A Print Per Day: Big Print Sunday: Megapixels and Enlargements

As this project goes through the year, I’m sure I’m going to constantly be coming up with new rules by which I define the project and try to challenge myself. So the first major amendment to the original project idea of producing one print per day is “Big Print Sunday”. Every Sunday, I have to make a print that is 11×14 or larger. This will get me thinking about scale and the intended visual impact of an image.

Earlier in my life, before either there were people who objected to the fumes of it, or before I was able to take their objections into consideration, I painted quite a bit, and I found myself gradually increasing the sizes of the canvases I worked on, until I finally got to the point where I was making paintings that were physically larger than my body. Large images engage a viewer differently than small images; I fell that large images are harder to get away from, and confront the viewer more directly and on their own terms. Smaller images, because they must be approached, are more intimate, and are viewed more on the audience’s terms. There’s a value in each, but I find that in my more idea-drive images, I am drawn to print big, whereas in my casual photography, prints 8×10 and smaller seem better.

When it comes to printing large, resolution can become something you might want to talk about. There are those who will argue that you need a certain number of megapixels in order to enlarge beyond a certain size. In general, this size in the pixel dimension of your camera, divided by the dots per inch you are printing at (probably either 240 or 300). Do if you take my D40, which shoots a frame 2008 x 3000 pixels, and divided those measurements by 240 dpi, you reach the conclusion that anything much larger than 8 x 12 is going to start to come apart.

I haven’t pushed the boundaries of printing from a 6MP camera, but I can tell you that, at 11 x 16, the D40 still produces images that are crystal clear and without pixelation. I feel that a lot of the techno-talk of pixels and resolution happens well below the scale of human perception, and is really a matter of academic analysis. It doesn’t really matter what a formula says if the eye can’t see it. Most people don’t look at pictures to analyze pixels or to find technical flaws; they are looking at the picture to see a story or connect with an emotion, and even if it is a bit pixelated under a magnifying glass, or if the focus is a bit soft, it really rarely matters.

And this is all with a 6MP camera, which no one makes anymore…even most cell phones carry more resolution (although the sensors and lenses are much smaller, and that has a greater impact on image quality than pixel count). Most DSLRs, as well as compact cameras, out there now are 10, 12, 16, even 18 MP, so enlarge to your heart’s content, because your images are fine.