Printing 'Pingliang Road'

Good morning folks.

I've been printing my Pingliang Road image today. I went for an A3+ size to get a measure of the print at a good dimension, although it strikes me this image would lend itself to a much bigger form. Below is a mini photo essay in celebration of this simple but joyful photographic act. I hardly ever tire of seeing an image 'released' onto paper.

There are lots of reasons not to print your work - time, money, storage space and so forth. Perhaps you might like to go against this today, and give your image(s) a well-deserved reincarnation.


The print as taskmaster

Regular readers will know of my regard for printing and the pleasure it potentially brings. Seeing an image move from screen to fine paper can be nothing short of a revelation. New tones, colour relationships and detail are revealed, and there is a strong sense of a veil being pulled from in front of the picture. It does, however, have a ‘negative’ side too: it has the power to show up the flaws. The print makes you work harder: you have to be more critical of your image and must be willing to solve all the issues before it sits right.

I was reminded of this just the other day when I made a print of my fern picture (see this post here). If you read the post about this image, you will know that I am an apprentice large format photographer, and was wrestling with a one second exposure in windy conditions at f16. All seemed to be well in the end, that is, until I printed it.

The problem is there are some significant - and visually unattractive - shifts in depth of field. The chosen aperture of f16 is simply inadequate to give the kind of generous clarity I had visualised. Thinking about it, it’s hardly any wonder: I was looking down a fairly steep slope and there was no way I was going to bring the film, lens and tree planes into alignment, even given the tilt options of the field camera. Trees aren’t very considerate too, and tend not to grow straight upwards!

There were good reasons for not wanting to go longer than one second at the moment of exposure, so this limited my aperture choice. I didn’t have any faster film with me at the time, although even HP5+ (a sensible alternative) probably wouldn’t have solved the issue. I chalk this up to part of my learning experience with large format: 35mm photographers are blessed with few problems when it comes to securing adequate depth of field. Indeed, it’s something of a historical irony that in these days of ultra-fast lenses and small formats, photographers often strive for less depth of field, when photographers of the past sought more. To move ‘up’ the formats is to encounter these self-same problems. Adequate depth of field is now on my picture-making radar (as an experienced LF photographer would doubtless have counselled me).

The print may be a hard taskmaster, but it’s a teacher too. All the parts of the process are connected. What a wonderful medium this is.

Hahnemühle Photo Matt Fibre 200 gsm paper

Make a start in fine art inkjet printing

There is a beguiling range of inkjet printing papers available on today’s market, many of which have specialist characteristics and applications. If you are new to inkjet printing, or indeed are simply in the mood for a different support, it can be difficult to know which paper to choose.

I have several paper types that I regularly use, each for a different purpose. Among these is a category that I might call the inkjet equivalent of a straight print in the darkroom. Having made a first stab at processing an image, I want to print it out and begin to make decisions on how to proceed. I will return to processing, print again, and repeat as necessary. Towards the end of this procedure I will include the final paper, usually one of the most expensive available. The paper I use first will be an ‘economical’ one (for reasons of economy, naturally), but, crucially, must not be so far removed from the final type as to introduce a jump or glitch in the process. It’s pointless to work on a draft version of a print, only to have to start processing from scratch once the end paper is introduced.

A paper has recently come to my attention that I have considered for this draft / straight print role. It is Hahnemühle Photo Matt Fibre 200 gsm. You have to tread carefully with affordable matt papers because at the lower end of the market you may not achieve the kind of quality you need. In point of fact, I remember thinking for some time that printing on matt supports wasn’t worth the trouble - until I discovered fine art matt media. The problem was that the image was rendered with a noticeable grainy structure (quite unlike film grain, incidentally) that gave the image a rather un-photographic quality. A quality matt paper will not suffer this, rendering your image in a smooth and photographic fashion, with good tonal transitions.

The price point of Photo Matt Fibre suggests that it is an economical but not a budget paper. It is significantly cheaper that Photo Rag Matt (one of my favourite final print papers), at nearly half the price. Hahnemühle themselves advertise it as a good first paper for fine art work. I’d like to second that view here and recommend it myself as a good place to start.

A draft print on Hahnemühle Photo Matt Fibre 200 gsm. Made using an Epson R3000 printer.

A draft print on Hahnemühle Photo Matt Fibre 200 gsm. Made using an Epson R3000 printer.

I like two things about this paper. First, it has the aforementioned quality of rendering a photographic-type image that I consider the sine qua non of inkjet printing. Second, it is not a thin paper at 200 gsm, and comes with a slight texture reminiscent of more expensive fine art matt papers. I can therefore get very close to my final print with this media, before using my preferred exhibition paper.

Good tonality, the ability to render sharp details and a gentle fine art texture are qualities of Photo Matt Fibre.

Good tonality, the ability to render sharp details and a gentle fine art texture are qualities of Photo Matt Fibre.

There are two possibilities here then, as I see it. Either you’re starting out and are on safe ground with this paper as a first matt paper choice and a taste of fine art printing; or you’re already printing and might consider it as a replacement to your draft matt. In either scenario Photo Matt is a sound, keenly priced option.


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A most delectable patch of grey

I own a print by an established photographer that is framed and displayed in my home. I enjoy this print every day, and it has many virtues. Shot with a large format camera on black and white film, it has a rich tonal range, is pin sharp, beautifully mounted, and is of an uplifting natural scene. The tones are undulating and varied without being brash or overly contrasty. The scene is peaceful and there is a quiet drama to the print that chimes with this.

As a printer however, there is one detail that really excites me. To the top left of the image is a space where foliage gives way to a glimpse of distant mountains. I have never seen the negative, so I can only speculate about what it is actually like, but I imagine that particular area to be pretty dense. I surmise that a straight print would result in a too light patch that would draw the eye undesirably to the edge of the frame (and thus from the image area and its subject matter). I further surmise that a little burning-in is necessary to bring a sense of solidity to the rocks and to shift the tones from empty white or near white to light grey. A light grey that is solid but still light. A grey delicately balanced and finely tuned.

How satisfying that light yet solid grey is! To my eye, with my printer’s speculation (admittedly a projection, but likely, I think), it is a small but hugely important detail that makes all the difference. It encapsulates for me the joy of the printer’s work; the ability to tune parts of an image such that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. The work of greys, of patches and pockets of grey, decided upon by the artist. Not arrived at accidentally, but tuned with intention, decided upon, meant.

A most delectable patch of grey, and a reminder of what a great monochrome medium we have at our disposal, film or digital.


* Footnote to previous post: screen vs paper

Whilst looking at my previous post I had a realisation. There is a world of difference between the on-screen version of my Shutters image and the version on paper. I have to rely on the reader imagining differences between papers because the screen and the paper versions are so very different. The 'light turqouise' patch of which I write literally can't be represented on screen. A problem on one level, but, an inherent part of these distinct media and a splendid example of the gap between screen and print.

I guess you just have to see the prints too.