by Sean Stone
On Tuesday, I attended a seminar with photographers and workshopists John Paul Caponigro and R. Mac Holbert. The event was hosted by ASMP Philadelphia at Power Plant Productions in Old City, Philadelphia. The talk covered a huge amount of information for a one-day course. By the end of the day, my head was swimming, and my Photoshop skills were left in the dust.
John Paul Caponigro (left) and R. Mac Holbert
The seminar was geared to fine art printing, which I do here as a part of our consulting service, producing custom books and (if anyone wants) fine art prints for photographers. The speakers emphasized the importance of a thoughtful, well-organized workflow to maximize the quality of your prints. Holbert summed up the goal of the presentation, “The printer is a default device. It’s not what you do with the printer, it’s what you do with your data. Ultimately, your imaging software controls your printer.” I think anyone who spends time dealing with inkjet printers might argue that gremlins take the reins every now and again, but as they went on to explain if you’re getting consistently lousy prints, the issue more likely lies with your monitor or files than the printer itself.
The first half of the day focused on workflow. Every photographer needs to design a workflow that works best for them; there is no single way to arrive at the perfect print. What every photographer should strive for is creating a non-destructive workflow. Caponigro and Holbert designed their workflows to create a high-quality, flexible “master file” which can be easily tweaked without wasting time. This is especially useful for fine art photographers who have to compensate for variation in inks and papers but great for any photographer whose clients may want to see changes made in a hurry.
An example of a well-organized layer stack in a non-destructive workflow. (Image courtesy of R. Mac Holbert)
Since your monitor is “the window to your data,” a bad viewing environment or a poorly calibrated monitor will make consistent color between platforms impossible. I think most people know the importance of avoiding glare, working in a room with neutral walls and floors, as well as setting your background to grey, but these guys suggest you go so far as to avoid wearing bright colors. Or at least grab yourself a grey smock if working at your monitor or evaluating a print. They spoke very highly of the newest LCD monitors entering the market, particularly what they called the “smart monitors” from NEC. What makes these different from traditional displays is not just their outstanding color range but their ability to adapt to ambient lighting conditions automatically. Also, unlike traditional displays, which make changes in color display through the graphics card, these make adjustments through the display itself. Why this is better I have not yet researched to my satisfaction, but they cost a lot, so they must be good. If you’re looking for some more affordable ways to make your workspace more color-friendly, Solux lighting and a decent colorimeter might be a good place to start.
Color space was another topic covered at some length. The gist of the discussion came back to the importance of the master file, in all its huge, flexible glory. Both speakers agreed that when opening raw files, you should always choose the profile with the largest color gamut, Prophoto, and then convert duplicate files to sRGB or Adobe 1998 as needed.
The whole event was very technically oriented, but Caponigro often touched on the value of these tools to realize a creative vision. Many of the tools he demonstrated using techniques of painting. As a primary landscape photographer, much of his fine-tuning is creating atmosphere with selective warming, cooling, sharpening, blurring, etc. (Keep an eye out for his upcoming TED Talk about reclaiming creativity.)
Both of the speakers were very excited about how far digital imaging and printing has come since they became involved. They gave the example of new inks which can produce a blacker black than a silver gelatin print ever could (take THAT Luddites). Caponigro would periodically make these comparisons between old-fashioned and newer processes in photography, more to point out how the basic concepts and goals remained the same. He mentioned that in the early days, photographers were much more chemists than artists. All the Photoshop I now feel I need to learn makes me wonder if photographers are likely to become computer geeks first, artists second.
If you’re ready to take your marketing to the next level with print or email promos, reach out!