Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Fine Digital Print

In recent years digital printing has become a valid option for producing photographic prints. For many it has replaced the darkroom with a type of lightroom. The computer and inkjet printer have taken the place of the enlarger and chemistry. This transition happened to me out of sheer necessity. After I finished grad school I didn't have a darkroom in which to work. For a time I shot Polaroids to continue the photographic process. Eventually I began to research and test the waters of the digital world. That was 2003.

Thinking back, I had a professor in grad school named Craig Stevens who was a serious B&W guru. His knowledge and expertise of the silver based print was astounding. I thought he was B&W for life. But during my years at SCAD he had begun to experiment with digital printing and contemplated it’s future. The one thing I’ll never forget seeing was a For Sale sign in the grad darkroom with his name on it; it was a list of his entire wet darkroom, from Zone VI enlarger to plastic graduates.

I suppose that’s what gave me the urge to try digital printing as well, alongside the fact that a digital workspace was much more convenient in a one bedroom apartment at the time (not to mention portable for when I moved to a new home).

To begin, I looked into a specific type of printing called Piezography. This was a term coined by Jon Cone. He had created a system where you replace the inks in your printer with his pigmented inks: a gradation of tones from black to white for B&W printing. The system had incredible potential, although I had only mediocre results.

This is where a haunting realization hit me, as it may have hit many of you. Digital printing is not as easy as clicking the “Print” button. From that time until now I have experimented and tried all types of avenues to produce a high-quality fine print. Fortunately over the years I feel like I’ve arrived at the place where my digital prints can rival the quality of traditional darkroom prints. It’s taken a lot of practice. But now I’m in love with the capabilities of Photoshop and high-end printers.

One of the dangers I have encountered with the medium of digital printing is to compare it directly to traditional Silver or Chromogenic prints. They are not the same medium. It would be like comparing Silver to Platinum/Palladium. It’s not a fair comparison. All mediums have their own unique qualities and use should be considered for the unique assets of each. And if you are against the evolving technology of photography and want to remain "traditional," then I must ask "Why are you shooting film? Shouldn't you be making Daguerreotypes or Calotypes?" We must remember that Photography's history has always been linked to advancements in technology.

It bothers me when people disregard digital printing as a valid means of output. It bothers me in general when anyone becomes too legalistic about the practice of making art. It seems ridiculous to limit yourself. Now, I’m not saying that digital is the way for everyone to go, but it has definitely become a serious option that can expand the potential of your art making abilities as well as future marketability in the working world.

In conclusion, I’d like to mention a link to a guide I put together on Digital Printing in Photoshop. It is an eight-page guide with illustrations to get you started on the road to making better prints. There will probably be plenty of questions about options and how to refine the process, and those are things I’m definitely willing to discuss.

Maybe one day, many of you will step out of the dark and into the light like I did. (I just couldn’t resist one last jab.)

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