Seaways' Ships in Scale Magazine


Writer's Guidelines

Digital Photography for Magazine Publication

A very common question for our Editorial and Publishing offices these days is: "Why can't I use my digital camera to take photographs for my article to be published in Seaways' Ships in Scale?" Author-modelers who have done some very nice ship modeling work that they want to share with our readers have gotten a bit miffed in the past when they read the section of our Writers' Guidelines that read "Digital camera prints or electronic media are not acceptable (except for studio quality professional cameras)." However, with the marked improvement in digital cameras over the past year or two and the inevitable continued improvements to come, we are ready to change our tune. Why have we been so slow to adapt to the new technology, you ask? Well, the plain truth is that with the exception of ten to thirty thousand dollar studio cameras, images printed from digital photography sources just aren't as good as those from film- but we're getting closer!

Resolution: Actually, for magazine printing, we don't need digital photos as good as film, but we do need digital data files that print out at 300 dpi (dots per inch). 300 dpi is what the layout and design folks call the magic number. This all dates back to the "old days" of publishing, when film prints to be published were re-photographed through a screen of intersecting right angle lines engraved into panels of glass, generally at an interval of 130 to 150 lines per inch for ordinary magazine work. This produced a negative composed of little black dots called a half-tone, which could in turn be printed onto paper. If you take a magnifying glass to a photo in our magazine (or even more easily, a photo in your newspaper), you can easily see the dots. Even though a good film print contains much more information than that which prints out at 300 dpi, that's all we need and, in fact, is all we can use in this conventional sort of magazine printing (art magazines can print at higher resolutions and use denser scans). However, we can't really use less than 300 dpi either, as printed photo quality rapidly breaks down as we do- check out the difference in clarity and detail between our 130-150 line equivalent prints and the 100 line equivalents used in your newspaper.

How then do we get 300 dpi from our digital cameras? That's a bit of a problem for two reasons. First, it's expensive to produce the imaging chips (charge coupled devices or CCD) for these cameras; the greater the megapixel capacity, the greater the cost. Second, we can't really enlarge the images significantly without serious image degradation (called pixellation- where the image enlarges into little squares of black and white or gray in B&W imaging). That's a real problem, as we don't often get articles submitted with perfectly composed images. If we can't enlarge, we need pretty large prints to begin with so that we can crop to focus on the part of the image we want to print. To print or crop from a full page (8 ˝ by 11") photo, we would need a camera with the equivalent of (8.5 x 300) x (11x300) dots per inch. That's 2550 x 3300, or 8.4 megapixels! Only professional digital cameras have that great a capacity at this time. That means we must settle for smaller print sizes to work with, knowing that doing so will give us a lesser over all quality for our articles by restricting us to smaller magazine photos. The smallest we can comfortably deal with is about five by seven, about half-page size. The math here then becomes (5x300 x (7x300)=3,150,000 or about 3.2 megapixels. Because all of the chip capacity in digital cameras isn't available for imaging, we need to add about ten percent to that capacity to allow for the chip's needed electronics processing functions, which pushes us up to about 3.5 megapixels. That means the current crop of 4 megapixel cameras would be our minimum requirement.

Close-ups: You can probably guess what's coming next- if we can't enlarge the images, close-up photographic capability (macro) becomes a critical need. If you send us a bunch of five by seven 35mm film prints of the entire side of the hull of your special project taken with a any reasonably fast film, say ISO 50 or 100, we can crop and enlarge the gunport that you mention in your caption as needed to show the detail nicely. The photo will only be grainy if we enlarge too much. As we said though, with digital we can't enlarge because of pixellation: we can only crop, so we pretty much need that specific site on your model photographed in the final publishing size. That means your camera must have a macro function so that you can get right up to that gunport and fill the LCD finder with it. The optical viewfinder, by the way, is essentially useless in the macro format on digital cameras because of parallax errors close up. You can use optical telephoto lens functions on your digital camera to help fill the LCD viewfinder on whole model or large region work, but that generally isn't as useful as a macro format for very small work as you can't get close enough to fill the available image space. You can't use the digital telephoto function for our purposes, as that is just a crop and magnify function and not a true telephoto; it will not produce a clear image on the printed page.

Image File Formats: Most photos taken by point-and-shoot digital cameras and even by high-end SLR format digitals are recorded in a format known at jpeg, the acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group, with the file extension ".jpg". This is a wonderful format for home photo printing, e-mail sharing of photographs and export to Web sites, but is not useful for magazine publishers because all of the images are compressed. Even though many high end cameras give you your choice of degrees of compression and your choice of image sizes in pixels, some information is averaged or lost in all of them, making them unsuitable for our purposes where maximum preservation of information is so very important. The two formats we can use are tiffs (Tagged Image Format, with the file extension of ".tif" and the raw image data format known, surprisingly, as RAW , with the file extension ".raw". The latter files are often processed to tiffs by your camera's computer software, as the processing is a bit different for each camera manufacturer. Tiff files have no compression. We get the maximum amount of information and we can print directly from the file, all else being equal. Why doesn't everyone use tiffs for all purposes and get it over with? Well, tiff files are very large, so using them uses the maximum capacity of your camera's imaging chip with each shot. Where you might have gotten 337 computer screen compatible images at on your 32 megabyte storage card using high jpeg compression and small format, you would get only ten tiff image files (perhaps 16 RAW files) at full format with no compression. Big difference, and, if you only need about 150 dpi to make a nice home color print or just 72 dpi to do a Web photo, it's wasteful. The RAW image is a little easier on camera memory utilization because the tagging is done on your computer after downloading the images rather than in the camera itself.

Image Conversion and Transportation: Now that you have your images correctly taken, using your optical telephoto lens and your macro function, saving them on your camera's internal storage card as tiff format files (or converting RAW files on your computer to tiffs), you need to convert them to 8-bit gray scale in your image processing software (PhotoShop or some equivalent) so that you can see what they will look like on the printed page. Many programs allow you to tweak the images a bit to improve them. Finally, you need some storage process to copy your files and send them to your friendly publisher. With almost all computers sold in the past year or two being delivered with read-write compact disc devices, CD is certainly the easiest choice. Just set up the images in your photo processing software in the proper order and use your CD software to burn them into a new blank CD. It's a simple process. We do not want your original camera storage cards, nor do we want thirty floppy discs! An Iomega Zip Drive disc would be fine also. Please remember that the transportation CD or disc needs to be readable in a Mac.

Although our designer will be using the images on the CD, the Managing Editor will need black and white prints for layout and general sizing purposes. The package you send us, therefore, must have fairly high quality prints included. An ink jet or laser jet printer will be fine. Photo quality paper, satin finish, should be used. The images need to be printed at 300 dpi and at maximum size for your CCD capacity. That would be two 5x7 prints per page for our required 4 megapixel minimum. It your model has been selected for a color cover position, a high quality full-color print is an absolute requirement with your authors package to the Editor.

Summary: High end personal digital camera images are now acceptable with articles submitted to Seaways' Ships in Scale magazine. The camera must have at least a 4 megapixel CCD. Images must be taken with optical telephoto and or macro function only. Images must be taken using tiff or RAW image storage formats. Images must be supplied to us on CD's or Iomega Zip discs. Black and white maximum (for the CCD) size prints need to be included.

Please note, dear authors, that these few simple requirements don't even begin to cover the complexity of using a modern digital camera, which is really an imaging system coupled to a portable computer. You will have to memorize your manual to do a good job…and all of the film photography requirements for composition, lighting, seamless backdrop and depth of field still apply. Please also remember that most of these cameras do not permit selection of either macro or tiff/RAW options in the fully automatic mode. It's a good idea therefore to use the "aperture priority" mode for everything. That will permit tiff/RAW recording and give you maximum depth of field if you use the smallest aperture (largest f-stop number) on your camera. Most digital cameras don't close down beyond f-8 or so, so use that all the time. Prints are required with every digital image.

Finally, as hold-outs from another era, we'd rather have 35mm film prints any day, so don't throw out your SLR's!!

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