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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Deep Focus

Focus On Wildflowers • To Print, Or Not To Print • Auto ISO Isn’t Just For Beginners

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To Print, Or Not To Print

Q I can't decide whether to purchase an inkjet printer so I can create my own display prints. What are the advantages of doing my own printing, and will it save me money?
J. Nash
Via the Internet

A Each photographer has his or her own ideas when it comes to sharing images. For some photographers, the capturing of the moment is all that matters; for others, images are about keeping in touch, and Facebook postings are the way experiences are shared. Others keep a well-organized website to display their images electronically. In the digital age, we have lots of options. But many of us still aspire to the fine-art print, recognizing the interpretive power of ink on paper. We want complete control of our work, and making our own prints is an integral part of the creative photographic process.

Even in film days, I was seldom satisfied with the results from photo labs. The silver-based wet lab offered little chance for the optimization of an image with saturation improvement, burning and dodging or sharpening. Whatever was on the transparency, or what we hoped was in the color negative, was what we got in the print. Digital has improved all that, but we're still at the mercy of the technician's interpretation unless we do it ourselves. Skill in post-capture processing and a capable printer are the tools you need to achieve the satisfaction of knowing that the end result is entirely your own.

When choosing a printer, you need to consider a number of factors. Are black-and-white prints part of your plans? If so, get a photo printer with a range of black inks: full black, middle gray and light gray will give a great tonal range. Some printers also employ additional black inks specifically for matte surfaces or glossy papers. The better printers offer a broader range of colors, as many as six or seven, to give the photographer a broad color gamut.

What about the cost of printers and consumables (ink and paper)? That will depend a lot on how large a print you want to produce. Photo printers typically handle the standard sizes of 13, 17, 24, 44 and 60 inches. The price starts at under $500 and can top out at over $15,000, depending on the size, quality and range of inks. Paper prices vary with the size, thickness and type of paper. Inks get cheaper per print with larger cartridges, but the price varies, depending on where you purchase them.

Will you save money making your own prints? Probably not, unless you really plan to make a lot of them. The real question is more about who you are as a photographer. Do you have a passion to complete the creative process, want total control of the result and feel you can produce better prints than a professional lab? Do you feel that your prints are the best and most important representation of your inspiration and skill? Then there's good reason to print your own. I personally find great satisfaction in printing, and I never allow others to print any photograph I'm going to sign. That said, I know many successful professional photographers who never print their own work, and they would likely give you a very different answer.


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