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Capturing the Moment

Reproducing High-Quality Photographic Prints

By Gretchen A. Peck

Technological advances in digital inkjet equipment position it not only as a viable, but preferred, method for reproducing fine art and photographic-quality prints. The digital inkjet of today expertly suits the needs of fine artists and photographers by producing a broad color gamut in a consistent fashion, enabling seemingly limitless choices in media, and ensuring that output—even in reproduction form—is high quality, long lasting, and valuable.

David Saffir: Growing Creatively, Growing Technically
David Saffir grew up a member of a creative family, “surrounded by people interested in art,” he fondly remembers. His mother and aunt were painters; his sister and an uncle photographers. “I didn’t get serious about photography until about two years before digital became a viable tool for commercial photography,” recalls Saffir.

Though Saffir has an appreciation for both film and digitally captured images, these days he mostly shoots with digital equipment from Nikon Corporation and Hasselblad. But for B&W work, he prefers film.

“I try to use the camera as a tool to show things the viewer can’t see,” explains Saffir. “Whether I use a digital- or film-based camera, I want to ensure that the end product does not show the technological footprints.”

For many years Saffir captured his images and searched for a print supplier to output them to his satisfaction. “Sometimes the color wouldn’t be quite right, and I got to the point where I thought, ‘I’m only in control of about a third of the production and losing all the creative opportunities after I hand over the film or CD.’ So I wound up writing a book called Mastering Digital Color and started to make my own prints. Then people began asking me to make prints for them,” shares Saffir.

He suddenly found himself not just an accomplished working photographer, but also a print service supplier (PSS). Saffir credits inkjet printer manufacturers for allowing him and his peers to make such a seamless transition. “Manufacturers did an excellent job of making the technology easy to use. It wasn’t like it was five years ago, when it was uphill all the way,” notes Saffir.

Prepress and color management technologies also contribute to ease of use, he asserts. “It’s really straightforward to lock down color, without breaking a sweat over it. Before certain color advancements, you had to understand color science and how to use a number of sophisticated tools. A lot of them are built into the printer or software now, making them transparent to the user.”

Saffir deploys three Hewlett-Packard (HP) printers to reproduce his and customers’ work—a 44-inch HP Designjet Z3200, a 44-inch HP Designjet Z3100, and a small-format HP photographic printer, which uses the same ink set as the two larger machines, ensuring consistency.

“One of the nice things about HP systems is the media flexibility,” notes Saffir. “When I work with an artist, we look at samples and swatch books and talk about the base tone of the paper in relation to the artist’s color palette. The feeling we want people to have when they look at the print is an important consideration. A softer watercolor paper evokes a whole different range of emotions than a harder-finish, photographic-style paper,” he explains.

Saffir feels strongly that the photography-to-print workflow can be seamless and efficient if it begins with a simple conversation between artist and printmaker.

“I always hold a conversation with the artist and say, ‘You can copy your existing work, and it will be very close—perhaps not exact, but close to the original. Or you can see this as a creative opportunity.’ And in some cases the artist will say, ‘You know, I want to start working on some of the colors in certain areas—enhance or subdue, saturate, luminate, things like that,” he adds. “And then, of course, there’s print finishing, where you apply glossy or matte coatings, or brushstrokes with a material that applies clear and makes a photograph appear as though it had been painted.”

Sometimes it appeases an artist to be able to sit side-by-side with Saffir as he tweaks an image’s attributes and begins to proof. He welcomes that level of participation, but says many of his clients are content to have that initial discussion and simply let Saffir take over from there. To view a sampling of Saffir’s work visit www.davidsaffir.com.

Sarah Stolfa: Controlling the Process
After earning a Master’s degree in Photography from Yale University, Sarah Stolfa returned to Philadelphia, PA and in 2009 stepped into the role of executive director for the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC), a non-profit organization she founded.

The PPAC supports local artists with various educational and networking opportunities.

“I think the most important thing for an artist is to get out there, and that means going to openings and other exhibitions, so that you meet people and network,” advises Stolfa. “That’s one of our goals—to help develop a community for artists to gather and talk about ideas.”

Those conversations often focus on ever-evolving capture and reproduction technologies, and how best to technically create the effect and impact an artist envisions for a piece of artwork. The PPAC is equipped with a stable of scanning and print equipment, made available at very reasonable costs to members.

“In the lab, there is a flatbed Epson Perfection V750-M Pro scanner and a Premier 8,000 ppi drum scanner from Aztek, Inc. The Epson is available for rent,” explains Stolfa. “An artist pays $25 per scan, or they can come to PPAC and rent the machine for $50 an hour. In that amount of time, you get anywhere from six to ten scans accomplished.”

Stolfa realizes that some may balk at the thought of renting out such expensive equipment to a clientele that ranges in experience and computer savvy. She assures skeptics that most artists understand the procedure in little to no time.

“If they have any experience with scanning, it takes users about five or ten minutes to get up to speed on the Epson—maybe an hour if they’ve never had any scanning experience,” estimates Stolfa.

The drum scanner is a bit more complex, and it isn't rented by the hour. “It’s a brand new $36,000 scanner. The film needs to be wet mounted on a clear, acrylic drum, which is not easily taught,” she adds. Stolfa and Tommy Reynolds, assistant director, PPAC, share the task of drum scanning when necessary.

PPAC customers also have access to printers. “There are two printers available for rent—a 17-inch Epson Stylus Pro 4880 and a 44-inch Epson Stylus Pro 9900. With both, clients pay $20 per hour, bring their own paper, and make their own prints,” notes Stolfa. A third printer—a 64-inch Epson Stylus Pro 11880—is reserved exclusively for operation by PPAC staff.

“These printers print on just about anything,” stresses Stolfa. “We have a portfolio of paper stocks with the same images printed on them so that people can decipher the subtle to obvious differences in output appearance. The choice comes down to what the artist is looking for. A HahnemŸhle Fine Art matte paper looks very different than a Pearl from Oji Ilford USA.”

All of these components to the workflow—consumables, image capture, retouching, and printing—are overwhelming for a beginner artist. In response, PPAC prepares and educates.

“We hold advanced printing workshops and outline the different types of papers available, how important color management is, and teach ICC profiles. Discussions on how a color calibrated seamless workflow is important to getting the kind of result you want are also held,” explains Stolfa.

The results are positive. “One artist, in his mid- to late-career, didn’t know how to use any equipment, so he was outsourcing all his work. It ended up being so expensive that he could barely hold a show. He came in for a three to four hour individual tutorial and now he’s self sufficient. It costs him a third of what it used to be to produce his work,” confides Stolfa. To view a sampling of Stolfa’s work visit www.sarahstolfa.com.

Jamie Turner: Changing the Digital Mindset
Much of Jamie Turner’s young life was preoccupied by photography. He dabbled in it as an adolescent, and cut his teeth in a high school darkroom. He later went on to study the art form in college, and to work at a one-hour film developing spot and a full-fledged photo lab, before taking the plunge into professional photography.

Weddings, special occasions, and portraiture comprise most of his work today. With his twin brother, Jason Turner, and friend Travis Pratt, Turner established Turner Photography in Frederick, MD.

Turner focuses exclusively on digital photography—using EOS Camera Systems from Canon U.S.A., Inc.—and estimates he hasn’t shot film in more than seven years. Gone are the days when photographers and buyers were wary of digital image capture.

“Most customers don’t know or ask whether we use digital cameras. Still, I always try to be up front with them, and explain why I prefer digital. You can do so much with a digital image; in the past it was incredibly hard to achieve such things in a darkroom,” acknowledges Turner.

For photo editing and retouching, Turner relies on Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom from Adobe Systems Incorporated, and utilizes three Epson printers for managing small format output.

“We usually don’t produce anything beyond 24x36 inches. And most of the time, that larger output is done on canvas. So we send the work out to a company called Canvas on Demand, based in Raleigh, NC, which uses inkjet technology to print directly on the canvas,” he notes.

Turner’s customers are also concerned with longevity and durability. “I reassure them about the end product; about what the printers, inks, and paper are capable of,” he states. “I don’t think there’s an inkjet—on a professional level—that does not produce a print that lasts 100 or more years. It’s not like yesterday’s print that yellowed or faded in three years. As long as the print is protected, it will become an heirloom passed down through generations.” To view a sampling of Turner’s work visit turnerphotographystudio.com.

Not Just an Industry, But a Community
Each of these artists—Saffir, Stolfa, and Turner—agree that a good printmaker is keenly aware of what makes photographic and fine art reproduction such a specialized craft. To be a successful PSS catering to an artistic clientele of this kind, staff and management must integrate themselves into the community to become intimate with the challenges that artists face as they learn new technologies, creatively grow, strive to market their work, and make a living. It’s serious business.

Saffir’s roles as printmaker and educator put him in the position of counseling artists on heady topics. He believes that the advent of digital inkjet printing has a profound impact on the art world, just beginning to leverage print on demand.

“We produce smaller numbers than we used to, which makes it more accessible to the artist. One can have one, two, or three prints made at the outset, and then reprint as orders come in. Print on demand opens doors on the economic side for the artist,” concludes Saffir.

"The whole mindset about inkjet has changed," suggests Stolfa. "Back in 2004, I showed my work to a dealer, and he said that I should have printed on photo laser printers, not inkjets, because people weren’t going to accept them. Today my inkjet-printed work is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The whole art world has completely changed its standards. Galleries are now actively selling inkjet prints."

Feb2010, Digital Output

 
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