Go big: Canon large-format printing tips

Wildlife photographer Pie Aerts gives us the lowdown on how the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 can help you scale up your photography in more ways than one.
A rhino faces forward, its long horn stretching out to the left, a second rhino behind, in a monochrome photo taken in Kenya by wildlife photographer Pie Aerts.

Photographed in Solio Ranch, Kenya, The Last is an example of wildlife photographer's Pie Aerts' patience and dedication to his craft. "Only on the last day, right before giving up, it happened," he describes of his journey to getting the powerful shot. "And that final moment, at the edge of breaking, is the best feeling in the world, connecting with nature in its purest form." The image is one of many of Pie's wildlife prints that grows in impact printed in large format. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm, 1/500 sec, f/9 and ISO 800. © Pie Aerts

When you photograph the most colossal creatures on Earth, an A5 print doesn't always cut it. Canon Ambassador Pie Aerts shoots spectacular images of nature's giants – giraffes and rhinos, lions and elephants – and prints his images at A2, A1 and bigger, sometimes up to 2 x 3m. "These animals really come into their full force if they're presented large," he says, "almost life-size."

Dutch-born Pie has spent a decade documenting African wildlife. He exhibits internationally, runs masterclasses and sells limited-edition fine art prints, donating a percentage of the proceeds to conservation and community projects in Africa. Here, he shares his tips for large-format printing on Canon printers, and explains why he is so passionate about printing at scale – the bigger, the better – to give subjects and images the impact they deserve.

A pair of hands take a large-scale print of a leopard in a tree from the tray of a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, a second print placed on top of the printer.

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000's intuitive usability is another bonus. "It is easy to shift between print sizes and paper types by making simple setting adjustments," says Pie.

What is considered a large-format printer and what are they used for?

Large-format printing is defined as anything above A3. The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 is ideal for home printing onto fine art photo paper in sizes up to A2 for posters or fine art exhibition prints to be displayed in a gallery or sold to collectors. The same technology is found in the roll printers of the same name family: imagePROGRAF PRO Series 2100 (24in), 4100 (44in) and 6100 (60in). The Canon Arizona range of UV flatbed printers can produce a stunning array of prints on rigid media up to 2.5 x 3m in size and 50mm in thickness. Arizona printers are often used for photos and fine art applications, including with textured and elevated print surfaces on media ranging from glass and metal to wood and even stone.

The Canon Colorado UVgel roll-to-roll production printers can produce high volumes of posters and banners, creative wallpapers and photo and fine art canvas prints up to 1.625m wide. Plus, the addition of a white ink is bringing new levels of creativity to high-value applications with magnetic, coloured and metallic media types.

Print and learn

"Printing your work teaches you so much," explains Pie, who is now so experienced, he can glance at the back of his camera and foresee exactly how the print will look. But that skill has come from years of practice, making mistakes along the way. There are many printer options from Canon to consider when it comes to large-format printing. The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 provides the flexibility to print at A5, A4, A3, all the way up to A2, switching easily between sizes and media types.

This versatility makes it ideal for experimenting and fine-tuning your technique. "By printing, you learn about how you photograph and why you photograph things," says Pie. "Sometimes I lay out smaller prints on the floor or stick them on the wall and build an image sequence. I'll ask other people to come over to look at them to help decide the edit."

Having that adaptability means he can use the same printer in different ways at different stages of his workflow.

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Two male lions rest their heads against each other as they stand close in a photo taken by Pie Aerts.

"I've spent years in post-production software learning to create the right emotion," says Pie, who only uses editing software to make minimal adjustments to images if needed. No amount of editing will make a poor image look truly great. "You need to understand how to shoot great images in-camera." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 560mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 500. © Pie Aerts

Deepen your impact

In the internet age, there is a risk of content overkill. "Images are everywhere," says Pie. "It is important to make a clear distinction between digital and offline. I've always had a strong connection with paper and books. These days, it's all very quick. I print to slow down the process." Equally, viewing a photograph at A2, A1 or bigger is a completely different experience. "Photography, and art in general, requires time and patience," says Pie. "Good images raise questions and I want to invite people to look again, taking time to digest the story."

Printing at this scale is a statement about the value you place on your work. "Art is not meant to be displayed on a small backlit 800 pixel-wide screen," Pie continues. "It's meant to be displayed beautifully printed, on a paper type you intentionally selected, using a certain ink, in a big frame in a museum."

A monochrome image showing the female leaders of a herd of elephants in Kenya, two close up and three further behind, taken by Pie Aerts.

Taken in Amboseli, Kenya, Land of Giants features the female leaders of a herd of elephants. Printing in a large format beautifully showcases the foreground, background and middle of the composition. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 20mm, 1/500 sec, f/11 and ISO 640. © Pie Aerts

Reveal more detail

"The larger you print, the more detail becomes visible," says Pie. Keep this in mind when composing shots. "Good images are built up in several layers – foreground, background, middle. They all connect within one overall narrative."

An example of this is Pie's Land of Giants photograph (above). As you look further into the picture, you learn more about what you're seeing, from the elephants at close range to other members of the herd behind, and finally, the landscape visible beyond. "If you looked at this on a phone, you wouldn't see what you see in a large print," explains Pie.

"My Canon EOS R5 shoots at 45MP resolution. It is one of the best cameras in the industry to print large. Combined with the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, the detail is incredible," he adds. The PRO-1000 boasts a wide colour gamut, plus its high-quality LUCIA PRO inks and contrast reproduction technology accurately reproduce colour and fine detail in images, allowing photographers to capture even the most subtle tones and hues in a scene. With Canon Professional Print & Layout software, you can also calibrate your printer according to the ICC profiles of the fine art paper you have chosen to use. "The software is incredible for helping you understand how to load an image, how to use the right colour profiles," Pie says. The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 comes with 12 individual cartridges – one for each colour. "That means that you only replace the cartridge when it's completely empty, and you never waste any ink," says Pie.

A print of a skier dwarfed by the vast, sheer mountain he is skiing down. Photo by Richard Walch.

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A monochrome image of two rhinos facing each other in battle, taken by Pie Aerts.

When a collector invests in a large-scale print, it's more meaningful. "I appreciate that people are willing to go that extra length," says Pie. "There's a stronger connection between the artist, artwork and buyer. Art is about emotional connection." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 200mm, 1/400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 400. © Pie Aerts

Scale up your sales

"If you focus on creating limited edition artworks, it improves the perception of your brand as an artist," says Pie – something which applies as much to graphic artists or illustrators as photographers. On Pie's website, he offers prints for sale in a range of sizes, from Small (30 x 45cm) to Extra Large (100 x 150cm). Editions are limited to 25 prints at the smallest size and just five at the biggest.

"The profit margins are higher, the more you go up in size," Pie explains. With larger runs of smaller prints, more handling and shipping is required for less remuneration. Creating prints at different sizes also caters to different markets. "Some people don't care whether or not something is numbered or limited," says Pie. "They just want to have a beautiful piece in their homes, whereas others are willing to put down a whole lot of money because they know it's only being printed five times."

Two giraffes are seen in silhouette beneath a tree, the sky amber around them and blue above in a photo by Pie Aerts.

When he shoots, Pie works backwards from the print, considering what will look most powerful in a large format. "Printing has a big impact on how you frame, how you expose. But also, which subjects you photograph in the first place," he explains. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 35mm, 1/1250 sec, f/4 and ISO 320. © Pie Aerts

Start small to make it big

The wildlife photographer has the following advice for those starting out – don't be afraid to start small and build up. "We all need to start somewhere. It's perfectly fine to begin by printing and selling your prints in a smaller, more intimate fashion," he says. "You can't expect to catch the attention of big collectors overnight. Build up your reputation, finesse your craft as a photographer and a printer – and your market worth will follow. Start by selling your work to your family and friends, people you know, who can support you. Growing your business takes lots of little steps. When I look back at my own career over the past seven years, it has not been a straight line. It's a slow process. Embrace that rhythm and learn to value your work."

A herd of elephants are captured from above against a light landscape, overexposed in a photo by Pie Aerts.

Large format isn't always about detail. Pared-back monochrome imagery can be particularly striking at scale. "Teaching yourself to think and see in black and white, a whole new space opens up," says Pie. Shooting images like The Long Way Home, he sometimes overexposes the shot to get the look he's after in print. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 105mm, 1/400 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 200. © Pie Aerts

Prints with legacy

Creating big, beautiful prints is more than an end in itself for Pie, though. Photography is a tool in the urgent battle we face to save ecosystems from collapse and species from extinction. "It is really important to educate people, but the first step is to make them fall in love with what they see," he explains. "If people love something, then they are willing to fight for it."

Whatever drives your own photography, whether it's wildlife or something different, printing in large-format is guaranteed to amplify the message – hopefully creating, in Pie's words, "not only awareness but also action".

Rachel Segal Hamilton

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