I was a bit wounded Sunday when a comment came in complaining that, excepting a pointer to a camera on sale (and presumably Ctein's column), there hadn't been a single article about photography on TOP since last Monday, a week ago. That person apparently completely overlooked my article on Friday about learning to print.
Jeez. I put a lot of effort into these things. So, just in case it flew right past you without even registering on your radar, there was an article on Friday about learning to print.
Even several of the comments on that post were good, I thought. Another one came in this morning from Bojidar Dimitrov:
I've been doing this for a while. Not as rigorously as a print a day, but for about six months I printed almost every day and I kept evaluating the prints from the previous days.
In truth, this was the most significant step forward for my photography (not only printing)!
1. After I bought the printer I didn't print a single image for about six weeks. Instead, I started evaluating my digital archive, searching for images worthy of printing. In six weeks I deleted about 60% of my images, but did find about 10 that I wanted to have nice prints of.
2. After I found the 10 images I still didn't turn the printer on. Instead, I started editing them, bringing them into "final form." This way I learned a bit about Photoshop.
3. The editing (on screen) ran invariably like this: I'd work on a image until I thought "OK, it's finished." On the next day I'd look at it (on screen) and immediately notice 2–3 areas that were so obviously bad that I would ask myself why I hadn't seen them yesterday. After 3–4 iterations I wouldn't notice anything worth improving even on the following day.
4. So I'd make a print, and immediately (!) after picking the print up from the printer I'd notice a flaw or two. How could I have not noticed that on screen?! So I'd correct that and make another print.
5. On the following day I'd look at my print from yesterday and...see a glaring flaw. After 3–4 print iterations the prints would usually stand a very critical inspection.
6. That made for many boxes of 100 sheets of Ilford Pearl, but like I said in the beginning: best money I ever spent on improving my photography.
Boz Dimitrov is the guy who keeps up The Pentax K-Mount Pages, one of the (many) excellent resources online for Pentax shooters. The method he outlines isn't very much like what I suggested in some ways, but it contains a crucial similarity: what I'd call "engaging with the work." This is something I learned early on in photography, and it's something David Vestal is very good about reminding people about in his many writings: as David often puts it, "do your work."
"Doing your work" is almost a cure-all in this hobby. Not satisfied with your shooting? Spend more time shooting. Worried about your camera choices? Pick a project and start working on it. Almost like magic, your camera concerns will simply evaporate (really. This works. Try it and see). The important thing is to get over the humps—the impediments—whatever's stopping you from working—and just get to it. Once you unclog the pathways and get work flowing, all manner of things improve.
So, for my part, I got in touch with old CompuServe friend Chuck Westfall over the weekend, and he's going to pass along a request for a review unit of Canon's new Pixma Pro-1 printer. I actually haven't had a working printer since the HP B9180 died (the second of two), partly because I don't physically have room for one in my home office. (That's another problem.) (Unless the stereo goes.) (Gasp.) But if I can get one to try, I'll get to grips with a printer again and I'll see if I can figure out something intelligent to write about how to make photographs look good printed. I've always had a strong sense of how pictures ought to look, and what they need when they don't quite look right.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by William Walker: "I agree with Boz—nothing has helped my picture-taking more than printing. It forces you to think...why? Because it costs money to print! Like when you had film in the camera."
Featured Comment by Stephen Best: "Printing is not photography, it's printing. Having to render a negative on paper was pretty much essential to bring a photograph to fruition in the day of the darkroom but not any more. Most people would be better off investing in a quality monitor and learning how to finesse their images instead of learning the craft of printing, something that can probably be done better by others. Not to say that anyone can't enjoy their hobby however they like but there are other ways to show off your images these days. Even though I have state-of-the-art printers available through my own printmaking business I rarely print my own work unless I'm going to exhibit it. Printing otherwise is just a waste of paper and ink. It also implies a lack of confidence in the whole process in that you have to actually print something to see how it will come out. Don't get me wrong, I love prints but I'm interested more in photography as a medium, creating and looking at images."
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "What Boz said.
"I know this sounds completely backwards, but I truly learned photography when I started making digital prints. Prior to that I had amassed a rather large collection of 35 mm slides, some of which I was very proud of, and thought I was pretty good. But as soon as I started printing, all the flaws that were impossible to see in those jewel-like slides spread out on the light box abruptly hit me between the eyes. When I had them printed by a custom printer, I could blame him for the resulting visual atrocities. But printing my own stuff, it was all on me.
"And it wasn't just printing issues like blocked up shadows or poor contrast management. Once I started applying the kind of analytical thinking and aesthetic discrimination that printing requires, I realized that my compositional skills were mostly cringe-worthy. As I got better at printing, I noticed a 'virtuous feedback loop' whereby I worked harder at the capture stage to get files that were actually worth printing, and that expanded my options at the printing end.
"Nowadays I generally have a pretty good sense of what's going to be possible in a print even before I click the shutter. And it has greatly improved the kinds of images I'm capturing in the first place."
Featured Comment by Bojidar Dimitrov: "Mike, thanks a lot for the thumbs up! I'd like to suggest a book that helped me very much with the 'artistic vision': Larry Bartlett's Black and White Photographic Printing Workshop. At a first glance it appears to be a technical book about darkroom printing, but actually it is about seeing, 'reading an image,' getting at its core, identifying the visual aspects that 'make the image' and enhancing them."