I have nothing in the immediate future planned photography wise so what better excuse do I need to print more and more of my work. This is another skill as a progressing photographer that I feel I should learn, how to make successful and consistent prints, but doing this has opened a whole new can of worms as I, and most people who have delved into this area will have found out. Calibrated screens, ICC colour profiles and the difference papers can make to the feel and colours of an image, were once like a foreign language to me. As I get older learning seems slower and the information takes longer to imprint on my my mind but over time things become clearer. The investment however is worth it, as the biggest thing I have come to realise is that it is only when the digital file becomes a physical item, can I truly see the true beauty in the picture. The final print gives the image closure, a sense of completion...well maybe for now!
The purpose of this article is not about the final print, but what and how you are able to learn about your photography and where you are at the moment by printing. To gain any real help you must have a calibrated monitor which is only the beginning of a colour managed workflow but it's a big step to obtaining a very close representation of what you hope to expect in your prints. I have found that the only way to truly spot errors or inconsistencies is to print and blue tack them to the back of the toilet door. Doing this I feel, has been one of the most helpful techniques I have learned in helping me assess my work.
Some of the questions I ask myself when looking at the printed files are, does the image have a pleasing colour pallet, is your eye drawn to the point of interest you would like and how else is it lead around the frame. Dust spots and poor editing techniques all seem to make themselves all too clear on a print. The times I have gone to the printers to have a large print rolled out and the first thing that grabs my attention are the imperfections that should have been so obvious on the display.
The point I am trying to make is that prints show up any discrepancies in images more easily than any computer monitor can. This has nothing to do with the quality or correctness of my monitor as I have invested a lot into my equipment, yet, more to do with the basic truth that our eyes perceive differently when presented with an image on paper as opposed to viewing something that is electronically transmitted.
Now I print every image, nothing too big, maybe one or two on an A4 piece of matt paper. This to be used as a kind of reference, to find mistakes or "can do betters", so I can go back and work on ironing them out. This might be in the form of changing the brightness level, tweaking colours, adjust cropping, or a whatever else it takes to get the print I want. I may print an image several times, just to tweak and play. The thing that is most surprising about this, is that if you are able to work on your images until they look great in print, they will also look great on the monitor. But the same does not seem to be true the other way round.