Monday, October 20, 2008

What a Difference a Print Makes

(Please click on the thumbnail to view a larger version)

I have just had the value of making prints brought home to me in a vivid fashion.

While I never completely lost interest in prints, I had become quite distracted by the web experience and had formed the habit of rushing from one photo outing to the next and skipping the printing step. There are, after all, only so many walls to fill; and paper, as well as ink, are expensive. In my situation—months of preparing to move, moving, and not being certain now whether we will be able to stay in this house—putting holes in walls to display prints and creating more things that may have to be packed and moved again didn’t seem like a smart plan.

Besides, there is plenty to be learned from viewing images only on a monitor. What I see on my screen is a harsh enough reminder that I continue to struggle mightily with all the technical elements of photography. Lately, I have been most frustrated over my weaknesses in composition. Furthermore, while I am getting far more consistent in the exposure department with fewer and fewer outright losers, I haven’t begun to master exposures that fully capture what I felt when I saw the image in my mind. Even though I am improving in my ability to control depth of field, I continue to come up short of my goals. I experiment more frequently now with point of view, but I haven’t come close to pushing boundaries.

On a regular basis, I ask myself how is it that I can feel so passionate about what I am doing, yet that passion is not fully translated into the images I make? How long will I face this the great chasm between my intent and the execution. When Paul Butzi wrote recently that he considers himself "
a Photographer of Very Little Ability", I was floored. “Holy cow,” I thought. "If Paul Butzi has ‘very little ability’, where the heck does that put me!?”

To complicate matters, I added a bright, shiny, new monitor. Next, I added the Eye One Display 2 to my list of technological challenges. Having calibrated my previous monitors using the by-eye method, and being of almost zero ability when it comes to learning new software, I was destined for trouble from the beginning. Sure the software offers an “Easy Method”, but that would have been admitting defeat, wouldn’t it? Yes, I know that the intelligent thing to have done would have been to live with my limitations and opt for the easy path. No, not my style.

I dug into the “Advanced Method”, whimpered for help from The Husband and
Paul Lester when I was completely stuck and plugged away at it. The Husband was there for me and helped even though he knows nothing about color management; Paul generously shared the benefit of his experience and both of them made a difference. To put my limitations with software into perspective, let’s just say that I could swear that divine intervention powered me through the experience of learning Photoshop. Since, I often compensate for lack of talent and smarts with determination—that’s old-fashioned stubbornness, if we are being blunt—my health and sanity were spared with a few key breakthroughs and I now enjoy using Adobe’s mind-bending program. So far, no such intervention with Eye One Display. I’m still not satisfied with my calibration. A couple of days ago, I was so discouraged that I began thinking I had probably never had anything vaguely resembling decent calibration and that meant that I couldn’t possibly ever have produced any decent photographs. Everything I had ever done was garbage and a person with so little intelligence should never, ever tackle color management. (A dental appointment and the beginnings of a cold didn’t help my frame of mind.) I was ready to raise the white flag.

But, that’s where prints come into the story. Before beginning one last ditch effort calibrating the new gorgeous, but virtually useless monitor, I searched for the calibration prints I had ordered from Smugmug—they had proven invaluable in my previous by-eye calibration. Early in the search, I ran across a few envelopes of prints made over the last couple of years. Some of those prints had hung on the walls and when I ran out of walls, some had been stuck on the insides of cabinet doors in our old house. The prints all around me inspired me, challenged me, and helped to keep me on track. Looking at my failures was just as important as viewing the successes. (The stinker were inside cabinets that no one else looked in—my ugly little secrets.) Next, I opened some of the framed prints that had hung on the walls in our old house, but have languished in boxes waiting for a certainty that these walls will be ours. Too many of the prints reminded me of how much I still have to learn, but there were a few that succeeded in capturing moments of consequence to me and some reminded me that others had been happy to purchase copies of those prints. Furthermore, the prints showed that, although it might once again have taken divine intervention, I had managed to get some of my impressions on paper.

Since that day of discovery, I have shot with enthusiasm and a confidence that eventually, I will get close to calibrating this monitor and once again making prints that please me. If only momentarily. I was reenergized. By the way, it hasn’t escaped my notice that I require reenergizing about two or three times per month. It’s a herky-jerky journey, but I can only move at my own pace.


  1. It good to hear that you have regained your passion as to why you take photographs.

    Colour calibrating your monitor is a good step to be better able to see how your prints will look.

    One problem I have with having a calibrated monitor and WB set to 6,000 is that many monitors, the uncalibrated versions, if not the vast majority have uncalibrated monitors, are too contrasty and most important have a WB set to 7,5000.

    This will many an subtle red-blue hue look purely blue and the viewers will miss out on subtle hues.

    On Digital Outback Photo, link below, they have a very good testy print for determining how well your printer performs. I find by some of the scenes included in test image do a great job of showing problems in the colours.

    Niels Henriksen

  2. Niels - Thanks for the comment and the link. I had found that long ago, but had lost track of it. I am grateful for your pointing me to it again.

    It's so true, isn't it, that with all the variations in monitors out there, who knows how many "versions" of your photograph are being veiwed? The last time around, I calibrated to my own printer and the online printer I most often used, and then worked with the different profiles provided. That method was working for me, but I will never know how the images were perceived by many on-line.

  3. Anita: it will take several rounds for you to get what you want. I do remember that. It's been a long time since I've printed, so I'll have to go through the calibration routine again. :-( It's really not fun. It's something that I'd rather not do, honestly. Also, when you change paper and/or ink, well ... you have to do it again. :-)

    Right now my thoughts are going towards trying to tame that beast that is Photoshop. I'm still a rookie, indeed. The hard part for me is in getting the output to look like I want/imagined it to be, especially subtleties. And, quite frankly, those subtleties do not transfer well to the web. I'm usually disappointed, especially where the yellows and greens are concerned ... they're just not pulled off well on the monitor.

    It's a continuing learning process, I guess. There's always something to learn.

    I feel as you do, too. I'm always eager to rush out the door and pursue the next image, but sometimes I need to sit and work on what I have.

  4. Paul - Your comment is reassuring, if somewhat disheartening. Yes, yes, yes regarding problems with transferring greens and yellows to the web—especially yellows. They can be maddening.

    While I'm no ACE at Photoshop, I mostly enjoy working in it now—after studying hundreds of tutorials. CS3 slowed me down quite a bit in the beginning, but I am feeling fairly comfortable with it. finally. I have even gotten over the worst of the agony of facing profiles and soft proofing. The profiling is just plain drudgery for me.

    Please do note that I said the "worst" of the agony with profiling and soft proofing. I certainly am not a pro, and I waste quite a bit of paper; but I have made progress over the last two years.

    The best thing about learning Photoshop is that there are all those free tutorials on the Internet. I have learned quite a bit at the NAPP site, but much of it was just dug up here and there across the web, as well as some from magazines.

    I am making my peace with the fact that I work in fits of starting and stopping. Rather than trying to change it, I will make the best of it. The lovely thing is that with photography there are so many differennt things that can be worked on depending on your frame of mind. Photoblogging adds even more possibilities.

  5. Good luck in your printing journey! Even though I often need to remind myself of this at times - there is nothing that quite compares to having an actual print to feel in your hands.

  6. Mark - It's nice to know that others sometimes forget the feeling of holding that print in your hands. The next time around I can remind myself that I am not alone.


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