This one's going out to those of you that print your own photographs. There may be information in here that might help you if you send your files out to be printed by someone else, but principally this post will be for photographers that make their own inkjet prints.

It seems few make their own prints anymore, that printing has been relegated to a non-creative process, to a "technician" to translate the original files into a two dimensional representation on a piece of paper. But if you're an artist doesn't this seem a little bit skewed? It does to me.

As a career teacher I get that people struggle a great deal with making good prints. It can be very challenging. In darkroom days it often took students a whole semester to learn how to make a good print. But it doesn't have to be such agony. Let's start with the tools you are working with.

A reasonably capable computer is good, one that can handle your multiple files and that either has enough internal storage or enough external storage in RAIDS or  hard drives not to get bogged down. I am an advocate of keeping up to date, within reason, on Operating Systems and updated firmware as to fall behind means you might get locked out of some applications. Knowing Photoshop and your file management system, usually Lightroom these days, is also a prerequisite.Take a class if necessary to become skilled in these.

Your choice of printer probably means less than you think. Of course, maximum print size is the primary issue. How big do you need to print? Several of my  friends don't print large, usually.  For that special situation when they need something larger, they go to a lab or a friend who has a big printer. For most that makes sense as big prints are a pain; hard to handle, difficult to look at unless tacked up or framed, expensive and difficult to store. Don't get me started as I make many large prints. On the other hand a 5 or 6 foot print can be simply breathtaking if the quality is high.Whatever printer you are using should not have clogged nozzles, not have a terminal disease, and be clean and not destroying the paper you run through it. It does not have to be the newest one out there as long as it is healthy. Finally, the paper you choose is a topic for a whole workshop, let alone a short blog but suffice it to say that almost any paper is capable of making an excellent print. Also, you do get what you pay for with papers. If demand is high for a breakdown of papers I can go into this in a new post. Let me know.

Your workflow needs to be fluid and known. Work out a logical system for your- self. It is important that you be somewhat systematic. Can you get back to the file at a later time? Is your filing system understandable and organized? I make RTP files that sit in the project's folder. RTP means Ready to Print and this means the files in that folder are color corrected, sized, sharpened, cleaned if necessary and  ready to be sent to the printer.

Monitors and calibration. The quality (and size) of your display is another  important part of the equipment you use to make prints. I used Eizo's for years but have two different ones that I use now. My primary monitor is a Sharp PN-K321 which is 32 inches and very good. When on the road I usually bring a  Apple Thunderbolt large display that I use with a Mac laptop computer. This is a  reasonably good display and a lot cheaper as well. There is a great deal written about calibration and I am a believer, particularly when setting up a new monitor. Flat panel displays drift far less than older monitors but still they do age. 

Also, be aware of the light in the room where you work. It  shouldn't be too light or too dark. Also be careful to provide a viewing light to evaluate your prints. This should be close to daylight, not too warm(yellow) or too cold (blue).

Finally, to one of my main points: Closed Loop System(CLS). What's this?

A CLS of your own is self contained and holds few variables. CLS is your system taken as a whole, familiar and predictable, because you don't impose something new to it, at least not very often. Take your RTP file to someone else to print and you are now in an Open Loop System (OLS), meaning you are interjecting unknowns into your final results. CLS uses components that are yours, that you've debugged, calibrated and worked with over time. This makes problem solving easier and often results in superior prints. However, CLS means you are responsible for it all, including stocking the inks and papers needed. I went into this a little in my blog on Bob Korn Imaging (here). Part of Bob's expertise is his knowing how to get a great print from your file. Send your file off to someplace you don't know and can't speak with and who knows what will happen to your photograph. Clearly I am not a big fan of distant large printing companies with anonymous operators.  Buy local here if you don't make your own. 

ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles. Important? Yes. Don't know what these are? These are used to key your printer to the  kind of paper you are using. This isn't hard. Do the research and use them as they will affect your prints.

What else? Be patient. Great printing takes time to learn. Define your work as if you were a student, learning from your mistakes. You need to teach your eye/brain combination just what a really good print looks like. Look at lots of prints, judge them critically. Common mistakes: weird and overworked files that are oversaturated for impact and over sharpened because people think more is better. Take a class, a weekend workshop or a day long immersion into printing. But make sure the person teaching it knows what they are doing. Don't follow a false prophet. Be prepared to blow some materials in your pursuit for perfection. Do good printers make the best print the first time?  Hardly. For me, I am always trying to do that, for my first print to be magnificent. But it seldom happens. Same was true in the darkroom. No differents now that I make my prints with a computer and an inkjet printer. 

Look, good printing is a skill. It takes real ability to make a good print from such a wide array of hardware and software, a massive amount and yes's or no's or on's or off's in this digital world that it is a wonder we can get the results we do. So, it is a science. But it also is an art, needing great sympathy and empathy for the original intent to come to fruition, a sensitive person that interprets and uses the tools that are available to mold, meld and make a print that is evocative and expressive. Who knows that better than the person clicking the shutter in the first place? Committed to your work? Then show that commitment by getting serious about your prints. Even if you don't make prints yourself, knowing printing informs you as to what is needed from the person you choose to make your prints. 

Making beautiful prints of your imagery? Lost art? Doesn't have to be. 

Topics: Printing theory,Printing,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 15, 2017

Hershey Again

I know, here I am pushing the new book Hershey, PA again. But bear with me, as I have a reason behind this. BTW: It is printed, it is available and it is very very good. You should get one.

It is for sale at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, MA and also at 555 Gallery in Boston and through me by emailing me at: Neal's Email

This is a very important series in my career and the second of twelve books we are printing that showcase my series works in black and white that I made from 1981-2005. These are elegant small books, 7 inches square and are signed and numbered. They are $25 each plus shipping.

So, now that I have covered the necessaries, let me explain what I believe to be a new business model that is brilliant. Yes, I thought of it myself and no I am not a business person. I am an artist. But how can I put out these books, which I think are important, and not lose my shirt in the process? Print books, sell them and use those funds to print the next one, book after book. Yes, you need some up front funds,  but once the seed money is there, if you are successful in selling the books, you can perpetuate the run of all twelve by turning the funds made into printing the next book.

Let me give you some specifics. As a trial we printed 25 of the first book called Oakesdale, WA.

Big run, right? It sold out quickly, not surprising as we printed only 25 of them. It cost $715 to print using Blurb (an on-demand printer) and we made $625 in sales. Okay, a loss. But with Blurb  if you print more, over 50, you get a 25% discount. So, learning from my loss in the first one, we have now printed 50 of the Hershey book. 

Let me step aside here and address the issue of print quality. I have been making books now for a very long time and have made both traditional offset printing press books and many on demand books with many printers, (Apple, My Publisher, Blurb, Mag Cloud,etc). On-demand books have now reached a quality level that is very high.You have to keep the publisher's nose to the grindstone, however, in that sometimes a press run will come through too dark or the colors not right. You need to send them very good files and follow through to make sure they get it right. No one wants to reprint a whole run of books but occasionally they will need to do this. It is up to you to make this happen.

Is this a model for huge profit? Not so much. Is it an effective way to print several books, one after the other, as a way to get work out to a larger audience? Yes. Is it brilliant? Well, I might be a little biased but I will leave that decision up to you.

Downsides and drawbacks? Yes, Blurb's printing cycle takes two weeks and sometimes longer so there is no quick turnaround. Right now we are printing one or two first to see the book as a proof before committing to a bigger run. This is essential, at least in my case. Each time we do this we catch mistakes in the first run that we can then correct before printing many copies. Add another two weeks or so. Blurb's shipping costs are very high, I believe as a way to make more. And finally, they package poorly, sending the books in cardboard that barely makes it to its destination.

Finally, we now have a design "template" that we can plug the photographs into. This streamlines the design process and makes the design coherent through the run of the twelve books we plan. 

In conclusion, here I am blogging away, revealing all my secrets and my business acumen. Yeah, right. At any rate, my hope is that this might spur you on to use the idea for your own photographs you want made into books. Lastly, we are starting to work with a local printer to see if we can get the same high quality we had with Blurb but for less cost. Trying to buy local. Stay tuned.

Topics: Books,Black and White,vintage,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2017

What's Coming

What's coming up in the next few months:

On February 11, 555 Gallery starts the new  year with a show I am  honored to play a part in. Called "Pairings" this is a new idea to pair work of  mine and others with some very new and beautiful  furniture. There is a "soft" opening by invitation only and the show itself will be open until April. More information: PAIRINGS

                                                             • • •

On February 15 I am on an ASMP  panel to discuss writing funding proposals, getting grants and residencies. The program starts at 7 pm Feb 15 and is open to the public. It takes place at the College of Art and Design at Lesley University in Cambridge.

Grants and artist-in-residence opportunities can seem out of reach or mysterious to many photographers. Where do you find ones applicable to you and your work? What are some good strategies for applying for grants? To answer these questions and more, ASMP New England has put together a panel with two local photographers and one local artist Neal Rantoul, Randall Armor, and Mary Sherman. Each has won grants to further their work. They will share the project(s) for which they won the grants along with what they’ve learned in the grant application process. Mary will also speak to the great potential in arist-in- residence programs, share their experiences being an AiR in various places, and talk about where to find them. We will open it up to Q&A afterwards. Come get some ideas for doing more than self-funding your project.
Admission Cost:

Pre Registered / At the Door

Lesley Students are free

ASMP Members $8 / $15

Students $10 / $20

Partners (Griffin, AIGA, PRC, NPPA, PPA) $10 / $20

Non-Members $20 / $35

Special note to Lesley students: Since this program is hosted at Lesley, you can attend for free. Please bring your current Lesley ID listing the fall of 2017 on it. To register so we can accurately order enough food, please email Mike Ritter at (our registration process doesn’t allow for a category specifically for Lesley students). Thank you.


6-7PM Social Hour

7-9PM Program

For more information go to this link:

                                                          • • •

On April 6 a new show at the Boston Athenaeum will open that will highlight works from recent acquisitions called: Works on Paper. It is open from April 6-September 3, 2017. Several years ago the museum purchased my series of "Peddocks Island"  for their collection. The show will feature some of those photographs. For more information go here.

©Neal Rantoul 2005

                                                            • • •

On April 13 I will speak on my photography for the Griffin Museum in Winchester. This lecture comes from a talk I gave for the Westchester Photographic Society in December called "Series Work". Here is the description:

As photographers we all work in series in some form or another. After all, assembling a group of pictures into a portfolio from a trip or that have the same subject can be called a series. But to turn series work into something meaningful and a significant art form takes a different approach. One of Neal Rantoul’s characteristics as a career artist is to take the everyday and raise it to a far higher level. He has worked serially his whole career, forming narratives that deepen the meaning of his photographs and extend our understanding of a place, a circumstance or a mindset. In this lecture and visual presentation, Rantoul will share several of his own series as clarification of the larger issue
of just how we can elevate our photographs from the mundane to the sublime.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have been making photographs in series since 1981. I am looking forward to sharing this way of working and hope you join me at the Griffin for what will be a special evening.

Here is the link:

Topics: lecture,Presentation

Permalink | Posted February 2, 2017

Having Prints Made

Three things:

1) Diving into printing your own digital photographs isn't for the feint of heart.  It is intimidating, alienating, infuriating, expensive and massively time consuming. The learning curve is steep and the road to making beautiful prints is long. I know. I have made my own prints since 1969 until 2003 in the darkroom and using inkjet printers since. I print all my own work.

2) Making really first rate prints that evoke the depth of your photography, the wealth of feeling and the sheer uniqueness of your photographic circumstances takes great skill. Furthermore, if you choose to have someone else take on the task of making your prints, it takes someone who's invested with you in seeking out the depth of your best imagery. 

3) These days many don't know what a truly excellent print is and certainly don't know how to make a one. Often these are skills acquired over many years of work making prints. Good printing is an art and it takes an expert to make a superb print. Marrying art, technique and technology, a good printer also relies on communication skills to work with the photographer to determine what is needed.

Many photographers choose not to undergo the frustrations of making their own prints.  Because they are too busy, prefer to be out shooting, don't want to be sitting in front of a computer editing day after day, handle and order paper and ink, store materials, swap out ink cartridges, head clean, swap out the maintenance tank, check head alignment, or deal with a real uh oh moment: "some nozzles are clogged"on a printer's display. Furthermore, photo inkjet printers are big and heavy machines, often requiring floor space and a stand to hold them, to say nothing of how expensive they are. OMG! What a hassle. You can see where taking your files to someone else to print could be the solution. But where you go has a tremendous effect on the quality of the prints. Addto this that anyone you hire to print your work is involved in an interpretive process. He/she is intuiting what they think you want your prints to look like. What if you don't know? 

One of the solutions may be to work collaboratively with a printer to interpret together how the prints should look.

In my eastern Massachusetts area there are numerous really good labs that print for photographers. But there is one on the Cape in Orleans, Bob Korn Imaging, that is perhaps unique.

This picture of Bob's workspace shows us present day printing requirements, including a calibrated display, a couple of scanners, a 44 inch Epson inkjet printer  and, in homage to earlier days, his 8 x 10 enlarger, no longer used.

Long time color printer Bob Korn becomes your printing teacher, mentor and  collaborator when you ask him to print for you. Your work needs to be printed as technically flawless photographs but you also want your prints to be expressive, reflecting the subtleties and nuance of your intention. Bob knows this. As a master printer he has been printing for people his whole career and has printed for many of the greats over the years. 

Since Bob no longer prints conventionally and his shop is all digital he's reworked his space to be part lab and part gallery. He is now showing some seriously top people with prints he's made. This serves to validate his printing, never a bad thing, but also raises the bar for anyone looking to have first rate prints made by Bob.

There is a long tradition of artists working with and collaborating with skilled craftsmen to realize their art. Photography is no exception. Bob is a warm, bright and extremely knowledgeable man who has dedicated his life to making consummate prints for his clients.  Highly recommended.


Topics: Commentary,Endorsement

Permalink | Posted January 30, 2017

Is It Possible?

Is it possible that we are art while we are making art? Is it possible that the way we move, the way we use our bodies can be part of the art as we make our photographs? Is it possible that our stance, or position, or our fluidity as we place ourselves or react to something we are photographing has a big effect on the result? I think so. This isn't talked about much, isn't acknowledged but making photographs is a physical thing, you out there with a camera in the real world, on a street, in a field, on a train, in a room, in a crowd, in a studio. Where you are and, I would maintain, how you are, affects the outcome in a large way. And yet it is completely counterintuitive for us to try different positions. We tend to make the picture from where we first saw it. Walking down the sidewalk, camera in hand and we see something we want to photograph, we don't move, we stand right there and make the picture. Wrong. What about how our body is, this tool we inhabit our whole lives? What about its well being? Can it move and bend and be flexible to help put us where we should be?

Henri Cartier Bresson, Mr. "decisive moment" would have been right with me on this. He likened the act of photographing to dance, photographing as choreography. You can see this in his pictures, this magic of being in the right place at the right time doesn't just happen by accident.

As an example, I learned the lesson from him early in my career that to to get above and point down is an effective tactic. This states the obvious but to someone who deals with the horizon often in his work a strategy to eliminate the sky has to include getting above things and pointing down.

The result can be a perspective that is both fresh and distinctive. Bresson used this throughout his whole career, as have I.

This photograph used by permission, from my friend Marybeth Groff, its owner.

This one above carries the idea to the extreme. I made this in the 90's with an an 8 x 10 inch view camera hanging out over a railing on a bridge pointing straight down. The photograph from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts is part of what I call the "Down Work"  that includes work from the US, Italy and France, all in 8 x 10. This picture is one of the influencers to me starting to make aerial photos ten years later.

Orvieto, Italy 1992

My point: you can't deny the platform you use to make your pictures. It is your body. Don't deny looking at things from a different position when you make your pictures. Up high, down low, to the right, to the left, standing up on something or lying down on the ground

Moab, Utah 1998

makes a very big difference. 

Part of the art of making pictures.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Utah,Teaching blog

Permalink | Posted January 23, 2017