Skip to main content

The proof is in the print

Billions of images never make the transition from pixels to print. However, for the serious photographer the print is the ultimate test of an image, the goal, the tangible product at the end of the creative process.

There’s something unique and special about seeing an image in print, whether it is reproduced in a book, on a billboard, an inkjet or any of the other tangible media. I suppose the only other media which has an equal impact is transparency film but here again a large print from a transparency offers a more accessible end result than a slide on a lightbox.

I feel that any images of mine, no matter how good I think they may be, have not really come to life until I see them in print. It’s the ultimate test.

I wonder though about the thousands of photographers around the world snapping away, manipulating their images and then uploading them to the web. I see so many images that may look reasonable at 500 or 800 pixels across, which I just know will not work in print. Any mistakes show up with brutal clarity when you take an image and produce an A3 print from it.
It’s been said before, but the most common mistakes ‘internet photographers’ make is that they over sharpen and over saturate their images, and while I’m at it I can add that the most common error photographers make during capture is camera shake. There’s a thought. Maybe that’s why we see so many over sharpened images; photographers trying to resolve the problem of un-sharpness due to camera shake.

The reason why discerning stock libraries set such high standards for the images they accept is because they know that their clients’ end-use for an image is print. They’ve been stung by the sharpening problem too which is why most do not want digital captures to be sharpened by the photographer. Printers need to sharpen an image according to the way it is going to be used. Numerous factors are taken into account, size, media, ink and process etc – perhaps the subject for a future article.

So if you’re a photographer who wants to achieve the highest quality (justifying all that money spent on cameras and lenses) then go to a gallery or museum and take a look at the work of the master photographers – a glowing Ansel Adams print for example. Ask yourself every time you work on an image whether it will really be able to stand the test of print. Are you challenging yourself hard enough? Is your aim to be able to produce a print that could hang in the same room as one of the master photographers? Or would your print look out of place and stand out like a sore thumb because of its quality?

In a future article I’ll tackle the issue of the relative importance to an image of content versus quality, which is a huge topic. Whatever the content and however good the technical quality of an image there is only one question to ask yourself as you save your high resolution file: is this good enough to print?



Lemmers said…
You've said what I think. "Shooting for the monitor", I call it. With the evolution of digital there is also the potential for devolution.
There is also this click, click, click...discard save, discard mentality where one skips the step involving study, evaluation, learn. Maybe an old manual analog camera & a strong mentor will see a resurrection one day...

Wonderful mind you have, Paul.

Popular posts from this blog

The art of writing a caption

A caption in its simplest form is the the title of an image but usually we mean a bit more. A full caption takes the form of descriptive text, usually a few sentences.

A good caption informs us about the things we cannot see and encourages us to look at an image more closely. There is a relationship of mutual benefit and dependence between a well written caption and an image. The caption can bring an image to life by providing context and meaning. It is also the link between the article/story/text and the image.

Magda Indigo has written a good description of a caption here. I agree with her dislike of "untitled". It does show a certain lack of imagination and is not particularly helpful to the viewer. Creating an image is all about trying to communicate something and the caption is vital to help the audience understand an image. It can hugely enhance the viewers experience.

A good caption is a piece of writing that should be concise, accurate, informative and as carefully craft…

All the different types of photography

Welcome to my blog. While you're here why not browse through my extensive library of articles covering everything from tips on how to do things photographic to help with the mental approach you need to become a successful photographer. You'll also find articles with some of my unconventional views. Yes, I've rattled a view cages in my time. Hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them.

You can view my more serious work on

All the different types of photography

With the help of acquaintances on a photographic site I've tried to compile a list of all the different types of photography out there. I'm sure there are many still missing but the list is pretty impressive so far. We have identified around 80 descriptions.

For fun I've highlighted in bold the different types I've done so far...

3D photography
Action photography
Advertising photography
Aerial photography
Amateur photography
Animal photography
Architecture photography

Is professional photography still a viable career?

I am not against amateurs and semi-professionals selling their photography. It's a great way to earn some extra cash. However I am concerned about the level of high quality published work and the standards that clients and the public accept these days.

It seems that just about everyone is a photographer. The line between amateur enthusiast and professional is fuzzy to say the least.

Photography enthusiasts are selling their images through stock libraries and microstock websites, directly to magazines or through their own and third party sites. They're accepting commissions to shoot weddings, being hired to shoot for magazines and selling fine art prints from their websites. They're teaching photography on the weekend and guiding photographic holidays and safaris.

Photography became accessible to the masses with the first non-expert cameras and the famous Kodak slogan"You press the button, we do the rest." The digital camera age has taken the whole thing to a new …