print or screen?

We all spend a lot of time and effort creating our art form (and not inconsiderable funds). What is your personal ideal end destination for your work?

Are you attempting to break even on your investment, even get a little ahead?

Are you more content with more emotional reimbursement?

Just as importantly as why is what you do to secure this?

The pinnacle of the process for me is a fine art print. I feel there is nothing that compares to a high quality print, correctly sized, under glass and framed tastefully*. This both a visual and emotional commitment and requires a good amount of courage to apply.

The print is your vision in hard copy, placed in full view and intended for extended viewing, there is no escaping it’s presence. This is a bold gesture in this era of 3 second viewing and semi anonymous posting. The extra effort and expense involved in printing forces the artist to make decisions often at odds with our modern way of working. I know for a fact that I post images that I would not print and I do not mean just the crops and examples, but images that I am happy for the world to see at low resolution, surrounded by words, but would not hold up as a constant companion in a room or hall.

An image that is good enough to print has to transcend technical quality. It has to be more than just the better of a lot of similar images (i.e. least worst). It must, to my mind be the best you can do to tell the world who you are as an artist. Technical short comings can be overcome by a strong enough image, but ideally, the print will be completely and fully accomplished. For me, it is a baked in assumption, that any doubts I have cancel an image out as a contender.

If it is good enough to print, it also needs to be framed and placed well. Any short fall at any step in the process undoes the whole*.

Should this be everyone’s premier end point?

Of course not. The reality is we all photograph for different reasons with any number of applications. The irony though is the whole industry is geared up for “the big print”. The only other uses we have for super high resolution cameras are technical/scientific applications or for viewing/reviewing at 100 percent or bigger (photo nerd stuff).

If a screen is the limit of your vision, then a reasonably low-res image, taken technically well will always do (perceived sharpness, contrast and composition have little to do with pixel counts). Screen resolution in the future may change this quality gauge, but not by much in real terms and even if it did the experience of the viewer would need to change to suit (that is to say we would need something better than the human eye at normal viewing distances).

Once again I roll out one of the test images I mistakenly shot on small jpeg (about 3 1/2 MP). Even on a 29” screen I did not realise my mistake until I went to pixel peep and the images would (could) not increase. Let there be no doubt. At this size I have rarely seen a sharper or glassy smooth image from any of my cameras. It only lacked the ability to “embiggen”.

Once again I roll out one of the test images I mistakenly shot on small jpeg (about 3 1/2 MP). Even on a 29” screen I did not realise my mistake until I went to pixel peep and the images would (could) not increase. Let there be no doubt. At this size I have rarely seen a sharper or glassy smooth image from any of my cameras. It only lacked the ability to “embiggen”.

Another ironic twist here for me is the reversal of roles cameras and prints have made in the last 10 years. For years, film resolution and enlarge-ability were the limiting factors for printers. Now we are free to print as we want while the ratio of printing to image making is at it’s lowest point ever.

Finally we can all print as well as the masters, even at home. We have the front end cameras, editing tools, speed of turn around, low running costs and can even be more comfortable doing it, but printing has become the poor forgotten cousin to screen viewing.

When I first began with film in the 80’s, printing was the only form of sharing. The bigger the print the grander the share. Shooting mostly slide film, I am guilty of having some of my best work lost to apathy or the inadequacy of presentation options and skill. The black and white darkroom was better by a hair, but still a place where I found I lacked commitment and enthusiasm, seeing it mostly as a severe money and time drain**. Rare were my prints and meagre my talent in creating them. I did not realise it at the time, that I was part of a small community (most more committed than I), who had a chance to put into print, for the long term, their (our) little place in time. It also escaped my notice that connecting with friends and family about my passion only came from showing them my prints, not my gear or books of others work.

All this comes down to the question the photo industry probably does not want asked (up front anyway). “What is the realistic end result of your work?”.

The answer to that question is at odds with the illusion required for camera sales to continue or increase. The most honest customers, when it comes to matching perceptions with needs are at the two extremes of the market.

The cheap compact camera purchaser (also known as the bus user) knows they only need something basic to get the job done. What they do not realise is, most people who spend a lot more have the same technical needs, they just pay into the industry perpetuated illusion they need better tools.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fine art, technical and commercial photographers (AKA the racing drivers) who may indeed print big or have their images scrutinised closely. Realistically very few and far between, the industry needs more than just these few to justify the volume and quality of cameras they produce. The industry does this by selling the emotionally charged promise of something truly special, by directly connecting to technical minimum requirements.

The rest of us are just like regular car consumers. We buy cameras the same way we buy cars with potential top speeds well in excess of the speed limit. Some by a sports cars, some basic sedans and some motor bikes, but all limited by the speed limit or our own skill regardless.

In a previous post I posed the question “Is M43 good enough for printing reasonably big fine art prints"?”. The better question, assuming the content of the image itself is the most important indicator or quality, may be “Is it realistically more than I need?”.

Anyway, a bit off topic as usual, so lets return to the real question.

What is the realistic end product of your images and how do you get there.? Once the journey is defined, it often becomes much easier to facilitate and we can get on with doing it.

*I am not a fan of canvas prints in most cases, as I see them as an object that is self-justifying, almost regardless of the image content, but can also reduce the impact of a good print by their very nature.

** Funny though that I could easily spend hundreds of hours reading up on all aspects of the subject and pore thousands of dollars into it also, just not commit at the output end.