The Art Of The Print

 

The art of printing is such a big topic that Ansel Adams, the godfather of wilderness landscape photography and all American legend, dedicated a whole book to the subject! 

But don't worry! I just want to talk some basics!

 

Printing a Digital photograph

Perspective_print.png

Printing is filled with pitfalls, many of which relate to the quality of the photograph itself. When we look at a small image on the back of a camera or on a computer screen two things are important. First, the image is so small that we are unlikely to spot any major deficiencies and second; the image is crucially very different because it is produced from light emitting from the screen. The colours and tones will usually seem brighter and more vibrant as a result.

When we take the next step and print the photograph we have to take this into account. We also have to take into account that ink cannot replicate the colours that our camera captures in the same way.

So what does this mean for us poor suckers that just want to hang a print? Well, just that we need to exercise some care in the following areas:

  • When we print we will usually be increasing the size of the image. This means that the bigger the image is in proportion to the size it was captured, the worse the quality is going to get. So the camera you use and the degree to which you 'cropped' or zoomed in, is going to affect how big you can safely print. As a guide, a modern 35mm dslr can produce an image between A2-A1 and at a push A0. 
  • Our image does not emit light like a computer screen. It reflects it. This means that the picture will probably look darker than you saw it on the monitor or your camera screen - a good printer (person not machine!) will attempt to compensate for this effect.
  • The image is ink and paper. The technology behind ink, as good as it is, cannot do anything to compensate for the fact that it looks flatter when applied to paper than an image on a luminous screen. The paper itself also has a role to play, imparting a subtle texture and sometimes colour to the finished print. A matte paper will look much less punchy than a high gloss paper.
  • Remember I mentioned colours up above? Well the colour space 'seen' by a camera and many printers differ. This isn't necessarily bad - but it can lead to situations where a client expects one kind of image and ends up with one that looks different.
  • The colour of the light and the luminosity as it hits the surface of our print are another factor. Because our print reflects light in order for us to see it - invariably it takes on a little of that brightness or shade and a little of the tonality of the light source... warm and yellow in romantic candle light, cool and blue in bright daylight etc...
By Ephraim Moshe Lilien (Leo Baeck Institute) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ephraim Moshe Lilien (Leo Baeck Institute) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I suppose the long and the short of it is, that, despite what we may think, A printed picture and a digital image on a screen or camera are quite different things. A good photographer paired with a good print room will know how to use these factors to produce the best prints - not as a compromised digital image but as an artistic work that stands on its own,