I allowed the business of the past few years to put a damper on printing my photographs. The images found their home in dozens of magazine articles and presentations, but I fell behind creating fine-art prints of my work. The recent addition of a large-format inkjet printer changed that.
Images shared on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, or even printed in a magazine result in a fast-and-passive consideration of a photograph. Even when images were published, multiple deadlines resulted in a postprocessing workflow that favored speed. I prided myself on producing good results in a short time. Printing demanded a different approach.
Holding that first print resulted in a pleasure I’d forgotten. It also led me to slow down and evaluate my images differently. Creating a print demands a slower and thoughtful approach deserving the permanence of a quality print. It was a pleasure I was happy to experience again.
Most of my workflow remains the same regardless of the output. Yet, when it comes to the print, I carefully consider the viewer’s experience, expecting that they’ll be looking at it for more than a few seconds.
The visual draws of light and shadow, line and shape, color, and gesture influenced how I saw a scene and created a composition. Those same considerations are at play when making global and selective adjustments. It’s how I control the viewer’s experience of my vision.
This image was created for an assignment for Goodwill in Southern California. The images were meant to be used primarily for social media and internal digital and print publications. I didn’t give thought to printing the work, and only considered adding selects to my website.
The printer’s presence inspired me to print some of my favorite shots from the series. These were photographs that I enjoyed as photographs and not as part of the larger story that I was telling.
A large part of Goodwill’s work is the collecting and sorting of varieties of items, including clothing, furniture, electronics, books, and more. They earn income from the sale of these items in their local stores. These sales and other income resources provide multiple services to local communities, including thousands of job opportunities.
The facility I was assigned to was one of the larger locations where donations were made. I was amazed by the vast quantities of items throughout the facility, all of which had to be sifted and sorted through. Some bins collected particular items such as pants or shoes, while others contained various miscellaneous items.
It was in one such bin that I discovered outside the warehouse where the sight of a doll of the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. caught my attention. I was surprised at the sight of it, never having known that such a thing even existed. I found its appearance odd and funny. I composed a shot that included a fellow sorting through the bins as it also provided an essential storytelling element.
The early afternoon light was hard and harsh, making for a high-contrast scene. The composition, which emphasized the doll and its white suit, posed an exposure challenge. There was a risk of overexposure that could blow out the highlights. I made a few test shots and adjusted my exposure to retain as much highlight and shadow detail as possible. The resulting RAW file would have enough data to produce a workable image, requiring time and attention. I hadn’t considered printing the photos, but technical choices made during exposure made a big difference in printing. [KelbyOne members can click here to download a smaller DNG version of this image to follow along for practice purposes only and, even though we’re using Adobe Camera Raw in the following steps, you can just as easily follow along using Lightroom Classic (LrC).—Ed.]
STEP ONE: After opening the image in Adobe Camera Raw, go to the Edit section (LrC: Develop module). Click on the Browse Profiles icon (three squares and a magnifying glass; four squares in LrC) to the far right of the Profile drop-down menu. This launches a panel that contains several sets of Adobe profiles and a representative thumbnail for each profile in each set. Expand the Adobe Raw set, and select Adobe Neutral, which is the flattest of the various profiles, an ideal choice for this high-contrast file.
STEP TWO: A casual view of the dark image might lead you to believe that it resulted from an inadequate exposure, but nothing could be further from the truth. Though extensive processing is required, the choice of exposure, white balance, and a low ISO makes producing a quality image possible. Go to the Basics panel to apply several global adjustments to the image. Set Exposure to +1.25, Contrast to –3, Highlights to –21, Shadows to +17, Whites to –1, and Blacks to +5. These settings produce a night-and-day difference.
STEP THREE: The proximity of the lens to the doll reduced the apparent depth of field, which was controlled using an ultra-wide-angle lens and a moderate aperture. The image has a nice snap to begin with but can be improved with slight adjustments to midtone contrast. After increasing the magnification of the image to 100%, adjust Texture to +14 and Clarity +5.
STEP FOUR: Color is an essential visual draw in this image. Along with the doll’s white suit, the teddy bears provide a source of saturation color that draws the viewer’s attention to the lower quarter of the frame. Tweak this by increasing Vibrance to +21 and Saturation to +13.
STEP FIVE: The image is greatly improved yet, despite the harsh lighting, the overall image appears flat. Go to the Curve control panel (LrC: Tone Curve), choose the Parametric Curve option (the first icon to the right of the word “Adjust”), and make a few changes. Increase the Lights to +22, Darks to +20, and reduce Shadows to –10. This adjustment brightens the quarter-tone highlights and darkens the quarter-tone shadows with little impact on the extreme ends of the tonal range.
STEP SIX: Every RAW file requires a modest degree of pre-sharpening. The adjustment needn’t be aggressive, as the final amount of sharpening will depend on your printing output. This choice will consider print size, paper choice, and image file size. With the image magnified to 100%, go to the Detail panel and increase the Sharpening (LrC: Amount) to 50, Noise Reduction (LrC: Luminance) to 5, and Color Noise Reduction to 20.
STEP SEVEN: Reds, oranges, yellows, and blues are the dominant colors in this image, but they need to be more subtle. Go to the Color Mixer panel (LrC: HSL panel) and select the Luminance tab. Decrease Reds to –4, Oranges to –4, Yellows to –6, and Blues to –4.
STEP EIGHT: A subtle vignette will deemphasize the edge of the composition, so go to the Effects panel and set Vignetting (LrC: Amount) to –6, Midpoint to 59, Roundness to +45, Feather to 72, and Highlights to 28.
STEP NINE: The image might be sufficient to post on social media, but it’s intended for print this time. The choice of a Luster paper will provide excellent color saturation and contrast, but it might also result in the loss of important details in the shadows of the woman’s coat. To prevent that from going too dark, click the Masking icon (gray circle with dotted outline in the tools on the right) and click on the Brush option. Adjust the brush options to a Size of 10, Feather of 68, Flow of 26, and Density of 100. Then move down to the Light panel and set Exposure to +0.45, Shadows to +20, and Blacks to +10. Then slowly paint over the woman’s coat until more details are revealed. Though the result appears subtle onscreen, it can make a more significant difference on paper.
STEP 10: There is one problem area in the composition: The striped box immediately below the woman’s right arm is bright enough to distract. To darken this, click on the Create New Mask button at the top of the Masks panel. From the pop-out screen that appears, select the Brush tool. Leave the brush settings as is, but set Exposure to –0.25, Contrast to +13, Highlights to –4, Shadows to –8, Whites to –8, and Blacks to –8. Slowly paint the box until it’s slightly darker and less of a distraction.
STEP 11: The plastic container behind the doll’s left arm is too bright. This adjustment is a challenge, as aggressive darkening of this area will render it an unnatural gray; so, it’s vital to settle on a healthy compromise. Increase the magnification of the image to 100% and then click Create New Mask again. Select the Brush tool and set its Size to 13, Feather to 79, and make sure that the Auto Mask control is checked.
In the Light controls, set Exposure to –0.50, Contrast to +6, Highlights to –9, Whites to –12, and Blacks to –16. Carefully brush around those bright areas to darken them. Use these same settings to tone down the brighter area of the doll’s coat.
Once done, hold down the Shift key to change the Open button Open Object, and click it (LrC: Photo>Edit In>Open As Smart Object in Photoshop). This will open the file in Photoshop as a smart object, which will allow you to return to Camera Raw at any time for revisions.
STEP 12: Assuming that you’re working with a calibrated monitor, you can see how the image will appear on paper before creating a print. In Photoshop, go to View>Proof Setup>Custom. This control opens the Customize Proof Condition window from which you can select the ICC profile for the paper you intend to use to print.
Go to Device to Simulate to choose the printer, set Rendering Intent to Relative Colorimetric, and enable Black Point Compensation. Under Display Options, enable Simulate Paper Color and then click OK. The resulting change should be a close approximation of what you’ll see on paper.
Creating these prints has been fun and rewarding. It has given me a healthier perspective of where I’ve been and how I’ve grown as a photographer. It reminds me of the importance of seeing my photographs as tangible objects that I can hold, share, and appreciate. I understand it now to be an essential part of my photographic process and journey.
ALL IMAGES BY IBARIONEX PERELLO