It’s been a little over two years since Covid closed in person meetings bringing an end to print contests. I think printing is important. Printing is where I really learned to understood photography.
First, let me explain something about my approach to photography. I want to constantly expand my vision. I want the print to reflect my vision. So printing for me is enhancement: Adjusting contrast so that there is a range of tones from black to white. In color, making sure the colors are not too bright (too contrasty) or too soft (too flat). Adjusting the cropping to emphasize the subject. Burning in (darken) highlights that have not enough detail. Dodging (lighten) to bring up shadow detail. In Photoshop ( and many other programs) I am able to accomplish what I did in the darkroom. And I can accomplish it with greater accuracy than I ever did in the darkroom. I use basic software, I do not change, add to or subtract from any part of the picture.
Am I talking out of both side of my mouth? Yep. One side is analog, the other digital.
Printing is where I learned what proper exposure can mean to the overall result of the photograph—overexposure results in overly bright, high contrast photographs. Underexposure brings on the opposite: lots of grays and dirty whites. Such adjustments are the basis of processing regardless of the format.
Part of processing is looking—make that staring—- at the print and asking questions. What if I had moved a little further to the left? Up a bit? Or down? (the supreme compliment from Walker Evans: “You know just where to stand.”) Did I pick the right time of day for light? And possibly adjust the cropping to better emphasize the subject.
The print is really the proof that you are a competent photographer. The screen, whether it’s on an iPhone or computer screen or projected for a contest, can hide many flaws from sharpness to contrast. A carefully made photograph hanging on the wall beats any quick I phone view. Indeed, printing is where I learned to combine what I see with using the camera, making adjustments to complete the photograph.
Several members of the club are excellent printers and I am sure would be glad to answer questions.
Some of you may not want to go to the expense of a printer. What’s important here is the preparation. There are strong commercial printing operations on line: Nation’s Photo and Mpix are two of the best. Mpix offers You Tube tutorials to guide your preparations. I Googled the phrase “preparing digital photos for printing” and found a number of darned good step-by-step guides.
Watching a print slowly come to life in the developer is one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of analog photography. As digital photographers we can have some of those same feelings by spending time, thoughtful time, in front of your computer screen as you bring a photograph to life.
The learning curve for printing is not fast. Chances are you won’t get a great print your first time out. Digital printing allows you to fine tune your photographs with an accuracy greater than I ever achieved out of the other side of my mouth. Who wants to go back to the good old days? Not me. After all, the cars weren’t air conditioned.