16 thoughts on “The One Minute Rant – Photographers Make Prints

  1. i agree! i spent a lot of time last year (2008) putting my images online and telling everyone i knew about it. the result… no print sales.

    this year i decided to focus on actually making prints and putting them on the walls in my massage therapy office – essentially turning my massage therapy office into a mini gallery. the result… i have sold three framed prints in the first month!

    i don’t have expectations either way on whether this trend will continue but it’s certainly a lot more fun than selling zero prints!

    the other bonus has been that i now have a better understanding of what my prints really look like. you think you know when you are looking at a computer screen – but you don’t really know until you print them out.

    (btw, i display the prints in clip frames and i cut the mats myself)

  2. Thanks for the the encouragement as I continue plugging away, printing, matting and art-bagging prints. It’s a steady process once you come up with a good workflow. Great to be able to show the stuff too!

  3. I think the statement “photographers make prints” is a little cut and dried– If the photographer never intends his or her work to leave the digital domain that’s okay. It’s no different than folks shooting Kodachromes with the expectation that the final product would be a projection on a screen. ( I know that evokes visions of horrible vacation slide shows, but I also think of the German Canadian street Photographer Fred Herzog.) Perhaps the more important issue is to make sure that ones pre visualisation is of a final product, whatever that might be, rather merely thinking to the next step of the process. It’s certainly no fun to be in the position where your capture and your print medium don’t work together in the way you had intended.

  4. I disagree with Mr. Berger..An essential part of the film process has always been a tangible set of negatives and prints (or a set of slides that one could project) to hold in one’s hand, to observe with one’s own eyes, and to show to others for them to observe..What has been lost with digital photography is the tangible, archival image that one could go back to again and again to view and contemplate..

    The very immediacy of digital photography, and the ease with which the photographer can delete images that they think that they do not like, is, I feel, one of its greatest drawbacks..The irony (dichotomy?) is that almost every digital photographer that I know feels that these are digital’s greatest assets, without ever considering the drawbacks of immediately deleting images directly after capture..I am not referring to images that are obviously bad, and that would need enormous amounts of time spent in PP to fix..The images I am speaking about are the ones that the photographer views on that Oh, so tiny screen on the rear of the digital camera while saying to themselves, “Annngh, that’s kinda blah looking so CLICK, CLICK, goodbye blah image!!”..

    I believe that this mindset leads the average digital photographer to dispose of a lot of images that might otherwise be quite acceptable..The ease, and apparent low cost, with which the digital photographer can take thousands of images in a single photography session has led to a way of thinking where many photographers do not hold the images that they capture in high regard..If one takes 1000 images in a session, but only elects to keep a relative few, then the attitude towards the average, individual image is not generally going to be one of appreciation..An image is REALLY going to have to stand out in order to be appreciated, and kept..

    The amateur digital photographer of 2009 is now routinely faced with the same kind of sorting tasks that in the past only the very serious amateur and professional film photographers equipped with motor drives and lots of film to shoot were faced with..In other words, even very inexperienced amateur digital photographers are faced with performing serious triage in order to sort, and cull out, the keeper images from the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of images that they have on their memory cards from a single photo session..To perform this kind of triage without deleting otherwise acceptable images requires knowledge, experience, patience, and discipline that most do not have..

    When photographers cannot accurately evaluate the quality of their digital images, then I feel that this leads to a reluctance to spend money to have those images printed out..Even to spend the small sums of money required to print a digital file out to the size photos that are provided with a roll of film..

    There is a whole culture within our society now firmly in place that believes 100% that digital photography is less expensive than film photography..This culture has bought 100% into the advertising agenda that the camera manufacturers have espoused promoting the digital is cheaper than film myth..As long as the average digital photographer chooses not to routinely print out their images, but to instead view them on computers, then the assertion that digital is cheaper holds true..

    Once the Mom and Pop average citizen photographer pays to print out a few digital files they quickly come to the realization that if they elect to print out the files from each and every photo session, that the costs associated with digital photography are very close to that of film photography..I believe that this is another reason that more files are not printed out..After all, digital is supposed to be cheaper than film, right??..So, if getting prints made all the time makes digital almost as expensive as shooting film, then why bother to get prints made, right??..Why not just look at them on the computer and e-mail them to Aunt Sally, Uncle Bill, And Granny, right??..

    With serious amateur digital photographers things are different..Most that I know spend so much time post processing and fiddling with their digital files that they seem too exhausted to spend much time making digital prints..Most soon find out that making one’s digital prints at home is a very expensive proposition..The lure of the digital process is that a relatively inexperienced photographer can do on a computer what only the most experienced wet darkroom printers used to be able to accomplish..Of course, once the digital file is made, the problems are just beginning..All of the hardware, software, and disposables required to make an archival digital print larger than 13″x19″ in the home require a considerable cash outlay, as well as a fairly steep learning curve in order to turn out stunning, saleable prints..

    Once the average amateur photographer realizes the money that they will need to spend on equipment and disposables in order to be able to print at home a 24″ x 36″ print, they quickly decide not to go in that direction..It is my belief that the disappointment in not being able to print large prints at home also keeps most amateur digital photographers from paying a professional printer to do it for them..A 24″ x 36″ archival digital print, framed with archival materials, is quite simply an expensive proposition..

    Digital photography cries out for tangible prints to view..I challenge anyone to take a file of an image that you really like, an image that you feel has real impact on anyone viewing it; and to have a really good printer print it out in every size from snapshot to at least 20″ x 24″..Do not skimp on the materials, even for the snapshot-sized print..Have at least 7 prints made in ascending sizes..Have each print matted and framed in archival framing materials..I am aware that this will be expensive..The impact of the different sized images will surprise you..A friend of mine elected to do this, and I was amazed at the greater emotional impact the larger sized photographs had compared to the smaller ones..His largest was 36″ x 48″..They were all lined up in a row on one of the long walls of a workshop..Ten prints ranging in size from snapshot to 36″ x 48″..He also showed me the ready-to-print digital file on three different computer monitors, all of which were driven by the same tower unit..A 17″, a 20″, and a 24″ monitor..There was far more emotional impact to the viewer from the prints than there was from the images on the monitors..

    1. Amen!

      Two thoughts:

      Larger prints in many cases are more sellable to clients (we found this to be true while running Indian Hill Gallery for 6 years) but at a certain size the market also starts to drop… how many 3′ x 6′ prints can a house or office hold? Also consider the international art market… most homes in the EU and Asia can not handle prints of that scale. Of couse the most important factor is how large does the artwork need to be to feel right to you- the artist- but I maintain that photographic artworks around 24″ x 30″ or so seem to be the best max size for sales based on our experience… this scale fits almost anywhere and is easy to live with… don’t believe me? … go around your house and measure…. over a sofa sell 2 or 3 as a dyptic or tryptic instead of one print… works for me. Prints of this scale are also easier to transport and finish as anything over this size get real expensive in finishing costs.

      Secondly, I run as part of my business at Indian Hill a fine art printing service. Ours is a very nitch market, 12 color pigment prints (d’Vinci Printer) on rare and hand made papers from around the world. Very cool and yet when I quote a print price for a new intermediate photographer not accustomed to having their works reproduced professionally many times they get sticker shock. I wish there was an easy way to illustrate the cost involved in setting up a facility like IHIW and the years of testing involved to make our technology work the way we want it to… I just skip all of that tho and just send them to NYC to get a print price quote…. they usually are back in a few days ready to print as the cost of making great prints in NYC even scares the hell out of me!


  5. Part of my frustration over the years as I began making digital prints from scanned negatives was the issue of longevity. I started with a Canon Bubblejet in the 90’s. These looked just ok at the time, but nothing like a darkroom print. Surprisingly, the color of those prints have has up quite well. Black and white wasn’t really an option though.

    Then I switched to an Epson Photo EX. The quality was great, but the cost was high, and there was no easy to find information on longevity of the inks or papers, so I was reluctant to sell anything. I printed a lot more with this setup though because the prints looked better than with the bubblejet.

    Then I moved up to an Epson 1270, which was supposed to have near archival inks or something like that. I started printing tons of photos before data started coming out about ozone fading the prints. I also experienced the fading myself, so again, from all the stuff I printed, I never tried to sell anything and was reluctant to even give away prints.

    Now I’m using a 2400 and feel much better about the longevity, as well as the black and white quality. It still seems a lot more expensive to than making traditional darkroom prints, which I still plan to do, but at least I’m not afraid to give these prints away.

    Now that I’m finally matting and framing or bagging these images, I can finally feel that sense of completion that comes with each finished work that’s produced.

    Please forgive or correct me if I got this wrong, but I read a quote a long time ago and it was, I’m pretty sure, attributed to Ansel Adams, who said as he held up a newly finshed print in his darkroom or studio: “Finally, that’s what I saw when I exposed this image 50 years ago!”

  6. Surprisingly, the color of those prints have has up quite well.

    — Sorry for the typo. Should read:
    Surprisingly, the color of those prints has held up quite well.


  7. Dan-

    I do research and testing for many companies in the digital printing industry and one of the first questions I always ask is what is your definition of Archival?… everyone has a different standard! Many of the “testing” standards used today to help sell the archival quality of paper and ink is in my opinion a joke. The current Epson and Canon inks are quite good but the paper and display conditions the finished print will live in are also very important. I settled on 100+ years but with the understanding that in most cases once the print has left my gallery the client can do many things out of my control to “kill” the print such as hang it next to a exterior door (hot to cold in winter months is very bad) or in direct light or over a heater… you get the point. The inks I use in my d’Vinci are rated as the “most archival” ever produced… but I take that with a grain of salt. A great many of the “archival” darkroom prints made are not archival at all, even those made by famous photographers… the exact process of making an archival print is more complex than most photographers realize and again your client can “kill” the best archival darkroom print.

    I like to think that a work of art has a life… no matter what I do at some point in the future the print will “die”…. and of course so will I and then I can stop worrying about how archival my prints are!


  8. I think that one reason that so many otherwise good photos languish on flickr pages and don’t get printed is that even though digital cameras have very much democratized the image capturing process and the image editing process, the opposite has happened to making high quality prints. The cost of producing a digital print that is in some way comparable to, say, a fiber based black and white wet print, is out of most people’s reach, due to the high cost of the printers and inks. Yes, traditionally, darkroom equipment was expensive (although it is dirt cheap now) but groups like arts councils or camera clubs, or even just a group of friends could pool their resources and build a darkroom. I am not aware of any group that has ‘gone in’ on a high quality printer, although I am sure they are out there. Because of this, most people are in a position where they have to farm out their printing, or choose not to print at all. Hopefully, as with all things, the cost of high quality printers and scanners will eventually drop to a level that the average photographer can afford, but I have a feeling that it is a long time coming.

    Another thing that contributes to prints not getting made, in my opinion, is the nature of photo hosting sites like flickr, and social networking sites like facebook. Now, instead of the photographer recieving praise and satisfaction through selling and showing images in galleries, shows, businesses, art fairs, etc, they get all of the praise and adulation they could ever want from the mutual appreciation societies that are such websites, or various online photography contests such as farktography. Many photographers don’t feel the need to make prints because the internet is massaging their egos sufficiently that they don’t feel they need to bother. Photography then becomes more of a social activity than an art form.

  9. You know its wonderful to see a beautiful print, yet
    web viewing of photo’s can be done in a way that is marvelous.

    its the communication not the medium.

    Prints are not the fore-drawn conclusion of photo’s.

    I guess it comes down to your inspiration and vision of what your
    doing this for.

  10. Indeed. I wouldn’t want to deny the value of making prints, and I would think nearly everyone reading this blog is making, or interested in making, fine photographic prints. From a business standpoint no extant prints=no print sales. That being said, one of the things that makes photography interesting as a medium is that a work may or may not be experienced apart from existence as an tangible artifact. By comparison you can’t email a sculpture (not yet anyway) nor can you hang a piano sonata on the wall.

    The other day I was leafing through the amazing book version of the photo essay Men At Sea by the Magnum photographer Jean Guamy. It’s remarkable as a coffee table book, and I’m sure big prints of those images would be even more impressive, yet In some ways it would be more powerful still as a web slide show like the ones on mediastorm.org It depends on the nature of the work and the photographers intent. While it may be disappointing to see a great image languishing on flickr and nowhere else, that’s better than a great image languishing in box of slides or binder of unprinted negatives and not seen at all.

  11. I could agree more with Stephen’s initial rant / statement. After I finished shooting on film images for my Fragmented Light series, I spent a year and a half, to find a printing process and a paper suitable for the aesthetic and emotional interpretation of the images. Finally I settled on the rare handmade gampi paper and on the Platinotype process, having gone through digital prints on epson paper (various sizes to decide on the size and the sequence of the series), printing with a large epson on Kaji handmade paper (Stephen had made initial prints on Kaji and on Gampi) and finally settling on handcoating the whisper-thin gampi with platinum / palladium and printing the series for the exhibitions in Europe and in the States. I have not regretted for a moment the time, effort and expense I invested on finding what I consider the best combination of paper and process for my images.

  12. This is an interesting topic for me. I shoot a lot of stuff that goes out to customers for web and publication. Some goes out raw and some close to print ready. I used to not print much of my personal work until recently. I had my first small print show last year and it was an eye opening experience to say the least. The prints were from my local lab and I matted and framed them myself. The gallery was small and it was humbling to see 10 of my prints displayed all together. I sold three of nine and got a bunch of good feedback and some reasonable critique. It was a great learning experience. I am building a darkroom and hope to have a show again later this year.

    I also want to mention that I am really amazed at the lack of interest many photographers have in the art in general. Many people I meet not only don’t print much of their work but they also don’t seek out good work to view in person. I think they are missing out on so much. I live in Tucson, Az home of the Center For Creative Photography. It’s the repository of some amazing work as well as the host to many fabulous shows. The current exhibit is Linda Connor, one of my favorite photographers and a fabulous printer. The show features mostly 8×10 contact prints on POP (printing out paper). The prints are like glowing gems, incredibly dimensional and perfectly toned. I also had the great fortune to see some Kenro Izu prints at the MOPA in San Diego recently. The were large 14×20 platinum prints. The visual impact was stunning and cannot be duplicated on electronic screens. I am sorry for the photographers that don’t make an effort to see work like this when available. They are really missing something special!

  13. Hello Stephen! Is there a link or a site that can inform me regarding the basics of printing photographs? I have a lot of questions regarding this matter.

    Where and how do I make prints? What is the ideal size of a print? What is the best finish? What are the different types of printing? How can I sell prints? How can I manage to participate in a gallery?

    If you have you time, maybe you yourself can do I detailed article about such.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

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