Don't Fall Prey To *Good Enough* November 28 2008, 0 Comments

The images we create are all in the printing these days. No, I don’t mean the manipulation that some use in PhotoShop to correct their bad photography or the odd creations some have employed and tried to pass off as a real image. I am referring to the skill of printing, the art of the computerized darkroom.

Until digital, my images were turned over to a custom printer who would take my film, process it and then provide contact sheets. His interpretation of contrast, density and color balance were always a part of my finished prints. Yes, I would instruct and look at color balance, etc… but for the most part I was rarely in the darkroom with the printer. I recall once wanting to enlarge an image of Big Sur. I took the negative and a sample print to the printer and asked him to match it. I showed up a couple of days later to pick up the print and much to my surprise the color was completely different than the print I had left with him. When I questioned him he told me that he thought the water looked too blue. I asked if him if he had ever been to Big Sur and when he said he had not, I told him it showed. His reply? “Well, it looks good enough for me!”

With a digital darkroom, the very best prints possible are in your hands! Given that you know exactly how a subject looked when you photographed it, you should be able to print it given that the exposure was correct and the color temperature was correct. It is still a fine idea to use a hand held meter to check your lighting conditions. I also bracket not only my exposure, but my color temperature. When I confirm that all was correct when I took a set of images, I then process digitally. I do not use PhotoShop to correct mistakes.

A printing profile ensures that the type and weight of the paper you choose to print on, along with dpi, and type of color management, is communicated with your printer. Printing is as good as the printing profiling chosen or created. There are an abundance of printing profiles. I recommend that you begin with 3-4 profiles. Choose the papers you like the most. Epson has such a wide variety of professional papers, that finding several which are easy to work with will not be difficult. Fine art papers such as Hahnemuhle are beautiful but expensive papers to learn on. Profiling with that type of paper will be easier after you have some experience. (Fine art papers frequently require custom profiling which is not standard in your software.)

Your printer will have built in profiles. As soon as you install your printer software, the profiles will be at your finger tips! Be sure to match your paper correctly with your profile. Choosing the wrong paper will give you a different look. Depending on the printer the wrong paper may disable your printer. Choosing the wrong paper will cause the printer to lay down the wrong amount of ink.

Also, be sure to calibrate your monitor and your printer if possible. Using calibration software will ensure that what you see on your monitor is what is printed. Further, calibrating your printer will give you the very best images available with current technology.

Printing takes time. Someone once told me that if I was printing more than 4-5 images a day, I was printing too quickly. While I disagree with that, I get the point. Printing is an art. The skills required to create a beautiful print demand time to develop. But your main focus should still be in the field. Like in the days of film, you must nail down the exposure. You cannot get a great print from a thin negative nor can you get a great print from a thin digital file.

Don’t settle for “good enough”. Coordinate your printer, monitor and paper correctly. Create prints that say, “WOW” instead!

(For further reading on printing profiles, read “On Digital Photography” by Stephen Johnson.)