When was the last time you printed your work? Today in the world of digital photography, it seems that printing has become less popular among photographers. The trend toward sharing our images on digital devices and via social media platforms has taken over from the printed image as a finished photograph. However, due to this digital world we now live in, there has never been a more important time to print your work. Today we see so many images in our day to day life that we don’t spend enough time properly appreciating them – flicking through Instagram posts, a split second per image.
Considering the image you just ‘liked’, what was it that made it stand out to you? Well, probably you cannot really tell, in fact, you probably can’t even remember the shot after looking at so many images. A print is different. When you put a print into someone’s hand, they will take the time to look at it in detail. Having more time to reflect on one photograph allows us to fully appreciate its beauty, composition and the story the photographer was trying to tell. Subtle images alongside ones that rely on small details within the photograph often work great as prints. These images can hold our attention and make us look deeper into the photograph and appreciate its fine details. This is something which is very hard to achieve when sharing images via social media since every photo requires a strong initial impact to gain attention on the tiny generic screens they are presented on.
Moreover, a print is a tangible object: something we can hold, put into a beautiful portfolio or get it framed for our wall. Presenting and embracing your work in such a manner offers a deeper connection and authentic way to share the photographs that we are proud of with our friends and family. A good fine art print will last a lifetime - often even longer. Frequently I ask people where they think their digital file be in 10, 20, 50-years time? Even if we are an accomplished and respected photographer it is likely that our thousands of the digital files will pass on with us. How would someone even begin to work out what is important from all the Terabytes of images you have on your hard drives?
Printing has always been a hugely important part of my photography, right from the beginning of my journey as a landscape photographer. When I started to print my work, it quickly turned into the end goal for most of my photography in the form of fine art prints for exhibitions and gallery sales. I feel a digital image never truly becomes a ‘photograph” until it is in a printed form, and nor is it finished being worked with until it is printed. Yes, I share my work with others via digital forms, we must nowadays! Alas, one of the biggest problems with them is the lack of consistency when viewing digital images, with each image looking different depending on the device they are displayed or a differently edited version of the same file.
When I print an image, it is final, it will stay in that form (as long as the right archival substrates are used). I can share it with others safe in the knowledge that they are seeing my image being represented in the way that I intended. When I sign a finished print, it is my way of saying that I am happy with this a finished piece of my work, or at least I was when at that moment that I signed it! Over time my vision of this photograph may still change and I could still return to the digital file, making further edits to the master print file or reprinting on an alternative paper to achieve the look I desire, but this is also part of the process of a constantly evolving photographic vision and growth as an artist.
Fine Art Printing
People often get confused by the term “Fine Art Print”. A Fine Art Print can be made with any (good) photograph, and differs from the term “Fine Art photography”, a different discussion altogether.... A (digital) “Fine Art Print” is an image printed from a digital file using the best archival pigment inks and onto acid-free Fine Art paper to ensure its longevity as a piece of artwork. It is printed with the latest printing technology, using a “Fine Art printer” which will likely have an ink set of 8 or more inks, providing a large colour gamut and offer the finest reproduction of the digital image as printed work.
The Dark Art
Printing is often considered a dark art, requiring very in-depth technical knowledge to achieve. With terms like colour space, ICC profiles, resolution; both PPI and DPI (which are not the same thing!) it is easy to see why, however, it doesn’t require as much in-depth knowledge as one may presume. Much frustration will often come from your first printing experience, your prints will be coming out too dark, having the wrong colours or of low quality but try not to stress - often they are easily fixed issues.
A good print requires a good RAW file to start with, you are not going to make a stunning 44-inch print out of a low-resolution file that has been shot with poor camera techniques. The next step to getting good prints, and one of the most critical, is to view and edit your image on a good quality colour calibrated monitor set to the correct brightness. Using a calibrated screen and the correct ICC profiles for the printer and paper you are using, you should be able to accurately poof the image before printing it, thus saving you time, money and frustration. If you send a file to a high-quality lab or print it yourself with a good colour managed workflow and the colours come out differently to your screen, chances are it that the print is correct and your screen you are viewing it on is wrong, not the other way around!
Printing at home or a lab?
When starting out printing your images, printing labs can offer a great introduction to the process, with the lab taking care of some of the end settings. Be aware though, they are only going to print what you give them, so if you don't set up the file right you will still run into the same issues as you would printing at home. If you do print with a lab, choose wisely! While high-quality labs do a great job, cost-effective online printing and/or from large chain stores might seem a cheap option, but their prints are not likely to be “Fine Art” quality prints due to the budget inks and papers used. The printer might also be operated by someone that knows little more than yourself about printing!
Printing at home can offer much more control and a full understanding of the printing process, allowing the ability to experiment. I have an Epson SureColour P800 in the office that I use for all of my smaller work (up to A2 sheets/17” rolls). These modem ‘pro-consumer’ printers are easy to operate with basic printing knowledge and produce the same results – in terms of quality and colour – as their larger 24”/44” cousins. One of the biggest things that has changed home printing for photographers is the print module within Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. Compared to Photoshop it has made setting up print files much easier, automating a lot of the process like file size, colour space, and sharpening – allowing you to print directly from your RAW file.
So the next time you take a stunning image that you are proud of, make sure you finish its journey as a finished photograph by turning it into a beautiful print that you can enjoy and share with your friends and family.