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Wednesday, 24 April 2013


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Figures 4, 5, and 6 are why it's important to look at a three channel histogram while shooting, not a combined monochrome histogram.


...this column is another example why I'm perfectly happy to cede all my printing needs to someone like you, just like I did my transparency processing, and C-41 printing back in the day...

...and there is commercial art.

Please count me in as one who would be very interested in a digital version of Niagara, for my youngest daughter, studying art history now at Wellesley---a lover of Innes and also admirer of Church, both of whose Niagaras are wonderful. Yours measures up!

Do you tihnk the problem in the shadows is due to the dot size or just software - or something I missed.

Why do your separations yield a nice dark black while printer inks yield a muddy green requiring a black ink?

Have you seen Bill Atkinson's book "Within the Stone"? He wrote half the code in the original Macintosh, as well as MacDraw and Hypercard, then retired and became a full-time photographer. For the book, he worked with the Japanese printers to get the maximum gamut out of their paper, press and ink set, writing his own color-calibration software along the way.

Hard to tell looking at a screen. Personally I think a dye transfer looks great but so can an inkjet print. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. To me the intent of the image should be clear, if your intent needs great detail in the shades so be it. Then dye transfer can't be beat (for now since the gamut in the darks of a inkjet is limited (remember the dark band in the shuttle picture)). But it sure would be a pity if some great pictures vanish from view because the medium to print them is now obsolete.

I wonder how Egglestone did manage (since he made inkjet prints from original dye transfers)....

Greets, Ed.

"At the highlight end of the tonal scale, though, digital printing is massively superior to anything I can do in the darkroom..."

Possibly the clearest explanation I have read of exactly when digital printing is superior to the darkroom!

Do you think digital printing is limited by the fact that the ink sits "on" the surface of the paper more whereas with emulsions the dyes are "inside" and so the kind of reflectance is different?

My impression of blacks on silver gelatin is that they are deeper than blacks on digital prints (glossy) and so what you are saying about dye transfer shadows- the depth, do you think the nature of the depth of the print is an issue?

in the future perhaps paper manufacturers could work to get the ink further under the surface- like those awful colourlife squeaky inkjet prints we had for a while, do you think that would help?

Where else on the web, regarding photography, should I read so rich and deep texts, otherwise than chez TOP?

At the risk of being a snotty know-it-all...you will recall that when the print sale went up, I specifically pointed out that 'Roses Against Black Stone Wall' would lend itself particularly well to Ctein's skills and printing process!

This is one of the prints I rushed to buy before Ctein's supplies ran out: http://ctein.com/Fresh_Pahoehoe.jpg

If you could control the lighting conditions an inkjet print was shown in, could you manipulate the shadow detail so that it more closely resembled how a dye displays such detail? What I mean is, since the human eye perceives shades of grey differently at different illuminance levels, if you lower the room light and raise (lighten) the shadows, could you create the illusion of enormous shadow detail? (I know that constructing a display space would create challenges, but since there does not seem to be a direct substitute for dyes, then perhaps some would be interested...?)


4 Digital Printing Questions for Sir Ctein

  1. Why do photographers who do their own printing prefer inkjet to laserjet for color prints?
    a) Is it because an inkjet print is superior to a laserjet? Or,
    b) Is it because of "scale economies" (of "low" volume personal printing)?*

  2. Would laserjet be better for:
    a) B&W,
    b) "mono" chromatic (i.e., pictures with a single dominant color), or
    c) "shadowy" pictures?

  3. In terms of (archival) longevity, would laserjet rate better than inkjet?

  4. At the risk of being Philistine (or worse), would laserjet color printing approach dye transfer benchmarks more closely than inkjet when printing pictures the likes of your Jewels of Kilauea series and Fig. 2?

(My car analogy—and I'm pushing my luck here—is: laserjet ≅ powder coating; inkjet ≅ spray painting.)

The reason I'm asking is that inkjet printers don't agree with me. I've gone through several models in as many years or less and stopped buying when #5 conked out. And that's only for printing documents and graphs (charts). I plan to outsource printing my pictures.

*A B&H search yielded only 6 "personal" laserjet printer models (600 x 600 dpi) ranging in price from USD 399 to 740, two of which are "back-ordered." There are 6 "enterprise" models (1200 x 1200 dpi) ranging in price from USD 670 to 2,700, none of which are in stock.
A toner cartridge (good for 2,600 "standard" pages) for current models of personal printers costs USD 99 & up (of which you have to buy three). Tri-packs for enterprise models begin at USD 198 (2,000 pp). All printers ("All-in-one") and toners (CMYK) are HP.

Locally (downtown Manila), a commercial printer who has two humongous Koritso laser printers accept color prints up to 20 X 36 in. (≡USD 20! apiece). I haven't tried them yet, but I've seen their 3R prints of customers' snapshots (in Kodak "silk" paper) which I'm liking (red-eyes and all).

Dear Keith and robert,

The difference in the density ranges is inherent in the dyes/inks being used. Dye transfer uses transparent dyes of very high density. You can load a lot of it into a gelatin emulsion. Because the dyes are so intense and because they're transparent (no backscatter), you don't need a black printer in dye transfer to get an intense, rich black. It's just that simple

To get the same thing out of a digital printer, what you need is a paper/ink/dye combination capable of achieving that density range, that's all. It's not a software or dot size issue. There's nothing that says that's inherently impossible. In fact, back at the end of the last millennium (I still get a kick out of saying that) I hacked an inkjet printer to run real honest-to-goodness dye transfer paper and dye transfer dyes. It was just for the fun of it; the results looked lousy. Very non-optimized hardware and software. If someone had wanted to throw $100,000 or so at me, I could've made a digital printer that would've had precisely the same density range and color gamut of the dye transfer print… because it would have used dye transfer materials!


Dear Ed,

Well, of course you can't tell much looking at the screen. For one thing, I didn't give you comparison photos of dye transfer vs. digital prints. For another, even if I had, it wouldn't mean much because the color gamut and density range of the JPEG illustrations in this article are vastly inferior to what a dye transfer print can render.


Dear Fazal,

I wrote about Bill's book back in 2007. And, as of last Xmas, he still had some copies left (I bought several as holiday gifts for friends).


Dear Adam,

Fresh Pahoehoe may, in fact, make a satisfactory digital print. I have a file in process on that, but it's not near complete. The reason it may work is that most of what makes that composition is the contrast between the glowing reds, the specular white sunlit highlights, and the shiny black pahoehoe. That aesthetic impact may very well carry through in a print with lesser density range.


Dear Will,

Well, basically, no. Tricks with the lighting can reveal shadow detail better, as you point out, but it won't do anything to expand the total density range. It's kind of like hitting the “loudness” button on a cheap sound system. It amps up the base And the treble, but it doesn't give you a wider frequency response or more decibels of range.

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

Another good, uniquely informative article, Ctein. Thank you.

I recently re-watched the dye transfer process video you did for Michael Reichman in 2004(?). I highly recommend that anyone interested in this vanishing process beg, borrow or steal a copy of the Luminous Landscape Video Journal Vol 3 Issue 11.

There are two loosely-related points you made that I'd debate or at least expand.

"For many photographs, even most, this is not a critical issue; the quality of the shadow detail doesn't make or break the photograph. Sometimes, it does."
Your point is valid but the second sentence is actually the weightiest. In more than a handful of cases I would assert that shadow detail is what distinguishes a "real", or vintage, print from a secondary print or book reproduction. Any schmoe can print highlights and mid-tones. It's often when you view a master print, often vintage, that you realize that you had not really seen the work until that moment. The gist is in the highlights and mid-tones but the magic and emotional texture of an image is often deep in those shadows. In my experience this applies to many celebrated early-to-mid-century photographers.

"The art market is not remotely driven by measures of visual quality, either objective or subjective, nor by the artist's intent."
Again, while there are many examples that would buttress your assertion I think it might be a bit too assumptively dismissive. Curators, top-end dealers, collectors, and auction houses do seem to obsess more over provenance than -apparent- technical-visual qualities. But, again, my own observations have revealed that the "vintage" print made by, or under the auspices of, the photographer often features more detail (yes, often especially in shadows) than later prints. Later prints may very well "look" snappier, with more sharpness and contrast. But they often lack the overall warmth (literally) and consistency of emotional message that a photographer's original prints conveyed. Hence, older and often less jazzy prints are worth far, far more for a reason.

I can get a nice print even from Costco, but it takes daylight to see the true values on the paper. Indoor light is wretched.

We know where this will end up - a back-lit OLED panel on the wall, so that your display finally looks like your editing monitor.

Just for fun, design a 600ppi Adobe RGB calibrated display of size X and price it. It may take a few years, but then what?

What do collectors want if physical printing dies (it could happen)? Art and commerce are indeed different...

I am retired and spending most of my effort doing/learning photography, but I am so happy that I don't have to sell it... I have never seen so much good work. Luckily I'm just entertaining myself.

Dear Sarge,

I've never seen a laser printer ("laserjet" is a brand name, not a type of printer) that produced prints that looked anywhere as good as the better inkjet printers. So, the effective answer to all your questions is some flavor of "no."

pax /Ctein

So where does this historical last sale fit? Ctein, are these prints the last of their kind, the last of their kind from a printer of renown or somewhere in between?
Or can you even make such an estimate? Enquiring minds want to know and besides I have my investments to consider :-)

Interestingly of the Ctein prints I own, all of them have the same color theme: bright colors on black (wild ginger, competing ferns, and soon, roses).

@ Frank Gorga

"It is too bad that this is the end of the line for dye transfer."

It may become increasingly difficult to find those who master the art, but the end of the line?
Most definitely not: http://www.dyetransfer.de

regards, HaJe

Dear Frank & George,

Andy Cross in Australia, Jim Browning in Vermont and Egbert and Bettina in Germany still make dye transfers commercially. Guy Stricherz on Vashon Island may also, but no one's heard from him in a while.

There's a handful of others doing it for themselves.

When I stockpiled supplies twenty years ago, I thought there'd be a very good chance I'd be the last dye transfer printer standing. None of us doing it expected anyone to be doing it two decades later.

Happily that's turned out not to be the case. A few people have even manufactured their own materials. I think dye transfer's likely to continue as an obscure and highly-bespoke craft indefinitely, the same way you can find a handful of people around the world still doing things like daguerrotypes.

pax / Ctein

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