Topic: Printing (3 posts)


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

In Final Form

I don't know about you but the photographs I make need some time to gestate, some looking at and thinking about them to understand what to do with them. Very seldom is the first impression the final outcome.

Where the "rubber meets the  road" is in making decisions as to how to print what I've shot. This will go through perhaps a few experiments. I might try a couple of  different sizes or pushing prints darker or lighter to see what that looks like. Or play with the color palette or tonality, amount of sharpening, type of paper (this is a big consideration for me) or even if I am adding any color to a black and white image. In darkroom days I used Kodak's Rapid Selenium Toner for every print. I did that to remove the slightly olive cast of many papers, particularly Ilford's Miulitgrade paper. In Silver Effex's Pro 2, a plugin I use often to make the conversion of my files to black and white, there is a toning setting for Selenium that I sometimes use.

At any rate, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a day I had kayaking along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire (River Paddle). I liked very much some of the pictures I made as I walked up stream from the river to sit on a log and have my lunch. The stream was in late summer mode, lazy and with water trickling down it, much of its stream bed exposed. As I tried printing different approaches: conversion to black and white, a mat surface paper,  adding some color back in, I tried to resolve whether I had a full series or not. A series for me is a sequential body of work, usually from as few as 11 to as many as 30 or so. I didn't think that I did, although I could construct a rational around the actual "walk upstream" I took, wading through shallow water holding my camera at shoulder height so as not to get it wet. It wasn't   and presently isn't so much a full series but perhaps a few pictures with a single point: what mankind leaves behind, the detritus I  found on the stream bed. I had tried to contrast these pictures with the real purity of the untouched landscape in front of me but to be truthful this was a place that was not nature untouched at all. This was about as "pure" as it got:

Not so interesting perhaps and certainly a little passive or even generic, never what one wants of one's own pictures.

So, what have I done? I've abandoned the precept of the contrast between untouched and polluted in favor of these three:

Mankind's effect upon environment, clear and simple. Junk thrown away or left behind and a wall of granite blocks holding up a bridge over the steam.

There is loss and gain, of course. The loss is that most of the pictures I made that day (some of which I like very much) will likely never be seen or printed. Losing 40 or so breaks my heart a little. But what I gain is three photographs that have impact and punch, not diluted or compromised by others that may serve as only support around them. And yes, impact? Ah, what present day digital capture can do. The prints are 37 by 25 inches. One is printing behind me as I write this. 

They will be framed 45 by 34 inches. Hung side by side, the three in a row with the granite wall in the center? Killer. Epic.

A final caveat from someone who frequently prints quite large. When you print big, the print becomes very difficult to look at unless it is pinned up on a wall or framed. Sitting next to your printer, rolled up, is not a good way to determine if you have a good print or not. 

I print at home but will frequently take big prints to my studio to lay them out on a big table to view them.

If you don't have a big printer and are going to have someone else print your files for you, try to work locally, meaning choose a printer that will allow you to print out a few test strips to see how your file will look when printed large. Does it hold? Are you  pushing it too large? Has your sharpening strategy and file management been effective? Or are you just making an image larger with little consideration of how much more you are asking of everything you use: your camera, its ISO, the lens, the aperture and shutter speed, use of a tripod or not, the DOF and so on.

Printing large is like this: 

it's the bottom of the ninth

your team is 2 runs behind

bases are loaded

there are 2 outs

the count is 3 and 2 

Like that.

Topics: Color,Black and White,Printing,Northeast

Permalink | Posted August 22, 2014

What if?

What if you threw out the rules? What if you let the mandate go that says your photographs have to look "realistic"? What if you defy the requirement that your imagery has to look like it did when you were out there standing in front of the subject with a camera? What if you didn't worry about the sky being a neutral gray on a cloudy day or the right shade of blue on a sunny day? What if you chose to saturate the colors more, alter the palette or pump the contrast?

Why do you suppose this is a concern? Why are we afraid to break from reality in our work? We know photography lies, why do we work so hard to make it look "real"? I know one reason and that is that we've all seen work that is over saturated, over sharpened, over processed and over cooked and we know that it looks very very bad. In fact, this is one way someone like me decides if someone can print well or not.

This analogy might help: Back when I was teaching darkroom-based black and white photography, a standard routine for me was to stand in white light outside the darkroom, have intro students come out with their just processed wet prints in a tray to look so I could look at them. Invariably, students would  print with too much contrast. My job was to say, "Print it flatter", making them go back in, change the variable contrast filter to a lower number in the enlarger, put another piece of paper in the easel, expose the print to light and process it through the chemistry, then bring the new print out for me to see and usually say, again, "Print it flatter." Intro students care about impact and contrastier can look sharper too. Subtlety? Not so much. My job was to show them that the real guts and substance of a photograph exist in the mid tones and that printing with too much contrast usually resulted in eliminating detail and information contained in the negative. I used to tell students not to "print with a sledgehammer." You get my point.

So, to bring this up to the present, this is our holdover from earlier times or perhaps our albatross. Traditionally, good printers do not draw attention to the print itself but to the image contained within it, hence the "realistic" overriding rule. I believe this to be fundamentally correct in documentary and photojournalistic photography, where verisimilitude is essential for believability and accuracy and where the person taking the picture is secondary to the event, but in art? Why would art require accuracy? It is art.

Now, I am not crazy and I am not going to go into too much "warm and fuzzy" here  in a blog that goes out to the public but I hope you get my point. Worried about what others will think or feel strongly about an image and the color palette it exists in? Know you are right or are you concerned that you will be invalidated due to how much or what hue you dial in for your prints? Yes, I am an advocate of informed decisions and, if you are just starting out, by all means drive your pictures more to the color accuracy end of the spectrum but remember, you are making art, right?  Drive it any way you want. It's your art.

Let's see what you think:

This is simply working with a pallete of colors.

I started out in my career (44 years ago) as an artist by studying and wanting to be a painter. During my student years I spray painted large canvasses of horizon-based landscapes in bright colors. I was quite successful but I was taking photography courses at the same time as I was painting. Although photography won me over it is somewhat ironic that I was a colorist as a painter, then, while a photographer for the next 30 years, I stayed within the discipline of black and white. Now, back to being a colorist. 

Topics: Printing,painting

Permalink | Posted January 16, 2014