Fair Fotos and Foto Printing

Fair week is once again upon us!  Yes, it is yet another “F” word that I love!

I just adore the fair each year, especially all the non-healthy food and the exhibits.  One local church makes homemade fried pies with a light, flaky crust that are absolutely to die for.  Yum!

Last year, I submitted four photos for the amateur competition for the first time ever, and it was great fun to actually win a second place ribbon (and $10) on one of them.  😉  Here is the photo… a tiny bird on a wire in our backyard.

Second place ribbon in 2009 at the fair, “Cute” category (color)

I felt like a little kid again winning that ribbon, and I’m afraid that feeling of accomplishment hooked me into participating again this year with even more photos.

Selection and Preparation of Photos

I have spent the past few days reviewing photos to submit from all of the photos that I have taken this past year, and with my husband’s help and input over the year from other family and friends, I selected nine photos, one in each of nine different categories… some in color and some in black/white.  I learned from my experience last year to give some credit to my family and friends and what they like because they all seemed to love the tiny bird picture from the minute I posted it on my Flickr.  It was a decent photo as far as some of the “rules” go, so I submitted it.  However, I also stick with my own gut at times, especially when I know that I “nailed” a particular photo well.

The next step, which is actually a part of the selection process itself, is performing “actual crops” on the pictures to the printed size desired.  This is a very important step that really needs to be done prior to printing any photos when quality counts!  As a part of the crop process, allowance must also be made for the edge to be covered up by the mat or frame as well… usually about 1/4″ on each edge.  The smaller the photo, the more the picture will be covered up proportionally by the mat.  So I am very careful on my 5×7’s to leave enough edge on the photo now, as I learned that lesson last year the hard way.  It goes without saying that the original picture must have room left for adequate cropping, too.  It is quite sad if the photo is taken in such a way that there is no room left to properly crop it  to size and allow for framing.  Even a small allowance by zooming out a bit helps tremendously.

Of course, part of the selection process for our fair is knowing how many photos can be entered and what categories are available.  The competition is much tougher in some categories, especially color photos of landscapes, people and animals.  Just knowing that the competition is pretty fierce in those categories can help with expectations and photo selection.  The black/white categories are less competitive, but producing a good quality black/white image is not simple either.  I am entering the black/white competition for the first time this year myself as a learning experience.

Selecting a Print Vendor and Printing Tips

As hard as it was to select the photos and crop them to size, the real trick was getting them printed properly.  As an amateur, I cannot use the pro lab in our city for printing, so I must use either our nearby Wal-Mart one hour lab or the lab at our local camera shop.

I have had some success with the photo lab at Wal-Mart if I diligently follow all five steps below.

  1. Take the actual full-size file to them directly.  Don’t submit it over the internet, which may cause the file to be compressed upon delivery to the lab.  (The clerk told me this herself after my first attempt that yielded less than desirable results, so this is not just my humble opinion. They do compress the files, although I’m not sure to what extent.)
  2. Request that they run the print process without their own editing.
  3. Inspect the photo closely when it is picked up it up, especially the color quality and the exposure.
  4. Ask them to redo it immediately if it is not done properly.  So far, they have been good to redo the photo without charging me, which is good because they seldom get it right the first time.  Usually, they forget to turn off their own “auto-correct” feature even when I remind them, resulting in an under-exposed print for me most of the time on the first try.
  5. Get to know the people in the photo lab, and take photos for printing at a time when you know who is working.  This may be the best single tip I have to share, too.  Our Wal-Mart lab employees seem to be more committed than some others to making sure the customer is satisfied with their prints, and I believe this is why I have been able to get some quality photos from them lately.

I usually follow these same steps if I submit my photos to the lab at the camera shop, too, although they do offer a full, uncompressed way to send photos over the internet now.  It costs a bit more to have them print my photos, but they can run all prints, even ones larger than 8×10.  They also use premium Kodak paper, a heavier paper than Wal-Mart uses.  If I am in a hurry, Wal-Mart can print the photos in an hour or less, while the camera shop usually takes 24-48 hours.  On a couple of occasions, the folks at the camera shop have also been able to help me edit a photo that I just could not figure out on my own because I’m still learning all the ins and outs of Lightroom.

I have learned my lesson as far as taking my photos to be printed anywhere else in town, especially the labs at the big  corporate pharmacy shops.  I’m sure this can vary from shop to shop, but I was just appalled at the results the last time I took my photos to a couple of them.  I won’t mention the specific names, but the lesson here is to check the photos immediately before leaving and see if the shop has the capability and willingness to correct their errors when found.  To date, I have not tried any online photo processors, primarily because I want to be able to inspect mine closely for accuracy, even if it costs me a bit more to do that.

Framing

Framing of photos for competition does not have to be expensive, but it does need some thought and even some advance shopping prior to cropping and printing the photos.  If a frame needs to be ordered, it may take days or weeks to arrive.  Most competition photos are framed very simply with a mat that compliments the photo.  Our fair also lists minimum and maximum sizes for images and frames as well.  Many photographers use a black frame with a white or off-white mat next to the photo, which often shows off the image quite well.  However, I have found that a very light colored mat can actually detract from the image at times, too.  So, a little thought and planning on the framing can definitely help the final product.  Just remember, simple is good in most cases.

Back to the fair.

Tuesday is photo submission day, and I will be happily delivering my nine framed photos for competition.  If I win a ribbon, great.  If I don’t, great.  The joy of just working on my hobby, seeing some of my photos printed and framed well, and seeing others enjoy them at the fair is quite a treat for me, especially when I just hang around and don’t tell them that they are looking at *my* photo…  the one they are speaking so kindly of!  I have looked forward to this all year-long since last year’s fair.

Of course, winning another ribbon would be fun, too.  Who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?

Here’s to another year of fried pies, cheese on a stick, strawberry lemonade, cute cows and bunnies… and lots of amazing photos to see!

Update 9/24/10:
For this year’s competition results and my first blue ribbons ever, click here! 😀

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Author: DK

Blogger at My Five Fs (Faith - Family - Food - Fotos - Fun) and Animal Wonder. Empty-nester that now shares life with my hubby and our two standard poodles. Enjoys camping in our RV, taking and editing photos, trying new low-carb recipes, baking pretty decorated cookies for special occasions, walking daily, spending time with family and friends when we can, playing with the dogs, and is grateful to God for every single day of this blessed life and for the opportunity to share and connect with some great people here.

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