Printing


I cannot stress enough how important it is to print my photographs after I return from working in the landscape. Printing gives me an alternative perspective to my work; instead of merely viewing an image on my computer screen or camera LCD, a print can be handled and examined physically. Notwithstanding the obvious difference between a computer monitor and paper, the former emits light, the latter reflects light, printing is my next step in creating artwork; it allows me to further refine color, check for issues, verify resolution and print size among other essentials.


Slides from the early 1980s

Back in film days, there was always a physical print, film contact sheet or transparency after the film was developed; quite often I discovered my mistakes many weeks after making the exposure, at the end of a photography trip, and I learned what not to do next time. Some were quite costly lessons. Nonetheless, just because I can now see an exposure instantly does not mean I stop a practice that helps improve my photographs.


Today, there are countless books and videos on how to color match your monitor and printer output. Not to be the old guy who remembers when things used to cost a dime, but when I began printing, color management was not yet a thing.** For best results, I would repeatedly print my TIF or JPG files and make slight color or brightness adjustments until I was satisfied; not surprisingly, this mimics chemical darkroom workflow. If areas of an image are too light or dark; those areas may be improved by darkening or brightening, respectively, either in Photoshop, Hasselblad’s Phocus or CaptureOne software. I can make four or five draft prints before I begin to feel satisfied with an image. Most of the time I have monitor-printer color management settings turned off because it is faster for me to avoid dealing with it; however, monitor calibration may be the right way for someone else.


Zooming in on a paper print means physically looking more closely or using a loupe; it is very different than software zooming on a computer monitor or camera LCD. Frequently, I will notice issues that must be resolved i.e., sensor dust spots, scratches from my graduated neutral density filters that ruined a small area or perspectives that do not translate well on to paper – yes that occurs – a 30x40 print is extremely different than a 30 inch monitor with a 3240x2160 resolution. Each issue is different; dust spots and unintended detritus can be easily removed using software; unfortunately, larger blemishes can ruin an image entirely. Sometimes my enthusiasm is drained when I realize an image that looked incredible on screen needs to be discarded because I no longer feel it represents my original intent when printed. Printing is essential for seeing issues that can be overlooked on screen.


Long ago, I printed directly from Photoshop software. I have tested several versions of RIP printing software and made comparisons to determine whether the substantial financial investment was worthwhile. For many years I created my own printer ICC profiles for different papers. Fortunately, I discovered a product named Qimage Ultimate which offers a plethora of print options and controls; I am very impressed with its features and output quality, among other things. I highly recommend it. Now I use paper manufacturer ICC profiles for printing, I no longer create my own because I do not notice significant differences.


I have never farmed out printing to a third party or print lab; I do not want to lose artistic control over my images plus I do not believe a printer operator will be as passionate about my artwork as I am. This is merely my personal preference; I realize many do not have the opportunity of owning professional wide format printers and have no choice but to utilize the services of a printshop. Nothing wrong there.


Lastly, a word on print resolution and image sharpening. I almost never sharpen images in Photoshop (sharpening is done in the RAW converter prior to exporting to TIF). When I sharpen in RAW, it is in small increments; if I see artifacts in my photograph i.e., white edging, I have sharpened too much. The sharpening function will not fix problems. Print resolution is a widely debated topic; some will recommend never printing below 300 DPI while others offer differing opinions. From my years of experience, it is not something that I focus on. Keep in mind, long ago, wall size prints were made from 35mm photographs.


Printing is an extremely important part of my workflow; I strongly recommend all photographers spend time printing their photographs, at least as much time as they spent staring at them on the computer monitor.


** Going way back... I programmed graphics in assembly language for CGA, EGA and VGA video cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s!
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