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Author Topic: Standard Print Viewing Distance Myth  (Read 2445 times)
Kirk Gittings
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« on: January 03, 2013, 08:16:15 PM »
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From another thread I read a common statement that IME is photographers' folklore.  It is stated like this more or less "with a contemporary ink jet print, you can get away with 180ppi and at viewing distance". What the heck is "viewing distance'? Is it some kind of natural law? I have spent my adult life as an active exhibiting large format photographer (90 exhibits and counting since 1970). I print both traditional silver and digitally from around 8x10 up to 16 x20 but occasionally up to around 4x5 feet. I always carefully watch people looking at my prints (and I have looked at this at other people's exhibits too) and I am convinced that there is no such thing as standard viewing distance. People, if engaged with a print, will virtually stick their noses up to it looking at the fine detail. And I find that is true whether they are looking at a small Cartier Bresson or a huge Andreas Gursky. Because of that I am very conscious of how the detail holds up in my prints even at very close inspection and rarely print 4x5 negs above 16x20. There is a certain amount of tactility I want even at close inspection. That there is some kind of standard viewing distance for prints and that you can assume people will not cross and target your print resolution to that viewing distance is a myth IME. Do I ever print above that personal tactility threshold? Yes of course-mainly on commissions but I don't kid myself-I realize that I am compromising my standards somewhat.

I have never been an 8x10 shooter who won't compromise and only contact prints, but I went to 4x5 for a primarily because it gave me the print quality I wanted on modest size enlargements. In the many years I have been in this profession, I first started hearing about standard viewing distance with the ascendancy of digital printing. I know this is probably something akin to an old farts rant.......but personally I don't see its validity unless you provide a barrier in front of your prints to stop people from getting to close.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2013, 08:27:25 PM by Kirk Gittings » Logged

Thanks,
Kirk

Kirk Gittings
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LIGHT+SPACE+STRUCTURE (blog)
Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2013, 10:38:16 PM »
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What you say is very true, IMHO, Kirk.

The one possible justification that I see for the idea of "standard viewing distance" is that it is the distance the typical viewer uses to take in the entire print at a glance. I think most viewers include an overview at a comfortable distance even if they then move in to rub their noses in a print.

The habits I have from many years in the darkroom include feeling that an 8x10" print is nice for holding in your hands, and 11x14"s are for putting on walls.

For any size of print, I suspect that the ratio of my longest viewing distance to my own closest viewing distance is probably never less than about 8 to 1 and is often much greater.
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2013, 03:17:12 AM »
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From another thread I read a common statement that IME is photographers' folklore.  It is stated like this more or less "with a contemporary ink jet print, you can get away with 180ppi and at viewing distance". What the heck is "viewing distance'? Is it some kind of natural law?

Hi Kirk,

Don't know the context of the remark in the other thread, but maybe it refers to the usual distance to allow a viewer taking in the entire image without having to turn one's head but only the eyes. It is commonly taken that that requires at least the same viewing distance as the diagonal dimension of the image. So for a viewer to take in the entire composition, that rule of thumb, not a law of nature (although physics plays a role), seems to be a useful concept.

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I have spent my adult life as an active exhibiting large format photographer (90 exhibits and counting since 1970). I print both traditional silver and digitally from around 8x10 up to 16 x20 but occasionally up to around 4x5 feet. I always carefully watch people looking at my prints (and I have looked at this at other people's exhibits too) and I am convinced that there is no such thing as standard viewing distance. People, if engaged with a print, will virtually stick their noses up to it looking at the fine detail. And I find that is true whether they are looking at a small Cartier Bresson or a huge Andreas Gursky. Because of that I am very conscious of how the detail holds up in my prints even at very close inspection and rarely print 4x5 negs above 16x20. There is a certain amount of tactility I want even at close inspection.

Exactly, so it would help to have enough resolution to allow inspection at normal reading distance (10-12 inches) and get a sense of satisfaction that the effort for close inspection did not disappoint. That's why I stitch when possible and required, and carry a tripod when possible.

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That there is some kind of standard viewing distance for prints and that you can assume people will not cross and target your print resolution to that viewing distance is a myth IME.

Not so much a myth, but rather a misinterpretation.

Cheers,
Bart
« Last Edit: January 04, 2013, 03:51:05 AM by BartvanderWolf » Logged
mac_paolo
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« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2013, 03:44:49 AM »
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The real difference is: are you referring to common people or professionals/amateurs/wannabe?
We all know well that the distance for a photographer is limited by the length of the nose.

The standard viewing distance is base on human's angle of view, which is quite common across the whole specie.
What may change the law a lot is the proportion the photo is printed to. For very wide panoramas people tend to "slice" it up in several small prints and will walk along the whole panorama, thus standing closer to the shot.

You know, it's not a law as for Ohm's Law. It's a common behavior for common people Smiley
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Wim van Velzen
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« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2013, 05:07:34 AM »
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It also depends on the subject matter. Most landscape, urban scenes or detailled still life is more and more revealing when you get into the detail. Portrait less so.
It might even depend on resolution - when a print has a lot of detail, people are invited to have a closer look.
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Tim Lookingbill
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« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2013, 09:49:18 AM »
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Because of that I am very conscious of how the detail holds up in my prints even at very close inspection and rarely print 4x5 negs above 16x20.

If you scan your 4x5's on a regular flat bad scanner instead of a high end professional laser scanner, I could understand that POV, but there's a ton of detail in that size of film that it's no wonder you don't enlarge to 16x20. Look at the detail captured on even smaller MF sized film here using a DSLR:

http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00b7Fk

Also check out the huge almost eight feet tall movie posters of "The Hobbit" in movie theater lobbies and wonder how they get such quality enlarging to those sizes. I saw no sawtoothed edge artifacts as an indication of low rez pixelation.

http://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/c0.105.403.403/p403x403/481585_384191951664800_956478706_n.jpg



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digitaldog
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« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2013, 09:49:47 AM »
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As Bruce Fraser was fond of saying: the distance photographers view prints is only limited by the length of their nose <g>.
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fike
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2013, 09:58:00 AM »
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I find the subject matter is important too. Clean and flat blue skies, for example can be enlarged much more than details in a woodland scene.  As a rule, I generally figure between 240 and 300 DPI as the range I can use to calculate the largest print I should like to make.  If the image is perfectly sharp and clear...typically not a wooded scene...than I can go as low as 240 DPI. If the scene is very complicated and detailed I will sometimes even require as high as 360 DPI.  For me it is all about how good my pixels are...generally considering noise and sharpness and the main factors.
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bill t.
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2013, 01:07:02 PM »
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My criteria is that the viewer should not feel that the image has somehow "broken down" when viewed close.  In my film days that meant un-mottled development, even grain structure, meticulous spotting, and printing that valued subtle tonality over excessive contrast that only served to reveal the limits of the media.  And it certainly helped if the image was in focus, although out of focus areas were not necessarily objectionable if they were smooth and clean.    All that added up a an impression of image integrity in the viewer's mind that could not be undermined by close inspection.

With digital, things like stitching, focus stacking, averaging, and subtle hdr are my new large format tools.

It is definitely impressive to customers if they can view a print up close, especially a large one.  But I'm not sure every customer does that, I think most go by the overall "curb appeal" impression of the image that they form in the first few seconds of viewing.  The important thing is...even if viewers don't look close, a print that can survive close inspection will also look better at so-called normal distances.  And it's that suggestion of quality that sometimes encourages the close up look, accompanied by an almost bankable uplifting feeling when they realize the image only gets better with proximity.

PS I have noticed that when I do a lot of needle-nosing at galleries I am often asked, "are you an artist?"
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Paris1968
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« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2013, 11:59:43 AM »
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Ha! Your post reminded me of many years ago when my girlfriend was an artist, a painter, and we would visit the National Gallery.  "Stay three inches from the painting" the guard would bark as he saw  her eye practically up to the canvas looking for hints on technique, brush strokes, washes, & etc.  She'd wait patiently untill the guard moved to another room and go right back at it.  I picked up the habit myself more often when looking at photographic prints from the days of film.  The swirl and distribition of grain would give hints as to the developer used, edge contrast as to dilution & etc. No, there is no standard viewing distacnce, except for those who really aren't too interested in what they are looking at.
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schrodingerscat
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« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2013, 08:36:58 PM »
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I'd say that it would depend on the intent of the viewer and artist. If one is interested in the work for it's own sake, a reasonable distance would be more towards being able to view it as a whole and appreciate, composition, subject, etc. And this would change depending on the size. Don't think many artists produced their work to be scrutinized with a magnifying glass, tho some do. Stick your nose up to a Monet, probably not as satisfying as at 5 or 6 feet(further for his big ones). Saw an exhibition by an artist that did huge(12' X 16') photo realist paintings. When you walked in, it just looked like round blobs, step back 20' and it was a beach tide line, shells, glass, and all. In the same building were ink drawing that looked like large objects, trees, cliffs, and such. Walk up to it and it was all composed of minute faces and figures.

Each work is different and each viewer is different. Myself, while I have been known to nose press, I tend to concentrate more on the work as an artistic expression.

The first rule of art is that there are no rules...
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MarkL
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« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2013, 06:45:42 PM »
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I totally agree with this but many don't. My pet hate are over-enlarged prints at exhibition, a print really loses something when the detail can't hold up to the print size.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2013, 08:52:47 PM »
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Myself, while I have been known to nose press, I tend to concentrate more on the work as an artistic expression.

Fine craft on a micro level vs. artistic statement. Are they mutually exclusive?

For those who grew up photography lugging around a view camera, we always thought both were possible and desirable.
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Thanks,
Kirk

Kirk Gittings
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WWW.GITTINGSPHOTO.COM

LIGHT+SPACE+STRUCTURE (blog)
ErikKaffehr
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« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2013, 09:33:52 AM »
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Hi,

I would agree that larger pictures are normally viewed at larger distances. On the other hand larger prints show more detail. It is quite natural to step forward to check.

Sometimes, when shooting wide, the picture really needs to be viewed close. At close the viewer is immersed in the picture.

Best regards
Erik



The first rule of art is that there are no rules...
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ripgriffith
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« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2013, 11:44:04 AM »
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Ha! Your post reminded me of many years ago when my girlfriend was an artist, a painter, and we would visit the National Gallery.  "Stay three inches from the painting" the guard would bark as he saw  her eye practically up to the canvas looking for hints on technique, brush strokes, washes, & etc.  She'd wait patiently untill the guard moved to another room and go right back at it.  I picked up the habit myself more often when looking at photographic prints from the days of film.  The swirl and distribition of grain would give hints as to the developer used, edge contrast as to dilution & etc. No, there is no standard viewing distacnce, except for those who really aren't too interested in what they are looking at.

I have to ask, did either of you ever actually look at a whole image, or did you just pixel-peep the entire gallery?
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bill t.
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« Reply #15 on: January 19, 2013, 02:09:12 PM »
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We photographers sometimes forget that what we are presenting both an image and a print.

While the image is of course the main statement, the physical qualities of the print itself are also important.  Many photographic images can survive a poor print, but for maximum impact the print must be of a quality that supports the image, or at least that doesn't undermine it.

People who like non-photographic art are very attuned to the physical qualities of artwork, which for painting and such are integral parts of the image.  To reach those people through photographic imagery requires some attention to the physical quality and presentation of the print.
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