In Praise of Printing

“The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.” – Ansel Adams.

Prints hangingNowadays we no longer refer to the “negative” but to the “digital file”- something that when viewed on a suitable display is actually a positive.  Change the word and Ansel Adams’ quotation is as true now as it was then. Still, there is nothing else that better epitomizes a photographer’s work than the photographic print.

The convenience, immediacy and instant gratification of seeing and sharing instantly and with no or minimum extra effort what we have photographed has relegated the joy of printing to a secondary role. I believe that too many serious amateur photographers are shunning printing and unfortunately missing one of the most rewarding aspects of photography.

I feel fortunate to have started my passion for photography in the days when printing was the way to see and show your work. As a young bachelor, on weekends I would convert my small kitchen into a darkroom: mix the chemicals (doing a little alchemy when needed for special effects), develop the film, and hang the filmstrips to dry on clotheslines.  And then, the real magic would take place: printing. Exposing the paper, manually burning and dodging, moving cotton balls, or a strip of cardboard with a hole, under the enlarger’s light beam. The last step was the most fascinating. Immersing the exposed photo paper and watching in the pale red light the image submerged in the solution, slowly coalescing under one’s eyes. Shapes of dark, light, shadows slowly taking form and becoming a recognizable image, albeit under water.

Fast-forward a few decades. Even though not as fascinating, there is still some magic to printing. It is no longer wet chemistry   (mostly – you do need ink, at least for now. Even though an inkless printing process is coming), and it can be done in full light. Whether you use Photoshop or Lightroom, the last step of your workflow (the print) has never been easier. The processing tools available to fully exploit and challenge our creativity as photographers are almost unlimited.

I use Lightroom 4. The Print module is a dream to use, far better in my opinion than Photoshop. This last version includes “Soft Proofing” (in the develop module). You can see a closer representation of how the image will look on the paper. You can select the paper color profile for the paper you are using from a pull down menu. Then one can check the full effect of the colors on that specific paper and see a warning of colors that might not be properly represented. Corrections can be made to the colors/saturation for that specific paper.

You can do this if you have your own printer or if you take your file to a commercial printer. Just obtain the specific paper profile for the paper they use to “Soft Proof “your print. And then remember to check in the print order “do not perform any correction.”

So, here is an invitation to the joy of printing.

Poly members now have an opportunity to show regularly their work on print at the PAB. Something we could not do before without having available the wall space to hang our art. Take advantage of this opportunity. We would like to show our collective work to the visiting public and to the SCACC community.

Expand your horizon beyond the projection room. Show in prints the diversity and range of subjects, of photographic techniques and artistic talent of Poly members.