What’s the point of spending valuable time in the field, using great cameras and lenses, shooting RAW and processing in ProPhoto, only to print in sRGB? There is a good chance this is what you’re doing without even knowing it.
One tip off is if the lab requires you to submit the file in sRGB. That one is pretty self explanatory. The lab has just told you they are not printing everything in your file.
But there are sneakier ways that you can be limited to sRGB. Some ordering systems force everything into sRGB for consistencies sake. There is no easy way to tell this apart from asking the lab if their software is processing everything in sRGB.
Another way you can be limited is by what you are printing on. RA-4 chromogenic papers, the most common paper used by labs, have a gamut that really isn’t much larger than sRGB. RA-4 used to be state of the art, but you can more is possible. With the right inkjet process, you can get a much wider gamut and produce more vibrant prints.
There are very good business reasons labs work the way they do, but it’s not the way I work.
I want to produce the most vibrant print I can, something that is as close to your vision as possible. I’ve seen the difference that wide gamut printing can make, so I can’t even imaging converting it to sRGB as part of the workflow. If your file is in ProPhoto, I’ll print it in ProPhoto so you get the best print possible.
Everything about my process is designed to bring out the best in a photograph, even when it means working a little harder, because it makes a print with more impact. Once you’ve seen the difference, you won’t want to go back.
When someone has a print on the wall, it creates a lasting connection between the viewer and the photographer. A print on display is unique because it exists in the viewers space on a daily basis. It becomes more than just a quick glance on the bottomless social media feed, or even the impulsive “like” that drives the algorithms. A print becomes part of the viewer’s life, and a point of continued dialog between the photographer and the viewer.
Like many photographers, I’ve collected prints over the years from friends and artists I admire. Even after seeing them every day for years, they continue to bring me joy, and I can discover new things within them. But they also bring me back to the moment I connected with the photograph, and the photographer.
That ability to connect is what makes a print so powerful. If an artist or a story moved me enough to put it on my wall, the print serves as a portal to reconnect to that artist and their story over and over again. It’s built a relationship in the way reading a good book does, or a fine conversation with friends. It’s a mile marker, a touchstone. It makes me, as the viewer, somehow more invested in the artist, and every time I view it, renews that investment.
It’s this “viewer investment” that begs us to give more consideration to sharing our work as prints. What photographer doesn’t want a more invested audience in an era of visual saturation?
At its simplest, that investment is in the photographer’s story and vision, whatever that may be. And a photographer’s story and vision can do powerful things.
I’ve seen it save the last un-fished ocean, stop destructive mining, bring attention to threatened species, bring back memories of a long lost family member, and so many other things.
Photography has an ability to connect us to current and historical events, people, places, and things like no other art form. It makes the sharing of that story between photographer and viewer a more personal connection. And it turns that connection into a long term conversation. It’s not gone in three seconds like an Instagram post at crappy resolution, it’s not on a shelf like a book that rarely is viewed. It’s on bold display for all who pass, sharing it’s story over and over again.
That is why the effort to make prints, sell prints, and display prints is worth being part of a photographers endeavors, and why I, as a photographer and printmaker, am so passionate about making well crafted, expressive prints.
Recent improvements in printing technology should have you reconsidering how you print your photographs.
If you’re printing with a lab, you’ve probably been making C-prints. C-prints are made on Kodak or Fuji paper C-print is the name given to the chemical process used in the paper, an abbreviation of longer name “chromogenic print”. Sometimes they are referred to by their surface, such as E-surface, or Luster, but that is not always a precise identifier.
What defines a C-print is that it’s made on a light sensitive paper which exposes a negative image with light (LED or laser light for digital prints,) then is processed in RA-4 chemicals.
C-print papers came from the pre-digital age, and were designed to make prints from color negatives easy and affordable for mass production of color photography. Your family photo albums are likely stuffed with C-prints.
When the first “digital enlargers” came on the scene around 1997, they most commonly used these same C-print papers, which offered great ease of use, quality, and price. Printing on a “negative” paper was no problem for a digital device that could easily convert a digital file into the data needed by the printer.
I saw my first LightJet digital C-prints around 1996/7 when I was working at The Ansel Adams Gallery. They were nothing short of amazing. At that time I was trying to perfect my own photographic skills, looking to find the best methods for color printing, so I was constantly studying prints. I was very fortunate that my position as Assistant Curator brought me in contact with some of the world’s best prints daily.
What those first digital C-prints represented was a paradigm shift. Finally there was a way to turn digital files into a true fine art quality print that was as good as they very best darkroom prints I had seen. This was a huge accomplishment and changed the way we print forever.
To say the prints were a hit is an understatement. The process was championed early on by several of the gallery’s photographers including Charlie Cramer and William Neill, and all of the Yosemite photo community quickly jumped on board. As a curator, I was able to sell more work than ever from our artists because of the ease of producing duplicate prints in quantity that exactly matched the previous batches, and at any size. Suddenly it was relatively easy to gat a 30x40 print made once a file had been perfected. I had an incredible run with one photograph in particular by Charlie Cramer, selling somewhere near 100 copies. (I have a copy of that print on my desk that still looks as good as it did when I first saw it. )
Digital C-prints quickly became the dominant form of color printing in museums, galleries, and were also embraced by advanced amateurs and hobbyists.
While the technology was readily available, the knowledge to use it to make true fine art quality prints was still quite difficult. To help solve that, I started my first print studio, West Coast Imaging, with a focus on making gallery quality prints using my knowledge to great digital prints that didn’t feel “digital” but retained the inherent qualities of fine art photography.
In my time running WCI, I printed the first digital exhibitions for Galen Rowell, Jack Dykinga, Robert Glenn Ketchum, and many others, and used hundreds of thousands feet of Fuji C-print material. So it would be fair to say I know C-prints very well. I’ve been committed to it over the years for my personal as well as my professional work. And alongside it, I’ve used about every generation of Epson inkjet printer since about 1999/2000, as well as several Canon Pro printers.
For a long time, C-prints were better than inkjet prints when printing on similar surface papers.
But recently that has changed.
When I started testing my Canon PRO-4000 printer, I noticed something was different, and better. Much better.
As I compared my calibrated test sheets from the Canon PRO-4000 to my reference digital C-print, something about the Canon print made the C-print look dead and lifeless. Perhaps it’s better explained that the Canon print had a depth, a brilliance, a dimensionality that I could never recall seeing before.
I was taken off guard because I didn’t recall seeing this big a difference a few years earlier comparing the previous generation Canon or Epson inks to C-prints. So I dug in to my archive of calibrated test prints to try and confirm what I was seeing. What I saw surprised me.
The wider color gamut and darker blacks (D-Max) of the new Canon printer really did make a difference. The new Canon prints bested every print I had made before. And not only were they “better”, they were magical. I realized I was seeing things in the prints I never thought would be possible. It was the same “ah-ha” moment I had when I saw my first digital C-print at the Ansel Adams Gallery a few years later. These new print set a high water mark, one that allows photographers to express themselves in ways not possible before.
It became clear that this was the process I wanted to use to print my personal photographs, as well as the work of my clients. While C-prints are still a legitimate medium for fine art, the qualities of these new prints are too exciting to overlook. With this new process, I’m making the best prints of my career, and expressing qualities I never thought were possible in a print. It’s taken a long time to reach this level of quality, but now that we have, I’m excited to switch from C-prints to inkjet and explore all the new possibilities!
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years trying to reimagine what a photo lab should be, and how to meet the needs of today’s photographer. And while the Bespoke Printmaking name spoke to a very important aspect of what I offer, it’s just one facet of it.
Hands on personalized printmaking is still a core service, but there are so many other things I offer, and such a wide variety of photographers I work with, I needed a better name that could encompass this growing vision.
After way too much brainstorming (and countless back and forth with my journalist/writer wife who has strong opinions about names, especially those she can’t stand..lol) Eclipse Photo Lab kept standing out. In fact, she had suggested it about a year ago, but I wasn’t wise enough to listen then.
Viewing the total solar eclipse of August 2017 left a lasting impression on us, and it’s amazing experiences like that that I’ve been involved in helping photographers communicate through prints.
It also encompasses my goal of pushing the limits of printmaking to make prints that surpass current expectations.
Eclipse Photo Lab just seemed to be a good match for this new vision of what printing can be.
I look forward to helping you make prints that eclipse what you’ve made before.
I've written an in-depth article on my full resolution printing technique, published by PetaPixel, that includes some instructions for preparing files. If you are printing your own photos, you should give this a try, and of course I offer printing with this technique. I continue to be in awe of the quality of print this technique produces.
900 ppi prints?!?! That’s kinda crazy, right? You just need to print at 300 or 240 or 200 because some guy on the internet told me no one can tell the difference. But it works, and it works really well! I'm going to be talking more about this, but for now, check out this video I made to explain it.