Before digital, enjoying and sharing photographs meant either slideshows, or more commonly, prints. Printmaking is an art unto itself, and that’s no less true in digital photography. Some photographers prefer to master this part of the craft and make their own prints with a fine-art photo printer, but others prefer the convenience of working with a pro photo lab.
While the business of these labs is to make beautiful, high-quality prints, there are still some considerations for the photographer to weigh in the process. We talked with pro photographers Andy Biggs and Drew Gurian, both of whom are known for their iconic black-and-white images, as well as Bay Photo founder Larry Abitbol and Marieke Goethe of WhiteWall photo lab, to get insights that will help you arrive at prints that match your vision.
START WITH A GREAT IMAGE
The first step in the printing process is creating the photo itself. It’s important to understand how colors translate to black-and-white, and to previsualize the composition. “Certain images are made to be black-and-white in my mind,” says Drew Gurian. “I’m influenced by how I started in photography, which was shooting black-and-white film. Colors can actually be a distraction, so it enables you to kind of dive in a little bit deeper and tell a bit of a stronger, captivating story more easily because you don’t have color to distract you.”
Gurian often changes the in-camera picture control setting to monochrome so the preview JPEG appears in black-and-white, allowing him to check that it matches his visualization.
Andy Biggs agrees, “I really go out there with an idea that ‘this is a black-and-white’ and ‘this is a color’ because it does alter how I compose a photograph. I’m a lot more sensitive to how a subject conflicts with its environment with color.” For example, he notes, “If you were to photograph a subject that’s dark red in front of dark blue, when you convert it to black-and-white, a lot of times it’s actually the same tone, and they don’t look any different.”
Marieke Goethe of WhiteWall photo lab advises that before the printing process starts, it’s important to think about the photo’s placement. By anticipating the photograph’s location and use, you can plan ahead to avoid reflection when choosing the paper you print on.
Once you’ve chosen your photo and where it will go, you’ll be doing image conversion work on your computer. Goethe warns, “The most common mistakes are really just that the monitor isn’t calibrated. The monitors may be too bright; then you get the picture, and you say, ‘Oh, it’s just really dark!’ and you have this bad surprise. I strongly recommend that if you have a really nice shot and you want to make it worth it, download ICC profiles, just to make sure.”