The Evolution of a Print

“It's never too late-in fiction or in life-to revise.”
   Nancy Thayer

Many of the prints I've made are one-offs; I've not made more than one print of the picture. Some of these are experiments. Others are prints I make simply because I want to, or perhaps because they nicely accommodate the theme of an upcoming show (exhibits with themes being trendy with galleries these days). Occasionally I'm commissioned to make a print I might not have made otherwise; I'll print for the client, but probably not print the image again. Even more rare is the order that comes in via this Web site, for an image I've posted but never printed before.

On the other hand, I've had the good fortune to have a few “best sellers”, prints that sell well, in a few cases selling about as quickly as I can print them. I can't count many of these, but I'm delighted to have them. Most of the time I do little more in Photoshop than size and sharpen the image, or as I prefer to call it, optimize the image, for printing. I'm already happy with the image file; it won't benefit from any additional adjustments or other work in Photoshop. Except for experimental or test images, I've nearly always got the image exactly the way I want it before I make the first print.

However, there are some “repeat” pictures that make nice prints, but when I study them I feel the image has more to offer. Because the picture must be pretty good before I consider printing it, what I might do to uncover that “more to offer” can be difficult to define. Call it a feeling, a hunch; the print is fine, but there's something more hiding in there.

Each Print is an Opportunity

Each time I prepare to print a picture I have the opportunity to study it on-screen and to think about making improvements. At this stage there are rarely obvious problems (color casts, exposure issues, etc.), as those would have been corrected before I made the first print or, more likely, been cause to reject the image during the culling process. The hunches mentioned above rarely come from nowhere; the image needs something, or I wouldn't have these feelings each time I make another print.

Stanton Mountain reflected in Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald

Stanton Mountain is reflected in Lake McDonald on a cold April morning in Montana's Glacier National Park.

But what does it need? More or less contrast? Can I improve the color or saturation? Does it need some spot work with exposure (typically, curves adjustments with masking)? I don't have unlimited time, but these kinds of images are often worth some additional effort when it's time to make another print.

Shown here is a photo I made in Glacier National Park in April, 2008. I used two exposures to make this picture; one exposed properly for the sky (-1 stop), the other exposed for the foreground rocks (+2 stops). These were processed separately in Adobe's Camera Raw, and then blended in Photoshop CS3, the current version of Photoshop at the time. The subject, the color, and the extreme depth of field have made this a popular picture, which means I've printed it a number of times in several different sizes.

Over time as I've printed it, I've done a little work on the color and luminosity of the foreground rocks, improved the overall contrast and done some spot work in the mountains and distant trees, and in the most recent print, cropped the sky very slightly. I have a couple of early test prints, made with my Canon iPF 5000. When I compare those to recent prints (made with an Epson Stylus Pro 7900), the difference is quite obvious, but it's been a progression of subtle changes over the years since I made the first prints.

The version shown here is my most recent, but surely won't be the last. I'd like to see more contrast in the sky. I'd like to see if I can separate the mountains from the sky a bit more. And, as always, I'd like to pull a little more color from the foreground rocks.

The Next Print

Photoshop CS6 includes Camera Raw 7, which introduced a new process version (tone-mapping setup), Process 2012. Among other features, this offers revised adjustment controls for highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks. With these controls I've been able to pull nice detail from both very bright and very dark areas in images. That experience tells me I may be able improve, with the new process version's controls at the raw processing stage, the two files that make this photo. I'd then bring them into Photoshop for additional work. The next print I make of this picture will surely be somewhat different from the previous print. Just how different remains to be seen.

Some photos are never finished, but continue to evolve as new tools and new techniques emerge. Sometimes a new vision of the final image shapes the way forward. Always look forward to the next print.

February, 2013

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