Printing

Apologies there hasn’t been a blog post for the past month. I care for my Mum who is 80 years old, severely chronically ill and disabled, and she had a fall recently which resulted in a broken shoulder, so life has been even more hectic than normal 😕.

Each year I enter a UK-wide print competition and this week I’ve been finalizing my images. It’s reminded me just how much I loath printing my photographs, which I do from home on a Canon Pixma Pro 100-S.

When I first started in photography I couldn’t afford a printer, so used to send my images to a cheap photo lab online, usually Photobox or Truprint. They would arrive back through my letterbox too dark, lacking pop and with the colours looking nothing like they did on my laptop screen, which was absolutely soul destroying. For months I tore my hair out not knowing what to do.

A 7 year old second-hand Epson R2880 printer, one Dell Ultrasharp monitor which is darkened to simulate the brightness of paper, a Spyder calibrator, paper profiles, learning the difference between perceptual & relative colorimetric rendering intents (even the words are daunting!), tons of faffing and a whopping headache later I was finally able to print off more or less what I was seeing on my monitor, but it’s only ever an approximation and a perfect print still involves work. This is particularly true when printing portraits, when subtle nuances in skin tones can make or break a photograph.

Disobedient

Today I was printing off 3 pictures:

  • The first, my Disobedient nun picture above, came out of the printer exactly as it looked on screen.
  • My second picture, however, looked muddy and the colours too muted, so I had to go back to the drawing board in Photoshop and do lots of fiddling with the contrast, vibrance and brightness.
  • The third contained a lot of skin, which for reasons unknown printed out more red than it appeared on my Dell monitor, so again adjustments were made in Photoshop before I was happy with the print.

    It ended up taking 3 hours just to perfect and print 3 pictures and I was fed up to the back teeth by the time I’d finished! I’m still flummoxed why one portrait shot prints out exactly how it looks on my screen, but the next doesn’t 🤔.
Gravity

This light painted image looks really nice on my laptop, but I actually gave up on trying to print it this morning as the texture on the background didn’t show on the print, the beam of light was barely visible and the picture lacked all of the pop the image has on my screen 😞. I have no clue why, because my Nun picture above also has a very dark background but printed off beautifully!

Feedback from members at my camera club demonstrates that printing is something many photographers struggle with, particularly when they first start out. The best tip I was ever given was to darken down my monitor as paper isn’t backlit, but the issue with this is that the digital image then looks too bright when viewed on a laptop or projection screen for a PDI competition – arrggghhhhhh!

The process of producing a good print which matches your screen is way too complicated and sets photographers up for failure. Surely to goodness there must be some way of making the process easier and more consistent!

Leaving the issue of calibrating one’s printing workflow to one side, there is also the whole challenge of affording printer paper. I attend various photography events during the year and many of my fellow photographers use a whole range of specialist fine art papers, the price of which makes my eyes water. I only ever use standard Canon semi-gloss paper for my competition images because I simply can’t afford specialist papers from Hahnemuhle or Pinnacle, though I do have to splash the cash for images I sell online which are printed at a professional lab on museum quality Canson Infinity rag.

I have to be honest and say the process of printing my photographs bores me to tears. It’s the creative and artistic aspects of photography which float my boat and I have zero interest in the technical. To me, I should just be able to press Ctrl+P and an immaculate copy of my photograph should pop out of my printer. When this doesn’t happen I get massively frustrated, not to mention irritated that I now have to spend my precious time and energy sorting any discrepancies out when all I want to do is take pictures.

So, if any of you out there are struggling with prints you’re not alone. I hate printing with a passion and one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been that all the print competitions were cancelled!

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