I have read a few articles lately that question whether photographers really need to make prints anymore. Why bother with a print when the image can simply be shown on the computer screen or displayed via projection? It’s a good question.
Let’s turn the issue around for a moment: What are the reasons for making a print?
I think that the answer will be as personal to each photographer as the subjects they choose to shoot.
Here are my two cents, focused first on the fine art side of things: (1) I make my own prints because I want to take ownership of the expression of my art; and (2) I use digital printing technology because it offers such a wide range of possibilities for expression of the image. An image printed on glossy paper may have very different visual and emotional content than one printed on a softer, textured canvas or natural white, watercolor paper.
A print is a fixed, tangible expression of my vision. The variations in electronic display and projection technology frequently make it impossible for me to maintain control of the appearance and impact of an image--particularly from one venue to another.
In my opinion, the steps involved in creating a print (removing imperfections, adding enhancements, controlling color and resolution, selecting the media, and choosing the print settings) are essential, inseparable parts of my photography. Giving someone else control over these elements is something that I’m just not going to allow as a photographer/artist.
Making prints gives me great satisfaction. As I review my finished work, I feel as if have fully explored all of the possibilities inherent in an image. A print hanging on the wall has a depth and richness that matter to me. The experience of viewing a print on a wall simply can’t be duplicated with an electronic display. At heart, I guess I’m still an analog kind of guy.
As photographers, we’re always concerned about how our images are reproduced, either on screen or in print. Sure, we learn about color management and how important it is to calibrate our displays and to use the correct printer profiles for output. But, how many of you have actually checked the accuracy of that output? Are you positive that your printer is giving you the best possible print in any given situation?
Most printers come with quality profiles for the paper that is sold by that company. HP is one of the few that I’ve seen that also offers profiles for popular third party papers as well. For the rest of your output needs, you’ll either need to find profiles, hopefully from the paper maker, or from a user group (Yahoo has groups devoted to almost every brand of printer). Or, if you’re the owner of an HP Designjet Z series printer, you can use the built-in spectrophotometer to make your own. The final option is to spend another $500 to $5,000 to buy the hardware and software needed to create your own profiles.
So, you’ve got the correct profile for your printer and paper, you’ve done your edits in Photoshop on your calibrated display. It’s as good as it’s going to get right? Maybe, maybe not.
Anytime I try a new paper, I go to the trouble of printing a test print to verify the quality of the profile for my needs. Many people will use one of their own images, sort of a benchmark, to do this. That’s fine and it gives you a good idea of how the printer does relative to other papers. But I find it useful to use a dedicated test file instead.
The advantage of using a test file is that it stresses all of the critical areas you need to be aware of when printing.
Test-file charts are available from a number of sources, but the two that I’ve found to be the most useful are from Uwe Steinmueller’s Outback Photo site and Scott Martin’s color and black & white charts. You can download these charts for your own use.
The advantage of using a standard chart is in having a known set of values. For example, you can evaluate how well your profile and printer produce gray ramps from white to black, color bars of different hue and intensity, as well as common subjects such as sky, skin tones. If you see problems, you can make adjustments prior to printing to get more accurate results.
Sure, it takes a little time, plus some ink and paper, but the overall time and cost savings can add up if the chart helps you find that your printer isn’t reproducing a particular range of colors as well as it could be.
As a studio photographer, I get to shoot a wonderfully wide range of people. For me, it’s one of the biggest perks of what I do.
Recently I spent 3 days shooting 23 women for a layout in New York Moves magazine, a publication for which I’m a regular contributor. Each year, the magazine honors a select group of 'Power Women' that New York Moves believes have helped define New York through their contributions in various fields of work. I shot last year’s 'Power Women' editorial and was delighted to be asked to this year’s winners as well.
Mehret Ayalew Mandefro
Founding Director, TRUTHAids
The magazine’s staff and I decided we wanted to portray the women in a different way. Rather than formal portraits, we thought it would be more interesting to go for a more relaxed look: capturing moments of fun, introspection, pride, or reflection.
CEO, Comedy Cures Foundation
Typically, I shoot high-res digital with the latest auto-focus Hasselblad camera. But for this shoot, I borrowed an older-style, manual-focus Hasselblad V-series camera. And of course, instead of shooting film, I chose to use Hasselblad’s new 503 CWD digital back, which was designed specifically for this older-style camera.
This 500-series camera is made especially to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Victor Hasselblad. It has a 16 MP digital back and the image is square—just like the film it historically captured. It seemed appropriate.
Shooting with this setup allowed me to capture a more classic portrait. But it also meant I needed to take a bit of extra time and care (hey, it’s manual focus after all!). In addition to the extra dimension from shooting square, I digitally converted the pictures to black and white. The results were so wonderful. And that’s where my new HP Photosmart Pro B9180 came into play. The B9180 is such a revelation for me. It has quickly become a workhorse for my shooting output, and I’ll tell you why...
After each award winner was shot and we selected the best image, I printed out the chosen picture on the B9180 so I could give each of them a copy to take home with her. Each sitter seemed genuinely surprised and grateful by the gesture. The black-and-white prints from the B9180 had such depth of tonality, they glowed!
Eyewitness News anchor, ABC
Think about it: Each Power Woman was in my studio for no more than 20 minutes, yet she was able to walk out with a final print. How great is that?
To make things even more special (and taking a photo shoot one step beyond the norm), the magazine staff and I decided to use framed prints as the actual awards to be presented during the ceremony. Each woman’s picture was framed along with a card inscribed with a one-word definition of what each woman said power meant to her.
At the award ceremony last week in New York, it was such a thrill to see each woman receive her framed portrait--an award that I’d printed on the Photosmart Pro B9180. We all make many prints of our pictures. But we don’t often get to see our prints presented as awards.
I feel so proud that these awards will hang on their walls and will have a significant meaning for each woman. Isn't it wonderful that these prints actually mean something? It is to me.