How-To: Go beyond OS X Photos + make amazing wall art from your Mac’s pictures (Part 2)

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Your digital photos were never intended to remain trapped on your computer’s hard drive. Apple’s original 2002 version of iPhoto proudly included physical book and photo printing services, adding new books and various types of cards every 2-3 years. Since early digital cameras took low-resolution photos, Apple’s services focused primarily on small prints. But over the past decade, cameras have really evolved: there are now 36-Megapixel Nikons42-Megapixel Sonys, and 50-Megapixel Canons. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t update iPhoto or its later Aperture and Photos apps with additional large-format printing options to keep up with the higher-resolution cameras many people are using.

Even if you don’t have a high-end DSLR, there are ways to turn more typical 20-Megapixel images into large pieces of wall art — if you’re willing to look outside Apple’s photo apps for printing services. And amazingly, even recent iPhones and iPads can create 43-Megapixel ultra-wide panoramas that will look stunning on one or more large canvases, as shown in the photo above.

What’s the best large format to choose for your photos? That depends on the type of images you have, and the results you’re looking for. To illustrate the options, I reached out to a number of popular photo printing services to see how digital photos would look on metal, glass, and canvas — large-format alternatives Apple doesn’t offer. Part 1 of this How-To guide looked at metal prints that apply dyes and gloss directly onto aluminum surfaces. Today, Part 2 looks at large-format canvas and glass prints. And the last part, coming next week, will look at several additional options that provide unique twists on these options. Inside, you’ll see how each process has its own unique appeal…

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A Few Quick Words On Composing Large-Format Images

The focus of this How-To series is primarily on using novel processes and materials to turn some of your favorite existing photos into large prints. After I posted part 1, a commenter asked for guidance on actually creating the photos that would be used for large-format wall art. If discussed in detail, that topic could consume an entire photography 101 or 201 class — it’s way too big to explore in depth here. But I wanted to offer a few pointers that could help, regardless.

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  • Pick the right camera. The 36-Megapixel ultra-wide panoramic photo above was captured with an iPhone 6 Plus, demonstrating that even iOS cameras can (under ideal conditions) make compelling large-format prints. But except for panoramas, no iPhone or iPad is capable of producing images that will look even close to acceptable when printed at 20″ by 30″ sizes. If you’re interested in shooting non-panoramic high-resolution photos, consider investing in a full-frame DSLR with a good lens. I personally use a Canon 5D Mark III and an EF 24-70 f/2.8L II zoom lens, but if you want to save money, consider the less expensive Canon 6D with the same lens, or take another cost-cutting step with an EF 35mm f/2 IS starter lens (losing zoom in the process). As the italics suggest, this is an investment in higher-quality photography, and the beautiful images you’ll produce will eventually justify the expenditure.
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The exact same waterfall, photographed twice in less than 2 minutes with an iPhone 6 Plus, looks substantially different solely based on distance from the subject and framing.

  • Learn how to compose the best possible shot without requiring crops. Entire photography classes (and human lives) are spent developing a “photographer’s eye,” but creating great pictures is primarily about perfecting three skills: composing/framing, depth of field, and lighting. The first skill is calibrating your brain to know how your lens and camera will crop the world you’re seeing into a 3:2 or 4:3 rectangular box. Next is teaching your brain to understand how some items will be in focus while others are blurred, depending on your camera’s settings. And the last is understanding the interplay of light and shadows on the people, objects, and backgrounds you’re capturing. All three require practice, and most professionals will admit that they’re still learning new tricks years after they started taking pictures. But if you learn how to use every pixel your camera captures, you’re in good shape.
  • Consider photo editing software. Apple’s iPhoto, Aperture, and Photos all have tools built in to rebalance light levels, colors, and other elements of your pictures after they’ve been taken. Using these tools is critical to making your photos “pop,” preferably without becoming artificial-looking in the process. Adobe’s Lightroom CC (reviewed here) offers more sophisticated editing and retouching tools that serious photographers appreciate, plus an alternative to Apple’s library management tools.

  • Consider upscaling software. If you’re going to make a large print, you need both a high-resolution photo and enough actual detail in the image to fill all the pixels. The correct way to do this is to start with a huge, highly-detailed source image, but sometimes your pictures will fall short for one reason or another. Thankfully, the aforementioned Adobe Lightroom is capable of upscaling your images to whatever size you need, and using sharpening tools to add faux additional detail. The video above explains how it works. Alternately, you can buy a standalone upscaling tool such as Perfect Resize 9, which will automate the process for you.

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Glass Prints

The original inspiration for this How-To series was a reader comment on my best Mac home office desk, chair, decor and peripherals article, discussing how a Florida-based company called Fracture was offering a “fantastic, minimalist picture display,” printing photos directly on glass. Fracture produces a square or rectangular piece of glass that, like the screens of iPhones and iPads, is designed to reduce glare and increase color intensity by eliminating the gap between the glass and image beneath.

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Fracture has specifically targeted its service at consumer camera users rather than professionals, and its web site is very real world-focused — a sizing chart clearly shows how its eight different print sizes measure up to a sofa. Alternately, hover over the “small” 5″ by 5″ squares ($15) and “extra large” 28.8″ by 21.6″ rectangles ($125), and you’ll see how each compares with a Campbell’s soup can, with obviously different levels of potential wall dominance. Fracture bills the 5″ by 5″ squares as “perfect for Instagram” because the surface area is the least likely to reveal the low-resolution of typical Instagram 640×640 images. And the rectangles use the 4:3 aspect ratio “because most consumer level cameras on the planet take 4:3 photos.” Fracture does offer a custom 3:2 36″ by 24″ print option for customers who request it, and plans more 3:2 options for the near future, though it notes that glass prints larger than that are overly fragile.

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In a nod to its focus on consumers and social media images, Fracture’s web site lets you upload photos from Facebook or Instagram, as well as from your computer. It provides simple aspect ratio and size choices, rotation, crop and resizing tools, and the ability to shift your image to grayscale. You can also choose from 10 different colors as a solid border, or go borderless, and select either wall mount or stand options (depending on the print’s physical size). There are no additional frills such as multiple wall mounting systems or different finish choices to select. Fracture ships the pane of glass bonded to what feels like a black foam core board, with a metal triangular mounting tab near the top, and a heavy-duty metal screw to secure it to your wall.

I was impressed by the extra large Fracture print’s major visual impact. Even at Fracture’s largest current size, nearly 29″ by 22″, it offers plenty of detail — effectively indistinguishable on a pixel level from the original Canon 5D Mark III image I used. Although the DSLR image had to be cropped from 24 Megapixels to 19.7 Megapixels to fit Fracture’s standard 4:3 aspect ratio, the photo still had more than enough beauty to fill the large surface. (It’s equivalent to a 36″ television screen, bigger than any current Apple monitor.)

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Color accuracy was another story. The print offered a dimmer rendition of the original image, a difference I’d call modest but noticeable even without doing a direct comparison to the picture on a screen. Compared with a similarly large and properly optimized print we did using Mpix’s Modern Metal (below), the Fracture isn’t quite as bright. However, there’s a non-trivial difference in price between them. Fracture’s $125 price tag is around $30 less for an extra large print than Mpix’s, so if color accuracy and brightness aren’t critical to your image, you can save cash going with a Fracture.

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From my personal perspective, lower pricing and a “regular consumer” focus are Fracture’s two biggest selling points. If you’re anything from an Instagrammer to a non-professional photographer, you’ll love the ability to make anything from 5″ square to poster-sized glass prints at relatively reasonable prices. Thanks to the glossy, perfectly flat surface, a large Fracture makes a more impressive visual impact than a comparably-sized poster, and includes its own mounting hardware. Consider it a good compromise between a basic photo print and a higher-end metal print.

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Canvas Prints

Canvas printing is wonderfully different from metal and glass printing. Rather than attempting to achieve pixel-level sharpness or intense coloration, canvas printing uses latex inks that look and feel (but thankfully don’t smell) like oil paints, giving photos a slightly dreamy softness. There are different techniques for changing the look of a photo before it’s printed on canvas, including the “Artistic” and “Paint Daub” tools built into Adobe’s Photoshop Elements. But even if you don’t use tools on your photo beforehand, the natural softness of the latex inking process will give it the look of a painting, albeit a fairly detailed one. (The sample images below were submitted without any artistic tweaks.)

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An excellent photo to canvas service is CanvasWorld, which offers two primary types of canvas printing options: single-canvas prints (ranging from 8″ by 8″ squares to 36″ by 48″ rectangles) and multi-canvas prints that can be used for panoramas (ranging from 8″ by 24″ across three 8″ by 8″ squares, to 18″ by 54″ across three 18″ by 18″ squares) or giant four-panel prints up to 96″ by 72″ in size. I wanted to see what both large panoramas and single-canvas images looked like, so I ordered a three-panel 18″ by 54″ panorama with deluxe options, and a much smaller 8″ by 8″ canvas with simpler options.

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CanvasWorld’s site is efficiently designed and user-friendly. You can choose a photo from your computer, Instagram, Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, or OneDrive, easily crop it and choose border colors, then preview how it will look in 3-D. Free and paid retouching options are also available. The design process is super-simple for a single canvas, and pretty easy for a multi-canvas print.

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If you choose a multi-canvas print, you need to choose both the image crop and the number of inches that will go between the canvases. The further the canvases are spread apart, the more of your image you’ll lose. You can choose a 1″ to 12″ spread in one-inch increments; I went with 1″ for my multi-canvas print.

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Combined with the 1.5″ depth I chose for the canvas, this allowed the empty space between the canvases to look filled when viewed on an off-center angle. I also selected the $10 rear dust jackets (shown below), which are effectively pieces of black paper mounted to the backs of the canvases to seal in the wood, canvas, and staples that connect them. CanvasWorld applies clear rubber feet to the edges of the dust-jacketed print.

I was beyond pleased with the look and feel of the large panoramic canvas spread. My hope was that the large, high-resolution image would have a certain painting-like quality rather than a hyper-realistic finish, and though the latex inking is precise enough to preserve detail, the overall impression is halfway between a painting and a photograph. CanvasWorld’s output is a little lighter than the original image, blowing out some of the finer coloration in certain spots, but I wasn’t anticipating complete color accuracy.

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At an 18″ height by 54″ width, the impact of the originally 34-megapixel panorama is tremendous, with plenty of detail; as noted above, most iPhones and some iPads can produce equally large and detailed panoramas today. Additionally, if you’re willing to apply significant post-processing akin to the Lightroom resizing or Photoshop Paint Daub tools I discussed earlier, this particular medium is your best shot at transforming even a smaller, lower-resolution shot into something worthy of a large canvas.

In terms of visual impact, think of the 8″ by 8″ single-canvas print as roughly akin to a 12″ MacBook or 13″ MacBook Pro in image size — larger than the screen of a full-sized iPad, but roughly the same overall footprint, only square rather than rectangular. The version shown here uses CanvasWorld’s “standard” 3/4″ depth and does not include rear dust covers. At $36, it is the least expensive option the company sells, and the most tolerant of low-resolution or slightly blurry images. The small canvas took roughly two weeks to arrive after my order was placed, shipped separately from and arriving one day ahead of the multi-canvas print. This was faster than the glass Fracture print, but slower than the metal prints.

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Although the 8″ by 8″ print is too small to make a dramatic visual impact, it’s a good size for lower-resolution iPhone images, and I really love CanvasWorld’s process. The original photo I submitted was deliberately imperfect with pops of color and subtle textures, each of which CanvasWorld’s process reproduced, though the final image has the slight paint-like flatness I’d hoped to see in a canvas print. It took a photo and made it look like a piece of art, exactly as I’d intended. The only question is how big you want your wall art to be.

More From This Author

Check out Part 1 of this How-To guide here, and more of my How-To guides and reviews for 9to5Mac here! I’ve covered a lot of different topics of interest to Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users. Don’t forget to click on Older Posts at the bottom of the page to see everything!

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Comments

  1. irelandjnr - 8 years ago

    Fracture are crap. I own two.

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

      Saw your comment on the prior piece, too, and would like to hear more. Sounds like color accuracy was the issue – just out of curiosity, what type of print did you submit (iPhone/point & shoot/DSLR), how optimized was the color balance before submission, and how long ago?

      • irelandjnr - 8 years ago

        It was an iPhone 5 photo and the colour didn’t come out accurate at all, there were even printer lines on the image. Given the cost and who was supporting them I expected way higher quality. About 3 months ago.

      • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

        Color accuracy from an iPhone image (particularly pre-iPhone 5 iPhones with lower-grade cameras) can be dicey, though as my experience with a DSLR image suggests, there definitely is variation to be seen there. As my sample was free of issues with lines, the printer lines part is the surprise to me – how big did you print, and are they surely printer lines as opposed to resizing artifacts or something of the sort? Did you reach out to the company with the issue?

      • irelandjnr - 8 years ago

        Postcard sized. And definitely printer lines. You have to look close but they are across most of the image. The sky is a gradient of pale pink on my iPhone and my iMac 5K and when I print them myself. The sky from Fracture prints is 100% white.

  2. Slightly off topic (but still related to photos) – I’ve just bought a 5k iMac.

    You need one in your life if you haven’t already got one Jeremy. Seriously.

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

      I’m jealous. I would love to grab one, though I’m personally waiting on the next-generation version just so that 100% of the GPU/software side stuff is resolved. My current 27″ machine is totally fine for 90% of my needs (including _most_ photography), but I would love to have the extra smoothness for text.

  3. Michael Kobb (@mjkobb) - 8 years ago

    I’m surprised you didn’t send the same image to all of the services. Surely that would have provided a good basis for comparison of quality?

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

      It would have provided an _easy_ basis for comparison of quality, but really boring photography for the article. Looking at the same picture 50 times and saying “check out the reflectivity of this one” or “notice the subtle pink shift in this one” gets old real quick for both readers and me. I have the original versions of the images here and can easily compare each original against each print for color fidelity, sharpness, brightness, etc.

      • Michael Kobb (@mjkobb) - 8 years ago

        I suppose, but the thing about it from a reader’s point of view is that we end up looking at a photograph of a print compared to a digital original. That’s always going to be a tricky comparison. A photograph of all three print technologies next to each other in the same room in the same light would at least provide a direct comparison.

        I do appreciate the piece. I was all psyched to order up a couple of Fracture images of some old family photos, but now I’m excited to know that there are a couple of options.

      • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

        Even three pictures laid next to one another wouldn’t provide a fair comparison due to differences in materials and reflectivity. Comparing a canvas in latex paint to a metal print is sort of pointless. Even a metal to metal comparison can be tricky if you choose different finishes or processes… A point I’ll discuss in the final piece of this series next week.

  4. sykocus - 8 years ago

    I had a 20×30 canvas print done by White House Custom Color and the color was spot on.

  5. Fred Hall (@fred__hall) - 8 years ago

    Thank you for the tips….I was that “commenter (that) asked for guidance on actually creating the photos that would be used for large-format wall art” in Part 1. This was a very nice series.

  6. eginhardgoestll4 - 7 years ago

    Even if you don’t have a high-end DSLR, there are ways to turn more typical 20-Megapixel images into large pieces of wall art — if you’re … wapaintings.wordpress.com