Get it on Paper- The Proof is in the Pudding!
How do you look at your photographs after you’ve created them? Do you get any further than viewing them on your camera’s LCD screen? When was the last time you looked at your images on actual paper prints? Back in the day, you had no choice. Unless you were shooting color-slide film, you had to look at your work on paper, even if it was only a proof sheet, and the images were tiny 35mm contact prints. Looking at your work only in your camera, or even on your computer or tablet is nothing like holding the prints in your hands. A print inevitably gives you a better sense, or taste of what your image conveys.
There are several important reasons to print your work. Printing an image gives you the convenience of looking at it anytime you want to — no electricity or battery required. What I’ve found interesting is that the more I study a print, the more likely I am to see in the image the subtleties and nuanced relationships that I may have missed seeing by viewing it on an illuminated screen. Sometimes too, you forget about an image, such as unprinted negatives on a proof sheet. I always enjoy the rediscovery of a great image I overlooked the first time.
There was a time not very long ago when as a photographer or student you had to print your work. Professional photographers would spend countless hours and dollars creating portfolios to get our work seen by the decision makers who hired photographers. When I was looking at entering art school, a printed portfolio was a must for consideration. Creating these printed portfolio’s helped me refine what work I submitted.
Even in the digital age of today we’re still all familiar with old family pictures and how important those are to us. How many times have you thought to yourself, “In case of a household emergency, such as a fire or flood, what would I grab first?” I think that box of family pictures is generally high on the list!
So, how do you get your images out of your camera and onto paper? Let’s examine your options. First of all, if you shot them on film, you can scan the negatives and make a digital print. Or you can get your hands wet, and go in the darkroom and try your skill at traditional silver-based printing.
Making a traditional silver print is a total hands-on experience. You have to put the negative in the enlarger, focus and expose, then wait while you slosh the paper around in the trays full of developer, stop bath and fixer. Before you can examine your results, you have to wait until the paper has been in the fixer long enough to keep the image from fogging before you turn the room lights on. More often than not, you’ll realize that a single exposure of the entire negative isn’t enough and you’ll have to try your hands at dodging and burning to get the image just right. Those that use the darkroom on a regular basis find it to be an almost Zen-like experience that requires a high degree of concentration. Eugene Smith, one of photography’s past masters, would go into the darkroom for days, blasting jazz music and transforming his negatives into amazing statements of his feelings.
The more common printing method today is to use your computer and an inkjet printer to make your own prints. If you choose this method, you’ll get the best results with the least hassle by first making sure that what you see on the computer screen is what you get on your inkjet paper. To do this, you’ll have to make sure that your monitor and printer are in sync and that the proper profile is installed for the inkjet paper that you are using. One of the best products on the market to do this is the X-Rite ColorMunki. Monitor Calibrators are an indispensible tool if you want your printer and monitor to match. Most inkjet paper companies publish profiles of their products to give you a head start on this process. You can find the profile information for printers and paper on the specifications section of these products. Calumet’s Brilliant Paper product line is ideal for inkjet photo printing.
Another way you can see your work in its printed form is by using a professional or custom lab to print your work. Photo labs today have become a much more practical, and affordable option than in the darkroom days. You can simply upload your images online and have them delivered to your door. The level of service that you get is directly proportional to what you are willing to pay.
There are many labs that offer fairly simple, and basic printing services, while others offer 50-megabit drum scans and high-end custom printing. As for myself, the resurgence of labs in the past few years has been wonderful. I have one that I use on a regular basis that knows what I like to see in my prints, and they deliver my prints on time. I personally find that the act of photography is much more enjoyable than sitting in front of my computer. So having a great lab to print my work as well as I could do it myself brings me a great deal of peace of mind. (Which becomes more important the older I get!)
Did you know that Calumet also offers imaging services? If you’re inspired to print your own images stop by one of our labs in Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago Rush St., Washington D.C., Rockville, MD or Vienna, VA. No Calumet lab near you? Try PennPrints.com for online uploads and ordering.
So where does all of this fit into the photographic arts and the future of photography? As a society we are learning that our resources on this planet are limited, and printing our images uses those resources. In the past, I just went through paper products and chemicals with near-reckless abandon. Now I work 99% paper free. What it means to me as a photographic artist is that I’m becoming very selective with the images that I commit to paper. I am editing my work far more than I ever have before, and have become very thoughtful in the selection of the images that I know are “keepers.”
I love being able to share my work through the internet, on my web page and looking at it on my computer, but is it really there? If the power goes off, there is nothing that I can do to get those images back and that scares me. Not that I feel that I make great, life-changing photographs, but I do know that my work brings joy and inspiration to a lot of people. And for those images, I’ll get them on paper. Proof IS in the print, or pudding so to speak.
Content and Images Contributed By: Richard Newman