PhotoJournal: Fall Panorama – Crafting the Print

Making a fine art print is the final step for any image that is destined to become a part of my “portfolio.” Those are images that I deem as worthy to be displayed on my website, hung in a gallery for sale, or framed for display in my home. They are the images I feel represent the best work I’ve done to date.

Making a print of “Fall Panorama” started with the same question I always ask; which paper and its characteristics would best complement my vision of the photograph? And that starts with deciding how much Dmax is appropriate. Dmax, or black density, is a measurement of how much back ink a paper is capable of absorbing, and the greater the density of a paper, the higher the contrast and shadow definition it can reproduce.

The critical thing here is that greater doesn’t equal better, it just means greater. Sometimes more is a detriment depending on the feel and emotion you are trying to convey; less is more, in many cases. And sometimes having greater contrast is in fact better.

The determining factor is your vision as the photographer. What exactly do you want to convey? What is the image about literally and emotionally? Is there some metaphor you want to project to the viewer? How loud or soft do you want the image to be?

In music, volume can be used to great effect to convey nuance and subtlety, suggest tones and sounds that are not apparent, and create drama and punctate excitement as well. This is also the way contrast, whites and blacks, and detail work in an image; they are the grammar of visual communication.

This is not to say that it’s always clear, and in this case I did struggle with choosing a paper. A high dmax paper would definitely make the textures and shapes more prominent, but again, does it serve the whole? Is that what the image is really about? And for me the answer is no as soon as I think about why I made the image. You can read what I had to say about that in part 1, but essentially, it was about a sense of place, and how it made me feel.

I decided a matte paper would be ideal. It would still hold blacks really well, and preserve the texture of the foreground tree trunks and leaves, but invite more of the imagination. It would suggest rather than describe, and allow the mood and atmosphere to dominate. I also decided an ultra-smooth paper with no texture would preserve the softness of the fog, which would otherwise become a distraction.

I chose Canson Infinity Rag Photographique 310gsm, which for a matte paper holds blacks really well, and has no surface texture whatsoever. I wasn’t disappointed. It preserves the most important aspects of the image while adding that dimensional quality that only a good matte paper can provide. I printed the image on a Canon Pro-1000 on A3+ (13” X 19”) size paper shifted towards the top, then trimmed the bottom to create equal borders. Final size is 7” x 19”.

There are always compromises when choosing a paper, just like there are when selecting any other piece of gear. The question is are you limiting your analysis to an isolated area, or considering how it stands up as a whole. Adding more contrast doesn’t help if the composition is compromised, I’ve tried that and failed many times. But once you get that right, your creative choices become much more exciting.

If you’re curious or excited about seeing your work in the real world, I cover all of these concepts in-depth in my studio Printing Masterclass and in the online Printmaker Masterclass.

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