Are you making prints on a regular basis? Why? Or why not?
I think printing should be a regular part of your photography. Nothing will test your photographs more, stretch your abilities, and force you to learn new photography skills, than the process of making prints.
I’ll go so far to say that, if you can consistently produce fine quality prints from your photographs, you will have successfully mastered key components of the craft of photography, and you will be equipped to explore even greater depths of the art.
First, you have to understand that prints are the ultimate expression of a photograph.
Stop thinking that what your monitor or device shows you is what your photo really looks like. The screen is not even close to the accuracy of a print.
Professional printing devices are capable of producing a much wider range of colors (color gamut) than a screen can. They are capable of higher resolution, greater detail, more delicate highlights, and delicate shades of gray in black & white. It’s the difference between a flawless live performance of your favorite music, versus a YouTube video of it from a crummy phone.
Because of this, the print is unforgiving. It will show every flaw and every error in judgement, exposure, focusing, color balance and processing. It’s not a 1500 pixel square on your phone; it’s the real thing, raw, fully laid bare for all to see. And that’s why it’s so powerful. It will test you, measure you, raise your expectations, challenge you, sharpen you, and make you a better photographer.
Don’t do it alone. You need someone who has already mastered the skill to guide and critique your progress; to tell you it’s too contrasty, your highlights are blown out, or you didn’t focus properly. This is an integral part of formal photography training that is lost if YouTube is your only teacher.
Take a class at a local college, go on workshops, and share your work at local photo clubs. Seek out people who make prints you admire, and beg, borrow, or buy time with them to be mentored. Some of the best photographers in the world are easily accessible through workshops. Take advantage of that.
Then find museums and galleries close to you, get on their mailing lists, and go look at prints regularly. Seek it out when you travel. Develop a mental impression of what you think a great print should be. See how artists handle shadows and highlights, color, focus, and paper choice to make their expression.
Lastly, make prints regularly. You’re going to learn more working on a fifty prints in a year than you will just ten. Don’t get caught up in what’s “print worthy” or not. If you think there is something there, print it and start working the process. Hang them on the wall, live with them, and see if they stand the test of time or need to be reworked, or abandoned. Start with 8x10 prints then work your favorites up to larger sizes. Fill your walls, and your friends! Give them as gifts, and let others enjoy them.
Making prints is the fast-track to improving your photography and refining your craft, making you into an even better photographer than you already are.
Rich Seiling is a pioneer of Fine Art Printmaking, having worked on thousands of prints for leading photographers.