Ansel Adams once said “the negative is the score, and the print is the performance“, and for me, the print is what drives my motivation and all of my creative efforts as a landscape photographer.
I love this quote because it really captures my thinking process, especially coming from a music background where everything I did was focused on producing the best final mix. I’d spend countless hours selecting sounds, arranging all of the various elements to create balance and harmony, and finally adding the lead vocals; the melody. The final mix brought everything together in a cohesive, balanced, and focused experience for the listener.
It always amazes me how many of these concepts transfer to photography, and printing in particular. Regardless of what went into creating an image, the viewer only experiences the final “performance” or print in this case. For this reason, I place great importance in selecting a paper that best presents what I think are the strongest features of a given photograph. This might be color, detail and texture, or perhaps strong contrast in an evocative black and white image. The point is that the image dictates the paper I choose, which hopefully provides the best possible experience for the viewer or collector.
Trial and error is really the only way to learn this, which is why I built my own print studio where I print, mat and frame all of my work. The learning process is frustrating at first, but eventually the payoff is in the end result. It is not uncommon for me to print an image three to four times to get it “just right”. With practice, this happens less frequently than it used to, but the point is that I will not make any compromises when it comes to the final print.
With that said, here are my current favorite papers and some personal notes on each.
In general, these papers provide a rich artistic quality that I prefer for many of my color landscapes. They also feel great to the touch being cotton based, and provide a nice dimensional texture.
- Canson Photographique 310 – ultra smooth and great detail, deep shadows print well, 100% free of OBA’s (optical brighteners, which can cause yellowing over time). Colors are rich with a slighty warm tendency, and prints beautifully on my Canon 8100.
- Canson Edition Etching 310 – more of a watercolor paper with a nice texture, great color and dimension.
- Innova Smooth Cotton – one of my long time favorites, great color accuracy, and nice saturation.
Based on traditional dark room fiber papers, these papers provide the feel of matte papers but with the richer blacks that gloss papers offer. I tend to use these for images that have lots of dark tonalities I want to separate as much as possible, and also for black and white images.
- Canson Plantine – rich blacks, very nice texture for a fiber paper, and very neutral. Black and whites are outstanding.
- Hahnemuhle Photorag Pearl – this company has been in existence for over 400 years and their papers continue to be the standard for fine art printing. This paper, a variation of their amazing Photo Rag, has great color and warmth, also nice texture, and consistent output – plus the fiber based finish which really make landscapes pop.
I only started to print on canvas at the beginning of this year, but it has quickly become a customer favorite, both residential and corporate/office. The unique texture adds a painted look to color landscapes, and combined with the total lack of glare, is perfectly suited to places where lighting is not ideal. I tried many different brands and weights, but have finally settled on just one supplier.
- Lexjet Select Sunset Matte – this canvas has given me the best of all worlds – great rich color, deep and detailed blacks, a supple feel which is easy to stretch, and a large variety of sizes. I buy these in rolls, and always keep several sizes on hand for those last minute orders.
I really enjoy making prints, and hope that the time and effort I put into achieving the best possible “performance” brings something extra to those who have one of my prints in their home or office.
I’d love to get your questions about paper or printing in general – there’s never a question that’s too basic, it’s where we all got started.
Learn fine art printing in-depth in my Digital Printing Workshop.