One thing that I find to be extremely baffling in the world of fine photography is the fact that many photographers invest huge sums of money to acquire the finest gear, go to great lengths to create the best possible image by spending hours in post processing, fussing over every minute nuance of image detail and tonality only to then bang off a “good enough” print with inadequate care or forethought, using OEM canned profiles, inadequate paper and inaccurate settings with blind faith that somehow it will all turn out just fine. Of course, when the print is made, without another superior print to compare it against they may well believe their print is the very best it can be. Most of the time, this is not only untrue but it is a shame.
In truth, these days, printing equipment is sophisticated to the point where any novice can make a fairly reasonable print, that is, in the absence of anything better to compare it to, of course. I mean you do get a print, albeit one which could be so much better. But, while “good enough” may be good enough for some, it isn’t good enough for those of us who strive for the very best rendering of an image. A print is the final ultimate expression of the photograph. A great print of exhibition quality definitely takes much more time, care and attention to create.
It’s similar to making a black and white image from a colour original. We could simply select “Image>Mode>Greyscale” in an image editing package such as PhotoShop which would certainly yield an immediate B&W result. Alternatively, we could adjust the conversion of all the colours and tones in the image selectively and individually with intent using combinations of tools and techniques to ensure the resulting tonality successfully expresses the intended mood and narrative. While the former method may yield a “good enough” B&W image, or at least it might seem so in the absence of a better image to compare it against, the latter is usually far superior.
Fine printing is a science as well as an art when approached and executed with knowledge, care and passionate creativity along with a strong desire to create the best possible rendition of an image in print; to successfully convey one’s emotional and aesthetic connections with an image.
An image which is perfectly rendered in print represents a certain level of commitment and emotional attachment on the part of the artist. To take the time to make a fine print means that the image is worth the effort and we, as the viewer, intuitively appreciate and respond to that.
A successful print of an image is one which is the final essential component of a work without which the work would not be complete. However, the best possible image in a poorly made print is a failure, as a final work of art.
The process of rendering our images in print including preparation and enhancement of the image for print allows us to explore new ground with our image and our subject to which we would otherwise never have gone. Current inkjet printing technology also allows us to explore colour in print – its tonality, dynamic range and permanence – to a degree well beyond anything that we had in the chemical darkroom.
The printed image also allows us to explore scale well beyond that which is possible within the limits of a relatively tiny computer screen. These explorations represent important forays into the processes on the journey toward the achievement of the finest print.
At the very least, fine printing is a craft which takes time to learn. The creation of great prints takes knowledge, care, fine equipment, fine materials, creativity, experimentation, study and effort to create. Every setting or tweak, no matter how seemingly small, collectively adds up to very noticeable improvements in the print. The work can be daunting. It involves the selection of appropriate paper, the use of high quality printing equipment and inks, the employment of processes and techniques which evolved over many years of serving demanding photographers and artists. It is all much more difficult than simply hitting “print.” So many photographers just default to the “good enough” approach or they don’t print at all.
In short, to print our images is to see them at their very best. To print our images is often to truly see them for the very first time. Therefore, if our images are worth the effort, we need to make the very best prints possible.
The “good enough” attitude breeds laziness, sloppiness and certainly suboptimal prints. And when espoused by those photographers who spent thousands of dollars on gear and software and invested significant time toward the creation of fine images this attitude, when applied to the final realization of those images in print, is sheer folly.