The photographer and the printer

15th February 2013

Every journey into the world of fine art black and white printing emphasizes the important symbiotic link between photography and printing. In this digital age, Adobe® may have ‘swept us off our feet’ into a virtual world of digital color, but printmaking has always been, and will always stay, reality. John Cone, the inventor of Piezography® writes,

 “For 200 years right up until the 1990s, the Print was so dominant in the life of nearly every photographer. Today it seems more like Adobe has become the dominant factor in Photography. I still believe that fine prints come from fine printmaking, and that printing should not be an “output” activity. I’m so old school that it’s embarrassing.

I know that most Photoshop masters teach Photoshop mastery and that it is very difficult for photographers to learn digital printmaking when all their best efforts never seem to match the output. Photoshop is actually a virtual space (no matter who told you what to the contrary). The output if printed correctly, is actually the reality. I do not know how Adobe gained such dominance over printing. It wasn’t always that way, I can assure you.” (

What the photographer begins, the printer completes, so that the photographic or artistic ‘eye’ does not stop with the photographer. Printers of fine art have a privileged task; they get to relate with the shaping of a photo and its printmaking.

Photographers appreciate an extra eye on their material when they sense the total process-extending commitment and ability of their printmaker. This relationship is special, and is well-worth developing and investing into in a high-tech world that rewards such co-initiatives.

A few examples of a pre-print photographic eye (not conclusive):

  1. Study the range of contrast. Use CS6 channel masking to establish the ideal dmax and dlight range for a photo, and to provide an alternative to the over-use of the Levels Tool to correct clippings. Dmax, which is not always at L0, must suit the vision of the photographer for each particular photo.

  2. Examine the photograph for its tone range potential and not its “Pow” value. As an aside, scrutinize the photo for how it fits into the tone range of 0-255 in the photograph (or 0-100%). Piezography maximizes the results in black and white prints; it uses seven shades of blacks. In Piezography black is only black if it measures 0%, but as said, black may not be desirable for a particular shot. By contrast, Epson advanced black and white printer drivers use dots of magenta, cyan, and yellow inks in their black and white printing.

  3. Check the print for artificial brightening. The clipping feature in Lightroom 4’s development dialogue is handy to resolve any problems.

  4. Understand the photographer’s vision and goals for the photograph

  5. Let the photographer know your thoughts on the artistic and technical elements of the photograph. Communicate your commitment to the artistic process, and not only to the technical aspects of the print solution.

A few examples of a print-eye (not conclusive):

  1. Rediscover the modern-day digital ‘darkroom’. Make a proof before editing the photo, look at it, compare it to your chart of 0-255, do not discard any grays without first asking why, make the adjustments in CS6, then make another proof, which the photographer can have as an 8.5 x 11  test print.

  2. Plan for minimum fade in the choice of inks. Use only ink sets that have pure monochromatic tones. Here we have Piezography to thank: they meet a 5% fade over 100 years (lower than what the human eye can perceive). Piezography is the only process presently on the market that withstands fading. Epson, however, plans for a >33% over 100 years fade standard on their black and whites. Explain to the photographer/curator/exhibitor that preserving the photograph preserves the photographer’s vision.

  3. If the client wants to stick to Epson black and whites, then print comparison test prints. Piezography replaces the hundreds of gray levels in Epson ABW, with tens of thousands of gray levels.

  4. Examine the paper topside before printing. All photo rag papers, for instance, contain impediments such as small bobble-dots, which if dislodged during or after the printing process, will leave tiny unwanted white dots on the print.

  5. Examine the paper underside before printing. Impediments lodged in the underside create depressions or protrusions topside. The ink pigment can accentuate these impediments and damages the print. If your paper roll has more than one or two impediments, photograph and email the impediments/faults to your paper supplier. Fine-art paper suppliers are proud of their paper quality, and will do their utmost to keep up their good reputation.

  6. Do not trust your display calibration. A safeguard is to make the Eyedropper tool in CS6 (set at 3×3 matrix) your most trustworthy ‘digital darkroom’ assistant.

There is nothing like actually seeing what you shoot. I wish you many happy journeys between the capture of your photograph and its print solution.