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Friday, 18 May 2012

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The Iterative Printer

What you need to know is whatever skills and techniques are required to make your prints look the way you want them to look. Learn that; screw the rest.

I'd say this is pretty good advice about how to best do photography, period. It's definitely the practice I follow, as I don't need to be a photographic jack of all trades, just the master over mine...

Quite the interesting post Mr. Editor.

It is analagous to spending 1 year with 1 camera & 1 lens.

Richard in Michigan

Nice! Great! Wow! Just what I needed. What else can I say. Thanks!

(the master print - as the name)

OPED--One print every day.
APAD--A Print A Day

The Ctein Method?

GUTDODP--Give Us This Day Our Daily Print

I don't belong in advertising. Anyway, this is a real gift, thanks for posting it. It really makes it seem less scary.

Practice prints perfect!

How about: 'A Year in Print'?

Assuming you've got your scanning workflow down and consistent, I don't see why this couldn't work for film users too. Do you?

...a name for this learn-to-print program. Got any ideas?

"Graduation"?

Mike:

An excellent program. The only element I'd add is a simple print viewing system. I've got a print viewing board I made out of scraps of foamcore that holds a print at a good viewing angle under a desk lamp on my office worktable - the lamp equipped with an Edison bulb. Gives me a way to look at prints in consistent, even light with no reflections at a proper viewing distance.

This is similar to my picture-taking improvement program. I set myself the goal of posting 3 new images on my blog daily. To meet this goal I have to take pictures whenever I can so I carry my camera with me always. The pictures don't have to be portfolio quality but they have to be "blog-worthy." This puts me under a lot of pressure to take pictures and to have my camera with me all the time. It also forces me to see pictures more. I can't walk down the street without looking for lines, shapes, colors, contrasts and juxtapositions anymore. I also have a keener sense of what makes a picture and what doesn't, what framing makes sense, when rule of thirds helps and when it hinders, when people look interesting and when they don't, when I need to straighten the horizon line and when to leave it awry. I think the religious practice has helped and I'm tempted to take up your printing challenge now...
Adam (http://obblogato.wordpress.com)

Mike,

It's obvious, really:

"Master Digital Printing in 365 Easy Steps"

I'll try this over the summer.

However, here's a completely off-the-wall response that has nothing to do with printing. I use your "detailed program" technique for...exercise.

I don't like programmed exercise, where you go to a club and put on your sweats and work out for an hour. I've never been able to do that, routinely, in less than two hours. Too much time. Even buying the equipment and working out for an hour at home takes a lot more than an hour (time it sometime: from the time you put on a t-shirt, to the time you start another activity.)

I also hate the weight-lifting, jogging kind of exercise as a general matter -- I have much more interesting things to do, and not enough time for them. Still, I need the exercise just to keep the body going.

So, when I'm working, and it comes time for a short break, I pick up a couple of dumbbells or a couple of exercise bands and do curls and lifts. No change of clothes required, because I don't do so many that I get sweaty. Then back to work. Same thing with crunches (sit-ups are bad for your back.) Get a break, do a few crunches. The longest thing I do is an elliptical machine, which I do in my underwear right after I get up...and I watch TV while I do it, since I'd look at the news anyway. CNN, CNBC, FOX, ESPN, etc., do these loops, so there's never a time you can't get a complete shot of the news.

This is similar to your whole program for printing, which never really soaks up too much time at one point, but which does a lot of good over a relatively short period of time.

Here's a name for the program: "Print Me"

Excellent program. The truth is that, in art as in the rest of life, experience and practice always trump talent.

Weirdly, getting experience seems to work better when you're not entirely paying attention to the process -- perhaps because it's less precious and fussy that way.

I am an occasional printer. I probably have only averaged 20-30 prints a year (not including things sent to a lab). Just the past month I went out and bought a couple new boxes of paper and started printing. I have been happy with the results, but have always wondered how to go about improving them. I am in the "I don't know what I don't know" stage. The purely technological aspects of calibrating the monitor and using the proper printer/paper profile are easy to read about and implement, it is the artistic know-how that isn't so easily explained/learned. This sounds like a perfect exercise to help develop ones own experience and artistic vision. I will definitely give it a try - thanks for the push!

Nooooo! I think I can't resist the urge to buy a printer much longer anymore D:

You can call the program T.O.P. (Time Out for Printing)

I will do this. I am far too self-conscious of the amount of pictures on my hard drive that never see the light of day.

Now, EQUIPMENT..... I have a 7 year old (relatively) lightly used Epson R200. Takes 6 inks. Left sitting around WAY too often sometimes. Is it worth tackling this project with this fossil?

Excellent!
This is basically how I learned to print B&W 40 years ago. I studied printing in photography school, at the end of the course my instructor made us all promise to print one neg every day for a year. It really worked.

"Is it worth tackling this project with this fossil?"

Sure, why not? If you can still make prints with it. Start out with that. You'll know in a few months (or even weeks) if you're getting into the program or if it's going to splutter and die for you. If the former, there's plenty of time to get a new printer later on. And by that time, you'll know better what you want. And if the latter, then you haven't wasted any money.

Go for it.

Mike

Excellent idea! Thank you Mike! Another suggestion would be to keep a notebook or write on the back of each print that information you may find valuable, e.g., your entire workflow, those parameters that are most important, a sharpening tool or technique or setting, which profile you used, or rendering intent, even perhaps the paper type. Whatever works for you!

Ouch! Sounds like actual work. I was hoping I could just read Ctein's column and become an expert that way. Are you telling me I really have to print?

"I can't think of a name for this learn-to-print program. Got any ideas? "

"Realization"

Moose

"For this first day only, take some time, and a few sheets of paper if you need to, to get what you think is a "competent" print."

How do you get a "competent" print? Do you adjust the printer settings, or make adjustments to the image file, or both? And is this for the first day only, you're not supposed to make any adjustments after that (until the master print, that is)?

"P.S. I can't think of a name for this learn-to-print program. Got any ideas?"

Got Print?

I don't know that I can trust your printing advise. Didn't you think it was a good idea to buy an HP B9180?

Great concept, but for many it may be best to lose the whole paper/printer idea. Just do your best in perfecting the print and upload it to an acceptable printing place for practice. I use Costco and have their ICC profiles. I am tired of buying the consumables. When you want a print to go to the next level hire a pro to print it.

I hate to think how much I spent on paper (and a RIP) when I got started doing digital printing. The printers were not quite ready for prime time, so you had to both learn and work on tuning the print. I think this is a great idea, and tracks what you had to do to be a good darkroom printer - make a lot of prints, and study each one to figure out what you could do better.

I find that when I need prints for an exhibition I get quite suitable ones from Costco. It is necessary to prepare the images in advance with Photoshop, but that would also be true with any printer. The prints are made on Fujicolor paper with a laser printer. And you can't beat a price of $2.99 for an 11x14 print.

Oh sure, you make it sound so easy.

I wish I had done this when I started as it looks much more efficient and probably cheaper than the trial and error method of printing my "best" over and over until I got what I thought was right, and then, a few months later, redo it to a newer "right."

I may actually try this anyway for a short time. I'm not sure how long I can do five a week, but perhaps throughout the summer. Anyway, excellent advice as we always find on TOP.

Mike's Practice-Makes-Perfect plan is virtually guaranteed to make nearly all followers more comfortable with their printers (or their money back!). But I am rather skeptical about its potential to actually make most participants better photographic printers for two main reasons.

1. The print is fundamentally reliant on the file which is reliant on preparatory post-processing. This is the aspect of today's amateur photography scene that I most often see in ruins. Overly-contrasty, over-saturated, overly-sharpened, and overly-HDR-ized images seem to be the norm. The hazard of mainly using any ol' image for "today's" print is that your natural tendency may be to try to make a silk purse from a sow's ear using such blunt-force slider work.

So to help avoid that trap I suggest creating daily images for this work paying particular attention to light. They need not be anything more elaborate than 10-minute desktop still life compositions lit with window light. But, personally, I think it's very important to incorporate the full-circle of image creation through image representation into this program to really get yourself a good grounding. Gaining a more refined and sophisticated eye for capturing light and how it can be more sensitively expressed in an image represents 90% of the game towards getting better prints (and generally better photographic results). Light, not ink, is the name of the game in photography and in prints.

2. Mike's program expects participants to become better printers largely by hammering away for a year and then voila! Hmmm, maybe. But it's too much of a closed-loop. Once again, I strongly believe that you really need to look at good work to elevate your sensibilities. If you're working within a purely self-referential framework with no outside influences chances are 50-50 that you'll actually become worse.

So if you're devoted to the notion of improving your own home printing skills I agree with Mike's concept to adopt a long-term skill building plan. But I strongly advise that you proceed less hermetically by forcing yourself to look at some truly fine printing during that period in person and/or also seek a source of good direct feedback from someone with a refined eye. Museum exhibitions, fine books, even auction catalogs are all excellent sources of nourishment. (No, the Internet is fine for locating such references but -not- for seeing work.)

If you're only an occasional printer with little or no in-home facilities consider, instead, using an outside service. The fact is that many, and maybe most, top art photographers send their work out to be printed. It makes a lot of sense particularly today when you can digitally sculpt the image before sending it to a printer.

Just my opinions, for whatever they may add to this good discourse.

Serious question: What would you change in this exercise if I wanted to do it in the darkroom with my backlog of B&W negatives?

I'm really considering doing this (I learned a lot from the Leica year, this seems like a suitable follow-up), but one print a day would mostly give me a lot of badly exposed prints, at least for the first few weeks. Do you have any suggestions to adapt the exercise?

Thank-you Mike! You have just made learning how to print accessible to me. Excellent.

This is Very Good Info ~ I hesitated to print my photos because of bad experiences with past Ink Jet Printing Machines?
This little Article has given me the confidence to jump back in!
Now! Because I am still an idiot, how about another little "Scanning for idiots Article, written in your logical and easy to follow format of this printing article?

"Didn't you think it was a good idea to buy an HP B9180?"

Yep, that was a bum steer, sorry.

Although the output was indeed lovely, and my B9180 paid for itself about twenty times over. Twenty-three times over, now that I think about it.

Mike

Ken, this was specified as for "novice or occasional" printmakers. So I suspect the first three months to a year can usefully be taken up getting their printing skills up to their current sensibilities.

Then it becomes vital to raise your sensibilities. (Okay, overlap would also probably work.)

Mike also very carefully does NOT say "just any old photo"; he says "a decent picture you rather like". This is a far stronger requirement. I suspect it's partly intended to avoid choice paralysis, which is a problem for lots of people especially at that level.

David,
Thanks for defending me, but the beauty of the program I've outlined is that people will eventually do the things Ken suggests IF THEY WANT TO. The fact is, you can't force people to be better than they can be, or to have aptitudes and talents they don't have--no matter how many fine prints you make them look at. A plan like mine absolutely accommodates everyone at the level they will eventually choose to settle at. Some will learn how to blast out adequate prints for friends and family, and that will be what's right for them. Others will want to concentrate on the technical fine points, optimizing their equipment, and that will be what's right for them. Others might enjoy experimenting, doing different crazy things as the spirit moves them, and that will be what's right for them. Still others will discover in themselves an aptitude for the printmaker's craft, and find it endlessly fascinating and challenging and engaging...and that will be a good discovery too, right?

At the opposite extremes...one person might discover after five weeks that making a print a day is an onerous chore that yields no pleasure whatsoever. That person might then decide to sell his or her printer and look around for a custom printer or a local Costco (again, whichever suits).

At the other end, a true student of the art might make a print every day for a year and then keep right on going because they love doing it so much. That person might develop distinct and definite personal preferences and a "style" all their own, and read books, and take courses, and ask questions, and share knowledge on forums, and eventually become a true master printer him- or herself.

The exercise itself is self-adjusting--in the course of it, each person will find the level where they ought to be. You almost can't help it. If you're really enthusiastic, your interest will make you WANT to look at master prints. If you have no feel for it and just can't muster the interest, then someone else making you look at master prints won't do you the slightest bit of good.

I'm saying, let all that fall where it may. Just keep the prints going into the box, and all will be as it should be.

Mike

"Printing" today is little more than pushing a button. The art and skill of making a fine print is in the post processing as Ctein has explained several times. At the highest level each file needs to be optimized for each printer and paper. After that you can print 1 or a thousand identical prints minus printer or paper flaws.

Non digital prints are each an individual work with almost all adjustments done during exposure.

This is suspiciously similar to a year with a Leica, one lens and one film. I suspect it will work for the same reasons - printing is a key part of the Leica year. How else do you see to improve

A good plan.

Mike

This sounds great.
Just like the idea of printing myself sounds great a couple times a year. I get inspired by a blog, video, etc. I jump into LR, watch a few YouTube videos, re-calibrate my monitor, move into the LR print module, follow what I've learned on the videos, and spend the next few hours in an ever increasing temper tantrum which ends up in disgust and a waste basket full of failed attempts.
My current printing consists of uploading to Mpix for a test print then make computer adjustments after I have it in my hands, and pin it to my wall.
At some point I would love to understand my printing inability, and Ctein's beautifully printed image was very inspiring, but more for the digital darkroom work than the printing, for me anyway.

For a program name;
iPrintPhoto

Mike: I plan to type out a shortened version of your plan and pin it up on the wall next to my computer...and then go for it! I already follow Ken's plan of looking at great original images (I live in the SF Bay Area) and have plenty of photo books, magazines, and soon, a Ctein original. But the daily production aspect of Mike's plan is the part that excites me, and it is what I have lacked over my years of printing my own work.

I just received the latest issue of Black&White magazine, one of their special issues containing the personal work of dozens of photographers in several categories. Most of the images are just not to my liking, but it is clear how special they are to those who produced them. As you've written in so many ways, it is the creation and production of this work that is so satisfying to amateurs and pros alike. This daily plan, well timed at the beginning of summer, is a great gift to me.

Bill

Thanks for this Mike, it's just the kick I need to get me going somewhere with my photography, and actually making a commitment to improve both my capture and printing skills.

I won't be able to print daily, as I work a long way from home, but I will make up the credits with printing extras when I'm home. Howzat sound, Prof?

And I know this a real kettle of worms thing, but do you (or Ctein, or anyone here) have any suggestions about a suitable printer for this exercise - I'm willing to spend what's needed to get good results (input allowing, of course). Currently, I have a Canon iP 4700 - it does great documents and puts colour onto photo paper, but, well...

Ta
RobG

Of course, this comes JUST as I've got my darkroom ready, and I question again why i submit myself to such torture and sorrow.

Right, Ilford Art 300 and my smiling 10 month old's face on an 11x14.

I love this plan, though, and while a better printer makes everything smoother, it seems that the skills earned here transfer upwards quite well; I wonder if there would be any value to trying this process with places like Mpix and AdormaPix. You won't the control over all of the process that's needed for a great printmaker, but for folks who just don't have the resources to dedicate to a printer, ink, paper for a year(and while a moderate expense, it's not chicken scratch), a 30 buck a month effort in getting better than crap shots back may also hold value.

I know this topic is rolling into archive land. But I think it's worth making one more remark.

You cannot do it all well when it comes to photography. Yes, there have been a few highly-regarded photographers who have also been exceptionally fine printers. But while they were rare in the chemical age they are almost non-existent today. Photography, editing, digital post-processing, and printing each require tremendous practice (and some talents) to truly master.

So how do you want to invest your (presumably) limited time? Personally, although I enjoy occasional printing, I have made the choice to devote most of my time to actual photography (70%) and to studying photography's rich history (30%). Basic printing (and, today, post-processing) skills and facilities are fundamental to any serious photographer. But great mastery of printing is not. Frankly, few people know (or care) who actually printed most famous images. How many people ever heard of the legendarily great b&w chemical printer Voja Mitrovik? But you've heard of Cartier-Bresson and Koudelka, eh?

By all means, try to master digital printing if it's something you truly enjoy. But it's worth at least a few moments to consider whether or not it will be time well spent towards your own personal goals of accomplishment in the world of photography.

Mike,

How about black and white prints ?

I am definitely an occasional printer, albeit the wet kind, and I have felt my methods evolve over the last 20 years. The biggest change is that I fuss a lot less over finely detailed burning and dodging. My process has simplified to: get the paper grade and exposure right, then burn and dodge the one or two larger areas that really need, it, put on an edge burn (not enough to notice, of course, just enough to firm up the frame) dry and spot. Done!

The reason for this is that I determined over time that while I might decide today that this one leaf needs to be dodged 3 seconds, tomorrow I might like it better burned by 1 second. The detailed burn/dodge schedule seemed to be serving a flighty personal taste. My thinking is that a strong image will be strong whether the print is "perfect as of today at 11am" or merely "good" and my taste will circle that "good" print, landing exactly on it, from time to time! Once a month or so, my print will be perfect!

So, my guess is that Mike's program - which looks awesome - is at least as much about refining and developing your own taste as it is about developing skills. My trouble isn't that I don't know how to do all that darkroom stuff, it's that my taste isn't firmed up enough for it to matter much.

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