By Digital Output Staff
Wide format printing provides a unique opportunity for professional photography. It’s an outlet for creativity, enabling photographers to better reproduce what is seen behind the camera or envisioned in their mind. It’s also a commercial opportunity, a chance to present work in a different and highly marketable way. The following artists embrace the large print opportunity and harness digital technology to keep their creativity, as well as their businesses, flourishing.
Kirk R. Williamson – Investing in Wide Format
After about 30 years as a professional photographer, Kirk R. Williamson entered a new chapter in his career when he began producing his own large format prints a few years ago. Beginning as a photojournalist—a field in which he still works—he tried his hand at magazine work, weddings, and portraits. About 25 years ago he began developing his fine art photography skills; a genre he says requires good equipment and careful handling as well as ability behind the camera.
A self-described “Epson guy” from the beginning, it made sense to Williamson to stick with the brand when he decided to make the transition to wide format. He started with the Epson Stylus Pro 7800 and upgraded to the Epson Stylus Pro 7890 about two years ago. He uses Epson’s UltraChrome K3 pigment inks because they work best with the printer—avoiding clogs and providing easy cartridge changeover. “I don’t like messing around with anyone else’s ink,” he notes.
Based in coastal Rockport, MA, the region provides all the fodder he needs for his passion, landscape photography, which he prints in B&W as well as color. He’s represented by a Boston-based gallery, and in recent years, large format canvas works were in demand, so printing big made sense. He prints much of his work as 20×40-inch gallery wraps. “It’s very saleable like that,” explains Williamson. He initially worked on a 13-inch printer, but found that after wrapping the piece there wasn’t enough image surface left, so the Epson Stylus Pro 7800 was a logical investment.
Williamson uses glossy canvas sheets from Innova Art because it doesn’t require a finish—the last thing he wants to worry about is spraying or rolling on a coating. “Once the ink is cured, you don’t have to put varnish on it,” he notes. He also prints on Epson’s Exhibition Fiber, a double-weight semi-gloss roll.
Williamson does most of his shooting on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Leica Camera Leica M9. When processing his photos, he starts with Adobe Systems Incorporated Lightroom and transfers to Silver Efex Pro from the Google Nik Collection, which has numerous color presets that can also be tweaked.
The investment into digital technology paid off, as his large prints are welcomed at multiple venues.
View Williamson’s work at krwphoto.com.
Al Satterwhite – Icons and Art
Al Satterwhite took on some unusual assignments during 50 plus years as a professional photographer. He captured Stevie Wonder for Ladies’ Home Journal, shot Hunter S. Thompson for his famous Playboy interview, and documented Muhammad Ali during his suspension from boxing after refusing to be drafted.
Starting out as a photojournalist for a major daily newspaper when he was still in high school, Satterwhite was hired soon after graduation as the personal photographer for the governor of FL. He moved on to magazines, shooting for People, Sports Illustrated, and Time. He then spent years behind the camera in high-end advertising in New York City, NY before turning his attention to cinematography. He filmed commercials and award-winning feature shorts, and now lives in CA.
Satterwhite didn’t immediately shift to digital photography when it became available, but as technology matured, he was impressed by the possibilities. “You could see what was coming down the road,” he recalls, adding that the digital process allowed for prints that came out better than in the darkroom.
For about five years, Satterwhite has created large prints on a 24-inch Canon U.S.A., Inc. imagePROGRAF iPF6200, which he describes as a “phenomenal workhorse.” He likes the consistent results he gets using Canon pigmented inks. Moreover, by using the imagePROGRAF iPF6200 in concert with Adobe RGB (1998) color space and Photoshop, he finds the print does justice to the image as he intended it.
Satterwhite favors Fine Art Pearl by Hahnemühle. He prefers matte paper over glossy in general, but says matte sometimes “sucks up the ink” and leaves a flat image. Fine Art Pearl, however, is a glossy product without being excessively shiny and reflective. He occasionally uses Hahnemühle’s Baryta, or one of its mattes for a portrait.
In addition to new tools, digital printing opened the door to commercial success for Satterwhite. “I sell my prints through galleries. That’s a big part of how I make my living,” he says.
Much of his business comes from reproducing work he did years ago. The famous faces are a big draw. Satterwhite also has shots of classic rock icons like The Who and The Rolling Stones, and images of actor Paul Newman.
Satterwhite finds that 24×36-inch prints off the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6200 are ideal for representing his old 35mm shots. Still active behind the camera, he shoots mainly on Canon EOS 5D cameras, or the Mark II and Mark III versions. Recent projects include his aRound series, in which he captured several major cities using an 800mm fisheye lens.
Satterwhite recommends wide format to any photographer looking to grow creatively and “up their game” in terms of marketing. “It’s another income stream, another form of creative expression,” he explains. “I can’t imagine not having a large format printer now that I have one.”
View Satterwhite’s work at alsatterwhite.com.
Curtis Speer – Larger Than Life
Curtis Speer learned about photography long before he embarked on it as a career path. Working as a set designer and stylist for top brands like Neiman Marcus and Williams-Sonoma, he collaborated with top photographers for about a decade. “I learned how to use a camera without picking up a camera,” he recalls.
When he left the styling world, Speer started shooting his own images in 2006. He remembers using a Canon point-and-shoot camera and getting a positive response when he posted the photos on social media. It was an amateur beginning, but one that encouraged him to continue. One day, someone contacted Speer and said, “you should really print these larger than life—when you do it, you’ll understand.”
Speer, now based in Laguna Beach, CA, has embraced large print, which he says “causes the viewer to stand where I was and see what I saw.” The professional fine art photographer produces unique images, often of striking inanimate objects.
Speer usually prints weekly, and currently uses a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer, which he says provides richness and vibrancy through its 12-color system. The HP Designjet Z3200 also performs well when it comes to capturing the rich black common in his photos.
“With that printer, the blacks are so deep you could reach your hand into it,” he says. Speer was surprised and pleased with the longevity offered by HP Vivera pigment inks. He also works with a print partner in Atlanta, GA for some work, where an HP Latex 3000 Printer offers a different look, an almost paint-like appearance up close.
Speer is loyal to photo rag media from Canson Infinity and Hahnemühle. Both meet the archiving standards of the art world and provide richness to the matte black that’s a hallmark of Speer’s artistic style. “With the photo rag papers, I maintain the creative integrity of my work, allowing the viewer to be pulled into the scene or subject matter. Using matte papers eliminates any visual barrier that other photo papers—even some glass—can create leading to a disconnect between the viewer and the art,” he adds.
He generally favors Hahnemühle paper when the print won’t be behind glass, since he likes the texture it provides. “I appreciate the tooth, which allows me to create finished pieces that often beg the question, ‘is it a painting or a photograph?’” notes Speer. The Canson Infinity paper “is just as beautiful but offers a very smooth finish,” so he typically uses it for images that need to be mounted behind non-glare glass.
Duho Studio, in Alhambra, CA, makes custom panels for Speer with a raw walnut slope frame, chosen because it complements nearly every print. He mounts the image himself, leaving about an inch around the perimeter. Then he sands the edges, so the framing blends in organically.
Shooting on a Canon Digital SLR camera with a T3.1 Cinema Prime lens, he uses Adobe Lightroom occasionally to adjust light levels. “There’s no specific formula to get that perfect shot. But I don’t like to manipulate the image too much,” he notes. It was tricky learning to match the color profile when he began printing, but now that he’s mastered it, he doesn’t encounter many obstacles.
Speer believes wide format is especially effective because of the sheer volume of photos online. In comparison, large prints help an artist’s work stand out. With a smaller image, he says, you lose the impact “and then it just becomes a picture. It’s not an experience.” Large prints are popular with collectors and sellers, he observes, and in private homes, many people want “one large striking image, not a lot of little ones.”
View Speer’s work at curtisspeer.com.
Bob Armstrong – Pushing Print’s Boundaries
Australian corporate designer and photographer Bob Armstrong established his firm, ArmstrongQ, in 1969. In 2006, he and a group of print specialists created Body of Work for research and development. Body of Work allows Armstrong and his colleagues to innovate outside of traditional print and push the boundaries of design. Photographs are taken using a Nikon Corporation D4S camera or Hasselblad.
Body of Work is known for printing photos on metal substrates, typically at 40×60 inches. “These murals feature up to 16 layers in perfect register and take up to eight days to print. Their trademark is the unique tactile finish where the viewer can actually feel the contours of each print,” says Armstrong.
Many of Body of Work’s one-off pieces are printed on a Roland DGA Corporation VersaUV LEJ-640 UV LED printer. “We have a very close relationship with Roland and between us have perfected a way of producing work in perfect register,” notes Armstrong. He typically prints on aluminum composite panel from 3A Composites USA, chosen because it is lightweight but rigid. The substrate accepts many layers of ink without peeling off, making it ideal for high-resolution printing. Roland ECO-UV inks deliver high color density and wide gamut.
“The ECO-UV gloss varnish finish also adds stunning highlights, special effects, and realistic textures,” he observes.
As a bespoke brand, Body of Work murals sell at an entry point of $25,000 and an upper price of $1,000,000. Corporate customers are the norm. For example, his Behind the Florentine Veil is displayed in the VIP room of a Rolls-Royce dealership in Sydney, Australia. In most cases, the work is rented rather than purchased.
Armstrong is currently in talks to print a $1M mural for a centerpiece in a major casino. It would be printed on a solid 24-carat gold plate using the Roland VersaUV LEJ-640.
View Bob Armstrong’s work at bodyofworkcollections.com.
Mar2015, Digital Output