I attended an exhibit of Ansel Adams work this weekend at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. To say that I am a fan of Adams work is a gross understatement. I wandered around the exhibit becoming almost teary eyed as I looked upon photograph after photograph that I had seen only in books and on a computer monitor. While standing in front of one of my favorite photographs, Redwoods, Bull Creek Flat, it struck me square in the forehead. This is why print is not dead. The experience of seeing this photograph with nothing between it and my eyeballs but a piece of acrylic is the reason print will never die. I felt as if I could literally step into the photograph, the depth and subtle details that no silicon diode can reproduce pulling me into the photograph.
Just so you know I’m one of those anal, obsessive, type “A” personalities. I like to have complete control over every aspect of my work, especially if I am going to sign my name on it. That means that I print my own photographs. I can hear the majority of you laughing and some just gasping at the mere thought. I have heard all the arguments about cost, time, and so forth. For me, it is about the end product and not about the bottom line—much to the displeasure of my wife.
Have you ever slid your memory card into the slot on the front of the printer and hit the print button? Odds are that the print that came out of the printer was less than exciting. I remember my first attempt at printing a black and white photograph; it was awful with hardly any detail and a green tint. That one print started me down a road filled with foreign concepts like color space, ICC profiles, color management, monitor calibration, and the list goes on. This is without a doubt the number one reason that no one wants to print an image onto paper themselves—“it’s really difficult to get it right”.
Today I can readily print a black and white image onto my favorite fine art paper Hahnemüehle Photo Rag 308 with fabulous results after only a few test prints. It is not impossible to obtain the results you want, but it does take time, practice, and education. In my case, it was nearly a year of trial and error until I developed a workflow that yields repeatable results. The point is, despite the sales brochure, do not expect to send your image to the printer and have it perform miracles on the first try. If you want to print your own photographs, do not be discouraged at the many failures you will have. These are all part of the learning process.
Whether you print your own or send it off to a professional lab, I challenge you to print one of your favorite images this week. You will get hooked on that feeling of seeing your photograph in print and after that you may quickly run out of wall space to hang all of your prints.