Why printing your photographs is good for your soul
I have to admit, I haven’t really printed any of my photographs for several years. Of course I created albums and the odd framed print for my wedding clients, but I have done nothing with my landscape images recently. Other than uploading the odd one to Flickr. That is until last week. I printed out the photograph of Janet’s Foss for my competition winner, and it made me realise I had completely forgotten how beautiful printed photographs are.
I actually do have a few of my landscape photographs framed in my lounge. They’re left-overs from an exhibition I held in 2009. But since then, I don’t think I’ve printed out a single one. Partly because I hate scanning transparencies, and especially negatives. Fiddling around on a computer, trying to get the colours correct, removing dust spots from them, eurgh… but I love the process of photographing on film, so that’s not going to change any time soon. Scanning will be the first job I outsource once I have enough money to do so. But in the meantime, I put off printing my images. I do quick and “that’ll do” good enough low resolution scans for uploading to my website, but I come out in a cold sweat when I think about the work and the boredom involved in getting a digital file to a sufficiently high standard to print a large image from it.
But I had to scan an image last week. My photograph of the Janet’s Foss waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s currently my favourite image, and the only one where I feel that there are very few things I would do differently if I were to take the image again today. It’s my currently almost-perfect. And I must have looked at it on a screen so many times, I felt that I knew every pixel of it. But as soon as I printed it out, it was like looking at a new image. I couldn’t believe what I hadn’t seen before. The tiny pink flowers clinging onto the edge of a distant rock. Did I even notice them when I was taking the photograph? I can’t even remember. Minuscule dots of pink that stand out so bright in an otherwise very green image. And the detail within the shadows of the rocks in the middle distance. Suddenly, every single one of them became clear and defined, even though they were still enveloped by the darkness. And the patterns in the river as it meanders its way between the rocks, barely visible, but definitely there in the print. Suddenly my vision became clear, like putting on a pair of glasses, or turning over to the HD channel. This photograph suddenly had a depth and clarity to it that I never even knew existed.
Of course, because of this clarity, the flaws are also suddenly magnified. What I had assumed was an image perfectly in focus turns out to have its far distance not totally sharp. This isn’t really an issue in this image, as it just serves to emphasise the distance between the distant trees and the foreground. But it has re-emphasised to me how much care I must take while making images, and how important the technical aspects of the craft are too.
I still hate scanning, and I doubt that will ever change. But now that I’ve reminded myself how beautiful prints are, I’m going to make an effort to print out my very favourites from now on and display them proudly in my home. I’m even going to start a collection of my favourite prints from my heroes and peers. Where I can look at them in their full HD glory, and where I can keep finding new things to enjoy within them.