UPDATE: I have included some recently released discount codes for this DVD set both here and at the end of this post
UPDATE: Trey now offers a downloadable version of his HDR tutorial which comes in at a lower cost. Full details are available on Stuck In Customs
I have made it fairly clear that one of my primary photographic influences is Trey Ratcliff and his HDR photography that he posts at Stuck in Customs. I am not sure exactly why I first gravitated towards Trey’s work, but I think it might be something as simple as I picked some random episode of This Week in Photography to be my first experience listening to a photography podcast and his work was recommended by one of the hosts. For someone who had no photography background, looking at Trey’s HDR work was amazing. Even some of his non-HDR stuff (the fireworks at Disney World come to mind) had a look that I wanted to have in my photography. Thankfully, Trey is very giving when it comes to HDR education. His HDR tutorial is a fantastic resource for those both learning HDR photography and looking to bring his/her HDR photography to the next level. Still, even though his HDR tutorial is great, I have difficult learning exclusively from static text on a page. It is for that reason that I found Matt Kloskowski’s HDR tutorial on Kelby Training to also be helpful as I learned HDR technique. Seeing video of someone actually working on images greatly enhanced my understanding of how to use Photomatix. Still, I intrigued when I heard that Trey was going to create a DVD of how he created his images. I admit I was a little dismayed when I saw the price for the premium package ($397, and something that I will discuss at length later), but I still decided to give it a shot in hopes that Trey would deliver the definitive HDR education package.
Though I will frequently refer in this review to “Trey Ratcliff’s HDR DVD”, what you get for your near $400 is actually a HDR education package. The package includes 4 DVDs (which total about six and half hours of content and will be discussed in some detail later), access to the “Clubhouse” section of Stuck in Customs (a private forum dedicated to HDR education), and Trey’s eBook Top 10 Mistakes in HDR Processing (which I have previously reviewed on this site). The video segments that make up the DVDs appear to be collected from a workshop that Trey conducted over the course of a couple of days. Additionally, in this premium edition, you get the working files that are used in the screencasts so that you can follow along with the tutorials and you get additional bracketed images that Trey has taken so that you can practice processing additional HDR images without having to take the bracketed exposures yourself.
I am going to start off my review with more of a nuts and bolts examination of the individual parts and break down what you find on the individual DVDS. I’ll end with some more overarching examination of the whole package, which will include some analysis of both Trey’s photographic style and teaching style. Feel free to skip to the end if that type of analysis is all you really want.
Disc 1 sets the stage for the rest of the instruction found in the collection. It includes both a general introductory video and and a more in-depth introductory video that explains some concepts about both human vision and photographic vision. I’ll make the comment now and then leave it be for the rest of the review: The video quality of Trey himself talking is not particularly strong. I am in no way a videographer, but the video quality seems to be less than what I get from even my Flip MinoHD. This really should not matter, since it’s the information that he’s conveying that’s important, but at a $400 price point, I had higher expectations of the video quality. The video quality issue made me most nervous during the segment that was essentially a workshop introductory slide show. In this segment, slides are filmed while projected on the wall instead of overlaying the slides into the video presentation. On the next section of the film, thankfully, where Trey talks about some of his more famous photos, the photos themselves are overlaid, at a high resolution, into the video instead of simply filming from a projector. The section where Trey talks about his photos is full of information on both HDR technique (“7 stops into the sun”) and also on general blog strategy (How often should you post images?). The last introductory segment is an examination of what Trey keeps in his bag. These “What’s in the Bag?” segments are pretty standard, and always seem to scratch an inquisitive itch with photographers.
The second major block of videos on Disc 1 is a pair of videos of photo walks that Trey led. In both of these videos, Trey talks to the walkers (and as a result, the viewer) and gives his thought process as he’s setting up for and taking his HDR shots. The closest comparison that I can give these segments is a recent Kelby Training class with Jay Maisel. Both that class, and Trey’s walks, show a top level photographer, in his own environment, doing what they do best. I am not sure if Trey’s segments would have been helped by adding in a host that could ask him questions, but I do know that I was left wishing those segments could have been longer.
The final segment on Disc 1 is the first part of what is probably the “meat” of the DVD set: an “over the shoulder” look at Trey processing a HDR image. Though these videos will generally feature a few seconds of footage of Trey talking to workshop attendees, a majority of each of these segments will be a screencast from Trey’s computer. The screen cast software that was used to create the video looks to be the same they use on creativeLive, and it does a good job of showing what keyboard commands are being entered, as well as giving a good indicator of where the cursor is. I think that, generally, you can watch any of the HDR screencast videos in any order you like, however, I would probably watch the Paris Church Tutorial on Disc 1 before moving to the videos on Disc 2. A number of the videos will discuss how Trey manages his images (Trey has also written a full eBook on that subject), but this particular tutorial goes the most in-depth on how to work with Lightroom, Photoshop and Photomatix. This video also makes it clear that Trey is not afraid to use plugins in his work (Noiseware and Topaz Adjust were used specifically in this image). Even as someone who’s read Trey’s HDR Tutorial a number of times (both online and in his A World in HDR book), seeing him actually process an image provided an increase in my understanding about HDR processing.
Disc 2 consists primarily of screencasts of Trey processing HDR images. The one exception on this disc is a video that shows how to crop and straighten images in Photoshop. People who have familiarity with Photoshop (or Lightroom or Aperture) will probably not gain a lot from this one segment. The screencasts on this disc cover a wide variety of topics. If you are still unsure about how to setup your images in Photoshop, than I recommend starting on the Venetian in Vegas tutorial, since that tutorial covers the “getting images into Photoshop” topic in great detail. Other tutorials on this disk really start to explore Trey’s methods for mixing the underlying bracketed photos into the tone mapped photos, including sections on fixing blown out highlights, modifying the color of certain image elements, and really looking in-depth on how to make good looking skies in a HDR image. Disc 2 is also the first time that Trey introduces NIk Software’s Viveza into the workflow (he also uses some onOne software, however, I tend to zone out on those parts because I’ve always disliked the interfaces on most onOne Software (Genuine Fractals being the exception)).
Disc 3 also contains a number of screencasts, but these screencasts seem to focus more on making sure that a specific topic is learned. These include things like noise reduction, removing halos from HDR images, handling moving objects and people within HDR images, processing single RAW HDR images, converting HDR images to Black & White (not surprisingly, using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro), and “double tone mapping’. Some of these technique segments will probably be more valuable to some users than to others. The halo removal one is probably the most important, since haloing is a common problem in HDR images. The noise reduction technique (using “Trey’s Burst Effect”) and the “double tone mapping” section are particularly interesting since these are techniques that people who follow Trey’s work will quickly recognize. On the other hand, if you really want to learn black & white conversion with Silver Efex Pro, then you might be better off spending time attending one of Nik’s daily webinars.
Discs 1 through 3, I believe, are all in the “Basic Edition” of the DVD, but Disc 4 is only included in the Premium Edition. Disc 4 contains three additional screencasts from Trey that show Trey processing the images he took during the Austin Photowalk that was shown on Disc 1. These videos are purely screencasts, however, and they do not include the few seconds of workshop footage that introduce other image tutorials as well as the audience interaction aspect of the other tutorials (depending on your point of view, the lack of the audience interaction could be seen as either a positive or a negative.) The screencasts on this disc are pretty comprehensive, showing some of Trey’s advanced image remixing techniques, as well as his “double tone mapping” and his “Trey burst” effect. They were a solid way to bring together all the techniques that were shown in the earlier discs.
In addition to the screencast tutorials that are found on Disc 4, Disc 4 contains all of the bracketed images that are used in the video tutorials found on all four discs in the DVD collection. Though watching the DVDs are instructive, having the ability to follow along while using the same images being used on screen is extremely helpful. The disc also includes extra bracketed images to practice the techniques on images outside of those Trey uses in the tutorials. Finally, Disc 4 includes a copy of Trey’s eBook “Top 10 Mistakes in HDR Processing”, that normally costs $10.
CLUBHOUSE AND COMMENTS
Purchase of Trey’s HDR DVD set gives you access to an exclusive Stuck in Customs forum known as “The Clubhouse”. At this point, I can’t say how active this forums will be, however, based on an examination of the current threads and posts, it does seem to have promise.
At this point, I will also add in a few general comments that did not seem to fit in any other section. This is not a DVD set about how to use Photomatix, it’s a DVD set about how to create HDR images. There is much more Photoshop instruction provided on these DVDs than I originally anticipated, including some rudimentary instruction on how to do things like basic masking. Trey uses CS4 for his tutorials, which means that certain things that would be possible if using CS5 (including Content Aware fill) are not covered. Additionally, he makes a mention of a masking plugin for Photoshop that is probably unnecessary with the enhanced refine edge techniques found in in CS5.
After both reading his ebook, Composing the Photo, and watching this DVD set, I feel that I have a decent amount of evidence to craft my opinion about Trey’s teaching style. Trey is very matter-a-fact with his advice, and makes things seem, possibly, simpler than they are. Hearing him mention that his background involved computer science was not at all a surprise for me, as that could easily explain why he is able to explain rather complicated procedures and processes in a very straightforward manner. Also, he only explains those features of the software that he himself uses. He doesn’t waste time saying “button X does this, but I don’t use it”, he gets right to the heart of how he creates images. For someone like me, who appreciates getting a large amount of information in a short amount of time, I thoroughly enjoyed his approach. If, however, you are a more contemplative learner, especially someone who wants to know the underlying details of why to move slider Y, then Trey’s HDR DVD set might frustrate you some.
As is evidenced by the the amount of content listed in this review, Trey’s HDR DVD set is a comprehensive HDR education package. Despite the quantity, and quality, of content, however, there is still the question of whether or not the the package is worth it’s nearly $400 price point. Unfortunately, that is not a question that I can answer for everyone. Compare the $400 for the DVD to the $999 that it costs to attend his already sold out workshop in Austin or the $1,415 that it costs to attend his already sold out workshop in London. Though I cannot predict exactly what Trey will do in either one of these workshops, I cannot imagine that you would get any more comprehensive HDR education than you will get on this DVD set. You might say that in the workshop you get direct access to Trey, which is something you can’t get on a DVD, however, that is what the Stuck in Customs “Clubhouse” is for. Based on the posts I’ve seen in the Clubhouse, it looks like Trey is fairly active in that forum, as are a number of fairly strong HDR experts, who can provide you with HDR advice. Whether or not this type of advice acquisition is an acceptable substitute for direct access to Trey in a workshop is something that you will have to decide for yourself. In fact, having to decide for yourself is what you’re going to have to do about the price point. The HDR education that you receive from Trey’s DVD set is quite strong, however, $400, for many people, is outside the realm of “impulse buy”. I would say that you must be ready to make a commitment to being a better HDR photographer before making the purchase. Also, as a rather obvious point, you should probably be a fan of Trey’s style and you should want to learn how to create images in that style, since that is the type of image that you are going to learn how to craft.
In his introductory video, Trey states that his goal in his workshop is that you “make significant steps forward” in your ability to create HDR images. If you purchase this DVD set, follow along with the examples that Trey provides, and, generally, take his advice to heart, I have a fairly high degree of confidence that you will take significant steps towards being a better HDR photographer. The qualifier on that statement is that you will be a better HDR photographer in the stlye of Trey Ratcliff. If you are not a fan of his work and style, this is not the DVD set for you. Trey is an artist. He has particular things that he likes and those likes have shaped his vision. He has developed a process that allows him to make images that reflect that vision. If you visit Stuck in Customs and find his work to be beautiful, and/or inspiring, then his DVD set will bring you closer to making those kinds of images. Though Trey’s online HDR tutorial is a fabulous resource, seeing him actually process a number of HDR images will, most likely, provide you a much deeper level of understanding. Some of the techniques on Disc 3 alone, particularly about removing halos and handling objects in motion in a HDR image, really can help you take your HDR photography to the next level.
Trey, on a podcast interview, once referred to Rick Sammon as one of the “godfathers of photography”. If you’re going to make a list of the godfathers of HDR photography, however, than Trey himself would most definitely be on that list. If you are a fan of Trey’s style and want to take your HDR photography to a higher level, than this DVD set is something you should contemplate. The only question is, are you ready to invest $400 in order to gain access to comprehensive, high quality, HDR photography education?
Product Information Page for Trey’s HDR DVD
DISCOUNT CODES: 55BASICDVD for 10% off the Basic Edition and 66PREMIUMDVD for 20% off the Premium Edition
NOTE: Like all products from Stuck in Customs that I have reviewed within the last 2 months, the links I have to Trey’s HDR DVD set are affiliate links and, as a result, I will get a small percentage of the sale if you buy the DVD via a link on my site. I do not think this impacts my review of the product, except that the primary reason I could afford to buy the DVD set was because people bought it off an affiliate link I posted when Trey released the DVD. The other reason that I could review the DVD is that Trey’s contact in charge of affiliate programs gave me a discount that helped closed the gap between the DVD’s cost and my personal affiliate earnings. Even with this help, the DVD was purchased by me at, what I feel, is a substantial cost. Once again, I do not feel any of these items impacted my review of the DVD, however feel free to take them into account when reading my review.
In a recent post about HDR News & Education, I mentioned and briefly reviewed Trey Ratcliff’s ebook: Top Ten Mistakes in HDR Processing. My review of that book could probably be classified as as “luke warm”. I liked the book conceptually, and Trey’s images were beautiful, but I wanted more substantive instruction on the particular techniques required to fix the problems he mentioned.
About a week ago, however, I received an email from Trey (well, his “ecommerce representative”) explaining that there was a new “bonus version” of the Top Ten Mistakes in HDR Processing eBook and that I could upgrade for free. I jumped at this offer, and I have to say, the new “Special Fixes” sections that have been added to the book are a major upgrade. Since the book has been so upgraded, I’ve decided to do a more thorough review of it, as well as a review of Trey’s latest eBook: Composing the Photo.
Top Ten Mistakes in HDR Processing
Trey Ratcliff’s Top Ten Mistakes in HDR Processing eBook is a collection of common problems that crop up in HDR photos. These include things like halos, over saturation of colors, and “dirty clouds”. Each one of these problems is presented with an example image that shows the problem, a brief description of how to fix the problem and a sample image that has been done “correctly”. This was the original content of the eBook (and I believe you can still buy a version that includes just this) and, frankly, it felt a little bit lacking. Though Trey’s images are as gorgeous as ever, some of the problems he described called out for much more detailed explanations of how to fix the problem. The new “bonus version” of the book contains “Special Fix” sections for a number of the problems that are the more detailed explanations I was looking for. These “special fixes” sections contain screenshots from Photoshop and almost step-by-step instructions of how to fix the problem. The addition of these new sections raise the book from “nice to have” status for a HDR photographer to a notch just below “must have”. The only thing keeping this book from fully reaching “must have” status is that some of sections (like “localized halos”) give a basic solution of “clean up in Photoshop after HDR processing” but then do not provide a detailed “special fix” of just what to do in Photoshop.
If you watched or listened to any photography podcasts in the last year, you undoubtedly stumbled across David duChemin and his book Within the Frame. TThe book was about the art of taking photographs, talking about vision and expression without going into the minutia of which aperture or shutter speed to use. Composing the Photo is Trey Ratcliff’s version of that type of book.
The book follows up its introduction with a number of photography related exercises to help start expanding photographic vision. It then goes into sections that could loosely be defined as “rules” (however, Trey makes it clear that none of these particular rules need to always followed (other than “Trey’s Rule of Thirds”)). These sections contain information that is very similar to what one would find in David duChemin’s book, only presented in what I feel is a tighter, easier to understand package.
The “book” section of the eBook (I assume this where the basic version of the book would conclude) concludes with an examination of what elements in landscape photos create the most popular photos. Backed-up with numbers from his own personal Flickr page, Trey expands how to create a picture that people will find pleasing. It’s a solid way to tie the earlier discussed concepts together.
The bonus version of the eBook ends with a collection of “notes” on composition (I assume this section is not in the standard version of the book). These notes could be compared to an FAQ about composition. There are a number of examples of how Trey composed and cropped images to get what he felt was the ideal composition.
When Within the Frame came out, I figured there would be more books on the way that were similar in their style and content. Trey Ratcliff’s latest eBook, Composing the Photo, is the first one that I’ve found that tries climb that proverbial mountain. Though I do not intend to take anything away from David’s book, I found Trey’s takes to be both tighter and easier to understand. While his earlier eBook, Top Ten Mistakes in HDR Processing, focused exclusively on Trey’s bread and butter of HDR photography, this eBook should speak to photographers as a whole. I think that any beginner through intermediate-advanced photographer would learn something from Trey’s book and at a $10 price point for the bonus version, it’s pretty closer to “no-brainer” status.
NOTE: The links I have setup to Trey’s books are affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of the sale of the books if you get there through my site. I personally do not feel that has impacted my reviews in any way, however, feel free to take this information into account when evaluating my review.
As a listener to Scott Bourne’s Photofocus podcast, I had heard the name ScanCafe mentioned quite frequently. I, personally, did not have a large archive of print photographs or slides laying around, however, I knew of the boxes of photos that my mother and grandmother had tucked away in drawers and cabinets. One of the benefits of digital photographs is that you can easily put the photos nearly anywhere. You can put them in digital frames, on website, or even have them as a screen saver on your television. The photos that are stored as prints in boxes though, they tend to be, at best, not viewed or, at worst, completely forgotten. I figured I would take my growing interest in photography as an excuse to dig through some of those old boxes of photographs and test out this ScanCafe service that I had heard about.
The initial shipment to ScanCafe was fairly simple. You just put the photos into a box and paste on the UPS label they provide for you. Their website lists advanced methods of sending photos (you can group them into different sets, send in complete albums, etc…), however I just put about bunch of photos in a ziplock bag in a box, packed it with shipping peanuts, and sent it on its way. ScanCafe provides you a way to track your photos as they’re moving through the scanning process, however, you won’t have to check the site very often since, and this is the first negative of the service, it takes quite a bit of time for your photos to be processed. I originally shipped my photographs on December 28th of 2009 and I did not receive both them (yes, you get your original photos back), and the scans of them (you can’t just download your scans, they have to ship you them on a DVD), back until February 16th of 2010. That’s a little more than a 6 week turnaround for the whole process. They do, however, offer a quicker “8 day rush service” which is currently listed at 14 cents extra per picture, for people who have time sensitive work. Also, it’s important to note, that they charge you for shipping on the return DVD (approx. $10 when I placed my order)
Generally, I was pretty pleased with the images I got back from ScanCafe. I chose to get their “Pro Library” option which includes both a high quality TIFF file and a JPEG that they have processed themselves (for an extra 24 cents a picture). If you’re not someone who’s really into photo-editing and color manipulation, you can probably skip the TIFF version of the file, since the JPEGs are pretty decent. I found, however, that I normally used the TIFF version of the file when I was preparing something I wanted to be printed. I then would do color correction and editing myself to get the photo ready for print. Here are some examples of photos that I manipulated:
Photo 1: Day at the Beach
ScanCafe JPEG Version
For my version, I used Nik Software’s ColorEfex Pro to both warm the image and to add a graduated neutral density filter to the sky.
Photo 2: Straight out of Mad Men
ScanCafe JPEG Version
The goal in my version is to prepare the picture for printing at 8×10, so that is why the crop is so drastically different. Additionally, my version of the photo is a little warmer, I smoothed his skin a little bit, and I used ColorEfex’s “Darken / Lighten Center” filter to direct the viewer’s eye more to his face.
Photo 3: Bulldozer Ride
ScanCafe JPEG Verison
Once again, I decide to crop this image a little differently than the original shot. Thankfully, the high resolution scans that ScanCafe provides enable this kind of thing. Also, I used ColorEfex’s Pro Contract filter to make the contrast stand out a little more.
As I mentioned before, I was pretty pleased with the overall ScanCafe process and result. The biggest negative was the amount of time that it took for the entire process to take place. Other than that, I would recommend ScanCafe as a way for people to get their old photos out of boxes and into digital form. Most importantly, it was a lot less painful than having to do all that work myself.
- The process produces high quality scans
- The process takes a long time
- You might end up having to tweak some of the results
- You do get your original photos back
- You can’t download your scans, you have to wait for them to ship them to you via DVD (and they charge you for shipping on that DVD)
- You don’t have to accept the scan for every image you send them
When I first started learning photography, I looked at hundreds of websites to try and learn technique and style. As anyone who has read any of my other posts knows, one of the more influential sites ,from a style perspective, was Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs. I loved the surrealistic HDR images he created and wanted to do that kind of work. When shooting HDR photography, it’s generally recommended that you use a tripod. When your only camera is a point and shoot Nikon P6000 that doesn’t have auto-bracketing for RAW files, however, a tripod is required.
The conventional wisdom, at least among those I listen to for photography information, is that you shouldn’t skimp on your tripod. The advice ranges from “buy the best tripod you can afford” to “don’t buy some cheap tripod from Wal-Mart” to “go basalt / carbon fiber or go home”. Still, I couldn’t seem to justify spending $475 for a basalt tripod from Gitzo when my only camera costs less than that. Thankfully, a Macbreak video podcast from PMA gave me a solution: The Zipshot Tripod from Tamrac.
The biggest difference between the Zipshot and a traditional tripod is the way it’s stored when not being used. The legs of a traditional tripod normally slide into themselves, but the legs of a zipshot fold similar to the framework of some camping tents. This means when the tripod is folded up, it’s only 15 inches long. Additionally, the tripod is extremely lightweight (coming in at about 11 oz), so it makes it pretty easy to carry.
One of the main requirements of a tripod is it stability. Clearly, the Zipshot is not going to provide the same level of stability as a high end Gitzo, but if the legs are fully spread and the tripod is set on solid ground, it will be pretty stable. I give those qualifiers because when the tripod’s legs are not fully spread (most likely in an attempt to get the camera higher) the tripod can get particularly wobbly. Since the tripod sits low naturally, as you can see from the picture at the top of the post, I sometimes try to trade stability for heigh.
The Zipshot has a ball head on top that allows for taking shots at pretty much any angle. I’ve found that sometimes this ball head can be difficult to adjust and that it can be a little difficult to get the camera level, especially if the tripod legs are not fully spread. Still, I have managed to used it for a number of HDR and panoramic shots, even if I sometime I had to straightened them in Aperture when I was processing. I am not sure how having a dSLR instead of a point and shoot attached to the Zipshot would alter its ability to balance.
I needed a tripod if I wanted to create HDR images with my camera. Since I couldn’t justify the costs of a high end tripod, and since I had been warned to not waste resources on cheaper tripods, the Zipshot looked like a good alternative. As a light, compact, fairly stable tripod, the Zipshot is the perfect companion to my camera.
I’ve experimented with a number of photo labs over the past year. I initially used my local Ritz store for quick turn arounds on prints, but ended up moving to Mpix when I started ordering prints with more volume. I ultimately settled on on WHCC for my printing needs, however. Their combination of speed, price and quality made me a loyal customer fairly quickly. In addition to ordering prints from them, I also ordered their float wraps for some of my pictures (you can read my write-up of that experience and review of that product here), but never got around to using their canvas printing services. In fact, it wasn’t until a recent offer from Artist Photo Canvas (APC) that I took the leap to gallery wrapped canvas.
A little over a month ago, APC made a limited time offer for 50% off a 16”x20” gallery wrapped canvas. I admit, that as a student, one of the primary factors holding me back on purchasing canvas prints was the price. The opportunity to purchase a canvas version of one of my photos at that much of a discount was too good to pass up. After using the gallery wrap options of Genuine Fractals (you can read my review of Genuine Fractals here) to create a version of my image according to their specifications, I uploaded the image to the website, placed an order, and waited to receive my very first canvas print. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I took my canvas out of the box, however, I could not be more pleased with the result. Though I don’t profess to be an expert in the preparation of gallery wrap canvases, the finished product looks superb. The colors match what I sent them, the image has excellent sharpnesses, and the actual wrapping on the frame is very well done. APC includes hanging hardware with all their canvases too, which made mounting the canvas on the wall a snap.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, I prepared the image myself. Since I’m kind of a control freak about how my pictures are cropped, framed, etc… this was the preferred option for me. APC does allow you to send in an image that they will resize and prepare for you if you prefer less hassle in your work flow. If you prepare your images yourself, then APC allows you to use their Photo Dropbox to get your image reviewed before placing your order. Though I’m pretty confident in Genuine Fractals ability to properly prepare the image, I like the piece of mind of having one of the APC artists take a look at my image before submitting my order. Additionally, I put a note in my order that says “This image has been prepared by Genuine Fractals and should be ready for printing, however, please let me know if there are any issues”. I have a friend who followed the same preparation procedure that I did, however, did not leave such a note, and the galley wrap came back incorrectly formatted. Thankfully, APC’s customer service is top notch and the error was easily corrected.
To summarize: my experience was with Artist Photo Canvas has been excellent. In fact, because of my positive experience, I volunteered to help test a new finishing option on their canvases (in a buy one, get one free type format). If you’re looking for canvas printing services, then I would give them a very high recommendation. Even if you’re not looking for canvas printing at the moment, then I’d recommend following APC on Twitter (user APCPro) just in case they decide to have another promotion in the future. I mean, what’s the worse that could happen? You end up with a professional looking canvas displayed on your wall?
UPDATE: My original version of this review took place on 01/30/2010. I updated the review on 08/05/2010 after making another order of float wraps.
I recently took advantage of one of White House Custom Colour‘s (WHCC) winter sales, namely: 25% of their Float Wraps. Float Wraps are similar to gallery wraps or stand outs, but have a slightly different aesthetic (i.e. they appear to be “floating” on the wall). Additionally, they can be anywhere from slightly to significantly less expensive then gallery wrapped canvas. For example, the 20×24 Float Wrap that I purchased from WHCC cost $76.25 while a 20×24 gallery wrap canvas from Artist Photo Canvas (APC) runs $125 (WHCC charges $117 for a 20×24 gallery wrap canvas, but that’s the one photo product I get from somewhere else, namely, APC). If I had my photo printed on fine art canvas, instead of as a lustre print, before it was made into a float wrap, the prices would be much closer. Also, if you’re having your order shipped to your home “studio” (whether this is your home or an actual studio) then UPS ground shipping is included with the purchase price (WHCC normally does some type of free shipping to the home studio with all of their orders).
I prepared my original submissions the same way I’d prepare a gallery wrap; by using onOne Software’s Genuine Fractals and its gallery wrap feature. Before my wraps were printed, however, I received a all from WHCC, explaining that, because float wraps aren’t pulled as tightly as a standard gallery wrap, my float wraps might end up not looking as I intended. Their customer service representative then spent some time going over tips on how to prepare the images to best work in the float wrap format. After I prepared the images based on their tips, I called WHCC again and they reviewed the images on the phone with me and made sure that things would look right before even starting production. It was a thoroughly impressive customer service process.
To summarize their recommendations for making a float wrap: Essentially you want one inch of extra space around your entire image. For example, if you’re making an 8×12 float wrap, you want to submit a 10×14 image. Ideally, you want this extra inch to just be part of the photo that’s not important so it’s okay if it happens to get wrapped. You do not want to “mirror” this extra inch like you might on a gallery wrap, since the wrap actually only hides about 1/2 an inch of that extension. If you are concerned about your preparation, I recommend putting a note in your order that says you’re unsure about whether or not you’ve prepared the images correctly and you’d like to have them reviewed before processing. This should put your order on hold when its uploaded and allow you to contact a customer service representative for a review. I’ve done this for all of my orders and found it very helpful.
Float wraps arrives in the quality, protective, packaging that all WHCC shipments arrive in. In fact, it can be almost a hassle to get it out of the padding, cardboard, and plastic it comes in. The individual wraps themselves have a thick block of gatorboard sticking out of the back that has 2 to 4 holes in it (at least those are the numbers I’ve seen on the sizes I’ve ordered. The float wraps with 4 holes allow you to select which 2 holes you want to use for mounting, so you can select the proper orientation for your photo.). To mount the float wrap on the wall, I’ve found the best method is to simply put 2 nails or 2 screws in the wall at a distance matching the distance between the holes in the gatorboard (level of course). That has been enough to support the 20×24 float wrap I have, as well as all of the smaller ones.
As anyone who has been to my house has realized, I’m a big fan of WHCC’s float wraps. They have provided me with an attractive way to display some of my favorite photos while not forcing me to make the cost investment required by gallery wrap canvas. Combine a really strong product with WHCC’s top level customer service, and it’s a solid option to display pictures. I currently have 8 hanging on my walls, and I imagine that number will grow before too long.