Making Prints-II

by William Lulow

Note: This is a reprint of an article that I first published earlier this year because I thought it worth repeating.

Before the digital age, there were only a couple of ways of viewing a photographer’s work: prints or slides (transparencies). I suppose one could have made a film of a number of prints (which people often did), but the main way to view the output from a photography session of any kind was by looking at prints.

The art of making a photographic print has been covered for at least a century now. It has improved quite a bit over the years, but the basics of the printmaking process haven’t changed all that much. Today, we don’t have to use chemicals, trays , photo-sensitive paper and a darkroom with red safelights, but we do have to respect several rules when it comes to prints.

  • A print should cover the entire tonal range from pure white to dead black. This is also true for color prints
  • There should be no “blocked highlights” – that is there should be detail in the highlights such as white clouds
  • There should be detail in the shadows.

Now, in the days of making darkroom prints, respecting these simple rules often meant spending time “dodging” and “burning in” spaces on the print to bring out specific details. Today, far too many shooters don’t even make prints. These people often say, “I want to show you some of my pictures,” then hand you their camera so that you can look at the LCD! To me, this is not photography. This is just snapshooting and recording images. Further, with today’s digital print-making, all the work on a print has to happen in the computer, before it is even sent to the printer. Sometimes, certain modifications to an image file have to be done by an expert in Photoshop in order to retain the qualities of a professional print.

It’s important to make your own prints because it’s the only way to learn how to make the changes you want in your image files. I find it important to make prints because I love handing someone a physical image for them to look at. It’s something I made with my own hands and says something about the pride I take in my work.

Below is an original digital black & white image I made in Portugal. Note the detail in the shadows and the highlights. It was a scene I saw in black&white and I made an exposure in between what my meter showed for both. I didn’t have to do much in Photoshop.