I was brutally reminded this week exactly how much my skills have slipped.  Before my final move to the Kingdom I was running my own studio in Oregon and primarily I did family portraits, senior portraits, weddings, eventually specializing in boudoir photography of a very private nature.  Because I wanted to control the quality of my work I printed 95% of my orders.  The other 5% went out to specialized print hours with more hardware capability.

An entire room was dedicated to printing.  I had four printers of the same type, each set up and optimized for a different type of print, roll canvas, luster (semi-gloss), glossy, and black and white.  I had a fifth “art” printer set up for printing on velvet, matte, and other art papers.  A color laser handled brochures and business work.  Shelves were stacked with thousands of dollars worth of specialized papers and inks, each carefully stacked to avoid turned edges, humidity damage, and for easy access. As an example, a single roll of canvas could run as high as $500.  Art papers could easily run $20 a sheet.  You really want to minimize mistakes.

 

I was brutally reminded this week exactly how much my skills have slipped.  Before my final move to the Kingdom I was running my own studio in Oregon and primarily I did family portraits, senior portraits, weddings, eventually specializing in boudoir photography of a very private nature.  Because I wanted to control the quality of my work I printed 95% of my orders.  The other 5% went out to specialized print hours with more hardware capability.

 

When I moved to Thailand I was well aware of all the inexpensive printing services so I packed up a single printer and a short selection of my favorite papers and a supply of ink and sold the rest.  For over five years these items remained in my office collecting dust.  To say I was relieved no longer being chained to the print room would be an understatement.  Printing properly takes as much skill and knowledge as any other part of photography.  In fact, you could accurately say that when making your capture, how you’re going to print the image defines your capture as much as how you’re going to process the image.

In other words, when making the capture, you need to carefully consider your post processing capabilities and your plans for printing to make the most effective capture.  This means you might change different settings for the capture when taking into account how you will post-process the image, and how you will print it.  These are small but significant differences.

A few months back I had these nice frames mounted throughout my place with the main theme being that the image would be easy to change.  I love nothing better than to have a great photo outing, and then mount the images on the wall.  The next outing, another set of images.  It’s fun and it puts a tangible result right in front of you.  I sincerely believe that if you’re spending time looking at 24x30 inch prints of your work, then you’ll think a lot more about what you’re shooting, spend more time processing, and greatly improve your photography.  Of course, if you’re goals end at sharing your image on the web via email then the “print” part won’t matter to you.  Still, there is no greater satisfaction to photography than seeing your image properly printed and mounted and hanging on a wall or in a gallery somewhere.

Imagine my disappointment when I learned most of the print houses in Bangkok are using large commercial laser printers!  And the prints while of uniform quality, where nothing like what I used to turn out for my customers.  I’m currently looking for a competent chemical printer, if you know one please let me know.

 

Then I selected an image I particularly liked, processed it with a special kind of print process, a certain kind of ink, and a certain process in mind.  When the image was properly processed I dug in the far corner of my office and uncovered the printer.  It sat on a rollaround cart (it’s a large printer) and the shelves of the cart held a selection of inks and papers.  Quickly searching through the papers I found what I was looking for, a delicate and quite special art velvet.  It’s the type of paper you don’t need to mount behind glass, instead you can spray lacquer it.

 

A few weeks ago I did a special shoot for a couple who are friends.  It was her first pregnancy and they wanted the standard remembrances to remember the pregnancy by and perhaps to share with family.  We did the shoot, yet in the back of my mind I started thinking about the prints.  They wanted files to print locally and that’s great, but the difference in quality between what I knew they’d get locally, and what I used to do myself, well.. it was a big difference.  And being friends with a special occasion I wanted them to have at least one print done properly.  I let them pick their prints and then I had them printed as requested at a local print house.  They were okay.

Then I selected an image I particularly liked, processed it with a special kind of print process, a certain kind of ink, and a certain process in mind.  When the image was properly processed I dug in the far corner of my office and uncovered the printer.  It sat on a roll-around cart (it’s a large printer) and the shelves of the cart held a selection of inks and papers.  Quickly searching through the papers I found what I was looking for, a delicate and quite special art velvet.  It’s the type of paper you don’t need to mount behind glass, instead you can spray lacquer it.

Pushing the cart out to my workstation I commenced a two day process of cleaning, flushing, adjusting, and basically overhauling a printer that hadn’t been used in over 5 years.  This printer is over 10 years old.  So were the papers, but they were properly stored in special boxes so they were like new.

The next part of the process was building a printer color profile to match my current monitors.  This is almost an art by itself.  By the time this was done I’d run out of a certain color ink so I was off to several print houses looking for the EXACT ink I needed.  A substitute would not do at all, when done right with the proper inks my prints last in excess of 150 years.  Bargain Thai ink will not.  I was surprised to find what I needed in a reasonable amount of time.

Rushing home I installed the new ink cartridge, flushed it’s line, made a test print, and finally sat there for over 45 minutes as my printer slowly turned out a single print.  I wasn’t making just any print, I was making a gallery quality print I’d be proud to hang in any gallery or at any show.  When it was done I let it dry before checking it carefully with a loupe.  I was surprised and delighted to see I’d got it right on the first run.  Now, all that’s left is to get it properly mounted.

It felt good to make this print, not only because it exercised very rusty skills, but because I was making the print for friends.  Comparing this print, even with a 10+ year old printer, to the best print in my home from the Bangkok print houses, it wasn’t hard to see there was really no comparison at all.

 

This begs the question, should I start making my own prints again?  The answer is no.  In America with customers willing to pay for quality it was an easy decision.  Here, quality is almost a dirty word when you compare it to the word “baht.”  The printers, inks, papers, are all 2-3 times the price of the US.  And then I’d need a dedicated dust free room with a special table, mounting equipment, special lights with the right temps, a viewing booth, and much more.  I’d love to have the great quality available, more I’d love to see my prints printed to this quality mounted in my new frames.  But it’s just not economically feasible.  And really, would anyone notice?

 

This begs the question, should I start making my own prints again?  The answer is no.  In America with customers willing to pay for quality it was an easy decision.  Here, quality is almost a dirty word when you compare it to the word “baht.”  The printers, inks, papers, are all 2-3 times the price of the US.  And then I’d need a dedicated dust free room with a special table, mounting equipment, special lights with the right temps, a viewing booth, and much more.  I’d love to have the great quality available, more I’d love to see my prints printed to this quality mounted in my new frames.  But it’s just not economically feasible.  And really, would anyone notice? 

Until next time..