Thoughts on the importance of printing digital photographs and choices for fine-art paper types. A guest article by Red Ognita with a short foreword by Joel Tjintjelaar
Introduction And Foreword by Joel Tjintjelaar
The following two articles on the fine art of printing photographs, are written by guest writer Red Ognita, an artist whom I admire and respect in many ways. Red Ognita is a multi awarded black and white fine art photographer and printer based in the Philippines. If you want your work to be printed in the best way possible then I can highly recommend visiting Red Ognita’s website or visit his RedLab Facebook page where he talks passionately and with a lot of knowledge on creating fine art prints and the importance of printing in this digital day and age.
But before I’ll leave the floor for Red’s interesting articles, I’ll take this opportunity to say something about the need of printing your work myself first.
“A photograph can only be labeled as a ‘fine-art’ photograph when it also has been printed. Everything else is just a digital picture.”
I like to offer you this statement as something to think about and certainly not as a definitive statement. Why? In this Internet era in which everyone can create a photograph with his mobile phone and put it on the web for everyone to see, the fine line between what’s fine-art and what’s not is getting blurred. What separates digital pictures from fine-art photographs? There’s of course the emotion that a fine-art photograph can evoke. But is a beautiful emotive photograph that only exists in a digital form also a fine-art photograph? I don’t think so. Because it eliminates the craftsmanship that can only come to light fully, when you don’t see it in a digital form on the web only. With the image compression and the limitations of what you can see on the web, every image can look good or bad for that matter. But a printed photograph, especially when it’s printed large is unforgiving as Red Ognita states in his article. So personally I would like to add that the final discerning factor whether a photograph can be called a ‘real’ fine-art photograph or just a digital picture that has all the elements to be called fine-art, except for one, is if it’s printed or not. Preferably large so no detail will escape the viewer’s attention and the craftsmanship and all the time and effort you put into your photograph will come to the surface. To me craftsmanship is one of the essential elements of a work of art.
As for myself: most of my work has been printed, and can be considered, if you feel my work is worth that label, fine-art. All the rest of my work that hasn’t been printed, is just digital art at best. You will never see the amateurish mistakes I made in those works that can only be seen if I would print it large.
Please enjoy Red’s article where he talks about the Unforgiving print and paper types for fine art printing.
The Unforgiving Print
By Red Ognita
I have never seen a person refine faster in the craft of photography than a person who just started to print their work.
The print is unforgiving. Every mistake that you make will be seen in a print. That slight movement will produce a “ghost-like” blur. That chromatic aberration brought about by the lens you have and the f-stop of your choice will be evident. That pixel that you pushed or pull more than it can take – yup! banding. And that dust-spot that you failed to clean up will annoy you to no end.
Every little thing that you did not intend to do shall be shown to you.
So why print?
You probably know some already. The internet has a sea of reasons. From technology mishaps, to heightened value for your work, monetary gain to memories kept even if yours fail. The list goes on and on why should you print your work. But let me add three reasons from a personal standpoint in the mix.
It makes YOU sharper.
Printing makes you more aware of your every move. Having in mind that what you create will be printed later imposes a discipline that you never had before. From the moment you plant that tripod to the point you send it over to the printer – every move calculated. Every adjustment will be precise and purposeful. You will understand the meaning of adjustment in small increments. You will learn how to be patient. You’ll develop a flow of work – of things to check and double check. You will learn the value of consistency.
You can actually hold it. It is physical. Everybody can see it where it hangs. Everybody can hold it if you allow them to. Every hour that you spend shooting is an hour away from your home. You have decided that your photography is more important during that time. Every penny that you spend for your photography is a penny away from something else. Don’t you want something to show for? A million brushes but no painting?
A print is a tangible object created by you. There was nothing, and now there is something. And you made that possible.
It’s a legacy – yours.
With the proper care, your prints will outlast you. It will be something that you will be leaving behind. It is something that you have created out of love and nothing else. It was yours and yours alone. Dictated by no one and was a source of your pride and joy. It is the way you have seen the world – literally and figuratively. It will be something worth keeping.
I am certain that your first print will be your worst. But I also know that if you do not do it because of the same reason, you will never get to your best one. Everything grows. This holds true to almost everything that has life, unless you’re a rock. It takes time. It takes practice – purposeful practice. Do your best every time – could anyone ask for more?
As it is in many things in life, everything is not for everyone. Printing may not be for you. But if you’re serious in your photography and would like to refine your work – try printing. Best if you yourself will do it – learning will be efficient and much faster, but it doesn’t have to be you. Take into account the economics of a printer and the regularity of printing your work. You can have a custom lab do it and, maybe ask for a feedback or a friend that has a printer. Share it with your family. Share it with your loved ones. It is the end-result of the time that you have taken away for them. What is important is that you print your work, and hopefully learn from them. The cost will only be a fraction of your gear, and the benefits would be tremendous.
Print it. Sign it. Date it. Keep it.
When you look back, you’ll be happy you did.
Choosing Paper For Your Photographic Work
Aside from what printer to purchase, one of the most common questions I get to be asked is what paper to choose.
One of the most important choices you’d make when printing is your choice of substrate. Today, with a multitude of options, one can easily find himself lost and confused. Trying and testing fine art papers is expensive and time-consuming. I know, I’ve been there. Without diving too much on the technical side, let me try to help you out narrowing it down. You can start by doing either or all of the following:
- See it for yourself. Expose yourself to different kinds of prints. Check them out. Touch them if you can. Do you see your work being in its best with that kind of media? Metal, wood, paper, canvass – all sorts. Then figure out what attracts you more.
- Consult with your trusted printer.
- Request/Purchase a Sample Pack from the paper manufacturer. A sample pack normally consists of 2 sheets per variety in A4 size.
When choosing a paper for your work, there are technical and aesthetic considerations.
- Gamut – Print color gamut is the range of colors a printer/ink/paper combination the paper can reproduce. Gamut affects only highly saturated colors. Print Gamut is also affected by the color space.
- Brightness – Brightness is a measurement of light reflectance of a specific wavelength of blue light. Simply put – brightness represents a more narrow measurement of light reflectance than whiteness. Some papers use optical brighteners (OBA’s) to extend the paper’s tonal range.
- Dmax – How black is black. It is a measure of the deepest black tone a printer/ink/paper combination can reproduce. Prints with poor Dmax look pale and weak. You would notice that glossy paper produces blacker black than matte paper.
- Longevity – It describes the media’s resistance to fading.
- Durability – The media’s ability to resist abrasion, wobbling, kinking, folding and scratching.
Technical fact sheets can be easily obtained through the paper manufacturer’s website.
If you’re wondering how come some of the technical information are not disclosed by the paper manufacturer, it is because some traits are paper/ink and printer combination. And they wouldn’t know what you’re using.
- Synthetic or Organic – Cotton or Resin Coated (RC)
- Reflectivity – Glossy or Matte?
- Texture – Smooth or textured?
- Weight – Thick or thin papers?
- Edges – Deckled?
Matte VS. Glossy
Matte papers are based on wood (Hahnemule Bamboo is made from Bamboo fibers) or cotton rag fiber. Their appeal lies in their appearance and feel. They have a texture like those used for painting (ig: water-color paper) – a look and tactile experience that is simply absent in photo papers. Matte papers also exhibit fewer glare. Plastic (resin coated) papers have the advantage of much higher reflectivity and as such they allow for the use of Photo Black ink, rather than the Matte Black ink that fiber requires. This produces blacker blacks and more saturated colours.
In short, if you want your images to jump out of the paper – choose glossy. If you want your images to be subtle – choose matte. I have seen original prints of the masters both on silver gelatin (resin coated paper) and Platinum (cotton rag fiber paper) – and the latter appeals to me more.
I believe that every photographer that prints his work should have at least 2 personal papers. One glossy and the other, matte. Or 2 papers of the same kind (matte or glossy) but one with a whiter base and the other, a warm base. This would not only make your life easier when printing, but it would also serve as a signature paper for you. Consistency not only in your choice of subject/post-processing but also in your presentation can help in having your own style. Here’s my personal choice for my work.
Epson Fine Art Velvet (Matte)
Pros: Textured – very pronounced. White base. The texture somehow adds sharpness to the image. Wide gamut. One of the widest there is with matte papers.
Cons: A bit thin and can easily be scratched. Ink dries in minutes but need hours to cure (stabilize) Needs to be imported.
Hahnemule Photo Rag 308 (Matte)
Pros: Smooth. Thick. Heavy. White Base. Wide gamut.
Cons: Expensive. Needs to be imported.
Tecco Photo Rag (Matte)
Pros: Warm base. Thick. Heavy.
Cons: Needs to be profiled. I did not like the generic profile from the manufacturer that much.
As you have noticed, I am more of a matte person, but when I have to, I use Ilford Gold Fibre Silk and Hahnemule Baryta for my glossy.
Note that there are other considerations such as availability (in your locality) support, user experience/feedback and price. A photographic print is a personal preference, and your choice of paper greatly affects your work. With the considerations above, I hope that you have narrowed your choices down.