I spent time recently printing a few Black & White photographs, cutting a mat, and framing my favorite image from 2018 and I was reminded just how much it matters to make prints. Some shots are destined to be images whereas others do not fully come into their own until they are printed, matted, and framed: the process that transforms an image into a photograph.
Given that these things take time and dedication, it may be that it emphasizes to the viewer that the image is important - worth the effort and expense expended upon it - and should be seen fully, not given a mere glance. In other words, the maker has demonstrated a commitment to the photo and this itself makes an impression.
I’ve come to think that a lot of what makes a photo interesting is really about this commitment more than anything theoretical or some specific technique, but we’ll save that for a later post. In any event, the transition from image to photograph can provide stature and weight that a post on Instagram (one of millions) simply lacks.
Conversely, not every photo is improved by printing. Some get worse. Printing reveals every imperfection in an image. If you didn’t nail focus, if the image is grainy, if there isn’t enough resolution for the print size, if the exposure was off, if the image needs a crop, if the colors are not harmonious, et cetera ad infinitum.
After every printing session I wonder, how might I change my approach if I knew that the destination for a given image was the printer rather than the internet? Would I force myself to hold the camera with elbows locked in? Would I take a moment more to scan the corners? Would I be less reliant on AutoISO? In short, would it make me a little less lazy?
Obviously the question is yes and although I do my best to not make these mistakes they creep in, often with the justification that I can fix it in Lightroom/Photoshop - or that any compromise in quality won’t matter given the low resolution of Instagram. This is where you need to draw the line, and printing helps.
I use an Epson printer and, for black and white prints, I use Epson’s ABW (Advanced Black & White) printer driver. My process is straight-forward: I adjust my image as necessary using the ICC profile that comes with the paper I am using. In the ABW driver I select “Dark” or “Darker” depending on the image, and make adjustments as necessary after evaluating the print. My goal is to match my (calibrated) monitor. I can do so after 2-3 prints and sometimes can nail it after one.
Black and white inkjet printing can be a deep topic, from exotic drivers to specialty inks, but for those of us more interested in taking pictures than becoming master printers, the ABW driver is pretty good. This will be anathema to some and I won’t claim that ABW is better than more sophisticated methods, but it works surprisingly well.
My reference point is the analog darkroom. Even though I love the romance of the analog process and was happy enough with the results when I had a makeshift darkroom, I simply get better prints from an inkjet printer. This is not a universal statement: all inkjet prints are not superior to traditional prints. In fact, I think analog contact prints from large negatives make the most beautiful prints possible, but for the shooting I do, the Epson ABW is very good and makes better prints than I can in a darkroom.
The point of all this is simply to say there is no reason not to make prints since current technology makes it fairly painless to get good results. But I admit, I say this as someone who doesn’t print as often as I should.
So Why Aren’t You Printing?
When I am avoiding certain behaviors that I know are good for me, like getting exercise or eating broccoli, it’s usually because I’m feeling dejected. What’s the point? Who will see these prints? This is why Flickr and Instagram have been so popular as they create a platform for easy dissemination and instant feedback. That’s great. But, if we agree that printing is a valuable exercise, then we need to find outlets for the prints. One of the ways I hope to do that is by adding an option on this site to purchase prints. There are many other ways to get your prints seen ( and I have a few other ideas) but the point is to discover a goal that makes printing a part of your process. Because printing matters.