A Life on Paper

Every time I sell a print, I smile. I do because it affirms my talent and skill as a photographer. I do because it affords me the opportunity to continue to create.

It is one of the ways by which I support myself as an artist. I have been making and selling my own prints for years. But it’s only now that I’m going to share the painstaking labor of love that goes into their creation.

The hope is that this gives people a greater appreciation for the product and the process as a whole. The value of art, after all, lies in the viewer’s perception. And I wish for people to realize that each piece is worth much more than the ink and paper used to make it.

This post will limit itself to the process of print making. It will not delve into the even longer process of making the photograph that precedes it. That topic is a different series of posts in itself. The assumption is that pictures, usually born out of hours of work, are ready for printing.

What You See Isn’t What You Usually Get

Before I work on any of the images, I have to make sure that I calibrate my monitor. This ensures that the colors that I see on my screen are accurate or as close as they can be to a set standard. Modern displays tend to run cool (on the blue side) and this skews the colors perceived by the viewer. For years now, I have been using the Datacolor Spyder line of products for this very purpose.

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Why is this important? Without calibrating the aforementioned monitor, I would edit the images with a bias towards warming them up. The pictures will look good on screen, but the prints will tell a different story. Because people aren’t supposed to be orange.

Plug and Print?

With calibration done, I then import the images on the card into my Lightroom library. Culling, keywording, and making selections follow.

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Selections are then processed. First, I edit for output on a screen, then make a separate edit for print. As my printer isn’t calibrated to my monitor, I have to make adjustments to the file before printing. The gamut of colors displayed by a computer screen is different from what a printer can output. And the image one sees on a monitor is lit by a light behind it; the image printed on paper isn’t.

Press “Print” Now?

Well, not quite. Next I have to choose the paper that I’m going to use. There are many different kinds of paper and each one comes with its own distinct qualities. There are many things to consider in paper selection. For example, if I wanted deeper blacks, I’d go with matte. If I wanted to emphasize specular detail, I’d go with a glossy or metallic finish. And that’s just to start. There many photographic paper manufacturers on the market, but nothing beats the price-to-performance ratio of those offered by Red River Paper.

Once I select the paper to use, I proceed to prep it for use. I make sure to handle each one along its sides without touching the surface meant for printing. I then use short bursts of air from a blower bulb to dislodge any dust particles on it.

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The paper once prepped is loaded into the printer. The workhorse I’m using is an Epson Ink Tank System model that has been chugging along for years. Aside from their more natural rendering of skin tones, the low cost of owning one made it a no-brainer.

So, Press “Print” Now?

Yes, but to make a test print first. I usually order different sizes of the papers that I use. The smaller sizes allow me to make an initial print to preview how it’ll look on that particular paper type. This way I can make the necessary adjustments while minimizing waste. Also, it lowers the chances of my throwing a fit when a print comes out too dark.

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In my experience, I have to make print adjustments that are unique to each picture. These usually depend on the content of each one. Once I’m satisfied with the changes, I commit to the final (usually larger) print.

Are We There Yet?

We’re nearly at the end, I promise. Thank you for your attention so far. Each print is allowed to cure and dry under a piece of white copy paper. This allows the ink to “breathe” and set. I set a minimum of 12 hours for this process, but will usually go for 24.

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The “drying beds” above are as DIY as they come, but they get the job done. They also keep dust particles from adhering on to the surface of the print while it dries.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Of course, I only sign prints of photos in my current catalog. I usually do so at the back with a pigment ink pen. The photos I make from a portrait session, of course, aren’t signed. It would be presumptuous of me to do so. Although in both cases, the prints are stored and sealed in an archival quality clear bag by ClearBags.

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Once secured with a backing board in an envelope, the print is delivered to its recipient. The joy that you see on people’s faces as they view it for the first time is inexplicable. And it makes the hours of labor to produce each one worth it.

A print is worth far more than the ink and paper used to make it. It’s not just the end of a journey that translated an idea onto paper. When you hold one in your hands, know that you’re holding on to a part of my life.

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3 thoughts on “A Life on Paper

  1. I learned a lot from this post, really, and I have a deep respect for the work of photographers. These days, when we all can take photos and print with fairly simple home equipment (which I think is a fantastic opportunity for all of us), we also need to be reminded about how much skill, knowledge, experience, talent and hard work it takes for the real, professional craft work. I’m glad to hear you are following this path, it’s yours, your passion and love for what you do is obvious!

    Like

    1. Thank you. The insight you shared can only come from someone who has also delved deep into her craft. My wish for all artists is that the craft they love loves them back.

      Liked by 1 person

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