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Wednesday, 29 April 2020


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Mike, you said it right! If you are satisfied with the 'work print' you don't have to send it out unless you want a larger size than your printer can handle (my situation). I consider printing to be part of the process.

I did the same in my film and darkroom days. Now I do the same in the digital world, now using the P800. Just make a simple test print - not a work print or fine print - once a month, if the machine (or you) remains idle. Make a fine print occasionally. Joy. I know you can do that, easily.

Oh, and if a test print is a hassle, just run a nozzle check at least once a month on plain paper. Keeps the machine flowing. No excuses.

Workprints are great and a necessity if you want to see what something really looks like in a size that matters, size depending on ultimate use. But only making workprints and never "finished" prints means you never give an image everything you are capable of and you never see how good you can really be as a photographer. And if you want to exhibit or sell a print, the 80-20 rule applies: The last ten or twenty percent towards ultimate quality will take much more work than the effort required to make a good workprint, maybe even three or four times as much work. Also making a dye based print as a test print or workprint is only a good idea if your final product is also a dye based print, which is very unlikely given the materials and printers in most labs today. If your lab is going to produce a pigment print then the workprint should also be a pigment print, and preferably on the same paper and the same brand of printer; that way there are no unpleasant surprises when you get your final print back from the lab. Using a different paper and/or inkset when going from a workprint to a final is a recipe for frustration and wasting money as the lab tries to replicate the workprint or proof, although in some circumstances it may be unavoidable.

I've made lots of work prints over the years, and kept a file jacket that held negatives, contact sheets, work prints and mark-up prints--the ones that you drew on with exposure and dodge and burn instructions so I could make the print again.. But if your new print was bigger all the numbers would change, though generally in a proportional way.
And yes, the more you printed, the better you got.
With Digital, I would argue that has changed somewhat. If you run a calibrated system on screen soft proofs generally come closer than work prints did. Although if I have a difficult to print file I will make a print that I know is not final, to better judge where I want to go with it.
The need for the Mark-up print is now gone because all that is saved in your print file. With my current setup, the difference between what I see on the screen and the print is pretty small.
The one use you suggest, that of having a pretty good print to easily show is partially handled by relatively inexpensive Photo books and also by my iPad Pro.
With film work prints did indeed deserve a lot of praise.
With digital, because there is no longer a need to 'sneak up' on the final version by making lots of prints I only make them when I am having trouble getting it exactly right.
I have in the past had pictures that I was unable to make a print that satisfied me, so those remained a s "work prints " in the flat files. Interestingly I have been able to print most of those with the Epson P5000 and the HDX ink set, run by Image print.
So I guess I'm saying that Digital 'work prints" are for me at least, mostly on screen

At one point in my career, I worked in a corporate cubicle and found a nice groove hanging 11x14 work prints on the walls, usually only one at a time, and a new one every month. It was an education to visit the photo throughout the day; my interest in an image would wax and wane, depending on mood, level of tiredness, time of day, etc. Many of my work colleagues provided valuable feedback along the way, and definitely shaped my aesthetic as a photographer.

That being said, I haven't printed in about seven years, though my Epson 2200 remains in my (home) office, theoretically ready to go. What changed was a personal commitment to creating a photo website/blog, and a goal of uploading two new images a week. I'm now approaching a thousand images after a decade. I love the access my smartphone provides to the site, which I visit almost daily. It strikes me that these virtual images fit your definition of "working prints", that is, "good enough". For now.


What you call workprinting, I would call funprinting. That is because I print for the fun of it. I don't sell my prints. That is too demanding and I'm not in it for the money.

Sometimes, I give a photo of a group shot away and tell them that if they store that B&W print properly, it will last a "100 years" just like their grandfather's picture. Of course they won't be alive to grumble if that didn't.

Dan K.

Thanks Mike, I saw the same approach from a video series with Charles Cramer over on LULA. I liked his tip of setting the background to one’s image editing software to white instead of black, as black fools one’s eye and makes the work prints come out too dark.
BTW, any thoughts re printers for B&W only? I.e. can the printer work if the colour cartridges are empty or even not loaded?

I wonder if we could emulate the "make workprints, stick them on a wall and live with them for a while" process, by making a digital collage or slideshow of the images and use that as a desktop background on our computer?

I used to work at a camera store that also did C41 colour developing and printing, and it was common for commercial photographers who shot medium format to bring their 120 and 220 rolls to us for developing, and printing 4x4" or 5x5" proofs. They would have those for a few days to make selections from, before ordering final prints from us, making them themselves, or requesting scans. Even after scanning entire rolls and giving them a CD of JPGs became economical, most still wanted prints that could flip through by hand, lay out over a large area and look over, and hand out to people. Tactile prints matter.

I come from a similar time and experience as you, Mike. Expose the film (using an EI virtually every time); process the film (adjusting for dilutions, temp, and of course the EI); make a contact sheet of the negs (using a process that would give me a really solid starting point for printing); review the contact sheet (shots that looked promising or instructional, possibly needed adjustments, etc); mark the contact sheet accordingly. Then, set up the darkroom for a printing session (tray prep, mix chemicals at appropriate temp; dust and clean enlarger, lens and work space; block any light leaks; etc). Get out my paper for making work prints (usually a gloss surface, 11x14). Make a test print to determine good exposure (not a test strip, but use the whole negative). Process that, all the way through a good wash of a few minutes. Take that print out to room light to evaluate, adjusting for dry down... Rinse and repeat. If a final print was the goal, it would take some time, with adjustments and changes (burning and dodging to name a couple) to get the desired result. It was understood photography was a time intensive process, as well as pricey (11x14 double weight paper and chemistry wasn’t cheap).

Decades ago, I saw an exhibition at the Friends of Photography gallery, the one in San Francisco, of a number of prints made by Ansel Adams of his very famous work, Moonrise, Hernandez. The exhibition covered many years. What was rather amazing (and very transformational for me) was seeing Adams’ creed (the negative is the score; the print is the performance) displayed on the wall. The differences in the prints was sometimes startling, sometimes nuanced. But in each instance, one could see Adams approached the work anew. (I enjoy going to a Bob Dylan concert because one never knows how he will rework and transform one his songs.) That Adams show was very instructive for me. And I continue to use those lessons (and others) whenever I am photographing.

I am not sure that the same willingness to put in the time, money, and effort is much practiced any more. It seems like the au courant attitude and practice is that final results must be quick, easy, and repetitive. Perhaps that is an improved attitude. All I know is that when I’m engaged in photography I’m never in a rush. I know that the time I invest in all aspects of photography are necessary. That no doubt makes me an anachronism.

If you use Lightroom and have a larger printer, an easy way to do workprints is to set up Lightroom's "contact sheet" setting, with the appropriate number of rows and columns per sheet to give you cells of the desired size for each workprint. Include a bit of spacing and white/black between each cell.

Maybe the imaginary people who are working on the imaginary stills only, no menus, limited program, full frame digital camera could also make a high quality inkjet printer that has a maximum print size of 8x10/A4 that would be ideal for making work prints?


That all sounds very darkroom to me. When you say "get better at workprinting" do you mean "get better at digital image processing"? Remembering that actually sending the file to the printer is just pressing the print button?

[You missed my point. The point is that in order to "process" (understand) the picture IN YOUR HEAD you need to see it and live with it in print form. It doesn't matter how you make the print. --Mike]

The HP Laserjet5p printer works fine for my black and white work prints. And Costco works fine for my exhibition prints.

I’ve been shooting the saguaro bloom recently which started early this year due to 100 degree temps in April…which is just crazy. I don’t need to worry about social distancing out in the desert and my photo excursions count as a walk.

My usual process has been to go through two edits, process the files I really like, and occasionally email a JPG to friends and family…and that’s it. I stop there. I then go off and shoot something else. When I consider my 21st century process I think I’ve just veered toward convenience…and probably laziness.

Today when I sat down at the computer I had previously culled the number of saguaro images down to about 50 so I fired up Lightroom’s develop module, tapped the F key to toggle into full screen mode, and began my second review. It’s just so convenient to be able to see my work full screen at full resolution, zoom in if necessary, or quickly toggle out of full screen mode to tweak a crop, change an aspect ratio, or nudge a slider.

The problem with my addiction to convenience is that I never feel the satisfaction that comes from making a beautiful, physical object or the joy that comes from just being a maker. If anything prompts me to get off my ass and print it will be this.

I think I’ll start small and begin creating 5x7 greeting cards again. Everyone loves receiving something beautiful from out of the blue. I mean it. I’m gonna do it this time…really.

I think it's funny all of the talk about how prints "might" be used. I still make contact sheets (in Lightroom) when I come in from a shoot. I mark them up. I do a first cut processing of the selects and print out a proof sheet, usually nine shots to a page. Over the next day or so I tweak the pictures and reprint the proof sheets. Then I print 5x7s and pin them on the cork board. More tweaking ensues. Any print that lasts on the board for a week is "art". Print based workflow is alive and well.

Although I make things that are explicitly meant to be workprints, I also often pick frames I might like and make batches of small (5x7 paper, image area 3.5x5.25) prints to give to people as postcards. I probably make these with less attention than the workprints: certainly it's hard, with a traditional print, to do much to a print that small as the exposure time is so short, even with the slowest paper I can get (I don't understand why most modern papers are so stupidly fast).

Almost all of the prints of mine I have liked best are these tiny, quickly-made prints. Perhaps this is helped by having given almost all of them away, so I now only have memories of them, which memories, perhaps, flatter them.

This is what I do:) When I first starting printing frequently - daily - I was working at the Maneater at Mizzou, making 5x7 prints usually at first for the process camera, which was replaced by scanning(which was then superseded by a Nikon Coolscan) - but I went from spoiled child printing at home on a Minolta Bessler 45a and it's computer controlled flashbulb sensor magic, to eyeballing and split-filtering prints that...well, 60%. They got better.

That experience paid off when I had a home darkroom, where I could get to 'pretty dang good' with a bit of work, and the digital broke all that.

I've gotten back to good enough on my dye based Canon, enough to know if it's worth sending off, and I let someone that can make really good prints deal with it. Much like how I do the easy stuff on my car, and I know HOW to change the oil, but I let the dealership do it because they cost only 5 bucks more than it costs me and they wash the car too:)

As strange as it may sound, for me Instagram is a little like a work print. Very small, so you focus more on the general impression. If I don’t like it after a week or so I delete it.

This is why I don't understand the argument against doing your own printing. I do a lot of work printing, using 9x6 images on 8.5x11 paper. I'll typically print a candidate fine art image out at least a half dozen times, looking at it critically, making adjustments, and often letting it rest for a while. Only after going through this process am I ready to pull the trigger on a large print. I'm not sure how you would zero in on the final image without access to a printer.

My work prints are on A2 (17”x22”) Epson Enhanced Matte paper. Cost about $1 per sheet, plus ink. Say $2 total. First print is usually accurate. I might print 8 from a day’s shooting, pin them up and live with them for a few weeks. I might take a day to go from raw files to 8 work prints. All BW, printed on an Epson SC P7000.

Then if I really like one, I might print a “fine print” A2 or A1 on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag.

The Epson paper gets you 90% of the final result for 10% of the cost, and people like being given the work prints.

Mike Re: " The point is that in order to "process" (understand) the picture IN YOUR HEAD you need to see it and live with it in print form. It doesn't matter how you make the print. "

I did just what you did in the darkroom, because 'work Prints' were the ONLY way you could look at and think about the print and where you wanted to go with it. For Good work it was pretty much essential. And you needed a work print for every serious image.

But with the digital tools currently available, in a color managed workflow and soft proofing you can look at versions that are better than an 85% Work print, and you can compare variations quite accurately. So now, I make relatively few "work prints' and those are to nail down the last 5% of a difficult image by as you say living with it for a while. But honestly I don't need to do that very often because most of that 'refining' process is better done digitally now.
I have lots of "Potential Prints" in an almost ready state that I "Live with" on the computer, in the same way, I lived with work prints.
Over time, some get printed, some don't. But over all, I love prints, and I do make a fair number of' finished ones'.
As for buying a whole new Dye Printer and ink set just to make evaluation prints, -that just means your Pigment printer will get used less and you'll have more expense. If you feel you need evaluation prints, why not just make them on your regular printer?

[Well yes, of course, if you already have a pigment printer. I wasn't suggesting anyone needed a separate printer for workprints. --Mike]

A nice practical working topic, Mike. I've been enthusiastically using work prints for years. I usually use inexpensive 4x6 sized paper with the same color and surface as I intend to use for a "final" print (if such ever exists).

4x6 work prints

I have developed a filing system for prints I expect to want to reference later, as in tonal or paper type alternatives.

4x6 Work print file

But of course I also often use other sizes and even contact-sheet-style test prints on larger sheets, as the image requires.

Contact sheet-style work prints

As to your comment about work prints enabling "... viewing over time so the image can sink into your brain,", that's perhaps their most essential role for me. I've painted closet doors in my office with "magnetic paint" which enables me to use them as tack boards for work prints. Prints often stay up for as long as a year!

A key to success in digital work printing is to pick-and-stick. That is, settle on a couple of final "exhibition" papers you want to use, master their characteristics, and then use less expensive papers that closely mimic the surfaces of those papers for your work printing.

In closing, the late, great Henry Wessel had the largest stack of backlogged work prints I've ever seen! A photo of it appears near the 6:45 point of this wonderful 8 min KQED documentary related to his 2010 SFMoMA retro show. (I really miss this guy's ethic and spirit although I never met him.)

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