After two technical postings, here is some lighter reading. Over the holidays, I bought the downloadable tutorial video from the Luminous Landscape site called
From Camera To Print – Fine Art Printing Tutorial
The tutorial is presented by two accomplished photographers, Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe, who talk you through the steps involved in making gallery-quality “fine art” prints. This means prints for sale, prints for collectors or prints for exhibitions. Or maybe just great prints to hang on your own wall.
Printing at this level is about controlling numerous details, but also about fussing about subtle nuances and achieving repeatability. Unfortunately, even the larger differences (like the difference between prints on glossy and matte paper) are as hard to show directly on a video. But the video manages to explain all this anyway, partly by showing enlarged or exaggerated versions (e.g. for sharpening workflow) on a computer monitor.
I am a bit of a fan of the tutorial style of Reichmann, Schewe and Christopher Sanderson (the invisible videographer). I tend to be pretty selective about what I read and watch: especially when the total series of 24 files takes a little under 7 hours to watch in its entirity. But this video tutorial is un-American in the good sense of the word – it doesn’t remind you of US talk show hosts.
One of their strengths, apart from their occasional comic Statler/Waldorf moments, are that together the two presenters cover the artsy side of fine-art photography (mainly Michael Reichmann) all the way to the technical side (mainly Jeff Schewe).
Until July 2010, Michael Reichmann operated a gallery in Toronto (yes, Canada) where his work was on display. He now still sells his prints via the Internet (I own a small one). Reichmann is best known for his reviews on the Luminous Landscape website, for his landscape photography, and apparently also for training, workshops and the like.
Jeff Schewe‘s background includes a career in advertising photography. He also consults for Epson’s professional printing division (and in return gets all the printers and supplies that “he can eat”). To avoid an Epson bias, the competing printers from Canon and Hewlett-Packard are presented by Michael. Jeff also has close ties to the Adobe development teams for Photoshop and Lightroom and has co-developed a notable sharpening plug-in and has written several Photoshop-related books.
What works really nicely, is that these video sessions have a general plan but are still pretty much authentic dialogs: Michael stresses why he and gallery visitors like the feel of matte paper, Jeff reminds him that that is less relevant once the print is behind glass, etc. So it is just like hearing two experts improvising to summarize their views and experiencee in a clear and accurate manner.
You might expect a tutorial about printing to be about printers. In reality, printers themselves do not feature prominently in the tutorial. In fact, believe it or not, you never see someone loading paper into a printer or a printer actually printing. Instead the tutorial covers everything that it takes to make high quality art prints:
- printer, ink, paper – briefly
- color management & profiling (camera, screen, scanner, printer) – extensively
- sharpening techniques – reasonably extensively
- print settings (mainly Photoshop and Lightroom, both Mac & PC) – extensively
- soft proofing in Photoshop – extensively
- matteing and framing – extensively
- workflow – extensively
Interestingly, in the final wrap-up, Jeff acknowledges that getting all the details right (in terms of calibration and particularly software settings) is still a “gross inconvenience” and expresses the hope that things will get simpler in the near future.
Comments and suggestions
- The video was made in 2007. At that time, for example, the Epson 3800 and the HP B9180 were both new. The former has been replaced by the 3880 and HP discontinued it’s 17″ product line. Back then Lightroom was at version 1.1. In general, the fact that the video shows its age on such details is not too disturbing. But maybe a text file with some notes might help until there is a newer version of the tutorial. Examples:
- LR didn’t have soft proofing in 2007. The authors expected this glaring omission to be resolved soon. That still hasn’t happened (thank you, Adobe).
- LR 1.1 had little control for output sharpening. Tot what degree are the new options in LR 2.3 and 3.3 good enough? Jeff has done some consultancy towards Lightroom to get their sharpening techniques more leading edge. But the viewer cannot tell to what degree that has helped to simplify the overall process in the subsequent years: should you still do output sharpening in Photoshop (possibly using Jeff’s plug-in) as explained in the video?
- The video demonstrates what Jeff calls the “old way” where you generate a new version of the image that is optimized for a particular print setup. Obviously Lightroom (with it’s parametric philosophy) was already available, but what workflow to use for output sharpening now?
- ICC profiles from 3rd party paper manufacturer’s were described by Jeff as being generally less reliable. Is that assessment still justified? In fact, was the assessment fair at the time? For me it is not obvious that say Epson is better at creating profiles than paper specialists like Ilford or Hahnemuhle.
- The tutorial shows how to cut mattes (= “passe-partouts” in other major global languages like Dutch, Finnish and even French) using a wall-mounted $2000+ Speed Matte system. This is fine for high volume, but it would be nice to at least get some tips on how/whether to use a low-cost matte cutter based on a ruler and sliding matteing knife.
- At the very end, the tutorial points you to one of the Luminious Landscape Video Journals for a list of brands of the stuff used in the tutorial. These are largely brands of minor things like adhesive tape or foam board. That list is probably only useful if you live in the US or Canada, but the video should be self-contained without this loose end, even though it is optionally sold in combination with that extra video (which I didn’t order).
- I wouldn’t mind a discussion of how to load paper into a printer. In particular, printers have 2 or 3 ways to load sheet paper. Some have roll feeds. Many have fuzzy restrictions about what feed to use for what type of paper. Or the ability to adjust (argggh) “platten gaps” in the printer driver. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems in “fine art” printing, especially when every sheet wasted comes at quite a cost. And high-end printers don’t come with much documentation. Incidentally, why not bundle the Luminous Landscape video in DVD form with a $1000+ fine-art printer…
Notes on the main things that I learned
The video essentially covered what I was looking for in a useful and enjoyable fashion. Here are the notes I made on key points that I personally learned and need to remember (note that I was pretty up to speed on color management and Lightroom already):
- The black density (DMax) of matte paper is lower than of glossy paper: maybe 1.7 versus 2.4. I have seen this myself, but a confirmation that this is normal is nice.
- Borderless printing is strongly discouraged (because of framing implications).
- Really glossy papers are strongly discouraged (despite giving a better contrast). Not sure I agree. In the darkroom days, glossy was quite mainstream.
- Lightroom contains calibration profiles for cameras. This is automated/hidden from the user. You can’t change it (actually a workaround is demonstrated if you need to calibrate your specific camera instance).
- Even if your photo is sharp, you need to add a degree of output sharpening. It isn’t explained why this level of manual intervention is needed in the first place. But it is important to know that this is normal and needed.
- You should print at resolutions between 180 and 480 Pixels/Inch. Lower requires special upscaling tricks (and consider adding noise) which can get horribly complicated. Higher resolutions don’t help and only make life difficult for the printer driver.
- There is a nice demo on how to do high-end matteing. Including signing the matte in pencil, and signing the print in ink (even though that will presumably never be seen again). And particularly mounting the actual print in such a way that it can be removed if ever needed. Fancy.
- Use “simulate paper” and “simulate black level” when soft proofing. I still have my doubts about the “simulate paper” one though (as it predicts much more yellow results than the actual print).
If you own a serious (pigment-based, 17″ or better) printer and create or want to create gallery-quality prints, I can recommend this video tutorial: “optimal” and repeatable printing is simply a tricky business. Even if you find only a few tips for things you then do differently in the future, the time is well-spent. And it is almost as fun to watch as a live course (although you can’t see detailed print samples here). The video is obviously much cheaper than a one-day workshop, but you learn just as much. Unfortunately you can’t talk to the presenters, but you can replay parts is needed.