The digital revolution has not limited artistic freedom. True artists find inspiration in many outlets. For professional photographer Jim Graham, media is a qualified canvas.
Based in Centreville, DE, Graham makes a living as a commercial, editorial, and wedding photographer. He also possesses a passion for his own personal work; Graham’s photography is often showcased at local, national, and international galleries and shows.
“As I transitioned over into a digital photographer, I had to make that change and set myself up to use a computer, go through all the landmines that are out there as far as making digital print,” adds Graham. He did prevail, and today appreciates the capabilities of digital photography and printmaking.
Tools of the Trade
In addition to an eye for the uniqueness and beauty in any given setting, a photographer relies on an array of tools, such as cameras, lenses, storage for image files; as well as software for managing and editing; and printers, inks, and media for output.
Software is an integral part of digital photographic work. After a shoot, Graham has hundreds of gigabytes worth of shots to sort through. The first stop is often Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits, Inc. The software is a standalone image browser and workflow accelerator that enables users to display thumbnails in order to focus on the shoot’s best images. Individual photo edits are completed in Adobe Systems Incorporated’s Photoshop, Graham always runs the latest Adobe Creative Suite (CS), which is currently CS5. For large batch processing, he utilizes Adobe Lightroom.
Graham prefers to shoot in RAW format with Nikon Corporation cameras and lenses. He prints his work using a series of Epson devices, including an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 for smaller and photo emulaic prints; and an Epson Stylus Pro 7800 for larger format work, dedicated to matte, cotton-blended papers.
The importance of media is essential to achieving the best look, texture, and essence of a photo print. Once Graham sets the overall look and feel of a piece for a show, he determines the type of media needed to portray his vision. “Choice of paper makes a difference as you print for the simple reason that you have a changed palette,” he says, stressing that paper tone makes a difference.
Graham finds that there are a variety of digital media choices on the market; but not many provide warm characteristics. There are significant bright white options, as well as papers that provide a more natural look. For example, Moab by Legion Paper Corp. makes Entrada Rag, which is a little warmer, but it is cotton based.
“If I’m doing something that is corporate and has to be clean—something that doesn’t have a cast to it, then I would want to go with a very white base,” he shares.
Ink also makes a difference. Graham explains that when printing in B&W with the Epson, he can choose a warm or cold tone. If he wants something to lean bluer or redder, he configures the settings in the print driver.
Longevity is important in terms of ink. Epson inks provide a 75 to 125 year rating. For collectors of digitally printed artwork, this type of life span is important to protecting an investment.
Inspiration for a recent gallery showing came to Graham at a professional workshop in White Sands, NM. Surrounded by other photography professionals, including host and mentor John Paul Caponigro, he set off to the dunes of the desert. Armed with a Nikon D3X, Graham hit the sand and came back with 300 gigabytes of RAW files, which would later manifest into a complete show.
Photography workshops prove worthwhile to Graham. “I’m with a group of like-minded people for a long period of time. Simultaneously, I have a chance to experiment and push my visual limits. In the case of White Sands, you’re in the middle of a desert looking at sand dunes. I can go ahead and be creative, just let my mind go and come back and share the imagery with other people, get feedback, the work builds upon itself,” he shares.
Once home, Graham looks for the images that resonate with him. “It’s more than just a picture. It’s where you start to see the players on the page and the show comes to life,” he states. “Maybe there is some storytelling about the picture. It’s not just a sand dune, but there’s little bit more to it,” he adds.
The White Sands project, titled Adrift, came together to appear as figurative body parts as opposed to a landscape.
For Adrift, Graham decided on B&W. “I shot in RAW, so images I made, while shooting in a monochrome picture style, are available in both B&W as well as color,” he notes. Once the color scheme was determined certain images began to stand out. After basic photo processing, he used Nik Software, Inc.’s Silver Efex Pro plug-in to bring the pictures back into a monochrome format. The program converts the images and provides effect choices. In this case, Silver Efex Pro added contrast, tonality, grain, and any other effects to the images that would help capture the look a traditional film stock would provide.
Part of the choice to emulate traditional photo prints came from the subject matter at hand. To Graham, sand dunes are classic traditional landscapes. “I adore Adams, loved Weston, and the f/64 group of photographers. So, part of me felt that I needed to stay in that general area. That’s what this deserved, what it felt like. I did print and color and it just didn’t feel right,” he comments.
Once the look and feel of the digitally captured images are determined, output is the next step. The printer and inks are a given, so media plays a large role in customizing the effects of the artwork. For this series, the Museo Fine Art media line from InteliCoat Technologies helped Graham achieve the look he wanted, which was the emulation of wet room processing. He used the media in the past and liked it because of the warmer base it offers. It also provides a little bit of texture, which helped in the long run because the subject is sand.
To test media, Graham procures samples or buys a box. Testing consists of printing smaller images, either several different or the same, produced simultaneously to determine the output comes out as needed.
“Even though I use X-Rite, Incorporated’s ColorMunki and my screen is calibrated, I’m not going as far as to create my own ICC color profiles,” he notes. So, he counts on the printer to make sure the output is what it’s supposed to be. “So far, so good,” he adds.
The prints are limited edition. One show may have 75 images, but they are printed one at a time. The final look may change if someone was to buy a print that was originally printed on discontinued media. Because of this process and attention, each piece is unique. “I’m going to touch it each time; I’m not about mass production, I’m about quality production,” he adds.
Graham notes that one challenge with Adrift was its need to be fairly uniform. Prints, frames, and mattes were all the same size and everything B&W. “In the long run, monochrome made this easier. I only had to deal with grayscale tonality,” he adds. The Museo paper provided an advantage. “I had a lot of rich blacks, and that is something that really shines with this paper. It offers a very nice grayscale range,” he comments.
Adrift was hosted by the Station Gallery in Greenville, DE in October 2011.
In addition to focusing on his own work, Graham is a career photographer. His accomplishments as a professional commercial, photojournalistic, and wedding photographer help support his passion.
The ability to control images from start to finish helps Graham bring his artistic visions into fruition. In addition to an eye for the beautiful and unique, his tools—including hardware, software, and media—are all used as artistic elements.