24 April 2018
I wrote my thoughts about printing in 2014 as I wanted to inspire people to print in an age when achieving superb results is easier. The digital technology and its applications reached some maturity across a wide range of products at that time. It was about that stage that prompted heated discussions about the future of the printing (Is the Print dead?).
A few years passed and the indications are that the position of printing in our times has become even more apparent. Today many see clearly the relative distinction, sense of presence and charisma of the solid media Print. And when I say many, I don’t mean only artistically oriented people for whom the Print stays the ultimate finish of a photograph. In fact, the very (new) ways of displaying we now have, practical and brilliant, and that we are further developing make the intrinsic characteristics of Print stand out. Our monitor displays (and all the variants of viewing) working on a different principle can give us stunning representations but although they too come with their own kind of distinction their rendition is of a very different character. To this day I haven’t seen a good quality Print any monitor display could match for impact and impression.
We are often dazzled by the apparent power of the novelties the new technologies are producing and can then overlook some of the wider, sometimes deeper essence of what is also important. It has always been this way many times before. A sudden burst of changes erupts through the surface of a common making the evolutionary drive gear up so that we are able to make the most of them and to the best benefit. It is an emphasis that is useful and practical. But there are things that can be lost along the jump of rapid transitions. This seems to be linked with a learning and gathering experience in a process of finding out what is more and what less important as it goes through the whole amplitude of its course. It’s natural that while in the overdrive, the yesterday can seem a bit more yesterday and tomorrow quite a bit more tomorrow. In this light, there is little surprise that the print could suddenly be seen antiquated, out of fashion, a reminder of old times that gets washed away along with the other things by the stream of new stuff and gadgets filling up the shelves and finding easily their way to our homes and pockets. And as nearly every day something else was proclaimed dead the print seemed to have suffered the same fate.
That didn’t happen though. Some years passed and the focus on the print is there or has even grown like I said. The bulk business is gone for sure, and that’s good (for the environment perhaps). But that wasn't the core of the discussions. The consciousness of what sets the print apart from the screens became clearer to a greater number of people, especially in relevant circles of photography and related Arts but also in more casual photo printing which certainly is a more exposed area.
The impact of the advances in digital technology as a whole is quite great. It opens new possibilities and unlocks potentials of what we can do. It brought us more and better means to enjoy and practise photography which in turn has led to a more diverse field overall in all its applications, styles and the basic use overall. The printing saw developments just as important as those in the monitor, panel, camera, video, lens, colour management and other related technologies. These tend to evolve in conjunction and thanks to this a high-quality printing today enables stunning results. That I guess is where my motivation to share my thoughts about the print, about its fundaments and its nuances is coming from. I am likely to be returning to the topic and adding more to these notes.
The digital photography gives us today a processed image file. We can reset the extent of the processing in our cameras or converters. This is what we can work with in the photography nowadays, using what in many respects is a revolutionary technology. As we know converting the file information for a display and viewing the photograph on a quality monitor is one of the fruits of the progress of this technology. Another is further converting the information into a complex process of printing and the ability to print it out on a solid medium such as paper to achieve a different kind of a display. (Working with data brings a whole array of advantages.)
Using particular paper/printer profile we use so-called soft proofing procedure to see how to adjust/process the file because the papers have their specific response to the printing process. They also offer various properties which can be particularly suited to a photograph for nuances in colour, texture and other properties like reflecting the light, for example. The soft proofing is done on a monitor and it gives us the means needed for getting the same image after the file is printed on paper via the printing processes. Except that it will be on a paper which comes with its own specifics no monitor can replicate. Thinking that an image seen on a calibrated monitor will automatically look the same or even similar after it is printed on a paper or other medium can bring a disappointment. The soft proofing is best done on wide gamut monitors but today higher-end monitors have enough of colour gamut and fidelity that with a bit of a skill and experience achieving desirable results isn’t difficult. If we have the luxury of more soft proofing software available it’s good to compare their outputs for possible differences and make the relevant allowances, especially when they are routinely combined during processing of the file. As easy as it is today we should keep in mind that the quality of the printer and the execution are still important whatever process we are using.
After the file the printing is all about papers so it is a great advantage to have more kinds of papers at hand, they have a great effect on the end result of the print. Matching a photograph to a paper can be quite a thrilling experience and knowing your papers is part of it. This is again done through the soft proofing as both the experience and the soft proofing can go only so far. It is how we ideally start adjusting for-the-screen-processed file for printing. Soft proofing of each paper is different and can be difficult or easy. The papers profiles reflect differences among the papers and printers. They enable to test different papers on our monitor and see what we are getting with each of them. As said this is the ideal start when preparing the file for print - using the papers’ specifics, viewing the various options and results that we get with different papers and integrating them into the processing to answer aesthetical or technical considerations. As the scope of the possibilities is generally much wider than it ever was we need to know what we are doing (what we want exactly). The rest of the things in printing are of a technical nature. It’s the moment of pressing the camera shutter and tuning your file for print that is the essence of photography and its craft. Nothing broke that link yet.
For example, with high ISO images, possibly also cropped ones, the headroom for the adjustment is more limited and so the choice of the paper can be important for this reason as well. Other requirements such as placement of the print can play a role. If the place will be lit by a strong light or facing a strong light source we may gravitate towards less glossy papers despite their advantage for a milder processing. Similarly, we can choose between the ink and the lightjet if the option is available as papers of the later require more processing power. The dynamic range of both processes (and of the papers) is another variable but the theory doesn’t need to bother us too much because it all is there on the screen where the technical, aesthetical and practical considerations meet in various order of importance. We use the visual feedback via the broadly approached soft proofing as the optimal path for the best results decided directly by the photographer.
Unfortunately, the soft proofing can’t tell us everything about the paper. Or it’s maybe good that way, I don’t know. It can do the really important part but there are many aspects that it can’t show. The man’s mind is required to take part. This, I think, is the area of a transition between the data represented by a file and the physical medium.
The papers are smooth or textured and they are many grades in-between as well as different types. Their surface structure sort of bonds with the photo’s content and this has some further influence on its appearance (incl. colour saturation), details, sharpness, highlights or shadows rendition. The characteristics of the papers are so specific that no matter how well we soft proofed they will still be coming through as a unique feature of each paper. We can see this during the soft proofing which in itself cannot contain all these nuances which again hints at the advantage of matching a paper to an image that is to be printed. Hahnemuhle FA Pearl brings out subtle browns that don’t survive on other papers and can be even difficult to capture for a camera. Photographers particular about this know that the brown tones are tricky in colour photography. These would be brown and gentle orange tones of mud, sand, bark, wood, water or fur and combinations with soft light. Matt, metallic and gloss range of coat are other prominent features that we are looking at and to some extent part of the characteristics just mentioned. They also decide how the photograph comes into the view and at what angles. These seemingly minor effects can make a dramatic difference in how the picture appears to a viewer and are part of the print’s qualities. All papers used today for the digital ink and lighjet printing are beautiful and of advanced physical properties technically. The more papers for more images I used, the more reluctant I am to make preferences for just some and the more time it takes for forming them. We are using widely used and some less widely available papers from Fujicolor, Canson Infinity, Kodak and Hahnemuhle. In particular, we use a number of Hahnemuhle FA lines papers for they are available to us. They all have their pluses and charms and no minuses as I like to put it, and as I see it. These are high quality even exquisite papers that bring variety and exciting differentiation to the print. We seldom use high-gloss papers though these have their use and specific appeal as well.
The Photographic Print
28 September 2014
Don’t get me wrong. We enjoy on-screen viewing of the photographs immensely. We have always opened one window with an image displayed on our computers. And whenever finished with the business that is what’s remaining on the screen or is glowing into the room during our evenings.
But there is a difference here.