I’ve had several requests recently to cover a topic that I’ve scarcely touched upon during the more-than-a-year that I’ve been guest blogging here at 1001 Scribbles: printing. And so I shall. This will be a multi-part series—though I’m not certain how many parts there will be just yet—due to the vast number of topics there are related to printing. Before it’s said and done, I’ll discuss:
- Printers, the various categorical options available and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. (This won’t be a fully formed buyer’s guide; there are already plenty of those available on the Web and, quite frankly, I don’t have enough direct experience with different models to provide nearly enough expertise to put together a meaningful guide, but I can still hit the general points.)
- Color management broadly and the subject of custom printer profiles specifically.
- Media—mostly different papers and the advantages and disadvantages of using different options as opposed to sticking with one or two selections.
- Anything else I can think of on the broader subject, including whether it makes sense to do your own printing or to farm the work out to a lab.
In this introductory piece, however, I want to go beyond the logistical aspects of printing to briefly consider the notion of whether the print itself is on the way to extinction.
Those of you who go back to the film era will remember what a task it was to obtain a decent size print. If you were shooting color print film, by definition you were receiving plenty of small prints, but to obtain a large print—or, even worse, any print at all if you were shooting slide film—was a royal pain. (If you shot black & white the potential to produce your own prints was there, but that meant having access to a darkroom and a considerable amount of equipment.)
With color film, the work had to be farmed out to a lab and…maybe they’d do a good job and maybe they wouldn’t. You had essentially no control over the matter and I saw some truly dreadful prints made, particularly using what is known as E-6 processing (a common method for producing prints from transparency film).
Before I moved to digital capture, however, the era of the digital darkroom had matured to the point where it was possible to produce high resolution scans of transparencies or negatives on a desktop unit and optimize the resulting digital files using a computer and image editing software. From there, you could produce your own inkjet prints using a dedicated photo printer. At the time, it seemed like a dream and to this day—more than 10 years later—I can recall what it was like to see a print of one of my images roll off the printer. It’s difficult to express how satisfying an experience that was.
But today, it’s worth considering whether the idea of a framed print, hanging on the wall, is headed for the dustbin of history.
In today’s world, where digital images are both native and ubiquitous and the means to share them with others easy to use and access, an entire generation is emerging that largely regards—at least somewhat understandably—photographic prints as a quaint anachronism. Why go to the considerable trouble and expense of producing a print when you can share your imagery with just about anyone who cares to see it via social media or e-mail?
It’s a fair question, and I’m not sure that I have a particularly satisfactory answer—not a tangible one, anyway.
Perhaps it’s a product of my experience, but when I’m producing images in the field it is with the understanding that I’m attempting to generate a digital file that will stand up to the considerable quality rigors implicit in a large print. For me, that’s the desired end game for my images. Again, perhaps it’s nothing more than a function of how I cut my teeth, but for me there’s something indescribably marvelous about producing prints of my images, matting and framing them and hanging them on the wall.
But we may well be heading towards a time when alternative ways of image viewing—digital picture frames or viewing devices perhaps (something well beyond what’s currently available)—may be the photographic end game. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if prints become a true rarity in the next few decades. Time will tell.
In the meantime, we’ll give printing its due and perhaps a few of you reading this will find pleasure in seizing control and producing prints of your own treasured images.
Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday. To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog: Lightscapes Nature Photography.