« The Worst Thing About Digital Printing | Main | I Am NOT Saying the Fuji X-Pro1 Sucks... »

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I don't know if this matters, but the one on the right still has the thumb. Could it have come from a less-manipulated scan?

The great thing about color inkjet prints is that they are made with ink, not organic dye clouds layered underneath a millimeter of gelatin. Ink puts the image on the surface of the paper, like the printing in books and magazines.
The bad thing about monochrome inkjet prints is that they are made with ink, not silver metal grains lodged in a millimeter thick layer of gelatin. There's something about the tonal appearance of good silver gelatin prints that seems extremely difficult to equal with surface ink.
About being able to look at prints not behind glass: Displaying photo prints behind glass is a serious disservice to the artist/photographer, or printer. Picasso paintings don't need glass(except in certain high-risk venues, perhaps), so why would Dorothea Lange, William Eggleston, or Hank Carter?

There's your next print sale image, Mike.

Where's the "like" button....After looking a vintage B/W's in a local museum I feel they are not quite up to snuff in print quality.....the grade of paper, burn, dodge and tone range can make any picture mean different things.....You have to print (trays or digital) your own to convey the "feeling" of the picture you want to get across to the viewer......or have a printer in Paris

100 % agree. Printing my image home gives control. I had my own image that I took and wanted a good print to fame and mount on a wall. No good. I am just not good at conveying to someone else how I want it done or how to get the desired result. The best thing I could come with was, "I don't know how to tell you to do it, but I'll know if it's right when I see it." Well, the person i was telling that to said nothing for awhile, but his eyes were starting to get glassy with dollar signs. so, I print the important stuff, to me, at home. I have learned through experience that ink jet prints are similar to old type C prints. When "wet" they look different than when completely dry. The type C had to be thrown on the dryer (glossy side down on a hot ferrotype dryer) before judging color balance, exposure, etc. Ink Jet prints look almost too dark. They dry down lighter, if that makes any sense. Either way, I would just outside with a cup of coffee and smoke three cigarettes. Now, I print only digitally and I quit smoking. But I still have to wait for the that ink jet test print to dry down. Although, not so much now with some of the newer papers and newer inks. There is still a slight difference between "wet" and "dry", though. That's why I print the good/important stuff at home...and read you and Ctein.


People who haven't worked at making prints frequently don't understand just how much room for variation and interpretation there is entirely within the traditional darkroom printing techniques. (And I don't necessarily limit myself to that in the digital domain; at the very least, I do "dodging and burning" jobs more precise and more complicated than anybody can do in a darkroom.)

I don't believe prints are the only useful or "valid" way to display images. However, they're the highest-resolution and most consistent way we have available right now. But what's important to me is not so much a "print", as "making the best version of an image for presentation". (This means that not making physical prints is not a good excuse for being slipshod about what you do do!)

Mike's specific detailed program for absolutely positively getting better as a digital printmaker should be linked, and since it isn't I'll mention it here. (I was getting ready to start doing something like this, after reading Mike's article, when I discovered that my printer was toast, and I can't currently afford to replace it. This has been a significant additional annoyance.)

Mike, I'm sorry that I forgot to send you my comparison between your print and the Aperture gravure.
Although smaller, yours is much sharper, better contrast control, and there is also a slightly different cropping. I thought that yours was much better, until I viewed it under artificial light. The change from viewing under natural light and artificial was horrendous (I think that it's called "Meta" something?).

"You don't have to accept what a lab decides is right. You don't have to please anyone else. You can work according to the light of your own judgment. You can be in control."

...which is of course exactly what got me started printing colour in the darkroom. Some things are constant. Nice article.


Metamerism. Shouldn't affect that print at all, as only black and gray inks were used to print it, no colors. Looking at a copy here just now under both compact fluorescent and incandescent light shows no color shift at all.

Leave me wondering what could possibly be going on. We should pursue this via email.


So true what you said Mike. But what makes me sad is the general lack of appreciation for quality optical color prints. But it's also true that we have a general lack of good color printers....I like both inkjet, and "traditional" prints, provided their quality is good. I think for some photos the look of an optical prints works better than an inkjet, and viceversa. But all in all, I think in general, quality(or even mediocre ones) inkjets are just overpriced/overestimated. I think this comes from making inkjet printing an almost metaphysic matter by some people. In fact, for those who understand the basic relationships between density, curves, gamma etc.(from the analog world) it is quite straightforward to master the technique. For those who didn't do that before, well, it's another story. And probably there's the source of some overstatements we see...

"The best thing about digital printing at home is that it gives you the opportunity to at least occasionally make a print that is exactly the way you want it to be."

This sentence was all I needed to read. I kind of got stuck deciding which "poor JPEG" I'd choose for Mapplethorpe's self portrait among the many dark/bright high/low contrast versions of it (for instance http://tinyurl.com/cr4vnma - worth mentioning it's suitable for work). I wonder why I didn't think of it before : I should print it the way I like it. Sometimes one gets stuck with the idea of "reproducing the way it was thought by the author" for too long.


I feel very bad now. because I did not manage to buy your print. And because I feel I need to buy a printer. I was considering the same you chose, and after your posts the urge is close to threshold. You are a dangerous man.

Well said, Mike. My understanding of the technology is that inkjet prints, particularly pigment based inkjet prints are much more permanent than type C color prints. I have boxes of type C prints ruined by the ravages of time. I feel more secure that my inkjet color prints will at least last longer than I will. I have no experience with Cibachrome and dye transfer prints, but my impression is that they may last longer than type C prints but still not as permanent as color inkjet prints. Perhaps you could address these issues.

Mike, your rendition is very fine indeed. I wish I owned a copy.
When I recently moved I declined to re-hang most of my pre-digital work as it just didn't measure up to the stuff I have worked on for hours or even days. Admittedly, these were cheap commercial prints as I gave up with the chemical process over 30 years ago - although oddly I still have a lot of that gear.
Even though it took me weeks to sort out the best profile my Epson 4900 makes fabulous prints. The difference is looking at a print and saying "that's nice" or saying "WOW!" I get a lot more "WOWS" these days from visitors.

There are many articles on the art of digital processing and printing however that's where they all stop. Where are articles on the art of framing? Not just the physical process but choosing the right frames.

I know it's a personal choice but so is processing and printing. Just like processing and printing there seem to be a variety of framing options which are often used but never explanations why.

For example black and white prints most often are framed in white and not black. Digital displays tend to be the opposite. I find white framed B&W prints to be too overpowering, reflecting too much light back at me making it hard to see the fine details in the print. Why do some frames have an even mat spacing around them when others don't. Are there general framing conventions that are the best compromise to work well for any print under any lighting condition? Should all prints in a series use identical frames even if it means resizing prints to a less than optimal size? Should glass/perspex be used or the print left exposed? What type of glass enhances the look of a print or detracts from it?

Then there's lighting which is the final factor in the lifecycle of a print. I never can get my prints looking right once on my wall. Or does everyone just blu-tak their prints to a wall? Perhaps someone on TOP could be the first to tackle the art of framing.

Mike, as of just today I received Ctein's print of Bay Bridge, here in Australia and I must say that it is a masterpiece.

I would very much like to add one of your prints to my collection.
Perhaps, one day, I could have a TOP wall!

Please consider offering the print up again. Employing the capitalistic mind-sense, some of your readers here, could finance a part of your home renovation.

Mike, Your print of the Migrant Mother is absolutely beautiful. Having printed for so many years, I can see the "presence", as I call it. Very well done.
We print for hours or days or weeks working on a single image, putting it on the wall and listening to it like a piece of music we compose. I know when a single note just sounds wrong, when all around us say it is fine.
I place a new print next to my older ones sometimes, asking the other prints, "well, what do you guys think...?"
Obsessive? The Artist has Infinite Patience, that's all.....

Framing is much discussed in Ansel Adams' "The Print." Without searching for my ancient copy, sides and top should be the same, the bottom a "tad" deeper. Adams felt the weight of the photo made it appear lower on the bottom if it was the same. As for cropping to fit, why not alter the frame size? 8x10, 11x14, 16x20 are arbitrary sizes forced on us by manufacturers. You can purchase just about any do-it-yourself sizes you want.

I mean this without any disrespect to those who love printing, but here is my dilemma: I currently detest making prints as it is a whole other skill set that I really don't have the time or $ resources to invest in (and I don't want to do it unless the prints are done "right"). Yet... yet... I really love quality prints. Are there labs or other resources for obtaining quality color prints, at a "reasonable" price for the average joe, making the best use of all the information captured on the sensor, without having to do it at home?

I am not referring to commercial labs that make machine prints from uploaded jpgs. I am talking about something similar to how one could (and in some places still can) until very recently get, say, hand printed silver gelatin prints from b/w film for about $30-45 for an 8x10". So am I just SOL for finding something of similar quality for color unless I find the time and money to invest in a quality printer and learn the art of printmaking?

Your print hangs next to my desk and provides me pleasure every day. When you offered it I bought it in a flash, and remain very happy to have done so. Maybe the next print offer should be another by you.

Of all the print offers I've had to pass up on TOP, the Migrant Mother print is probably the one I'm saddest about missing out on. Is there a possibility for a second run with the new printer?

Your version of Migrant Mother looks like a compromise between the two other versions with warm-tone paper added to the mix.

'For example black and white prints most often are framed in white and not black. Digital displays tend to be the opposite. I find white framed B&W prints to be too overpowering, reflecting too much light back at me making it hard to see the fine details in the print.'

steve, thank you! You just reminded me of my own solution to the problem of framing B&W. One that I had completely forgotten, but that I would be very happy to try and use again: years ago I framed a small series of B&W silver prints in passepartouts of thick grey framing paper (French and also Dutch: passepartout-papier). I think the grey was a little (but not much) darker than the average 17% grey of test cards. The grey was only a thin layer on top of the paper, so at the slanted cut out (the inside borders) there appeared a small white line. I used these frames without much thinking, just because I thought it would be nice. Others feared it might be sombre or gloomy, but it wasn't at all.

Come to think of it, there is another advantage to grey frames for B&W photos, apart from mitigating the overpowering light, one that lies at the heart of the whole idea of putting two dimensional art in a wider frame: a grey frame is as it were itself black-and-white and provides a B&W photo with its own surroundings, giving the image a little space to show itself in. White, on the contrary, isn't black-and-white at all - it's all colours. Maybe that's why white frames suit colour pictures excellently.

This is exactly why this blog matters more than any other photo blog I have found, it really is about photography and photographs and not merely the apparatus and paraphernalia that surrounds it(although it has a decent dose of that too of course). In fact I barely read any other photo site now.

If "compromise" is what you get from this post, then your reading comprehension needs a bit of emergency triage. [g]


Ken wrote:

> I am talking about something similar to how one could (and in some places still can) until very recently get, say, hand printed silver gelatin prints from b/w film for about $30-45 for an 8x10". So am I just SOL for finding something of similar quality for color...?

If I read you correctly, here's a possible solution: for every ten passionate amateur photographers in any given vicinity there has to be at least one who owns a capable inkjet and has learned to use Photoshop, profiles, and soft-proofing competently. OK: better make that for every twenty... ;) Such a person would likely love to recoup some of the outlay, not to mention having more ink flow through his/her printer to prevent clogs. I'm in that situation myself and should probably be more active in seeking out non-printing photographers who nevertheless want prints made. I have a few friends that occasionally need some printing done of their own shots and happily charge them little more than materials plus a small honorarium toward amortization of the printer itself. At a guess, competent inkjet owners in a given vicinity might be found via the local photography club.

That said, there is potentially another dimension to your query. Darkroom printing differs from lab printing in that the darkroom print maker typically makes at least some effort to dodge, burn, and so forth, which hopefully serves to enhance the image contained in the negative. The few people for whom I print fall roughly into two groups: those who have used software to get the image file just so, and those who have done nothing but taken the shot then handed me the unedited JPEG from the camera. In that later case I apply some basic global edits to optimize contrast, sharpening, etc. as needed. That rarely takes more than a minute or two per shot and is no problemo. So if a print costs me $3 in ink plus paper and I charge $5, the extra $2 covers some combination of amortization plus quick editing.

However, more often than not the JPEG contains serious deficiencies in one area or another. I generally devote 'way too much time to restoration without slapping on a surcharge, partly because the person involved is a friend, partly because I have a hard time letting such things slide. That sort of thing gobbles up hours, not minutes. If I charged appropriately the print would never get made because the fee would cross the Mendoza line into the realm of serious dollars (anything over $10 per small and $20 per large print). If printing for others became more than a very occasional part of my life, I guess I'd have to learn to get a tad hard-nosed and either print the file as provided or charge appropriately for my time.

Another aspect of this is the importance of working with someone locally and in person. If I make a straight print from a digital image file on a decent RC paper, then hold the print up next to my $1000 profiled monitor, the match is uncanny. But if I make the same print for someone I'm only dealing with online, then mail the print to him or her, it's anyone's guess how much resemblance there will be between print and what he or she is seeing on his or her monitor. The few people I print for have sat beside me while I opened at least a few of their image files on my own computer, interacted with them on any changes that might be made in Photoshop, sent the image off to the inkjet, then held the print up next to the monitor for comparison. This establishes a gut-level trust that I'm sure makes all the difference from that point on.

Ok Mike, I give up!!

Which one is the original Dorothea Lange JPEG!!??

Im stumped and Im never gonna win the prize

: (

Lange's 1936 "Migrant Mother" must certainly rank as one of the most printed pictures in history. Nearly every major collection seems to hold one or more, of varying vintages.

I've not seen Mike's version but it looks fine at sRGB 72dpi. A nice tonal balance. Many of the most clueless, crappiest renderings have too high of a contrast (such as the version on the right), the most telltale sign of unskilled eyes (for any photo printing).

The Art Institute of Chicago's print is yet a different variation on the rendering: a photogravure print. For me the warmth and softness of this rendering, coupled with the art-objectness of the print, work best for this image which, sadly through its popularity, has become so romantically cliche.

Ken - Check out West Coast Imaging... they will do everything from optimizing your file to printing with a variety of different papers and printers.

If they're going to work on your file, though, it's not going to be cheap I don't think. But their prices are pretty reasonable, even if at the high end of online labs.

I made my own digital print of the Lange negative from the Library of Congress. While I didn't spend as much time on it as you did, Mike, it's still a beautiful image. It hangs on the wall next to my computer in my home office, a daily reminder of what we can accomplish as photographers.

Ah, early digital printing.

The thing I most remember is the ads for those early "photo-quality" ink jets: every single photo in them consisted of subjects that were, funnily enough, predominantly made up of solid Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, or Black colours.

Canon had one with a MAGENTA shoe on YELLOW box on a CYAN background (or some other combination, but you get the point).

This was because, with non-random dot patterns and huge dots, the dithering used to achieve non-native tones made the photos look like a 1950s comic book cover.

You got a lot of magenta roses on black, a lot of daisies and frangipani. Lots of garishly-made up geisha-esque glamour girls with pale white foundation, magenta lips, black hair, and cyan eye shadow. For landscapes, you'd get a sliver of yellow beach meeting an expanse of cyan water...

You know what? I'd buy a book with high-quality prints of late 90s photo printer ads and demo images.

"If "compromise" is what you get from this post, then your reading comprehension needs a bit of emergency triage. [g]"

Sorry Mike, I have Asperger's Syndrome :-). Seriously though.

I didn't mean that you compromised your vision, just that your vision appeared to be the picture that would fit nicely between the two extreme examples you presented [s].

My reading comprehension, or lack thereof aside, it is a very lovely picture; I mean your version.

"For example black and white prints most often are framed in white and not black. Digital displays tend to be the opposite"

Digital displays* come from the tradition of movies , slideshows and other sit in the dark venues. The white of the screen may dimmer or brighter and probably nowhere near the color temperature of the white that you would use to frame it.

Digital displays don't do black very well, turned off they are as black as they can possibly get, and to get any detail or nuance they can't be quite that black.

Digital displays are even worse with white, since the display can't tell just what passes for white locally.

This is also why slideshows and video displays can be way off in terms of white balance and look just fine but a print that is just a little off looks so bad.

In the 80s I did a video instalation where mounting a video screen on a wall meant sawing a hole in the wall and sticking a CRT monitor into the hole and plastering it in. I thought that the whole "dark surround for viewing video" convention was a useless cliche. I painted the wall white. It looked just awful and I quickly painted it a very dark gray.

BTW, those white iPads look really nice until you see how bad they make your photos look. If you tweak the photos to look good on a white iPad , as soon as the light changes it looks bad again.

*except for that E-ink that has been the display of the future for as long as I can remember.

Thanks Player. The two JPEGs here didn't have anything to do with my version, though; they're just random JPEGs I pulled down off the Internet yesterday to help illustrate the point. What I did (once I'd noticed the effect) was to make several versions of slightly different contrast and put them on the wall, then lived with them for several days, trying to "read" the expression and "feel" which was the most eloquent and enigmatic. As usual I did opt for a middle course, as you note, partly because I don't think the printing should call attention to itself but partly because I imagined it's the most enigmatic look--it manages to convey worry but also some Stoicism. I just don't think the image works quite as well if it goes too far either way.

It does demonstrate that printing is far from just a technical skill, any more than music is; it's interpretive as well, and has a real effect on how images communicate intellectually, emotionally, and connotatively.


Oh, and I was just looking at "The Printed Picture" by Richard Benson this past weekend in the MoMA bookstore, and it seems to be quite relevant. It's sort of a history of printing images on paper. Mostly photographs, but other printmaking traditions just might be more relevant to ink jet printing than are darkroom practices.


I'd be interested on how you 'spot and repair' the scanned negative.

Or should I just buy Ctein's book ?

Thanks for the comments on framing. I hadn't really considered grey as perhaps a balanced medium to make a b&w print stand out. I also haven't read my Ansel since I started framing my own prints, must dig it our and have a look.

Right on Mike. Prints are it. God knows we have a million ways to look at photographs. I regularly bore my friends with pictures of the grandkids on my phone.

Our newest TV has an SDHC card slot and it will display JPEGS all day long. That's fine but it all pales in comparison to the idea of a photograph as a work of art on paper. The act of holding a photo makes me happy and it always has.

I just like the way a fiber based print feels in my hand. The tactile quality of some of the high end inkjet papers is quite nice.

In the world of fabric this quality is called "hand". Perhaps we should adopt that term when evaluating papers.

I just finished downloading, spot correcting, and doing minor tinkering (slight levels adjustment, minor sharpening, and one version with a little vignetting.)

I intend it to be the first image I print on Arches Platine paper and a Palladium/Platinum emulsion from a digital negative. I just finished my calibrations yesterday and was looking for a candidate for my first real print.

Daleks, thank you for the thoughts - something to ponder. Yes, that's something that would definitely be of interest and may also be beneficial to a local photo hobbyist.

David Bostedo, thank you for the suggestion.


I recall your Migrant Mother print sale and, inspired by your example, I downloaded the file from the library of congress and spent a few days coming up with a print. This is still hanging on the wall and, whilst I'm sure that yours is a better inter presentation, the exercise was really valuable and left me with a print that I've enjoyed ever since.

Thanks to you, Dorothy and Florence.


The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007