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Digital Wide Format for Fine Art Photography

By Cassandra Balentine

Photography is a form of expression and communication. For commercial or personal use, the art of photography captures the essence of a moment, significance within an object or setting, and the simple beauty of life. Renowned for the ability to create these images, professional photographers look beyond the camera and to high-quality, large format print to present work in the way it is meant to be seen. The following artists utilize large format printers to reproduce their own art as well as of peers and students.

 

Keith Cooper: Abroad Attaction

Keith Cooper, director, Northlight Images – Photography, comes from a varied background. Based in Leicester, U.K., today he is a professional commercial photographer, and his interest and expertise lays in commercial photography, industry, and architecture. “I quite deliberately avoid weddings, pets, and portraits,” he says. “My clients are companies of all sizes.”

 

As a commercial photographer, Cooper says the majority of his work tends to be supplied digitally, but he enjoys the ability to offer large prints of his landscapes for interior design and businesses. In 2004, he moved all of the photographic services of Northlight Images to digital with a full-frame Canon U.S.A., Inc. EOS-1Ds, and an Epson Stylus Pro 9600 44-inch wide format printer with Epson UltraChrome inks. “The printing capabilities went along with the expansion of industrial and architectural photography. It was a request for a large print that directly triggered my search for a large format printing solution,” he says.

 

To produce his prints today, Cooper operates a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8300 44-inch width printer, which is driven by Canon’s standard printing software and Adobe Systems Incorporated Photoshop. He also uses Canon LUCIA inks, the printer’s default ink set.

 

Color management is a critical part of business. “I do all of my own printer profiling, typically with around 3,000 patch targets, using X-Rite, Incorporated software and a spectrophotometer, which allows the full patch set to be printed on a single, A3+ sheet of paper,” he explains.

 

Close attention is paid at both the editing and printing stages. “An important thing to remember is that correct color isn’t always the best looking color. For example, I’ll try and find out how a print’s location is lit to see if I’ll need to alter any aspects when preparing the image for printing.”

 

For regular photograph prints, media selection depends largely on the client. For monochrome work, either a thick cotton rag art paper or a baryta-style luster finish for deeper blacks is preferred. For color work, a luster finish is most likely, although he has printed on glossy canvas for custom mounting. “Media choice for large prints is a complex mix of the practical and creative,” he explains. For smaller 16x22-inch prints, which are typical for galleries, he selects papers with appropriate archival qualities that best reflect his interpretation of the subject at hand.

 

The print side of Northlight Images is not the organization’s principal source of profit, but it is integral to Cooper’s reputation as a specialist, photographer, and expert. “There is far more to running a successful photography business than just taking photos.” The key is to recognize that print is an important aspect.

 

Cooper explains that the question becomes how to convince those requesting commercial photography that they want some of the work on the walls as well.

 

View Cooper’s work at northlight-images.co.uk.

 

Robert Farber: The Digital Opportunity

Professional photographer, Robert Farber, began his career focused on painting. However, he expanded his horizons when presenting still-life paintings at outdoor art shows in the 1970s. This led him to commercial work for advertising and fashion photography. “From the exposure, my nudes were recognized and both my fine art and commercial careers grew parallel to each other,” he says.

 

In 1987 he was awarded the PMA Photographer of the Year award. After receiving the honor, he worked on various projects. “The growth of my work followed a unique path. I continue to be a fashion, beauty, and advertising photographer as I do fine art work. In recent years, I’ve done much less of the special commercial assignments and more gallery shows and books,” he notes.

 

As a professional photographer, Farber pays close attention to new technologies, but with reservations. He took his time before converting to digital shooting. “The problem I had with digital was it doesn’t have the same personality as film. I like to use grains in my work, but with digital, you often can’t tell if it was shot that way or manipulated after the fact. So, something might be a great image, but not a great photograph,” he explains.

 

It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that Farber really took to digital when he joined the Canon Explorers of Light program. Here, he primarily kept to film shooting, but dabbled in digital. It was through Explorers of Light that he began outputting his work using digital wide format printing technologies. “As Canon introduced its imagePROGRAF line of products, we wound up producing wide format prints,” says Farber.

 

Today, he operates a Canon 44-inch imagePROGRAF printer and a PIXMA PRO-1. He also utilizes Canon’s LUCIA pigment ink set.

 

Speaking to durability—a common concern for fine art pieces—Farber says work printed from the imagePROGRAF four years ago with pigment ink, held strong in his outdoor studio until it was changed out this Summer.

 

The printer runs consistently every day of the week, handling a range of projects that are of various dimensions. At press time, Farber was using the imagePROGRAF for a variety of projects; including work for Art Miami, pieces for its gallery in Rochester, NY; a series for a project in New York, NY; and a photobook printed at 40x60 inches on canvas.

 

Farber sees digital technologies—for shooting and printing—as a tool in the process. However, it is an artist’s skill and eye that make a true success.

 

“There are so many photographers today. Everyone is a photographer. Digital imaging and computer manipulation make a lot of great and exciting images and provides potential to many. However, to make a living from photography, it needs to be much more than the image,” he explains.

 

“It’s not only about the marketing, it’s about the story behind the image that really tells the story or captivates someone beyond the image, but some mystique that might be behind the picture or the reason why it exists and where it comes from—and it’s something deeper than the surface,” he concludes.

 

View Farber’s work at farber.com.

 

Jay Dickman: Imaging Excellence & Education

Jay Dickman is a Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist with more than 40 years of experience. Some of his most notable work includes projects for National Geographic, including assignments and workshops where he instructs and speaks for expeditions. He recently wrapped up his third Around the World by Private Jet exhibition and Walking with the Maasai this Summer.

 

In addition to his work for National Geographic, Dickman leads his own FirstLight photographic student workshops, which have taken place in the Chesapeake Bay area, Dubois, WY, France, Italy, Scotland, and Spain.

 

For shooting, he uses an Olympus OM-D E-M1. “I enjoy the small, compact size as it is much more conducive to carrying a camera than the large cameras that are the mainstay of the DSLR market.”

 

For printing, Dickman reproduces his work on digital, fine art wide format printers at up to 30x40 inches. He uses a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet Z3200.

 

The move to wide format enabled Dickman to gang print images for workshops, which is helpful as the printing process usually comes right down to the deadline. He explains that typically, much of the FirstLight students’ best work is produced towards the end of the workshop week, which puts a strain on IT. At the end of each workshop, the best five images from each student are printed at 20x24 inches.

 

“The wide format allows us to print multiple images in one take and we find that there is absolutely no degradation of quality because of this. It constantly amazes me to watch the printhead fly back and forth over the surface of the paper, and to see the perfect quality of the final image,” he adds.

 

In addition to the logistics, high-end prints are a priority. “I’ve worked with other printer brands before, but when I saw the quality of the images come out of the HP Designjet Z series printers, as well as the ease with which we could print a large body of images, my allegiance to HP was solidified,” says Dickman.

 

For the workshops, Dickman relies solely on one paper style, HP Professional Satin Photo Paper. Students photograph local communities and the people within—the fabric of the community. Student content varies and work ranges from documentary-style reportage landscapes to portraits. “We also convert some images to B&W and I’ve found the satin paper provides a surface and look that works across this wide spectrum of content,” he says.

 

In early workshops, different paper surfaces were tested, but they provided an uneven look for the final show. “The satin paper works beautifully for environmental portraits, landscape, whatever the content or palette, it really shines,” he adds.

 

Depending on the year, output volume varies. “We’ve hosted as many as three workshops in a year, and with 17 students per workshop, that is a lot of large prints. I also output large prints for sales,” he explains.

 

While on-site fine art printing capabilities are beneficial, having control of output also brings its own set of challenges, admits Dickman. For instance, perfect calibration is a necessity, so all student work needs to funnel to one computer to ensure consistency requirements for final workshop presentations are upheld.

 

With so much competition in the workshop world, Dickman explains that there is very little—if any—room for anything less than perfection. “Our students are smart, educated, and ready to purchase the best equipment they can find. In parallel with this, they also demand top quality for the environment of the workshop. The prints that come out of the HP Designjet Z series printers don’t let us down,” he concludes.

 

View Dickman’s work at jaydickman.net.

 

Andre Laroche: Commercial Capabilities

Andre LaRoche is the owner and chief photographer at Stage 3 studio. Focused on commercial work, he understands the importance of the right mix of art and technology. After growing his business for 20 years using film and large format cameras, he started getting his feet wet in digital photography in 1998, working with a Kodak DCS660 digital camera that was a good introduction to digital but “not quite there.” By 2001, his company was ready to move into its newly built studio. During construction, LaRoche visited the PRINT trade show, and after seeing the newest Sinar digital cameras, he realized the technology was ready for adoption. His studio went almost completely digital by the end of 2002.

 

Three years later, LaRoche started producing output on Epson’s early 44-inch printers to reproduce Stage 3 photographer work, output print proofs for clients, and offer printing services to artists. “As time went on, we stayed with the Epson line and went to the Epson Stylus Pro 9900, which we’re currently using,” says LaRoche. He notes that because of the UltraChrome HDR inks, advanced quality of the Epson papers’ profiles, and print drivers, there was no other choice than staying with Epson. “It’s remarkable the way they increase the colors, depth, and accuracy,” he points out. “We’re able to keep some fine gradations and vibrant colors our clients and artists love. The performance is phenomenal, the shadow detail, the highlight detail—everything you need in a print, that’s why we went with Epson.”

 

LaRoche credits some of the inspiration for bringing digital wide format capabilities into his business to a trip to Graham Nash’s studio, Nash Editions, in Manhattan Beach, CA. “I visited his studio in the late 1990s and was in love with the quality he was getting and the way they were doing it. I could see the future; I knew one day I wanted to do that same kind of work.”

 

When it was time for him to buy, he looked at available printers and came to the conclusion that Epson provided the highest quality, the best color rendition, and the best detail at a business-wise price point. “Epson was quickly becoming a standard with prepress houses and clients were accustomed to seeing Epson proofs, so we then made proofs for our commercial clients. This increased our quality and business,” says LaRoche.

 

The prints Stage 3 makes for artists today are mostly on Epson Signature Worthy Hot Press Natural 44-inch roll media.

 

The studio prints a variety of output sizes. The most common are 24x30, 30x40, and 40x60 inches. “The largest print we did was a set of three panels each at 44x140 inches. It’s really great to have the ability to do that in house and control the color and consistency,” he shares.

 

Offering reproductions helps LaRoche keep Stage 3 in front of its client base, which includes many commercial advertising clients. “From there, it helps you branch out because someone has seen your print. They want to know who made it, and end up calling you.”

 

Additionally, it’s helped the studio get work reproducing paintings and illustrations of local artists. “We found that if you keep doing good work, customers keep coming back,” he says. “We’re excited to offer new papers and techniques so they can see how their work looks on different substrates.”

 

In terms of challenges, LaRoche says digital print is much like other forms of printing. You have to keep everything clean, inks fresh, and stay on top of printer maintenance. “Even though there is no easy button to push, Epson’s probably come the closest to helping us get there.”

 

He explains that many challenges are related to paper types or not having entered the proper ICC profile. RIPs are one element to consider. After some success using a ColorBurst Systems RIP a few years ago, Stage 3 switched to Epson’s built-in driver and is satisfied with the outcome.

 

LaRoche admits that business opportunity and profit potential is good, but you have to work at it. “The more you can control the rejects—or tests that go awry—the better,” he suggests. Maintaining quality control from the digital file, to the monitor, to the calibration of everything, is critical. “One of the things I like about digital is once you have it, it’s locked in and you’re able to reproduce prints in small quantities and recreate them exactly the same, multiple times, over a long period of time.”

 

View LaRoche’s work at stage3.com.

 

Mar2014, Digital Output

 
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