Signature PrintsThursday, March 12th, 2009
A wise photographer once said that the only way to know when you’ve got the best print possible from an image is to keep printing until each new print no longer shows improvement. Alas, the source of the quote and exact verbiage escapes me, but the spirit is clear: the only way to get the best print is to experiment with variations.
The first consideration when it comes time to make a killer print is paper choice. We live in a new golden age of digital printing, where there are countless paper choices to ponder. There are richly textured matte papers like the Epson Velvet, which is not dissimilar to a fine watercolor paper. There are papers with a mirror gloss so shiny that it appears to be glass. There are bamboo papers and rag papers, and papers with all sorts of coatings.
For this shot, I felt that I wanted a contemporary look with some texture, but deep blacks and excellent color saturation. I also like a heavyweight paper, so the Hahnemuhle Fine Art Bayarta 325 GSM felt like a good fit. So I cued up my edited image and set my ICC to correspond to that paper, and it looked pretty good. However, I know that this paper can really suck up the pigment, and this shot is (in my opinion) very dependent on hitting just the right saturation level to have the best effect.
So I cued up a test 8.5×11″ sheet that looked something like this:
Sure enough, I found that it took a LOT more color saturation in the background to get a print that looked good to me. It looks overdone on screen, but great on the paper. Those thumbnails may all look the same to you so tiny on this screen, but in print I can tell you that the difference between some of them is night and day.
I targeted for a 14″ print, but when I actually made my first edition of the print I felt that it looked a hint softer than I wanted it to be, so I discarded that print and selectively applied some sharpening to detail critical areas. I also found some minor color-shift in his nose that I evened out for the final version. Never noticed it on the screen, but it showed up in the print.
Some people ask me why they should pay a higher price to have me make a print of their image vs. simply taking it to Costco or Walgreens. However, they never ask that question after I show them a comparison between the two options. The hard work that goes into perfecting the final presentation of an image represents one of the key differences between snapshots and art.
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