New Name – Make Better Prints is now Crafting Photographs

As this blog and my ideas for it have grown, I realized that it’s about more than just making prints. Photography is an encompassing process, that starts the moment we click the shutter. Making better prints requires working backward through the process to the moment you click the shutter, and working forward from the shutter click to the final output. Everything that happens between those to moments decides how good your final photograph will be. 

A large part of making better prints is making better exposures and learning to process precisely. So if I want to help you make better prints, I need to talk about the whole process. 

I’m realizing that “printing” is one of those loaded words that can have multiple meanings. To some it means literally just hitting command P and the settings you use on the printer. But to me, printing is this encompassing process that starts even before I take my camera out and click the shutter. So I want to ditch that loaded word to avoid confusion. 

The irony is, I went back and forth in naming this blog between “Make Better Prints” and “Crafting Photographs” as I’ve blogged before under the Crafting Photographs name. I went with Make Better Prints in the hopes it would let me stand out in a very crowded blog and youtube community by emphasizing a skill I’m well known for. But in the process, I believe I limited the audience despite the fact the content is applicable to any photographer. 

Crafting Photographs has always been a good expression of my approach to photography. In setting out to make work that captured the beauty I saw in the work of other photographers I admire, I learned that photographs are carefully crafted through hard work, study of the craft, understanding of the materials, and application of them through inspiration to achieve photographs that evoked uncommon levels of awe and wonder.  The goal of this blog has always been to help share that knowledge and appreciation, and that’s better reflected in the new name. It’s about more than just making better prints, it’s about learning how to use your tools and materials to express yourself as clearly as possible to tell your stories. 

With that bit of housekeeping done, the only thing left to do is start putting up new posts. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog as much, and more than before. 

Rich

Pattern Noise in new Fujifilm GFX100

Clean, smooth tones are one of the hallmarks of an extraordinary print. Particularly in landscape photos, smooth tones in skies are essential. Pattern noise in a digital sensor can destroy those smooth tones, and there is no post processing trick to remove it. So I’m really discouraged to see Lloyd Chambers’ report that the new Fujifilm GFX100 is having problems with this due to the inclusion of Phase Detect Auto Focus pixels on the sensor. Check it out at:

Fujifilm GFX100: those PDAF Pixels Make Me Wish I Could have a GFX100 Without Them

I hope Fuji can find a fix for this because it could be a amazing camera for landscape photography with new 4×5 quality.

It seems to be limited to the new 100MP camera. I have a couple clients using the 50MP Fuji and haven’t seen or heard of in in those cameras. The 50MP cameras are excellent, and make beautifully detailed prints.

Sony A7RIV – Megapixel Size Chart

How much print resolution will you gain using the new Sony A7RIV? This chart will give you an idea. Print height and width are listed across the top, and the columns show the ppi file possible from a specific megapixel sensor.

A quick look shows us The 61MP sensor of the Sony A7RIV lets you make a 20×30 with 316.8 ppi of data, a 51 ppi increase over a 42MP sensor at 265.8 ppi, or about a 19% increase. Both will make exceptional 20×30 prints, but the 61MP sensor will resolve more fine detail.

Printing is a Process

I’ve been working on client work the last two weeks, along with a presentation and a workshop, so posting has slowed, but I wanted to share some thoughts briefly from my morning printing session today.

Making museum prints is truly a process. Yesterday I fought a difficult client file for an hour trying to find what direction it would go in. The nature of the scene was such that I had to work with it, and I could only exert so much of my will upon it before I departed from the classic photographic look I want to give this client. I tried about three different approaches, and suffered through 2GB photoshop files saving, multiple variations on RAW settings, masks and more. By the end of the session I was mentally tapped, and it’s important to realize that expressing yourself through a print is often a mentally taxing process. I left the process frustrated that I had not achieved what I somewhere deep inside knew was possible. But I was tapped and had nothing else to give it. So I sent a jpeg to the client and closed up shop for the day.

The client gave me a thumbs up last night, but this morning I wanted to revisit the file to make sure that in the rough sketch approach I often use on first attempts at a print, I could actually refine my masks into a final print. Starting with fresh eyes, some good music playing, and a handful of chocolate covered coffee beans, I started looking at the file, and in the moment of clarity a nights sleep created, it became obvious what was missing. Well, actually it was the thought that “wow, those snow fields really look gray…man that is going to look ugly. What if I just made the snow brighter but left the rest of the image the same?” A quick color range mask isolated the snowfields, a curve brightened them, and like magic the whole print came alive in a way I could achieve the day before. That dissatisfaction from the day before vanished instantly, and the print became something that achieved both my personal expectations, and what I wanted to deliver for the client.

That kind of process is pretty typical when working. Making a beautiful print doesn’t always happen all at once. It’s a process, with many layers. Each time you peel one layer, more becomes apparent. Its a series of refinements, frustrations, insights, successes, disappointments, and sometimes victory. It often takes time, a fresh perspective. Brute force only takes so much. I’m reminded of the quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” It’s a process, and only by continuing to chip away at it do you ever get to a resolution.

Newsletter Signup Error Fixed

I just fixed my email newsletter signup widget. Seems one setting was incorrect and that stopped people from subscribing. Give it a try and see if it works so you can get my monthly newsletter. I work to keep each newsletter high signal and low noise so that you want to read it every time. It’s a great way to keep up to date on the blog and on my latest workshops and events. Thanks for subscribing!

8×10 Print Sale

One of the ways I support myself and this blog is through printing for other photographers. I print using the Canon PRO-4000 which produces the finest prints I’ve made, even better than my $129,000 digital enlarger. Through the end of March, I’ll print four of your photos as 8×10 prints on any of my papers for $35 shipped. My printing service is a boutique operation, and each order is printed personally by me, so you can be assured that each print will meet my exacting standards. Go to BespokePrintmaking.com to pick a paper and upload your files.

Why You Should Make Prints

Are you making prints on a regular basis? Why? Or why not? 

I think printing should be a regular part of your photography. Nothing will test your photographs more, stretch your abilities, and force you to learn new photography skills, than the process of making prints. 

I’ll go so far to say that, if you can consistently produce fine quality prints from your photographs, you will have successfully mastered key components of the craft of photography, and you will be equipped to explore even greater depths of the art. 

First, you have to understand that prints are the ultimate expression of a photograph. 

Stop thinking that what your monitor or device shows you is what your photo really looks like. The screen is not even close to the accuracy of a print.

Professional printing devices are capable of producing a much wider range of colors (color gamut) than a screen can. They are capable of higher resolution, greater detail, more delicate highlights, and delicate shades of gray in black & white. It’s the difference between a flawless live performance of your favorite music, versus a YouTube video of it from a crummy phone. 

Because of this, the print is unforgiving. It will show every flaw and every error in judgement, exposure, focusing, color balance and processing. It’s not a 1500 pixel square on your phone; it’s the real thing, raw, fully laid bare for all to see. And that’s why it’s so powerful. It will test you, measure you, raise your expectations, challenge you, sharpen you, and make you a better photographer. 

Don’t do it alone. You need someone who has already mastered the skill to guide and critique your progress; to tell you it’s too contrasty, your highlights are blown out, or you didn’t focus properly. This is an integral part of formal photography training that is lost if YouTube is your only teacher. 

Take a class at a local college, go on workshops, and share your work at local photo clubs. Seek out people who make prints you admire, and beg, borrow, or buy time with them to be mentored. Some of the best photographers in the world are easily accessible through workshops. Take advantage of that. 

Then find museums and galleries close to you, get on their mailing lists, and go look at prints regularly. Seek it out when you travel. Develop a mental impression of what you think a great print should be. See how artists handle shadows and highlights, color, focus, and paper choice to make their expression. 

Lastly, make prints regularly. You’re going to learn more working on a fifty prints in a year than you will just ten. Don’t get caught up in what’s “print worthy” or not. If you think there is something there, print it and start working the process. Hang them on the wall, live with them, and see if they stand the test of time or need to be reworked, or abandoned. Start with 8×10 prints then work your favorites up to larger sizes. Fill your walls, and your friends! Give them as gifts, and let others enjoy them.

Making prints is the fast-track to improving your photography and refining your craft, making you into an even better photographer than you already are. 

Welcome to Make Better Prints

The Sentinel, Clearing Storm at Sunset, Yosemite National Park

Most photographers I speak to want to make better prints. It seems to be an area that causes the much frustration for photographers, with many gaps in knowledge that have few clear paths to solving. And I think at least part of the problem is that what we see in our minds eye when we think about our photograph rarely looks like what ends up on paper. 

I can completely relate. From the first time I made a print in my friends’ basement with a laundry detergent bottle for a safelight, I’ve been on a quest to learn how to make better prints.  The more I discovered photography was capable of, the more I developed my vision, the more I wanted my prints to express what I saw and what I knew was possible. 

I want to help others take this same journey I have, so I’ve created a new website MakeBetterPrints.com. My goal for this site is reflected in it’s name: Make Better Prints. That’s what I want to help you do. Regardless your skill level, there is another step you can take, another thing you can learn that will help you improve your work. It’s about learning, growing, and most of all enjoying photography and the printmaking process. 

In twenty years of teaching digital printing, I’ve helped countless people learn to make better prints, from beginners to seasoned professionals. I know from those experiences that it’s possible for you to learn the skills necessary to become a better printmaker. I want to help make straight paths through the wilderness so you can avoid the pitfalls and trials I’ve been through. 

I’ve been printing long enough to know that no one knows all the answers, but my twenty years running a fine art photo printing studio, building up teams of master printmakers, working with tense of thousands of photographers, and helping make hundreds of thousands of prints, have given me a unique knowledge of how to make better prints. 

MakeBetterPrints.com gives me a place to share that knowledge with you; What has worked for me, what hasn’t, and what produces the look and feel that I think expresses the art of printmaking. 

All you have to do is be willing to come along for the journey, to try new things, and to focus on making one more step forward. 

I can’t wait to see where this takes us!

With Great Expectations, 

Rich Seiling