We didn’t learn about printing photographs during my training in digital photography. Some of you might say “What did you expect, it was a DIGITAL photography course?”
Good point. But I always felt there was something missing in my training and I recently attended a two day course on printing photographs. It opened my eyes to the value of a hardcopy print. Here’s why.
In the days of film photography, printing was as much a part of the final artistic result as was capturing the image. It was an art and a science. Photographers experimented with different chemicals, different printing surfaces, different development methods. Each photograph was literally unique, like a painting. It was often possible to identify the photographer just from the way the print was made – it was as much a part of their signature as was the image.
Today, many of us seek instant gratification. Isn’t that the whole purpose of digital? And of course the best way to share is by posting the image, not by producing a piece of paper. So investing the time to handcraft a piece of work on paper is a waste of time today. Or is it?
There is a growing movement toward retro techniques in art. As the world gets busier and our lives are more and more complicated, we look for opportunities to slow down, have a moment’s peace and be able to reflect. A printed photograph, static in space, forces us to do that. Even better if we can make it with our own hands.
And about that sharing thing: we share prints by making the result available in places that also support quiet time and a moment’s peace – our homes, local galleries and restaurants, and even in the bed and breakfasts of small towns everywhere.
But we haven’t abandoned modern lifestyles all together. Instead we’ve blended the best of both. We print with modern tools that give us artistic freedom in ways not available to the “chemists”. The artist enjoys the experience without any threat to their health from toxic fumes.
Have I convinced you? Just hold up a fabulous print of a scene or story and you’ll know exactly what I mean. I promise.
To those that need a more practical reason, think of it this way. You’ve captured something wonderful with your camera. You’ve carefully prepared the image so that it shows exactly what you intended. What would complete the picture, pardon the pun? Sending it off to a shared hosting site where it becomes one of a million thumbnails, or preparing it for a glorious life as a 20×24 print, causing passersby to stop and stare. Personally, I prefer the latter.
I’ll close where I started. Printing is an art and a science. It fufills the creative and the scientific sides of my pysche. It felt wonderful working on a photograph first to prepare it for display then to prepare it for print. Seeing it emerge from the big black box was amazing. And I loved that I learned something new.
If you are interested in more detail on printing your own photographs, check out this offering from B&H and Robert Rodriguez.