The Printed Image
Produce Photographs to Be Printed, Not Just a Digital Image
Back in the old days, and by the old days I’m talking about before about 2004, photographers honed their craft and made decisions based on how the images they produced would be printed. For a wedding photographer that might mean how the images would be shown in an album. For a commercial photographer, that could be how their images show in a magazine, or on a billboard. For myself and other portrait photographers, this usually translated into how their images would be seen as a canvas or framed image in someones home or office. But for some reason, at least for the majority of new wedding and portrait photographers, this is no longer the case. What the hell happened? For those of you who are old enough to remember, there used to be an air of magical suspense when you would go the photo lab and open your envelope that held your prints. It even had that “new print” smell. Unfortunately that is gone, and with it a level of excitement and quality, probably never to return.
In today’s world of photography it seems that the way to view an image is in some type of electronic form. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs and personal websites rule when it comes to showing off ones photo skills. I personally hate this. I hate the fact that someone can go out and purchase the newest iPhone, or a camera kit at a big box store, set the camera to some automatic mode, use a few filters, and voila’, not only do you have an image to oooh and aaaah over, but somehow this makes you a photographer. But I digress. This article isn’t to bash the current generation of photographers, or to to make an argument that todays photographers don’t deserve credit. On the contrary, todays photographers have taken the industry to places it may have never ventured without easy to buy and easy to use digital cameras. No, this article is about the Printed Image.
The Printed Image is, in my opinion, the ultimate in image quality of a photograph, and a photographers ability to produce a perfect image. You see, with a printed image there are no tweeks or adjustments left to do once it’s printed. With a digital presentation of an image, whether online or heaven forbid on a phone or tablet, there can be endless adjustments made depending on the viewer, and the mood and taste of the photographer/artist. Not so with a printed image. The printed images forces the artist to carefully consider all of the possibilities before making that final print. Of course a photographer can re print their image, and I myself have done this many times over the years, but each time I need to print the image, many critical factors come into play. First, the raw image quality cannot be hidden. I’m not talking about whether you shoot in raw or in jpg mode, I’m talking about the quality of the image as it was captured on your sensor. Was the image sharp, crisp, exposed properly? Was the focus and bokeh the way it should have been? Was the camera and more importantly the lenses you used of a quality that they will resolve up the desired print size? All of these factors and more come into play when you’re printing your image (of larger sizes) versus just showing an image digitally. And for me, this is where the talent AND knowledge of a photographer is really shown. How does your image look when it’s printed as a 30×40 inch canvas or framed print? How does it look on the wall. Sure it can look good on a blog or phone, but how will it stand up in real life?
Once a year I make a pilgrimage to either the WPPI or PPA conventions and print competition. Note that I said “print” competition and not photo competition. At these conventions, images are judged and awards given to photographers who have superior printed images. No digital images are judged. I’ve heard rumblings that this might change in the future, and what a shame that would be. By making photographers print their images for completion, requires them to take their art and skill to a different level than amateurs generally stay. It requires photographers to show their images in a manner that leaves mistakes and flaws, nowhere to hid. As is the case with any printed image for a photographers clients. I hope this never changes. For I believe that even in this day of fast, convenient, and inexpensive photography, clients still ultimately want to see and hold a finished photograph. As a professional photographer of 20 something years, I absolutely understand the benefits of the modern world of digital photography. That being said, no matter what camera I use, my end goal will always be to create a beautiful photograph to be printed and enjoyed by my clients for years to come.