Printing is a Process

I’ve been working on client work the last two weeks, along with a presentation and a workshop, so posting has slowed, but I wanted to share some thoughts briefly from my morning printing session today.

Making museum prints is truly a process. Yesterday I fought a difficult client file for an hour trying to find what direction it would go in. The nature of the scene was such that I had to work with it, and I could only exert so much of my will upon it before I departed from the classic photographic look I want to give this client. I tried about three different approaches, and suffered through 2GB photoshop files saving, multiple variations on RAW settings, masks and more. By the end of the session I was mentally tapped, and it’s important to realize that expressing yourself through a print is often a mentally taxing process. I left the process frustrated that I had not achieved what I somewhere deep inside knew was possible. But I was tapped and had nothing else to give it. So I sent a jpeg to the client and closed up shop for the day.

The client gave me a thumbs up last night, but this morning I wanted to revisit the file to make sure that in the rough sketch approach I often use on first attempts at a print, I could actually refine my masks into a final print. Starting with fresh eyes, some good music playing, and a handful of chocolate covered coffee beans, I started looking at the file, and in the moment of clarity a nights sleep created, it became obvious what was missing. Well, actually it was the thought that “wow, those snow fields really look gray…man that is going to look ugly. What if I just made the snow brighter but left the rest of the image the same?” A quick color range mask isolated the snowfields, a curve brightened them, and like magic the whole print came alive in a way I could achieve the day before. That dissatisfaction from the day before vanished instantly, and the print became something that achieved both my personal expectations, and what I wanted to deliver for the client.

That kind of process is pretty typical when working. Making a beautiful print doesn’t always happen all at once. It’s a process, with many layers. Each time you peel one layer, more becomes apparent. Its a series of refinements, frustrations, insights, successes, disappointments, and sometimes victory. It often takes time, a fresh perspective. Brute force only takes so much. I’m reminded of the quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” It’s a process, and only by continuing to chip away at it do you ever get to a resolution.

Settings That Work

Printed a lovely 24×36 for a client today. I’ve printed the photo before, but not to this large size, so I looked up the settings to build my mental reference library of what settings produce what result. I though it would be valuable to share a real world example of what I think worked to make a gallery quality wildlife photography print.

Camera was a Nikon D850 with a 80-200 lens used at 150mm. Exposure was at f/5 at ISO 640. The results are what I’d expect from a medium format camera using 100 ISO film. Print was made from a ~223 ppi file at the output size. It’s a perfect example of how large prints still look fantastic below 300 dpi. I was also surprised with how much the lens resolved with the high resolution sensor of the D850. It’s exciting to see how the D850 is helping photographers raise the bar on wildlife photography.

I can’t say enough how striking it was, and the effect it had on me. Most important to the photo was the subject, the light, and the moment captured, but when you throw in a high res capture, the effect is a stunning piece.

Sony A7RII Miscellaneous Information

I made the switch to mirrorless in late 2018 with the Sony A7RII. Sony had given me a loner camera a year earlier that let me know that the quality was at least equal to my previous Nikon D810. I had also spent over a year with an a5000 as a every day carry camera that has gone everywhere with me, and made me very comfortable with the Sony image quality. The ability to put together a very light 42mp camera kit with high quality lenses for hiking and backpacking is what tipped me over to Sony.

I am really happy with my choice, which came down to image quality first, high quality light-weight lenses, and overall compact form.

This page is not meant to be a complete review, but a place to hold important reference information and some miscellaneous info for A7RII users or perspective users.

In true quirky Sony fashion, the most detailed “manual” is not the manual but a separate document called the “Help Guide” which is available as a website or a downloadable PDF.

E-Mount Lenses
Spreadsheet of select E-mount lenses assembled to find lightest weight options. Really good lenses tend to be heavy, but for backpacking some quality sacrifices are acceptable. The question is, do I carry three average lenses that are light, or just one decent zoom? Sigma has teased Art quality lenses in a lighter form factor which would be my preference. My landscape work is mostly at f/11 anyway, and a f/4 or f/5.6 might be a good fit for street photography too.

Wikipedia article on E-Mount lenses – list of lenses, adapters, other interesting stuff.

-No intervalometer
-Batteries not keyed to prevent wrong way insertion
-Lens release on opposite side of Nikon/Canon
-Lens index mark location on flat instead of outside of lens mount
-Direction of lens rotation opposite of Nikon
(This lens stuff really annoys me as a 30+ year Nikon user. It’s hard to overcome that muscle memory, but even then, the Sony way just seems awkward. Fair or not, it’s my gripe)
-Large RAW file size – Nikon uncompressed NEF are much smaller. Takes up more memory card space, longer transfers, etc
-9 frame RAW buffer – older body with a lower costs comes with trade offs – works for landscape photography, but is still noticeable when doing brackets
– small grip size, feature and bug, works great for my normal landscape/fine art stuff, but shooting a multi hour event with heavy glass really begs for the extended size battery grip.

Updated 4/5/2019