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Friday, October 15, 2004

I've been working all day on printing.  I'm mostly working from old negatives that I never made prints of.  And I keep learning new tricks.  For example: ImagePrint suggests that 240 PPI is fine for the print and that they interpolate it up to 360 before sending it off to the printer to do it's thing at 1440.   There is a difference, especially in the darkest areas (at least with my workflow).  So I'm re-doing prints at 360 PPI so there is no interpolation.

My workflow for black and white is something like this:

1) Scan the 35mm negative in at 5400 PPI. (Remember to use the grain dissolver on the 5400). Do enough with the scanner software so that you are not dropping any information that is in the negative.

2) With the soft-proof option set to the Epson Matte Paper, jump into Power Retouche B&W Studio.  This is where you really get a lot of control over the tonal quality of the print.  Save your Power Retouche settings for each print you do so you can apply them to various sizes.

3) Save a new file at 360 PPI at the size you plan to print.

4) Back into Power Retouche to use its sharpening tool.  Save that file.

5) Into ImagePrint.  I'm generally using the "gray profiles" which gives you a bit of control over the warmth or coolness of the print.  Write down the settings you used.

6) Print on Epson Enhanced Matte.

7) Then there is a series of prints - undoing the sharpening - making further tonal corrections - reapplying the mask etc. until you have a print you are happy with.

8) Bring out the Hahnemuhle PhotoRag 308 paper.  Set ImagePrint profiles to use this paper.

9) Hopefully by this point there is not too much back and forth since this paper is so expensive.

10) Let the print sit overnight and then review it again the next day.

All of this is done in grayscale.  The file needs to be in grayscale to work with the ImagePrint "gray" profiles which I've had the best results from.

Getting a pleasing print can be anywhere from an hour to a few days. I can get an acceptable print - usually the first time out.  What takes time is fine-tuning some small area that I find annoying, or seeing something when I go up to a larger size that I didn't see in the smaller proof version.  I find that I have to be most carefull with the pure blacks.  They need to just be on the edge - say between 5 & 10 in the levels box, or else they get a muddy look.  Things like specular highlights seem much easier to deal with, and middle-tones are the easiest.  There is no color shift when working with the "gray" profiles in ImagePrint unless you use the wrong profile, which I did once and then I got a mess of weird results.  What is great, is that I am thoroughly enjoying the printmaking process (something I loathed in the darkroom days).

One other surprise: usually the files that began life as color digital files from the D300 are the easiest to manipulate.  First off, there is no dust or scratches to deal with.  But more important, the use of various color filters in the Retouche Black and White Studio makes it easier to do things like darken skies, or lighten greens etc.  This stuff can be done in Photoshop without the filters but it often involves masking which is still a pain for me, though I'm getting better at it. 

9:21:38 PM    

I received an e-mail the other day from a fellow photographer who was wondering what he could do to increase sales.  In response, I would like to tell a story about a formula I read about called the Aesthetic Distance Grid.

Aesthetic Distance based on Subject Matter, is a  kind of emotional distance, or maybe semi-detatchment that a viewer of art needs in order to appreciate the work of art on its own terms.

An example of this distance being too short, might be the scene in Hamlet where Hamlet tries to reveal the King's murderous ways by staging a play by which he might reveal the evil doings of the King.  If the viewer reacts too emotionally to the subject matter, they will not be able to appreciate the aesthetic quality.  The King gets up and leaves, recognizing his own deeds in the play.

Aesthetic Subject Distance (ASD) is easy to detect.  When a religious icon is dipped in urine, you have crossed the line, and I would have to believe, knowingly crossed that ASD line.  When religious pictures are made with cow-dung and hung in the Brooklyn Museum - you are again narrowing the Aesthetic Subject Distance.  Anytime that a work of art causes some controversy - or is banned from a museum - you can be sure that that Subject or the way it is presented has flown too close to the edge of that line.

There is another Aesthetic Distance factor - technique (ATD)   Sometimes, the technique itself gets in the way.  Although the impressionists were often doing no more than painting water lillies, the technique was so shocking that viewers were pushed away emotionally.  The technique actually made the aesthetic distance greater.  it doesn't matter that now we think those pictures are beautiful - at the time they were considered sloppy and without artistic technique.

So think of connecting with viewers in a certain era as the center of a grid which is 100 by 100 cells.  As you move from left to right, you are increasing the technique appreciation distance.

As you move from the bottom to the top, you are increasing the subject-matter appreciation distance.

Go off too far, get too close to any of the corners and you will be in Aesthetic Distance trouble.  Try and stay as close to the center as you can, and you will be wildly successful.  None of this has anything to do with artistry.  Just commercial success.  

This is what I would say to any photographer interested in moderate commercial success.  It is like politics.  Stick to the middle of the road.  Now, if you are interested in making art - then ignore this rule - and fly as close to the corners of the grid as you like.  You may be burned today - but you may also be bathed in glory the next day.

10:54:31 AM