My prints and me. Mes tirages et moi. Prints you can buy . Tirages que vous pous pouvez acheter.

Screen shots and prints:prints have always been my goal.

I strongly feel that a photograph’s worth is ultimately determined by how it lives -or dies- in print form. I’ll even add ,and this is about as close to dogmatic as I’ll ever get, that for me prints are the best way to experience photographs. No matter what they’re printed on, as long as it is well done, I always “enjoy” a printed version of a photograph more than a screen version.

Although presently I work digitally, I still find, just as I did in my darkroom, that  photographs best  reveal their strengths and weaknesses to me when I print them.  If a photograph looks good on screen but “won’t print”, it’s most often a sure sign that I was kidding myself and that I can bin it without regret.

 

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One  of my favourites, works on screen, in a small way but a print really makes it come to life.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with some photographs having only an” on screen” digital life.  And I enjoy working in a light room rather than a dark one, but still, a screen shot just doesn’t quite cut it for me . Simply put,with a screen shot there is no guarantee that the viewer is seeing what the photographer wants him to see at the size and in the colours she/he decided best works for that particular photograph. ( I know, this is also true  with prints but to a much lesser degree in my view.) That’s why, even if I’m delighted to share my photographs as screen shots, and generally speaking to access the works of others on a screen, the digital revolution hasn’t changed my goal , which is for my photographs to exist as prints .

What the digital revolution has changed is how I go about taking photographs and printing them: I’ve traded in my film cameras, processing tanks and trays, contact printer and enlarger, for digital cameras,a scanner, a computer and an inkjet printer.

Of course, and I’m only talking  black and white photography here, there are differences in the look and feel of film and digital negatives, and also in the look and feel of silver halide and inkjet prints, to name but the two processes that I’ve practised ( and that I mix at times when making inkjet prints from scans of my negatives). Having found both processes to fulfill my expectations with respect to what constitues  effective prints of my photographs, I now exclusively print digitally whilst acknowledging that there are subtle differences between the two.

Inkjet prints are hard work and costly: I make my own.

When I took my first steps in photography, I quickly understood that to have control over the final result, the best route for an amateur was to learn how to process film and how to print, and do it yourself: which I did as the other route,collaboration with high quality labs, was out of the question.

Likewise,when I took my first steps in digital photography, I wanted to control as much as possible the final result and learned how to do it myself.  Contrary to my experience in the darkroom, I  expected that making an effective digital print would be cheap and as easy as hitting a button. How naive ! I quickly discovered that making an effective inkjet print is just as costly in quality materials, and finicky and challenging but infintiely less messy, less manual labour intense and possibly less wasteful and tedious  than making silver halide prints. Once again, they are different creatures. As for that often referred to” exclusive magical experience” of the image progressively emerging on photographic paper in the processing tray, I remember it with a mixture of  fondness, excitement and frustration and must say that I now experience something similar in my light room, when a print progressively emerges from the printer. And I get an extra rush when a print is finally framed.

 

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I still get a sort of buzz as a print emerges from the printer,similar to that of seeing the image build on traditional paper in the processing tray: will the image hold its promises or be a disappointment ? Do I need to tweek the file or the settings to get it just right ?

 

In a nutshell, making inkjet prints  involves a lot of work and skill ,quality tools and materials and costs money even before factoring the added value of the photograph itself !  At present, I print all my  photographs sold through this site myself, with a high end inkjet printer and printing materials. Printing  continues to give me great satisfaction. So if you buy a print of one of my photographs, you can be sure that it was made by me.

(Because I feel some of my photographs need to be bigger than whatI can achieve with my set up , limited to A2 paper, I am looking to collaborate with a lab to make bigger prints. When/if I put those up for sale, I’ll make it clear that I’ve outsourced the print.)

Limited edition prints  ?   Maybe one day.

Collectors and buyers like the idea of limited edition prints.  In photography, where there is no theoritcal limit to the number of precisely identical prints you can make of a photograph, there is no justification for it with respect to guaranteeing a consistent quality of print. On the other hand, limiting the number of prints made, can by reducing the offer, contribute to them commanding  an ever higher price  if they become more and more in demand.

About limited editions and vintage prints, as David Vestal points out in the chapter “Print Esthetics and Beyond” of his book “The Art of Black and White Enlarging”…there is a danger  that the photographer might later on come to a better understanding of an image and be able to make a better print of it but be restricted  because held to a limited edition or to the cult of the vintage print. I couldn’t agree more . I  revisit my photographs before printing them and it does happen that I interpret them differently. Thus I see no point at present in making print runs in limited numbers. I only wish to sell prints that I am happy with at the time I make them.

So for the time being I am content with giving each of my prints a unique catalogue number( that I write on the back) and with keeping a copy of the file that I used to make it and with providing buyers with a certificate of authencticity that includes a list the materials and tools used to make it.

Prints are physical objects  that need to be framed ! ( Or at least kept in a decent presentation box.)

Obvious I know but prints are physical objects: they breathe, have a surface, reflect and absorb  parts of the light that fall on them and can present minor imperfections . When exhibited, they need to be hung to allow for an appropriate viewing distance and framed  to enhance how we experience them and to protect them.

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A print on heavy weight Harman Fiber Based Glossy Paper, printed with Epson Ultrachrome K3 Inks, un mounted in an archival storage and presentention box. Note the framed print above it,:it’s actually one of the rare silver halide prints still in my possession ( most of my “traditional” prints I either gave away or sold ).

 

I am not in the business of framing my work except for my own use or  for exhibits: even then I only mount them temporarily. Framing is a serious craft and rightfully costly when done professionaly. A good print deserves a good frame that will work for it and also protect it. Many photographers sell themselves too cheaply: ironically, the framer ends up making more money than the photographer, creator of an orignal image and possibly, like me, of an orignal high quality print that many clients are less willing to spend money on than the frame they’ll eventually hang it in ! Madness .

 

So if you’re interested in buying an original print made by me of one of my photographs…..

Just get in touch via email at frogfoto.com@googlemail.com  prices from £50( for a print on A4 ) not including handling and shipping

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Epson V700 scanner versus Nikon D800+Nikkor 105mm Macro . And the winner is ?

Epson V700 scanner versus Nikon D800+Nikkor 105mm Macro . What would you expect?

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W , boy in the Woods from a digital copy of a Medium Format Tri-X Pan negative. Early 1990s .France.

To Scan or to Copy ? That is the Question.

I have fair sized analogue archive, a mixture of 35 mm and roll film negatives that I processed and enlarged myself. I invested a few years back in an Epson V700 scanner  and have been frustrated by the results especially with 35 mm film but even with roll film . Wet mounting the negatives or sending them off to be drum scanned was never going to be an option for me so of course I became highly interested in the possibilities of using a camera to copy the negatives in the hopes of getting better results.

I have asked myself if the results that I were unhappy with could be as much down to my poor operating skills as to the limits of the V700 and of its native software.

This alternative was only economically worth exploring for me, because-with the exception of a cheap A5 lightbox-I already had the kit I needed: A Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 105 mm macro. A few years ago I was given a copy stand but I’m sure a camera stand could do  ( a bit of a faff but feasible ). And as for the negative holder, I just used the V700’s

I know I said I was more frustrated by my results with 35 mm negatives but nevertheless I chose to carry out my first attempt with a roll film negative, because I new it was  a “good negative”. It is an image shot with a Mamiya C330 twin lens camera ( which I used to call affectionately my coffee grinder because of the noise it made when you armed it ):not the sharpest animal on the block, prone to vignetting, but one I could afford. It was captured on Tri-X pan. Because I was always keen to get good details from the shadows to the highlights, I used it at 100 ISO instead of the recommended 320 and developed accordingly which incidentally reduces the graininess . I’d never printed this image but that’s another story:the negative told me it would be good and that I at least would really like it.Other reason for the choice:it is a very clean negative and its subject matter is little prone to revealing minor dust and scratches , uneven development or uneven lighting by the light-box.

This could of been a whole different ball game with a wide open sky or a snow scape, or with a colour negative (mental note:try it with those types of negatives ).

Once I set up the camera and 105 macro , with the negative in a holder,emulsion upwards, just resting on the light-box ( battery operated, rated 5000 C° ) in the subdued light of my study , I realised I could get quite close to maximise the resolution offered by the camera and took two overlapping images of the negative that I planned to stitch in Photoshop (CS5 ). I set the camera to aperture priority mode at f5, thinking I had dialled in ISO 100 when actually it had reset itself at ISO 1000 (I’d inadvertently set it to auto-ISO mode and it had cranked itself back up ) ! Shutter speed for those settings was around 1/640th  of a second:well enough to avoid mirror shake that I didn’t bother to put up.

This generated two files that I imported into LR 5 that I opened as Tiffs ( Adobe RGB , resolution 300 16bit depth LR preset) in PS 5. I am sure that PS experts might of gone about editing this image differently but this is how I went about it to my satisfaction.

Editing Steps

Opening files in PS 1rst part

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2nd part of neg

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Stitched using PS and inverted:pretty soft but the information is there.

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Duplication of that layer then blended to the first one using “multiply” at 100%

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Levels adjustment layer:it’s starting to come to life.

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A few adjustment layers on, nothing I wouldn’t of done in the darkroom using good old burn and dodge,and sharpened using the high pass filter layer ) and cropped I obtained with out resizing a 60 cm by 60 cm image at 300 ppi.

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Et voilà, with the full tonal range I was after. Good enough for me.

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Roll film scan

To be a fair test, I scanned with the native software of the Epson to produce a Tiff file of similar dimensions taking care to not use any of the in-house scanning options ( unsharp,grain reduction,backlight,dust removal ), that in my experience create more problems than they solve . After careful editing of the scan in PS, I achieved something very similar !

ImageSlight differences are due to my processing;nothing to clearly say one option is better than the other.So I thought, hang on, let’s do it all over again taking care to use the D800 at ISO 100. A few minutes later this is what I achieved:

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The only significant difference is that it needed no sharpening.

35 mm film  scan and copy

At this point , I thought it was time to compare with  a 35 mm negative. There’s no exif file to tell me how I processed it, but from memory, in 1986, I used Tri-X 35 mm film at ISO 400 and developed to the Kodak’s specs: “faster” film but at the cost of dynamic range (shortened ) and fineness of grain. I chose the following image because it seemed to display a good range of tones if slightly underexposed in the shadows:challenging to print in a wet  lab but not impossible either.

Now  I couldn’t get  close enough to cover more than the sensor. I took a few different expositions and settled on this negative that seemed to present as much information as possible.

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The negative as “scanned” ( copied is the word ) by the D800

And below, as scanned with the V700, after much playing around with tone curve , brightness and contrast settings to get a fairly flat negative at a dpi of 1200, I obtained  this:

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The negative scanned by the Epson V700

 Both copy and scan differ in contrast but contain information across the range of tones. After careful editing in PS and bringing them on par with respect to size and resolution, I produced these two images:

ImageMother and Child, from a 35mm Tri-X pan film, Paris mid 1980s

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Mother and Child, from a 35mm Tri-X pan film, Paris mid 1980s

 There are slight differences, but ascribable to my processing. I know these are just screen shots but I assure you there’s no obvious difference. What was noticeable is that the copy negative was sharper than the scanned negative. The image is fairly grainy but it was easier to bring down the grain using selectively the reduce noise filter without destroying the crispness on the copy version, than to sharpen the scanned version. ( If you must know the top one is from the scan and the bottom from the copy. )

Conclusions

I believe in good enough; I don’t blow up images to hunt out differences I couldn’t spot with my naked eye at print size and appropriate viewing distance. And as far as good enough is concerned both techniques allowed me to get as much information from the negatives as possible and to convert them into workable digital negatives.

I scanned those negatives years ago but didn’t produce half as good images from them as I have today;that’s why I wasn’t blown over by the V700 and had high hopes (and was pretty convinced) that the D800+105 mm macro combo would outshine the V700.

I was wrong because I didn’t factor in that LR and PS have evolved since I purchased the V700 and so have my set up and skills.The only major advantages  the D800+105 mm macro combo has over the V700 are speed and sharpness. It takes a few minutes to scan a negative at high resolution and a few more to set up scanning another whereas with the camera-lens combo it takes seconds to scan and seconds to set up to scan another:a very good reason to opt for the camera-macro combo if you’ve got loads to do.

As ever a tool is only as good as it’s user, and as far as this user is concerned, both produce workable digital negatives from my 35 mm and roll-film negatives,except that using the camera is much faster.If you have a similar camera -macro combo but no scanner, I wouldn’t rush to buy one,as far as black and white negatives are concerned:just get a cheap light box and use your camera stand to copy the negatives.

I hope you found this interesting. I am not a photo savant, so it is highly likely that I haven’t quite grasped all the pros and cons of the issues at hand here and welcome all helpful comments ,knowledge, insights and experiences .

Christophe Chevaugeon ( all text and images )

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