During the Digital Fine Art Printing Workshop, I ask the students to bring an image that we can develop and print in class. I received this email from a recent student and wanted to share it here (with his permission) together with my thoughts.
“Robert, the image you printed for me during the workshop has been printed dozens of times by several different labs. All of those results were disappointing, which led me to believe I hadn’t captured it correctly. I had hesitated to give you that image because those earlier printing attempts convinced me the image wasn’t worthy of being printed.
The print you made changed everything for me. For the first time, I held a print that contained every nuance of the image I had wanted to create when I pressed the shutter. Thank you, Craig”
I was stunned when I read this, for several reasons. First, because it shows that even with today’s technology, vision and commitment to excellence always win. Few labs can interpret your vision; only you as the artist can do that. Working side by side with another photographer that understands that helps as well.
But something else much more important resonatated with me. The print we made together gave him confidence, not only about his image, but also in the value of making prints. And I was also humbled and deeply moved to know I had helped him in a meaningful way.
Of course, a print is only as good as the quality of the image being printed. Craig’s image was certainly outstanding, a sublime capture of a small intimate creek in fog, with lots of detail and color. I used Lightroom to make subtle but significant improvements that brought it closer to his vision for the print. Even though I work on the image, the entire class is involved, asking questions or making suggestions. That’s something I encourage because it’s the underlying concepts I want to teach, not specific steps or formulaic ways of processing images. It puts the art first, and the tools second.
This simple shift in how you approach photography will clarify your goals when processing, or printing, or choosing the right paper. Art before the craft. It’s the one thing above all else I want every student to take away from a workshop.
Image ©Craig Johnson / Hocking Hill
During the workshop, I emphasize that I can only suggest certain directions in the adjustments, but in the end, it’s the photographer’s vision that really matters. I often ask the student if I’m going in the right direction or not, and make sure they’re comfortable with my suggestions. If they aren’t, I backtrack, and we keep exploring creative options. That’s what individual interpretation is all about, and as artists and photographers, we need to assert that in today’s self-conscious world.
Yes, this sometimes makes the student uncomfortable, because it forces them to think deeply about their vision. But that’s where it starts regardless of where you are in your photography. At some point, you have to start asking the important questions, such as, “Why am I doing this?”, or “What do I want to accomplish?” “What does photography mean to me?” “What do I truly want to convey in my prints?”
The answers will make a huge difference, and keep you motivated even if you’ve faced failure many times in the past. Craig had his doubts, but he also had a vision which thankfully, for all of us, he brought to the workshop. We printed his image on Canson Infinity Rag Photographique, a great fine art paper to complement his image. Soft shadows, painterly colors, and a buttery smooth texture to maintain the crisp but organic detail in the trees and leaves.
The satisfaction of holding something in your hand that you made, physical and tactile, is a feeling worth pursuing for a lifetime. For photographers, a fine art print is one of the most direct ways to experience that.
And the only thing that tops that for me is helping someone else experience that same feeling.