I think any photographer can learn how to make creative adjustments to their photographs so the prints look the way they intend…and I think it’s actually an easy thing to do.
When I look at my printing methodology (which is the same approach we’ve used at West Coast Imaging for tens of thousands of photographs, and the same one I’ve taught to a few hundred students over the years), it looks really simple.
Like a lot of things, it takes a day (or three) to learn the basics, and a lifetime to master the art.
First you need to start with a well exposed photograph.
This should be the goal every time you click the shutter. It’s a lot easier to make a great photograph from a well exposed original than it is from a poorly exposed image. You will simply get better results.
It’s OK to fix your mistakes, but the basis for your workflow should be to make good exposures, and learn the tools that work for good exposures.
Use basic tools in Photoshop
I’ve found that on well exposed photographs, I can do 99%ish of everything I need to do with just curves, color balance, hue/saturation, and selective color when coupled with layer masks, the info palette to see the pixel values, and some smart sharpening. Throw in a RAW converter for digital camera files (but I’m a 4×5 film guy, so most of my “RAW” conversion happens on scanner).
Notice there there are a lot of things I don’t use. I don’t use levels, I don’t look at histograms, I don’t soft proof, I don’t look at gamut warnings. I use them so rarely that they are almost nonexistent in my workflow. If you like cooking with those pots and pans, that’s fine, but if you want to take my cooking class to see how I make things taste the way I do, you’ll have to put them on the shelf for a while because they are not part of how I cook. I’ve have a lot of tools and ingredients on the shelf, and I have no problem using them when appropriate, but I really think you can do most of what you need with the simple tools I listed above.
Once you have the right tools, then you have to learn to use them properly. Even the best tool in the world can mess things up when used for the wrong application. Ever try to use a table knife for a screwdriver? I thought so Like you, I’ve got the bent table knives and damaged screws to prove I used the wrong tool.
Using the right tools properly is part of what I’m trying to show in the EXAMPLES video I just made. Making a beautiful print can be as simple as a few layers. You can do a lot with a few simple moves. But that’s where the challenge comes in: You have to practice those simple moves over and over again so that you can work on instinct. There is a reason Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid had Daniel-san practice “Wax on, Wax off” so many times, and there is a reason every great athlete practices endlessly to get the perfect golf swing, the perfect basketball pass, the perfect swimming stroke. Practice is about developing good habits and eliminating bad ones. Photography is the same way, so you have to practice good habits if you want to be a master and not a hack.
Printing really can be easy. It just takes using the right tools, and lots of practice. I’ll keep posting to show you how, if you keep reading.