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Thursday, 10 June 2010


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The comparison between prints and projected images is interesting. A certain organisation that gives awards by judging either prints or projected images rejects a much higher number of projected image submissions. Prints are allowed to be done professionally, I guess the same should apply to the others.

I can see that you've removed the curving branch (I assume that's your "blatantly obvious" change), and you've painted the building reddish to help it stand out against the gray-brown trees, and I think you've made the sky and the ground less bright to bring out details.

There is an interesting question, which not all of us need answer the same way, as to the relationship between reality and photography and the extent to which photography is constrained by reality. Would it be "dishonest" to paste in a horse looking over the fence if we decided the shot was too bleak and needed some animal life to make it more cheerful? If so, then is it not also dishonest to remove an inconvenient branch (which was, after all, part of the real scene, and removing it is not a subtle change), or to change the color of the building? It would not, of course, be dishonest to shoot it in B&W, but that relies on an existing tradition of B&W photography. We all understand, on seeing a B&W image, that the image is not trying to tell us that the real scene lacks colors. But in this case your modified print is asserting that the building is red rather than brown. I find this to be an unacceptable falsification of the scene, worse than the removal of the branch (branches grow, wither, fall off, and get pruned all the time anyway). Making the building red is, in a strictly graphic-design sense, an improvement. It just doesn't fit in with my somewhat journalistic attitude towards landscape photography.

My point here is that your own attitude seems to verge on aesthetic absolutism -- you know what's best for an image, and as far as you're concerned that's all there is to it, or so it seems. If the artist thinks differently, then they're wrong, even though it's their picture, not yours, and ultimately it's their expression and their reputation, not yours.

I'm sure it would be interesting to sit down with you with a few of my pictures and see what you would want to do with them. I'd probably learn something things, since you obviously have a great deal of knowledge and experience. But I doubt I'd ever just hand my images over and tell you to do whatever you think best. Once that happens, the final result is a collaboration between us, it's no longer my work or my vision standing on its own.

I'm glad you wrote this. Last time i was given to wondering whether the qualities of a photograph were depedent on the content or the rtechnical execution of output. And the answer I ended up with was: yes, both. Which you seem to confirm.
Interesting to see the example, too. From the changes I can tell in the small size (5 or 6), they are all things I would do with my own work (one I'd do in the field).

As ever, a question. If I have what I think is a great JPEG "final", would it help for you to see that as well as the RAW when asked to print? The point being, I can then show what I was intending.

Dear Ctein,
'A strong print draws your attention away from the rest of the room. A strong screen image owns that room.' Yes, quite. So could it be the gentleness of the way the print presents itself that pleases me, as compared to the much more demanding presence of the screen (of either nature)? The print is just there, ready to reveal itself when I am ready for it, and at all other times sits quietly in the background, as part of the total surround, biding its time. - Just wondering.


I think there's a quite basic split in how Raw conversion is regarded. For some people it's a closed event - for other people it's an open continuing process. The latter conception is particularly encouraged by programs such as Aperture and Lightroom.

The reasons this makes a difference are partly to do with what-is-often-glibly-called "workflow", but also informational. Dodging and burning in the "wet" darkroom we are witholding and adding pictorial information, and the same is true when we (say) dodge-and-burn inside a Raw converter. To me, it feels like "growing" the image in a slightly different way.

Using "dodge" and "burn" tools in a straight image editing program, however, we are forcibly darkening and lightening the same, limited stuff. Entropy.

You cause me to muse Ctein. If you were presented with the "after" picture to print would you feel compelled to alter it?
In other words, if a Ctein alter-ego had finished the file to your unknown satisfaction and then given it to Ctein Mark I, would you recognise completeness or push onwards to a new and better perfection?

I am one of those people who gravitate towards the print. For me the whole photograhic process is not complete until I have a good print. I find I judge an images worth by how good a print I can get rather than how good it looks on the display.

I love the effect different papers have on an image and the impact the size and placement of the image on the page has. I have small prints and A3 prints, mounted and unmounted. I can look longer at a print and could do with more wall space.

I noticed the snow highlight adjustment, and tree trunk shadow lifts, before I noticed the missing branch. And I seriously hope the missing branch was a requested feature.

I wonder how much of your 75/25% nominal statistic is due to the "rose-tinted shades" effect of processing; when I work from RAW or scan to an archive-quality JPEG the day after taking a photo-set, I reserve the right to think it could've been done better (or *radically* differently, eg convert to sepia plus pseudo-orton) in a couple of years' time, so obviously a fresh pair of eyes might make an improvement sooner than that timescale, whether the intention is to print it or not.

On your business of Zone System, "a neg for adjustment before printing"... there is a creative tension there, I think. On the one hand, it's normal to strive to get the neg "right" in the field and in development; on the other, it's only logical to accept that tweaks will be required, too. I might choose to make my b&w photographs with an expectation of N-1 development because I know that tends to give me lower grain when I scan it, not because I care about the minutiae of density-response issues on a darkroom print I probably won't get around to making.

"We make photographs for people, not photometers." - this is very true. There is a time to be technical about it but you gain much more by "being there", making a photograph based on message and impact of composition and leave thinking about how your printer options will handle sRGB until later.

I'm in the middle of producing a jury's selected exhibition prints for a photographic competition. Compared to Ctein, I'm a novice but parts of this column very closely match my experience. In the end, I'm not even telling the gallery owners about some of the changes I made (to what are all, sadly, JPEGs). For this particular exhibition, I suspect that most of the photographers will look at the prints and not realise that there was any dodging, burning, tone curves, sharpening or black point adjustment involved. I just couldn't deliver the prints without doing the work, though, and an initial viewing of selected prints was very well received. Despite the odd challenge (or perhaps because of it), the project has been a joy—very satisfying.

While I, like Ctein, have strong feelings and affection for great prints, the world is now LCD monitors, TVs and iPads. I think prints will become less and less important as output for photography. I lament the development, but have to admit to myself that I've never seen a print as stunning as my photographs displayed in full HD on my LCD TV. I much prefer the iPad for viewing snapshots as well, even though the old scrapbooks with 10x15 cm prints have their charm.

While there have been many predictions of the impact of new technology over the years I feel that Ctein has hit the nail on the head with this article. Not only is the value of great photography shrinking, but the next generation of photographers bring with them new values and preferences. Printing is difficult, expensive and unfashionable. I'd really like to see a statistic showing the ratio of camera owners making their own prints, having prints made from labs and not doing any printing at all from 1960 up until today.

I think the late John Hedgecoe said it best: “However, I think in some ways photography has become too easy. Many people don't really know how to operate a camera and just let it make all the creative decisions. In the past, you had to work hard to get a really good image, but now it's so much easier and that makes it much more difficult to be unique. Technology has made it less of a challenge and I think that has taken some of the magic and mystery out of photography.”

The removal of image elements is not something I would want to be done by my printer. Of course, I am just an amateur, and my printer usually is a big lab or a device next to my computer.

So, Ctein, your definition of "printer" is just not mine, which is probably why I misunderstood your previous column on the topic. So custom printing is not just bringing the picture into another medium, but also retouching it? This seems strange to me, as to me, those are very different services. Both worth of paing for, if I can't or don't want to do them myself, but you seem to present them as inseparable. Usually I would not want somebody to add or remove image elements from my images.

That said, I would gladly take advice from someone as knowledgeable as you on topics like color, regardless of medium.

Reading all of these columns on printing has been very interesting, thank you.

It has also made me more interested in understanding the printing process (I hardly ever print and use a lab when I do). Would you have a recommendation for some good texts on printing, digital and/or traditional?

Ctein, are we starting a quest now which alterations you applied to the print?
1. Remove the branch (sic!).
2. Burn the snow on the left side
3. Burn the sky (maybe change the color a bit) and trees in the upper third
4. Change the color of the barn, make the red tones more magenta and/or warmer, snow on roof looks cooler, bluish
5. Apply moderate sharpening
6. Enhance local contrast, just a tad?
7. Increase saturation or make color balance a tad warmer, don't know.

Hope there will be a solution soon!

And yes, since I discovered the benefits I regularly dodge and burn after I put the overall contrast just in the right place, instead of messing endlessly with contrast and curves. Especially I dodge faces slightly to make it pop more. But still I love photos that are just right without any local adjustments.

And roses as usual, this article is another great one, can't wait for the next.

I downloaded the 'before' and 'after' sample images and compared them. There are some tonal changes (e.g snow less bright, sky a little darker) and various edits to remove branches and leaves. The brick of the hut is redder. Some other visible changes and perhaps a few more would visible on a hi-res version.

My question is this: these are the kinds of edits I make to an image via the screen (I rarely do large prints). To my mind, there's nothing about these edits that are specific to printing?

I guess what I'm saying is that just using a screen - and not cross-checking with a high quality print - you could edit a image to within (say) 0.01% of what you edit with a print. Then I'd take that image to a professional print lab (which I occasionally do).

Brilliant, spot on observations regarding how we see photographs. Raw is my negative and Lightroom is my film developer, enlarger, paper and paper developer. I only print on demand, for sale (rarely) and for exhibiting. I grew up mixing my own developers and the digital age is just another transition stage in the evolution of image making. Making Photographs though hasn't changed very much in the last 120 years.

I wonder how many readers, like me, just looking at the tiny thumbnails embedded in the text completely missed the 'blatantly obvious' branch you removed from the first shot! lol talk about missing the wood for the trees...

Your example made me realise how little I go to 'structural' changes i.e. cloning to remove items from a scene... this image just wouldn't have made it to my 'fit to print' category - although, to be honest I print so few images these days, that category is becoming extinct.

How do you compensate for the printer having a wider colour gamut than your display?

Thanks for a great article Ctein, would love to read more about the considerations in processing for print.



And when true high-dynamic range displays arrive people are going to want screen images that stand up to lights-on display. I think the art and craft of "printing" (it wants another name, but may not get one) is going to do just fine.

Getting people to "post-process", "print", or "prepare" photos for display has been a bit of of a crusade of mine for a while.

Many people who had labs do their work have, somewhere down in their hind-brain, the idea that you order "a print" from a picture, and you get one; that the printing process is somehow straight-forward and mechanical. And that that's the end of the story.

This, of course, isn't true. I did darkroom work myself before I had much done by photo labs, and then I did some experimenting with pro-labs vs. Proex and Target and so forth. The machine proofs from Photos Inc. sure looked better than the machine proofs from Target! And my own prints were better than lab prints, even early on (in B&W; I didn't do color until later, and never very much in wet form).

Ansel Adams famously said that the negative was the score, and the print the performance. That's a nice way of putting it.

I even posted an article on my blog pushing the need to do image prep.

Finally, an anecdote about Ctein printing:

I know Ctein socially, through science fiction fandom. I take pictures at SF conventions. It's happened that Ctein wanted prints of some of those snapshots, and, being Ctein, wanted to make them himself. I have almost never let anybody else (except labs, when necessary) handle my negatives (and labs have sometimes damaged them), but even my paranoid hind-brain couldn't really convince itself that Ctein posed any significant threat to the negs. So they headed home with him.

A few weeks later, I got a package with the negs, and my copies of prints. These were 8x10 RA-4 prints. The negs were pretty ordinary, available light in public space at a hotel, so with fairly fast film. The 4x6 proofs from Ritz or wherever certainly hadn't been of any interest, except for the content.

But Ctein's prints seemed to sparkle and shine. They had a clarity and snap that I have almost never seen in color prints of my own work.

So far as I know (and I believe I did ask, somewhat later), he hadn't done anything unusual or exotic in making those prints. So why were they so good? I don't know; other than that they were made by a much better printer than me. I can only guess that his chemistry was perfectly balanced and his enlarging lens was first-rate and the enlarger was stable and the exposure was absolutely spot-on and the color filtration was just so and he knows more ways to deal with local and global contrast in color printing than I've ever heard of.

I have never understood the camera-straight-to-printer argument. That has never been serious photography. You would have a pretty pathetic "performance," if you slavishly just played the "score."

I'm fortunate that Nikon markets an excellent raw processor, and that the software producer (NIK) has provided one of their filter plug-ins for it. I can now produce huge multi-layered nondestructive files for 1/3 rd the space required for a single layer in Photoshop. I can mask any step. There's simply no excuse for not studying the photograph and working to bring out its best presentation.

My most used filters are "graduated neutral density" (burning & dodging), "tonal contrast" (tonal and detail separation), "unsharp mask" (for large radius detail enhancement), and one of the various contrast tools, as the mood to be evoked strikes me :) The least used filter is "unsharp mask" for sharpening - it become unnecessary after the above effort, in most cases, and mostly results in that unseemly white halo.

Since I went totally digital in 2004, I have spent more study, time and effort on refining my printing. The print is what I show people; it's what I hang on the walls of my house and galleries; it's what I try to sell people; it's where most of my investment lies. On the physical print is where the truth resides. It's where I finally judge my photograph; where it passes or fails. The ink color, the paper texture, and the internal vision all come together to present your art. That's not the place to cut corners. What comes out of the camera is only the barest of beginnings. Ultimately, I hope, that the viewing public will come to realize that.

To me, dodging and burning are fundamental Printing 101 decisions. Anyone who prints, film or digital, who doesn't understand its proper use and execution should indeed rely on an outside printer.

As for clarity and sharpness, these too can be aesthetic, not merely technical, considerations. Same with color saturation. In the 'before and after' illustrations, one could argue that the 'after' image, while technically improved (more clarity, more sharpness, more color saturation, etc.), the result is more postcard-like, with less feeling of abstraction and coldness lent by the more subdued...yes, fuzzy...and muted...'before' image.

But, hey, I'm in the minority of people who prefer a very early Adams print to his later contrasty interpretations.

I may not be a super printer, but I value being able to interpret my own images for printing, and continually learning how to better execute my own vision. Kudos to the professional custom printers of the world, but I also see a lot of great work from do-it-yourself printers - from people serious about their photography - that show me that there is a lot of talent out there.

Maybe we hang in different circles.

Well said, Ctein! Numbers can be useful, interesting, even fun. But what matters in the end is the experience of making and enjoying great images.

Thanks for this article, as it has helped me clarify my thinking: If / when I ever want a print that for whatever reason I can’t make myself, I should not go looking for a master printer such as yourself but a service bureau.

While I’m sure Mr. Pellegrini was pleased with your work and I suspect he asked you to remove that stray branch, if I gave you a file with the “before” image and you delivered a print that looked like the “after” image, I would be a very unhappy customer indeed.

Which is not to say your version isn’t the better of the two, as it clearly is, merely that I am not willing to let somebody tinker with my images to the extent you did his.

I've been enjoying Ctein's weekly contribution to the blog more than I expected. Keep the quality content coming.

One of the things I like about this site is that it not filled with mostly ignorant speculation. I know this is horrible, and that I will never amount to much, but I never really liked the chemical darkroom and am finding that I don't much like the digital one either. Here Ctein has answered a couple of nagging questions I had, and a couple more I was too ignorant to formulate. It has, I'm sure, straightened my path and saved my time. Thanks for a most informative article.

OK, stupid question time. In your view, is there a difference between optimizing a raw conversion for printing and for viewing on a monitor screen?

Ah! What a sharp lopper can do to improve the view!
Thanks for your thoughts — an enjoyable article (and miniseries).

Very interesting article, with almost equally interesting commentary. I find it odd, however, that there seems to be a prevailing attitude of condescension toward photographers who don't bother with their own prints.

My own process starts with a RAW image, and ends by me handing off a ready-to-print file to a professional printing service. All they do is print it for me, as I have neither the time nor the money to do it myself. I fail to understand how that diminishes me as an artist, not that I care.

Just as interesting to me are the comments which address the evolution of photography as it applies to finished work, i.e. LCD monitors, laptops, iPads, digital frames, etc. It's an interesting, thought-provoking topic, and a well-written article.

"Printing is difficult, expensive and unfashionable."

Finally; a movement I can embrace. Unfashionable is good!

Wow, what a lot to think about!

"The slide, even if shoddily projected, becomes a universe unto itself, not answerable to external objective measurement."

A gem among gems. Not as catchy as the photometer line, but I think more to the point.

But to write an obvious footnote: prints, too, depend on presentation and environment to an extent. Matting, framing and display isolate a print to varying degrees from the real world, and to varying qualities. And environment limits how much of the inherent quality of a print job one can discern, even if it doesn't detract from the aesthetic experience, or even enhances it.

That's not a case for mediocre prints (or slides)--on the contrary, I believe that workmanship that can't be directly perceived can often be sensed. I also believe that, in general, higher and deeper quality stands up better to changing circumstances.

"A strong print draws your attention away from the rest of the room. A strong screen image owns that room."

Of course, one's physical interaction with a physical object--the print--makes it a categorically different kind of experience than enjoying a projected image. A different kind of immersion.

A minor observation regarding viewing on personal device screens: one can assume that most viewers are conditioned to tune out the world beyond the borders of that screen. A different form of isolation than a darkened room, but perhaps as effective.

Beyond making these minor annotations, what I'm after here is better understanding the variety of common viewing experiences, and particularly whether or how much that understanding should inform one's process, at least in the case of "straight" photography and printing (or filemaking). Anyone?

Ha! I was so caught up in the tonal differences that I completely missed the disappearing branch!

The print tells all has been my motto for quite a number of years. As I read Ctein's latest post I recognized my own digital workflow. New clients bring processed files and when they return they also bring a raw file which I print as my eye tells me. Most of the time the client takes my eye. The digital image is no different than film. Capture to print is a process and my printer is a tool that is always teaching me.
Sometimes I get spanked, processing and then printing against the photo editor of a local daily keeps me almost sharp when I like his work better than mine on the same print. I find it is never about what I can do it is about teaching the client to see the print as I do.
I am asked sometimes about printing, few believe that you have to lay ink on paper and judge a lot of printing to get that knowledge base of the visual printing clues. My 9880 is as much a tool in my camera bag as my Contax/PhaseOne and Nikon gear.
Mark Prins
Inanda Images
Whitehorse YT

Hmm. This reveals some of my unexamined assumptions. It would never occur to me to alter the composition so drastically as to subtract a single leaf. On the other hand it would never occur to me not to bracket the heck out of my subject - and not just tweak the dynamic range - but selectively emphasize the bits I want and diminish the ones I didn't.

There's something in that about the importance of not deceiving by removing things, but influencing by changing emphasis through manipulating sharpness, contrast, hue, and opacity.

Why someone (me!) with a background in painting and cartooning has a fixation* on photography being "truthful to reality", I cannot answer!

*I am curiously flexible when commissions are involved :)

Dear Craig (and others who expressed similar sentiments...),

"My point here is that your own attitude seems to verge on aesthetic absolutism -- you know what's best for an image, and as far as you're concerned that's all there is to it, or so it seems. "

Good Lord! Did you even READ my previous two columns?! You've come to an opinion that is the exact opposite of reality.

A closely related point, for you and anyone else who doesn't like the changes I made. ROGER is extremely happy with the results. ROGER paid me to print ROGER's photograph the way ROGER wanted it to be, so ROGER's is the only opinion that matters. Your artistic vision is irrelevant.

Like I said, reread my two previous columns and think about what I wrote.


Dear folks,

Since some of you are wondering...The first thing Roger requested when he sent me the photograph was to remove the large foreground branches. I then queried him about whether I should also remove the smaller horizontal foreground branches in front of the barn and the orange leaves in front of the roof. He told me that, yes, he wanted those to go away, too. He lastly requested that the saturation of the barn be improved.

If you don't like those changes, you'll have to take it up with Roger [grin].

He then wrote me, "Having said all that, basically just do whatever you think would enhance the photograph." So I made 4-7 other modifications to the photograph **(depending on how you count those things) and sent him a copy of the adjusted photograph for his approval, and he said it was beautiful. If he hadn't, I would've made further changes or undone previous changes. Only then did I print out a final print for him.

Observe that all of this is following his instructions and guidance. A different photographer would give me different instructions and guidance, and as a master printer I would follow those different instructions with equal fidelity.

**(I'm intentionally not telling you everything I did, yet, because I think people are having more fun trying to figure it out for themselves.)

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Part of me wants to agree with the people shocked that you removed the branch (that is, if it was indeed unrequested, which I highly doubt, frankly, regarding your earlier columns on this topic).

A bigger part of me though, thinks mr. Pellegrini, just like me, just really dislikes the `digital darkroom'. I'd never have the patience to do everything you've done to that picture while sitting behind my PC.

If I had the money, I'd hire you, I looked hard, and I really can't see where you cloned it out. Of course, these are small jpegs, but still, well done!

I think I'd have removed the branch before I pushed the shutter though. A lot easier if you shoot film :-)

I've really enjoyed this series of posts, and it has prompted me to consider my own feelings.

It seems there are two questions in play. 1 - Do all images need to be optimized? 2 - Does it matter who does the optimizing?

As for #1, my personal belief is that nearly 100% of images need to be optimized. Jpeg shooters do it in the camera settings, and then perhaps in post production. Raw shooters do it in their conversion software and post production (Photoshop). Film shooters do it with their choice of film and chemistry, and post production controls of density, contrast, color, dodging and burning. Ultimately, we all make choices that we believe will give us the best image quality for our investment, but the continuiuum of choices is huge.

The second question seems a bit more difficult. I'm a do-it-myself kind of person, so I rather have a mediocre image I produced instead of a better one produced by someone else, though I'd be happy to learn from them.

But that's just me. I can certainly appreciate a Frank Lloyd Wright building, even though I know he didn't actually build it by himself. Many fine furniture makers outsource the finishing to an expert, but still rightfully sell the finished piece as their own. Composing music is a very different skill from performing music. Some people can do both very well, others excel only at one or the other.

I have a great deal of respect for people who can translate their vision into a great finished result all by themselves. I also have a great deal of respect for people who can manage other people performing the processes to produce a great result.

In the end, I guess if you're doing photography to make money, make the choices that make you the most money. If you're doing photography for pleasure, then do it the way that makes you most happy.

I will eat my hat if Ctein removed the branch without Roger requesting he do so.

Frankly, I'm shocked that people would assume he had done so, or even speculate as to the possibility. In addition to being the sort of thing that seems likely to get you into trouble, it also seems obvious from the wording of the caption above that the "obvious" change (i.e., the removal of the branch) was one of the three changes Roger requested. Why jump to wild assumptions and then directly or indirectly criticize Ctein for them?

Moving on to a different subject, it seems that there is an inherent difference between a print and an onscreen image. The first reflects light, the second emits light. Obvious, I know, but it makes a big difference. In particular, I have noticed that with prints, I am very sensitive to differences in the light in which I view them, and I find glare intensely irritating. In contrast, provided my monitor is calibrated and ambient light isn't too high (usually not a problem), I find colors on my monitor to be pleasing and I am never bothered by glare. Moreover, like a slide on a light table, a picture that emits light somehow seems magical, whereas a reflective print can seem pedestrian. (Note that I don't find projected slides particularly attractive, just slides on a light table.)

The above is a generalization, however, and with proper lighting and presentation (and assuming a quality print, of course) a print can be magical in its own right. For an example, see here http://www.solux.net/eastmanhouse.htm (Note: I was first directed to the preceding website by a featured comment from "Tom" to this T.O.P. post: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2008/12/the-viewing-sta.html

Best regards,

Also: can someone tell me how to embed links in my comments, the way David Dyer-Bennet did above?

Best regards,

Dear Martin,

That's a very interesting question. Hadn't thought about it before, so winging it...

If the "final" you sent me looked good to me, then I would just print it. If I had a suspicion you had lost something in translation, I'd ask you to send me what I call a "straight" RAW conversion. That uses the default settings in ACR, with the following changes: Set Recovery to 25. Set Fill and Black to 0. Set output space to ProPhoto RGB. Set the amount of sharpening to 0%. Use a linear Curve running from 0,0 to 255, 255. That extracts just about everything useful that can be gotten out of the camera file with minimum alterations, and I could look at that to see what's been gained or lost in your JPEG.


Dear David in Sydney,

Wow, impossibly tough question, unless I can induce amnesia. Possibly I'd fiddle a bit because, as I mentioned previously, my vision is precise but not entirely constant from day to day. But, other than that, I think I'd likely leave it alone. Part of being a master printer is not only knowing what needs changing but being able to tell when a photograph "clicks" into place and just looks right.


Dear anon,

My preface to POST EXPOSURE begins, " Ansel Adams observed that the film is the score and the print is the performance. When I exibited my best prints to an appreciative audience, I feel akin to the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her companions were supposed to see only that majestic head with the spouting flames and smoke and to ignore the little man behind the curtain pulling the levers. If I am successful as a printmaker, my viewers look at my work with joy at its beauty. They don't know the tricks, manipulations, and outright visual deceptions that go into making a print that inspires awe."


Dear Brian & Bill,

Unless you are using either a very cheap monitor or very cheap printer, the situation is worse than you describe. There are colors the monitor can display that the printer can't reproduce and vice versa. You just learn to deal and allow for windage. You can't ever be sure you got it exactly right until you see the print, which is why the first print is rarely perfect. What looks ideal on the screen will not necessarily look ideal in a print and vice versa. (NOT a stupid question at all, by the way).

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

" It just doesn't fit in with my somewhat journalistic attitude towards landscape photography."

Nor mine. The whole charm of photography is, or was, that it photomechanically recorded what was there. Might as well turn it into a Maxfield Parrish illustration--it's 1/4 of the way there already.

I agree with you - the print is the ultimate outcome. Now, you say "They may have done 75% of the work needed to make a really great print, but there's another 25% that I know how to do and they don't." OK... tells us about your printing approach.

Ok, so I come from the 'darkroom age' and was a pro of 25 years and believe an image of note has to be printed. Being a pretty good printer myself I was still in awe of what I will call the specialist printer or master printer. How they interperated a negative to maximise its potential in the print always fascinated me because they never 'saw' the original ie the subject as taken by the photographer.
However my major point is how so many photographers seem to have never seen the excellent work of the master printer and would urge them to go out there and take in the excellent work being produced and hope it may inspire them to turn images into prints.

I tend to agree with Craig (well said BTW).

I find it offensive to even consider that an artist would bring his files to an elitist so-called "master printer" who would dictate to the artist what the absolute best expression of his vision should be. This is very disturbing to me.

So, what is needed to get a proper print for those of us who can not afford to have Ctein print for us? I can then send the file to a semi-pro shop.

I would use my local camera store (they do ink jet and Fuji photo printing) but when asked for a soft proof profile they answered with "we never got around to having one made and people ask for one several times a year."

Another great piece, and thanks for acknowledging slide shooters! Yes, Ansel said that the negative was the score, and the print was the performance. That is often presented in such discussions in a manner that reminds me of that old bumper sticker I used to hate in the early ‘80s -- “Ansel said it. I believe it. That settles it.” (to paraphrase a little). Consider, however, that many slides were the final product. There was no score, there was only the performance. And just as Ansel’s famous phrase evokes fine classical music, so a well-executed slide evokes great jazz.

Ctein notes some of the differences between our perception of prints and our perception of projected or on-screen images. It's not just a matter of different resolution, of screen versus inkjet dpi. They really are different forms of art, as far apart as paintings and stained glass windows.

Projected slides and images on an LCD screen in a dimmed viewing environment display a very wide dynamic range, with the luminance of bright highlights multiple orders of magnitude higher than the deep shadows. The broad dynamic range significantly increases the perceived intensity of saturated colors. Despite the objectively low resolution of such images, their subjective impact and appeal is disproportionately great. However, there are some trade-offs. In return for that dripping neon color and impact, you're giving up a lot of nuance and subtlety. And that projected or on-screen image is evanescent; it's gone the instant you unplug it.

A physical print is very different. It's a genuine, discrete, tangible physical artifact. You can hold it in your hand, turn it over, touch its surface. You can see how it interacts with light. A skilled printer can select the ideal substrate, printing method, size and presentation for the image. Printing paper imposes a strict limit on dynamic range; but within that limit the (human!) printer can apportion the available tonal values optimally for the image. There are levels of subtlety achievable in a physical print that are completely lost on-screen.

The presentation and lighting of a print can transform its perceived dynamic range and impact. A carefully framed and matted print displayed in subdued ambient lighting and spot-lit from above is a very different experience from a scuffed loose work print under a dim flickering flourescent.

Of course, who knows what we'll have ten or twenty years from now? Future displays may gain more of the subtlety and resolution prints give us now, along with that intense color and dynamic range.

In closing, I can't recommend Ctein's book "Post Exposure" highly enough for anyone interested in issues like these. The first few chapters go into great detail about human perception and its interaction with the characteristics of film and paper. It's a model of erudite clarity.

Alas, I am a poor fellow with neither the resources nor the inclination to make fine prints. Still, a print must be made and for that, Mpix will have to do.

I keep thinking prints will go by the wayside, but every time I hand over a set of proofs to a client, I know that day isn't coming anytime soon.


Your MacSpeech processing seems to be working quite well. I may try to use it
with my 27" iMac or 15"MacBook Pro at some future juncture.

"Some of you old-time slide photographers are going to hate to hear this, but most of your viewing environments were (are) crap. The average slide presentation, even in camera clubs and other "serious" settings, suffered from objectively poor brightness range, sharpness, and shadow detail, as well as distortion and artifacts of many sorts."

Perhaps so, and maybe moreso in this era of digital rendering. However myself and many others of similar age don't want to
be fotced into the new age. Of my own many friends who still use slide film, for them the results are all about projection to a group of similar like minded individuals; we all photograph railways! And I would say easily 9/10ths of them don't own or have any need for a computer, of any sort.

To them digital imagery is colour or
black & white negative film updated. Only good for snaps. They are not easily, projected as with a colour slide.

As to prints, or slides or any form of rendering, one must have a want or need
to do so. Many of us don't have such a need or want; the slide is adequate for our needs or wants or desires.

I have a D90, it sits on the shelf, and may be sold. My small three year old
Canon point and shoot is just fine for when my F100 doesn't have negative
film loaded.



This is the most fun I've had in a "how many differences can you spot" puzzle in a while. More please!

Ah yes Ctein! Our 21st century virtual Fred Picker. Trees in the way of your view? No problem just chop them down or clone them away!

Dear A. Diaz,

"OK... tell us about your printing approach."

What? In 25 words or less?!

Seriously, I don't understand three quarters of what I do well enough consciously or intellectually to write about it. If I did, I could write a whole book on master printing and it would sell like hotcakes.

All right, let me tell you about a couple of simple things that almost anybody could do.

1) I dislike broad expanses of no detail, be it jet black or paper white. Unless the photograph is supposed to be a high contrast graphic, I look for ways to restore and improve detail in those areas. Photoshop's Shadow/Highlight tool, applied in masked layers is invaluable. Just don't use it to excess, or photographs acquire a flat "newspaper" quality.

2) I look at the overall composition:

a) I look for where there are especially bright or dark areas or especially saturated colors. Anything that drags the eye towards them. Bright or super-saturated regions that drag my eye right out of the frame are almost always a bad thing. That's just about never where you want the viewer's attention to go. Careful burning/desaturating keeps the eye within the composition. Subtlety is important; if the viewer notices you've done those things you overdid them, and you're distracting from the point of the photograph.

b) I look at how one's visual attention flows around the print from area to area. Is it following the intended visual narrative? If it's not, careful dodging or burning in can keep the eye from wandering down a "side road" that the photographer never intended. The composition should, somehow, bring the viewer's attention to the elements of the photographs that are most important, whether by a direct or entirely circuitous route.

That's about as good as I can do.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

A note to the several of you who are disturbed about the altered color of the barn:

Vas yu dar, Sharlie?!


When Roger asked me to make the barn "brighter red" (his words), he could have been engaging in artistic-postcard license, and that would be his prerogative, but it's equally possible that he simply wanted the barn to look more like it did in real life. In fact, knowing the fidelity deficiencies in this kind of a photograph, I am more inclined to think the latter was the case. I've printed other photographs of Roger's made in this area and the barns in those photographs are painted the traditional brick/rust-primer red, not brown.

This one could have been an exception, but you're making a hell of an assumption by taking it for granted that it was and that the color has been falsified.

Also be aware that the way colors and tones look in a JPEG here are not like what they look in the print. The barn does not jump out unnaturally in the printed version, it's just more present.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear BJ,

Roger is a skillful darkroom printer. I've gotten prints from him for reference when doing restoration work (which is most of what he hires me for).

(Incidentally, he's also a fellow reader of this publication, and he did not generously allow me to use his photograph so that folks could dump on him for having different taste than they do. The purpose of my illustration is to show what I could do to satisfy a client's wishes. It's not about whether the rest of you agree with those wishes. So everybody be kind, and be polite.)

I removed the big branches with the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop CS4. I did almost no touchup to the changes it wrought. Frankly, it did a better job this time than it does 99% of the time; it's just about never this perfect.


Dear Craig,

"In the end, I guess if you're doing photography to make money, make the choices that make you the most money. If you're doing photography for pleasure, then do it the way that makes you most happy."

Oh, yes, yes, YES! So well-said.

Every photographer needs to have that printed out and posted next to their enlarger/computer monitor, where it will get drilled into their consciousnesses every single time they print.


Dear Player,

I'd be disturbed, too... if that had even the slightest connection to reality. Since it's in direct contradiction to what I wrote in my past two columns, you can stop cowering at phantoms.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I take prints as i always would prefer to have hard copy with me

To all those beating themselves up for struggling to see the 'blatantly obvious' changes, there's a topical article here :

describing 'change blindness' - don't feel bad, it's quite natural ;)



These columns on printing and the responses have been exceptionally interesting to me. I wanted to add one thought that pertains to “printing” whether that print is silver, inkjet or computer screen.

News and documentary photography offer the photographer less than complete control when you are taking the picture. You want to present a clear and understandable image but circumstances often prevent that. You can, without eliminating or significantly changing anything in the image, make it a little more understandable by slightly lowering the contrast of the unimportant and raising the contrast of the important. Gene Smith was a master of guiding the viewer to the important elements in a complicated, often messy, news picture, giving a slight burn through a low contrast filter on variable contrast paper to the elements that were less important and raising the contrast and brightness of the important with a ferricyanide bleach. Of course, it’s even easier to do the same thing on a computer.

For those outraged by “manipulation,” this is far less manipulation of a scene than where you choose to stand and when you choose to push the button. It’s just trying to make it a little easier for the viewer to understand what’s happening. And it is, for me, a strong argument for journalists doing their own printing, especially when time is short.

Ctein, as always, has produced a very thoughtful column. If I could afford it, I wouldn’t hesitate to have him print for me. He brings to the table what anyone should want in a printer - technical expertise, a good eye, and artistic vision – three things necessary to make a valuable contribution in printing as a collaborative process.

Never having worked with him, I can only guess that Ctein is a good collaborative partner, not a dictator. Otherwise, he would not be so respected and successful.

Why are people like Ctein so important? Because printing at the highest level of quality is hard. LCD display is relatively easy by comparison. I don’t need someone like Ctein to make my work look good on screen. But I don’t kid myself in thinking that I could make a print as well as a master printer could. There are many photographers who don’t consider a work to be theirs unless they do everything themselves. I’m not one of them. I see nothing wrong with using the talents of others to help me produce the very best expression of my vision.

"You can, without eliminating or significantly changing anything in the image, make it a little more understandable by slightly lowering the contrast of the unimportant and raising the contrast of the important."

I do that with sharpening. I almost never sharpen a whole image. I often only sharpen small parts of it...just the bits that need to be sharp.



Great article(s) on printmaking. But just one comment. In carrying out the wishes of the photographer with respect to the object removal and introduction of false colors (the barn from brown to red), the image was transformed from photograph to photo illustration. This isn't to imply the the final result isn't better than the camera original in this instance, merely that more photography is crossing over to graphic illustration these days with the advent of digital manipulation than ever before. Had Ansel Adams added the moon in Moonrise with a double exposure or a superimposed negative (something that would have been trivial to do even before the days of the computer), it might be the same print we see today, but the power of it as a "decisive moment" to quote another famous photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and as an awe-inspiring image would never have materialized. Conversely, Philippe Halsman's collaboration with Salvador Dali on the surreal photo illustration "Dali Atomicus" beautifully transcended the camera original image because Halsman's camera-captured images of the scene were merely a means to the ends in the creation of the greater work of art.

For me, even in a totally digital image workflow there is still a huge difference between a true photograph and a photo illustration. Both forms of expression can produce masterpieces or junk, but we should seek not to confuse one for the other.

Ctein, wouldn't that be more like "to rail at phantoms"? Whatever the description I'm glad to know I was on the right track [groan].

Dear MHMG,

As I've explained, you cannot assert that 'false color' was introduced into the photograph. You lack the information to support that claim.

My own work may be heavily massaged (in either the darkroom or the computer) in an effort to produce a print that looks like what *I* saw, not what the camera saw. That is, of course, a fabulously difficult task. I may have to alter tone and color substantially from what the camera saw to produce a "truer" print.

You can tie yourself into intellectual knots trying to decide if what I'm making is a "true photograph" or a "photo illustration." You are further hampered in your judgment by having to decide whether or not to believe what I tell you (or show you) about the original scene. After all, you only have my word to go on that my printing is only correcting for inherent deficiencies in the media used, and not a wholesale creation of my mind.

Personally, I could not care less about making that judgment. Professionally, it's definitely not my job to do so.


Dear Player,

Errm, "cower from", "rail at," whatever. Dictation is not without its perils [sigh].

That light at the end of the tunnel? Victory or an oncoming train? IMWTK [g]

pax / Ctein

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