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Posted on 14th August, 2019


Once upon a time, the print was king in photography. Photographers wouldn’t press the shutter without having a good idea of what darkroom work they were going to carry out on the negative, how the final print would look and how it would be presented. These days, however, far too many pictures just languish on computer hard drives and never see the light of day. At best, they may get posted on social media, where they suffer from compression artefacts and may only ever be viewed on the screen of a smart phone. A few days after they are posted, no one will remember them.

Darkroom decline

Darkroom printing is not an easy process, involving working in semi-darkness (complete darkness if you print colour) with noxious chemical and lots of trial and error. It is not 100% repeatable; if you manage to create the perfect print from a negative, there is no guarantee that you could do so again. But despite this, people used to love printing (a few still do) and just a few decades ago, most serious photography enthusiasts were busy in darkrooms - either their own, sometimes set up temporarily in a bathroom, or their camera club’s - producing prints of their favourite work. 

The decline in the popularity of printing is ironic, given that printing is now more accessible than ever. You don’t need much space - just a desk with a computer and an inkjet printer - and the hardware doesn’t have to be expensive or as specialist as traditional darkroom equipment. 

And the sad thing is that this decline has made photographs rather ephemeral. I tend to agree with the rather old-fashioned point of view put to me a while ago that a photograph doesn’t really exist until it has been printed. A well printed and presented photograph has a much longer life than something posted on social media. 

Calibrating confusion

When it comes to making digital prints, many photographers get put off fairly early on when they discover that what comes out of the printer isn’t automatically a very good match to what they see on screen. A little investigation leads them to the seemingly murky waters of colour management. They might try calibrating their monitor only to discover that they are still not getting the results that they want and at this point they give up.

The basic problem is that the colour gamut and contrast range of computer monitors is far greater than that of ink and paper; monitors display colours which cannot be reproduced in a print and reveal details, especially in the shadows, which will not be seen on paper. It’s the job of the printer driver to ‘translate’ what is shown on the monitor into what can be printed on paper - and inevitably, things get lost in translation. 

The way to deal with this problem is to learn the art of ‘soft proofing’. In this process, you create an on-screen ‘proof’ of how the image will appear on your chosen paper, with the ink set you’re using, and then make adjustments to the original image to try to recover the lost detail. Knowing how to work with printer / paper profiles is the next step in the process.

Once you’ve got to grips with these and other important techniques, you can then look at paper choice and learning how to choose the paper which will best complement your chosen image. 

Capture 2 Print Workshop

All of this is completely learnable - it just takes a little time and practice. Why not kick-start the learning process by joining us on our very first 'Capture to Print' workshop next spring? Keep an eye on the website - details will be announced soon.