I just made my first ink-jet print and it looks very close to what I see on my monitor! It’s so exciting, I can hardly type…
I will write in this and in the following posting about the long and weary learning process, but really, my advice to all of you out there is: don’t even start with it! There are just so many concepts that one has to master, so many settings that all have to be gotten right… it’s not even funny.
There are two fundamentally different ways to improve one’s photographs: increasing their artistic merit or improving their technical qualities. Truly great photos are of course both artistically and technically exquisite, but for most of us hobby photographers it’s an either-or choice. Or is it really a “choice”? I don’t think that one deliberately chooses one over the other. It just happens automatically as we try to get better. Those of us that are less creative inevitably choose the technological path, because that’s the easy way to improve our photos: snappy colors, good sharpness, full tonal range and other such things… The creative types on the other hand, they don’t care about all this stuff, and they couldn’t care less about the maximum aperture of their one-and-only zoom. Heck, they don’t even know what a maximum aperture is! Yet they invariably produce stronger and “better” images. And then a technical type sees the work of an artsy type, he or she gets infuriated and goes out and buys yet another lens, flash, filter or a lens hood.
Well, I’m a techie myself. I’ve never had a wet darkroom, but I’ve struggled through the whole rest, analog and digital. I’ve learned a lot along the way and today, by printing my first ink-jet print, I’ve completed the photographic circle! Getting into printing was a tough and scary step, but in the past months I’ve had the feeling that if I don’t produce prints, I might as well give up photography. I mean, why do I lug the heavy camera bag around? If I’m only shooting for the Web, I can sell all the dSLR stuff a get a compact camera!
I tried letting cheap and not so cheap labs print my photos, but I was never excited by the results. So after some soul-searching, I broke down and bought a good ink-jet printer (Epson 3800). I guess the fact that the print came out OK is proof that learning all the technical stuff is doable, but really, taking the creative approach only is a thousand times easier… You don’t believe me? How long have you been shooting? Do you understand color management? ICC profiles, color spaces, lpm, ppm, native resolution, soft proofing, or source sharpening? When’s the last time you soft-proofed an image? Do you know what relative colorimetric does? Do you have a profile for every paper-printer-combination that you are using?
You still don’t believe me that concentrating on the artistic side is better? OK. What are you gonna do when you do get your first print that looks technically competent? You will have mastered the technical concepts, but the artsy types will still producing better images than you!
Next time I’ll look back at the photographic stations that I’ve taken and what I’ve learned along the way, but before I close, here is the image that I printed today. It’s not a great one artistically, but it’s an image that I don’t get too emotional about, so I thought I won’t get too upset if the prints don’t come out looking good…