The Art of Printing

“The negative is the score; the print is the performance” Ansel Adams

It’s a sad fact that these days fewer and fewer of us print our work. Digital files on the internet have an impact for a few seconds, then most are totally forgotten. Yet to see a well-crafted print is always a draw as it’s something tangible and tactile to look at long after the computer or phone has been turned off.

A few of us take immense pride in teasing out the best in an image file and printing it to the best of our abilities and interpretation. There is no doubt in my mind that more care is taken with a file for printing, rather than one that only exists as a digital image.

If you look at the work of Ansel Adams, a master printer whose work we can only aspire to, his before and after prints are well thought out and executed. Remember he was using film and doing his post processing work in the darkroom. We have it much easier these days as we have real control on our computers, dodging, burning, levels and curves should be tools to be embraced, not avoided.

Below is an example of my Hartsop image. I deliberately overexposed the image in camera as the lighting was very bright in the light areas, but the tones in the dark areas were threatening to go black. Using the histogram, I could be sure the light areas retained detail without burning out. 

Most of the processing was done in Lightroom to bring punch back into the image; the exposure was reduced in the central light areas which brought out the lovely warm greens. I consciously decided that the darker areas needed to be quite dark to give drama to the scene, but still retain a little detail.

A little dodging and burning here and there to bring out detail or darken areas finished the image off.

Next step, printing. Greens can be a problem with some printers, so the printing stage had to be carefully handled. We use a fully calibrated system, which means what we see on the monitor will also be correct at the printing stage. Before calibration devices were around you could waste a lot of paper and ink and get more than a few grey hairs trying to match monitor and printer.

If you do nothing else, we would recommend at least calibrating your monitor. Most modern monitors are pretty good and very close to showing true colour, but sometimes can be a bit bright. If you have sent prints to a trade printer and are disappointed with the results it may mean you need to calibrate your monitor.

I’m by no means a master printer but with the right tools we can all be better.

As I said in the intro, it’s a sad fact of life that the moment an image disappears off the screen, most of them are forgotten about, but seeing and studying a print makes a lasting impression and can go a long way towards to giving people ideas and driving the standard of your photography. Take pride in your work and print more often, as its clear that people are still very keen to see and own prints.

This entry was posted in Musings, Printing.

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