Wow, how has it been a month since I posted? Life got busy with the printing side of my business, and I had to deal with some issues with my inkjet printer, all of which conspired to eat up my time. The good news is the whole time I wast thinking of new blog posts as practiced what I preach and learned a few new things as I went. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the things I’ve experienced this last month. Stay tuned and keep printing!
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.
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One of the ways I support myself and this blog is through printing for other photographers. I print using the Canon PRO-4000 which produces the finest prints I’ve made, even better than my $129,000 digital enlarger. Through the end of March, I’ll print four of your photos as 8×10 prints on any of my papers for $35 shipped. My printing service is a boutique operation, and each order is printed personally by me, so you can be assured that each print will meet my exacting standards. Go to BespokePrintmaking.com to pick a paper and upload your files.
Are you making prints on a regular basis? Why? Or why not?
I think printing should be a regular part of your photography. Nothing will test your photographs more, stretch your abilities, and force you to learn new photography skills, than the process of making prints.
I’ll go so far to say that, if you can consistently produce fine quality prints from your photographs, you will have successfully mastered key components of the craft of photography, and you will be equipped to explore even greater depths of the art.
First, you have to understand that prints are the ultimate expression of a photograph.
Stop thinking that what your monitor or device shows you is what your photo really looks like. The screen is not even close to the accuracy of a print.
Professional printing devices are capable of producing a much wider range of colors (color gamut) than a screen can. They are capable of higher resolution, greater detail, more delicate highlights, and delicate shades of gray in black & white. It’s the difference between a flawless live performance of your favorite music, versus a YouTube video of it from a crummy phone.
Because of this, the print is unforgiving. It will show every flaw and every error in judgement, exposure, focusing, color balance and processing. It’s not a 1500 pixel square on your phone; it’s the real thing, raw, fully laid bare for all to see. And that’s why it’s so powerful. It will test you, measure you, raise your expectations, challenge you, sharpen you, and make you a better photographer.
Don’t do it alone. You need someone who has already mastered the skill to guide and critique your progress; to tell you it’s too contrasty, your highlights are blown out, or you didn’t focus properly. This is an integral part of formal photography training that is lost if YouTube is your only teacher.
Take a class at a local college, go on workshops, and share your work at local photo clubs. Seek out people who make prints you admire, and beg, borrow, or buy time with them to be mentored. Some of the best photographers in the world are easily accessible through workshops. Take advantage of that.
Then find museums and galleries close to you, get on their mailing lists, and go look at prints regularly. Seek it out when you travel. Develop a mental impression of what you think a great print should be. See how artists handle shadows and highlights, color, focus, and paper choice to make their expression.
Lastly, make prints regularly. You’re going to learn more working on a fifty prints in a year than you will just ten. Don’t get caught up in what’s “print worthy” or not. If you think there is something there, print it and start working the process. Hang them on the wall, live with them, and see if they stand the test of time or need to be reworked, or abandoned. Start with 8×10 prints then work your favorites up to larger sizes. Fill your walls, and your friends! Give them as gifts, and let others enjoy them.
Making prints is the fast-track to improving your photography and refining your craft, making you into an even better photographer than you already are.
Most photographers I speak to want to make better prints. It seems to be an area that causes the much frustration for photographers, with many gaps in knowledge that have few clear paths to solving. And I think at least part of the problem is that what we see in our minds eye when we think about our photograph rarely looks like what ends up on paper.
I can completely relate. From the first time I made a print in my friends’ basement with a laundry detergent bottle for a safelight, I’ve been on a quest to learn how to make better prints. The more I discovered photography was capable of, the more I developed my vision, the more I wanted my prints to express what I saw and what I knew was possible.
I want to help others take this same journey I have, so I’ve created a new website MakeBetterPrints.com. My goal for this site is reflected in it’s name: Make Better Prints. That’s what I want to help you do. Regardless your skill level, there is another step you can take, another thing you can learn that will help you improve your work. It’s about learning, growing, and most of all enjoying photography and the printmaking process.
In twenty years of teaching digital printing, I’ve helped countless people learn to make better prints, from beginners to seasoned professionals. I know from those experiences that it’s possible for you to learn the skills necessary to become a better printmaker. I want to help make straight paths through the wilderness so you can avoid the pitfalls and trials I’ve been through.
I’ve been printing long enough to know that no one knows all the answers, but my twenty years running a fine art photo printing studio, building up teams of master printmakers, working with tense of thousands of photographers, and helping make hundreds of thousands of prints, have given me a unique knowledge of how to make better prints.
MakeBetterPrints.com gives me a place to share that knowledge with you; What has worked for me, what hasn’t, and what produces the look and feel that I think expresses the art of printmaking.
All you have to do is be willing to come along for the journey, to try new things, and to focus on making one more step forward.
I can’t wait to see where this takes us!
With Great Expectations,