I had a good time this past week talking with a couple of long time photographers about printing photographs. It was a walk down memory lane as we talked about using film, and how we would spend hours in darkened rooms printing black and white photographs, and about the exciting, and enjoyable, shift to digital images and modern printmaking.
Just like those days when commercial photo labs struggled to match what, with a little practice, a photographer could produce in his or her basement darkroom, I have no doubt that today’s affordable high tech home printers allow us to produce fine art prints that can surpass what most big box commercial labs will give us.
In my opinion it comes down to a battle between visions: The Lab’s or ours. For example, imagine packing your camera equipment off to some isolated location, waiting for hours for the light to reach a colour and effect that matched the artistic vision you desire. Then setting your cameras’ controls with all the experience and skill that you have, and finally releasing the shutter.
Until recently when photographers shot in colour they had to rely on the skill of lab technicians who would hopefully process the images the way they wanted.
Lab technicians, even though well skilled, could only guess at what the conditions were like when the photographer released the shutter, and I suspect much of the time found it rather difficult to recreate and could only guess at the shooting conditions.
Sometimes a slight change in exposure or shift in color will make our photograph stand out, and only we can determine that. For example, those photographers that have bracketed the exposure values of an image know what I am referring to when they are frustrated because they got back several differently exposed prints all printed exactly the same from the lab. The vision in that case becomes the Lab’s; not theirs.
Yes, if we are unsatisfied we would return the film and prints to the lab for a redo. However, more often that not, we just give up and accept the best the lab can do, or try other labs till we get close to what we remembered trying to capture on our film.
I am not going to get into a discussion of printers and papers right now – I’ll save that for another time. I want to go back to where I talked about what happens after we have captured that image we took at that isolated location.
We look on our digital camera’s LCD screen, and check the Histogram to make sure we have captures from which we can work. Now, instead of leaving our vision to the choices of an unknown technician and waiting for the photographs, we download our memory card into our computer, enjoy immediate visual feedback on our photographs, and by using whatever post production software we have we can follow our vision with precision to the final outcome: a photograph that shows exactly what we want it to show; our personal vision. How exciting is that?
With today’s digital technology we can follow our photographic vision from start to finish, from idea to finished print in a way that is far better that ever before possible. And, by using quality photographic printer equipment, photographers can make spectacular enlargements that will give their photography another dimension of control and creativity.