One way to become a better photographer is to print your photographs. If you have ever been disappointed when viewing an image on a large display that looked great on the back of your camera, you already know why making a large print (what used to be called an "enlargement") can have the same result. Everything looks fabulous in its small version. Printing not only makes a photograph come to life, it reveals every little detail, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Like other aspects of photography, making a great photographic print is a marriage of knowledge and technology. The technology (printer, paper and ink) is obtained for a price - an exchange of money for goods. Knowledge arrives from learning the process of printing and, most importantly, from understanding how this is different from editing a photograph that is intended for viewing online.
Let's start with the simple before moving on to the mystically complex.
Like any simple multi-variate equation, we need to isolate, examine and then understand each variable before you load large format paper into your printer and click the print button on your screen.
Display calibration and editing for printing. Display calibration is no longer an option. If your monitor is not calibrated, your prints are likely to be an unpleasant surprise. Editing an image for printing is different than editing an image for viewing on a display because the gamut (color space) of your printer, ink, and paper is narrower than your computer display. Paper, unlike your display, does not backlight your image. Instead, light must be reflected from the ink on the paper. The type of paper you choose to print on will determine the reflectivity which, in turn, directly influences the level of detail, tone, and feeling of your photograph. Soft-proofing with a paper profile will help you see what adjustments you need to make before you commit ink to paper. Patience, understanding printing gamut, trial and error all come into play before you produce your first great print.
One more thing - if you have your computer display's brightness turned up to 11 (sorry, I can never resist a Spinal Tap opportunity), your print will always be darker. Turn down the brightness already!
Paper selection. The basics are matte, luster (also called satin), or glossy. There are numerous variations on these three types, as well as metallic glossy and semi-gloss. Matte reflects the least amount of light and is the most "painterly." Glossy reflects the greatest amount of light and loves detail. Luster paper is what many labs use and is a nice compromise between matte and glossy.
Since the printer (along with the ink) is the constant, the variable becomes the paper and how the ink reflects the image on the paper. Paper selection often comes down to both vision and purpose. Printing the same images on a selection of sample papers (matte, luster, and glossy) will not only reveal the different characteristics of your photograph, it will teach you tons about each paper's characteristics.
When it is time to make your finished print, the aspect ratio - square, rectangular or pano - can easily be incorporated into your printed vision. There is no reason for you to be bound by the classic 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, 11x14 print sizes. Just as you might crop your camera's native 2x3 aspect ratio, you can print in a cropped size as well.
Printing makes your visualization tangible. It brings your photograph to life and is as creative as composition and post-processing. Isn't it time to realize your creativity and achieve the visualization you had when you pressed that shutter button?
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Thanks for reading.
See ya next week,
Deeper Dive - Geek Speak
With monitor calibration out of the way, we need to understand how ink and paper work together in a printer. The major photo printer manufacturers (Canon and Epson) make it easy to achieve good results using their ink and paper. They both have excellent paper and the printer profiles to get great results. That's why their photo printers are reasonably priced - they want you to buy their paper and ink.Epson Stylus Pro 3800
Wait a minute, what is a printer profile? The printer profile (also known as an ICC profile) helps manage the color gamut of your printer with the paper you are printing on. It is a set of instructions for a specific paper type. It is likely that your printer driver software has profiles for the manufacturer's paper.
Printers come in sizes at various price points. I recommend that you pick the one that will print the size of print that you want to make. Consider the largest size you will print, mat and frame. If it is 12x18, you will want t a printer with a 13 inch carriage. If it is 16x20 or 16x24 you will need a printer with a 17 inch carriage. Want to go bigger? Consider printers with 24 to 44 inch carriages. There are printers for every budget. I use an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 in our studio. it has a 17 inch carriage.
Getting started with paper
Now that we have printers sorted, it is time to consider paper. 8.5 x11 paper is a great size to make test prints before you commit to using the 13x19 or larger sheets (or roll paper if you have that option). A sample pack of assorted papers will help you sort out how ink and paper get along with your photographs. My recommendation is to buy two sample packs of the same assortment because if you are like me, you will be learning as you go.
Tip: Starting out with the paper made by the company that makes your printer will provide a great learning experience. Your printer driver software should have profiles for the manufacturer's paper. Why not stick to these until you are ready to try the wide selection of third-party paper? Once you venture into third-party paper, you will want to use printer profiles that match non-OEM (third-party) paper to your printer
Making Photo Prints
There are lots of choices here. If you are a Lightroom photographer, you already have all of the software you need to make great prints. Lightroom has an excellent Soft-Proofing feature as well as a Print function that are easy to use after you learn how to navigate them. More to follow on this next week...
Need help with this? Let me know...