The Arduous and Rewarding Process of Printing

The Arduous and Rewarding Process of Printing

I mentioned some time back that I had purchased a printer, a Canon Pixma Pro-100 to be exact.  Due a number of factors I haven't had a lot of time to print since I bought my printer.  In all honesty, there was some procrastination involved.  I did a few 8.5x11" prints to get a feel for different papers and what it took to get my images looking like I wanted on paper.  In my limited experience with printing so far I have learned one thing for certain.  Producing a good print is an entirely different process than producing something for screen.

In all the time (about 4 years now) I have been taking pictures my end target has been a JPEG file for display on a computer screen.  It has been a largely unconscious process.  By that I mean that I never really thought about producing an image specifically for a particular output medium.  I simply made my images look as best as I could on backlit screens because that was pretty much the only place they were viewed until recently.  I have learned lately that processing for the print is similar only to a point. Getting an image looking great on the screen doesn't necessarily mean it will look great in print.  I'm slowly learning how to "develop" my images on a computer screen for output to paper.

Paper choice has a tremendous impact on the final look.  I'm still figuring out what I like.  I'm experimenting with smaller prints using sample packs from various companies.  When it comes to paper it is important to me to balance the tactile with the visual.  There are some papers that feel great but don't hold the ink well, at least with my printer.  Some look incredible but the feel of the paper fails to strike a chord with me.  Why is feel important?  Well, I have a couple of purposes in my for my prints. The larger prints will be going in a portfolio book in clear sleeves or possibly in a frame behind glass. Feel doesn't come into play here, although texture does.  It has a lot to do with how the light reflects off the paper.  My smaller prints will either go in archival boxes or be bound in books with no protective sleeves.  People will be touching these and it is just as important for me to have a pleasing texture as it is for the images to have a great visual impact.

While I've been playing with the diverse papers, I've been eyeing the box of 13x19" Canon Luster paper that came in the package deal with my printer.  I wasn't sure what to do with it until my friend Andy showed me his prints with that paper in an Itoya portfolio.  I was sold on this presentation and ordered my own portfolio.  For this portfolio, I want to showcase my best images, including portraits, landscapes, city scenes, etc.  Choosing my best 40 or so images for display in a book that presents who I am as a photographer...this is where I've been struggling for a couple of weeks now.

I've taken a lot of images over the years and shared a whole lot of them with the world.  The nature of the internet makes it easy to freely share in large quantities.  It can be more become quantity than quality sometimes; I certainly don't post only my best images on my website or the various social media outlets.  I post things I like without necessarily giving too much serious thought as to whether it is a great image - a personal best.  When it comes to printing on a large piece of paper, my perspective changes.  It's more of a commitment.  The print isn't a temporary blip on a screen that someone casually glances at.  It gets held in someone's hands and it is studied.  There is also the cost consideration. Throwing images on the web is virtually free.  A large print is a financial commitment.  Every click of that print button costs me $5-10.

It has been a humbling experience combing through my photos to select the best for my 13x19" prints. I've really been racking my brain in the selection process.  I chose a landscape orientation for this portfolio, which forced me to choose from a much smaller set of images.  As I studied my images with more scrutiny than ever, I found myself rejecting images that I used to think were pretty good.  Pretty good is fine for sharing a photo on Flickr.  It doesn't cut it for a portfolio of my best work.  It is a painstaking process but I'm coming up with images that I like a lot and will be proud to display in my portfolio.  At the same time, I maintain a sobering attitude that my best photos are yet to be taken.

Because 13x19" photo paper is not cheap (nor is the ink required to print that size), I've been using 4x6" sheets of paper to hard proof my images after I get them where I think they need to be in Lightroom.  It has taken a good deal of time to figure out how to translate from screen to paper.  I'm getting better at soft proofing the more I print and working consistently with one paper type for my large prints is helping me to better evaluate things on screen.  The look of the print is becoming more predictable.

I have been working on my portraits initially and I am pleased with what I am seeing on paper.  There is just something about a large print that makes an image really spring to life.  I am inspired by the prints and my approach to my image making is changing.  I have heard it said that the end result of making an image is the print.  Looking at these large prints has me inclined to agree.  I'll be printing more, most certainly. When I make images from here on out, it will be hard to not think about the print.  While the time, effort, and expense of making a good large print are considerable, it truly is worth the trouble.