Have you ever looked at a photographic print and had that moment burned into your memory for ever?
This has happened to me on many occasions.
In 1990, I was in Chevy Chase, Maryland on a trip to Washington DC and wandered into a Nature Company Store. As I browsed, I was stopped in my tracks by a 30x40ish color photograph of water lilies. I had never seen a color print that was so beautiful. It was stunning in both resolution and clarity. The blue of the water, the green of the water lilies, and the wet look of the water droplets was unlike anything I had ever seen.
Nearly 19 years later, I can still remember the awe and wonder I felt while looking at that print. The entire evening was burned into my memory because of the profound experience. At that time in my photographic education, I didn’t know a photograph could contain those qualities. Having seen it, it changed my expectations for my own photographs forever.
In a world where we are bombarded with images every day, why did this one print have such a profound effect? It was just a piece of polyester plastic with color dyes on it (a Cibachrome print) in a darkened corner with a spotlight shining on it…but it felt wet. It was as if I could touch it, dip in a cup and take a drink of the most beautiful water I had ever seen. Its tactile qualities were a marvel to me.
That is the power of a well crafted photographic print, and why a print is the ultimate expression of a photograph.
Photographic printing methods (including inkjet) have the highest fidelity in color, tone, and resolution. And if you use that fidelity as a part of making your photograph, it will display qualities that monitors simply cannot.
Even the best monitors are not capable of displaying all the color and resolution in a digital photograph. A high end monitor displays 98% of Adobe RGB? So what? I work in wide gamut spaces that exceed AdobeRGB.
Looking at photos on a 1080P flat screen? It can only display 1920×1080 pixels. My 4×5 chromes come it at more than 12,000×9000 pixels. Even the high-end 30-inch graphics monitors can only display 2560×1600 pixels.
That is why you should be making prints.
Sharing photos online is fine, and so is looking at your photos on your monitor, but they are not the same as looking at a print. They are like being outside the concert hall when the music is playing. You can hear the music and catch the tune, but it’s not the same as being inside, in the front row, where you can hear every subtlety and nuance.
Even if you just thumbtack your prints to your walls, you need to be making prints so that you can live with them, enjoy them, and learn from them. It will build your skill and fluency in photography. It will also keep you connected to your life’s passion when your life’s reality doesn’t allow much time for direct involvement.
(Who crafted the print I saw back in 1990? Though I am not absolutely certain, I think it was Joseph Holmes. Many years ago, I was looking through one of Holmes’s books, and saw an image very much like the one etched in my mind. He was displaying at the Nature Company at that time, and was one of the few 4×5 photographers they represented who was using Cibachrome.)
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