Once you have created your masterpiece, it’s time to get it ready for printing. We’ll use Lightroom as our example, but most programs will behave in much the same way.

Prepping Your Print for the Lab

If your final destination is the lab, the process of prepping your image is fairly simple. It’s really just a matter of making or exporting a copy of your file and uploading it to your favorite printing service.

Here’s how to make the copy:

1. In the Library module, select your image.

2. Choose File > Export, or click on the Export button at the lower left of the screen.

3. From the Export dialog, set your options as follows:

  • Export Location: Under Export To, choose Desktop. This will send the copy to your desktop so that you can upload it to the lab.

  • File Naming: Here you can choose to rename your photograph. Or not. Totally up to you.

  • File Settings: Choose JPEG for image format, Quality 100 and leave Color Space at its default of sRGB.

  • Image Sizing: Ensure that you uncheck the Resize to Fit box.

  • Output Sharpening: Here you can choose the type of paper you’ll be printing on (Glossy or Matte) and level of sharpening you would like to apply. Begin with Standard until practical experience suggests using Low or High.

That’s it! Hit the export button and a copy of your masterpiece will land on your desktop ready for uploading to your favorite lab.

Lightroom Export settings for sending an image to a photo lab.

Printing at Home Using Lightroom

Using Lightroom’s Print module is pretty straightforward when you forego the many superfluous options and just get down to making prints.

1. Select your image and then move to the Print module.

2. From the Template Browser on the left, choose Maximum Size.

The Lightroom Print module.

3. Click the Page Setup button at the lower left of the screen. Choose your printer, paper size, and whether you want a vertical or horizontal orientation.

4. Click the Print Settings button, also at the lower left of the screen. (If you use a PC and don’t see this button, then go back to Page Setup, click Properties, then click Advanced.) Here you’ll choose your printer and the settings that are specific to that printer. In general, you should address the following:

  • Color Controls: If the print dialog offers the option of Color Matching, choose the printer’s color controls.

  • Paper Type: Choose Glossy or Matte or any other variation that your printer offers. (For beginners, I highly recommend using paper from the same manufacturer that made your printer. Epson papers for Espon printers, Canon paper for Canon printers, etc.)

  • Print Quality: Manufacturers will have different names describing print quality. Don’t choose Fast, Draft or Economy. Use a setting that produces a high-quality photograph.

  • Borderless: Avoid using this setting. It generally causes more problems than it’s worth. If you want a borderless print, manually trim the paper after printing.

  • Color Options: Some printers will allow you to tweak the look of the image with certain options such as vivid or realistic. Best to play it safe here and stick with the defaults. Experiment as desired.

5. It’s time to move over to right side of the Print module. The good news here is that because you have chosen Maximum Size in the Template Browser and specified the paper size in Page Setup, most of your work is done. You can move right past the Layout Style, Image Settings, Layout, Guides and Page panels to get to the Print Job panel. In that panel:

  • Uncheck Draft Mode Printing.

  • Set Print Resolution to 360 for an Epson printer or to 300 for any other manufacturer.

  • Set Print Sharpening to Standard for the first print. If the result is overly sharp or too soft, choose Low or High on the next printing.

  • Under Color Management, set the Profile to Managed by Printer.

  • Uncheck Print Adjustment for the first print. If you find your print comes back too dark or too light, then you can return to this setting on your next printing.

Just Do it

Whether you are crafting your own prints at home or sending out your files to off-site experts, making prints of your photographs is a great way to honor the work you’ve put into your craft.

They also make excellent holiday gifts … just sayin’.

Tim Cooper is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. Learn more techniques from his book The Magic of Light Painting, available from Peachpit.


Make Printing Part of Your Process

Do you make prints?

Is it part of your workflow?

When I was getting into photography in the early 1990s, the print always was the final part of the process. We shot on film, edited our contact sheets or slides, and then the best photos were blown up to share with the world.

Let me wax nostalgic about the process in the darkroom so I can lay the groundwork for why I still love the print today.

Darkroom Days

The darkroom was a sacred space to immerse yourself in the process of creating a photograph. It was an incredibly tactile experience—you turned off all the lights, felt around for the paper, and once you found it, checked to make sure you laid it emulsion side up.

The enlarger was like a huge camera on a crane. You dialed in f-stops on the lens and shutter speeds for the time, and you used filters to bring more or less contrast to the ISO of your paper. And then the magic happened. Nothing will ever beat the feeling of seeing the latent image start to appear after agitating the print in the developer. It was a very hands-on experience. It generally took 30 to 60 minutes to perfect the print. A minimal commitment to the darkroom was at least a three-hour session.

Me feeding the troughs with mural prints (above). Each trough was filled with developer, water rinse, stop, water rinse, fix, water final rinse. The 8x10 enlarger (right) with the final 30x40 print underneath.

The ultimate challenge was making a mural print—something bigger than 20x24 inches. I had the good fortune to study this technique. It was saved for a large negative and the absolute best images in your portfolio. The 8x10 mural enlarger could project against the wall or onto a table underneath. You’d use roll paper and tape it down flat. And here’s the fun part: Troughs held all the chemicals, and in order to spread them evenly over the 6x3-foot paper you would roll and reverse-roll the paper back and forth.

The end result of your time in the darkroom was hopefully a portfolio image or a print ready to be matted and framed.

My final prints are stored in archival boxes, organized by theme/subject matter.

Digital Days

Let’s flash back (forward) to the modern process. I flipped to Lightroom for good about eight years ago, and the process can be just as immersive, but without taking up as much space and of course no chemicals!

While it is still a deliberate process, I do miss the hands-on aspect that made you really “work your negative” to figure out what you could pull from it. Everything was a physical and tactile task. Through that experience I feel there was a deeper understanding of what we were trying to create.

While there is so much more we can do with software, are we experiencing and understanding the image as much as we used to? I have to wonder: Is our goal the same? Are we processing to print or just going straight to publishing on the World Wide Web?

Sharing has taken on a whole new meaning in this digital world. You can be everywhere instantaneously but then gone in a moment.

Where is your work? Where does it live for someone to pore over?

Is it just going on your Instagram profile page? Or is your gallery of work on 500px, or Flickr, or Squarespace?

As much faith as I have in Facebook for forever storing my memories, I want a better archive than that. Remember all the family albums that we’d flip through or that were passed down to us? These memories are even more precious than the portfolio!

The digital solution to this conundrum is easy, and I hope you are at least doing this: Make books.

Archiving “snapshot” memories is a must, and is easier to do than ever before.

Every year I put together a family year-in-review. I like the small, 6x8 keepsake books. My wife makes calendars full of last year’s escapes and escapades. Both are excellent solutions to ensure you have a physical archive that will live on.

Perfecting the Print

If your goal is to create high-quality art, then go beyond publishing your images online. If you want to up your printing game, learn from a master printer. Here is how I did it:

I had been printing in the darkroom for 14 years, and pretty confidently for the last 10 of those. Then I took a darkroom course with one of the master printers of our era, George Tice. If you have never seen his image “Petit’s Mobil Station,” then spend some time soaking in the perfect balance and rich tonality in this masterpiece. And by the way, your screen is not doing justice to the tonal range of highlights and shadows that are showcased in his print.

George taught our whole class to print with a purpose, and he taught us to try to pull out a full tonal range. I was a high-contrast printer at the time and my shadows were level-1 black. By using lower contrast gels I could massage multiple levels of blacks and whites and extend that tonal range. That experience with George Tice elevated my approach to printmaking.

I was lucky enough that year to also snap a shot of George with another master printer and icon of photography: Paul Caponigro. Get one of their books and lose yourself in it.

My favorite picture I have of George Tice—the master at work.

Two masters of the darkroom: Paul Caponigro (left) and George Tice.

Want to level up your digital printing? Well, the Caponigro family strikes again. John Paul Caponigro took what he learned from his father and applied it to Photoshop pretty much since the software’s inception. He is a true master printer of our digital age.

I took JP’s “B&W Mastery” class last year and he “George Ticed” me! He spent a whole day on the different ways that we can “output sharpen” to create the finest print. We also spent time talking about the process and immersing ourselves in photo books and our own prints

Poring over prints during John Paul Caponigro’s “B&W Mastery” class.

The highlight of the week, however, was visiting his dad’s studio and having him sharing his work. We spent at least two hours asking Paul about the experience of seeing as well as his process of pulling out ever iota of detail.

I returned home from that workshop reinvigorated and with a deeper focus on working those digital files for inkjet prints.

Showing Your Work

Ask yourself: What is your goal with your images? How do you celebrate your work?

For two of our workshops this year, we were thrilled to host gallery shows that could be shared with thousands of visitors to those parks. And just a few weeks ago we finished our workshop at Sloss Furnaces and they were so impressed with our students’ work that they offered to have a gallery show at their visitor center!

Why not finish your project, or showcase your body of work, with an exhibit? It doesn’t have to be in a gallery—plenty of cafés, restaurants and businesses are always looking for artists. Of course, there are your own walls as well. Curate your home, invite people over to really take in your work. Hanging a print on the wall is the ultimate respect you can give to your photography.

To close this out, I want to share my favorite image that I created in 2018.

“Reality is outside the skull,” Joshua Tree 2018. Nikon D750, 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. 80 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600.

I’m taking my own advice and making a print with Bay Photo Lab. Their new Xpozer system has this slick spring assembly in the back that lets the print float off the wall. And because it’s so easy to mount and dismount them, I can order more Xpozer Xchange prints and just swap out the assembly. If you’ve been to my house in New York City, you’ve seen the limited wall space I have, so this will inspire me to keep fresh work rotating in.

Seize the Print!

My Favorite Printing Resources

  • Best 17x22 printer: Canon Pro-1000 and Epson P800

  • Simply no excuse not to make a photo book: Snapfish

  • Arty matte soft/hardcover books: Artifact Uprising

  • Portfolio style books: Bay Photo Lab

  • Best lab/style of print: Metal is so three years ago. We really love Bay Photo’s Xpozer floating print system. Choose from 22 sizes, from 16x16 to 40x80. The Vivid Satin finish could be the perfect gloss/matte combination.

Next week we will continue the printing theme by taking a deep dive into the Print module in Lightroom. Stay tuned!

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at