A couple of months ago I decided to print a portfolio of what I consider to be my strongest work to date, colour and black and white. I set a goal of printing at least fifty to a hundred photos on 13x19 paper, the image size being 15-16 inches wide, depending on the aspect ratio of the photo. After a lot of thought about the best paper to use (to be printed on my Epson 3880) I decided I wanted a robust, thicker paper with a lustre surface with great archival characteristics. I really like Epson Ultra Premium Lustre paper, but feel it dents too easily when being handled. I have also used Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk (now with the word 'Prestige' added to it along with a price increase), I love the texture and weight but find that the surface scratches much too easily, an issue when storing prints laying on top of each other in a storage box. After researching on the internet I decided on trying Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag. I was more than pleasantly surprised. It has an obvious texture, some photographer's think too much so, and, I do admit, there is a hint of metamerism when viewed at a certain angle, moreso with colour prints than black and white (which look extraordinary). But, in the end I decided to go with this paper, it just works for me at this time. And, regarding archival issues, the fact it doesn't contain OBA's and is 100% cotton fibre rag is what I was looking for.
The ultimate intent of this project is to print what will be an archive of my best work, hard copies of high quality master prints that will be stored safely yet accessible at anytime. Maybe it's because I'm hitting middle age and I have an inherent urge to leave something behind when the inevitable occurs. But I am also aware of how important photography and the making of fine prints has been in my life, and, up to this time, I really don't have a super organized print archive. I've been editing and culling my work for years now, and I find using Adobe Lightroom to be a godsend for this task, especially using keywording and creating catalogues. But, as most photographers are aware of, deciding and editing what you consider your best and strongest work is a painful process. Are you looking for what has most 'commercial' potential (ie. postcard-like stock work) or what moves you most on a pure, subjective level? I decided for the latter. The former requires at few more sets of eyes and objectivity. Somebody else to play the role of art director. That works when there is a specific means for use of the work. In my case I am putting together a very personal archive of what "I" consider my personal best; it doesn't matter what other people think. And, I do know that many of the photos I have been selecting have had positive responses from other people. It's always a beneficial educational exercise to hear the variety of opinions that people have of a specific piece of work. To quote Paul Simon, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor".
This is also a great exercise to do when one feels in a creative rut. Brooks Jensen of Lenswork Magazine has an excellent podcast on this topic titled 'Blocks to Creativity'. In it, amongst other things, he suggests browsing through your archive and try to notice threads of continuity and themes in your work, hopefully sparking an idea for a portfolio or project idea. My first solo photo exhibit occurred this way, 'Building Facades of Small Town Alberta'. While browsing thousands of images in my Lightroom archive I came upon the repetitious theme of these facades, shot over a 5 year period. I truly had an 'ah-ha' moment and I immediately conjured up the idea of doing a show of selected pieces of this theme.
The archive printing project isn't specific to any theme or subject matter though, and that simplifies the process. Although, I am beginning to see themes and I am getting ideas for a possible show and Folio presentations in the process. That also helps keep the fire lit under me and helps with inspiration. But, I initially selected over nine hundred images and, after three edits (all cataloged as such) I have culled it down to just over two hundred images. Up to this date I have printed thirty, a few need to be tweaked, and I am in a bit of a lull as to the next prints to make. And, in this case, time is of the essence as I don't have an actual deadline date from an outside source other than I would like to complete this by autumn of this year. Of course I expect to continue to add to the archive as time moves on.
One of the prints I decided upon was a photo that I took at my favourite natural spot in Alberta, Dry Island Buffalo Jump in September, 2009. Two other photographer friends and I spent the day hiking there and as the sun was slowly lowering and we made the long walk back to our day camp I came across this near-symmetrical, low lying hill that lay in a hollow amongst the eroded badland textures surrounding it. The side lighting was perfect, a contradiction of diagonals and wonderful highlights and tufts of glowing, dancing grass lay at the top of the small, shaded cliffs peeking down at the hill:
I used a Nikon D300 and a Sigma 50-150 f2.8 lens for this photo, tripod mounted. The image shown above is my final colour version, completed a week ago. I like it. But, the initial RAW image was predictably flat in Lightroom and, a couple of weeks after this was taken, I immediately thought the this deserved to be black and white due it's strong graphic nature. My initial black and white conversion took place in Lightroom with the following results (after some minor tweaking):
I had more or less let this be since 2009, it was okay but the shadows were quite blocky yet the intent was beginning to feel right. When I started culling my work for this project I came back across this photo and decided I should include it. But it needed improvement. So, I initially worked on and substantially improved the colour version (above) and thought that perhaps it should be printed in colour instead. Well, being a stubborn sort, I wanted to see how I could improve the black and white image. So, this time I used Silver Efex Pro, a fantastic piece of black and white conversion software that I use often today. After making adjustments there I touched it up a bit more in Lightroom, using the gradient tool and adjustment brushes. I will make mention that Lightroom expert Julieanne Kost's videos really helped me get around use of these tools. I found that once you get a hang of them they are very reminiscent of utilizing dodging and burning in a conventional darkroom. I rarely use Photoshop for adjustment layers anymore (although this is still an extremely beneficial way of photo editing). I also cropped and rotated the photo slightly from the original, I felt it strengthens the composition somewhat.
The final result, now printed, looks like this:
I've opened up the shadow detail substantially and brought the hill to life as I like to say. The print looks stunning on the Canson paper, I am satisfied at this point (but, never ever 100% satisified ... sigh). Now, it's time to move onto to the next print, number thirty-one, and I will continue my efforts to build my print archive as originally intended.
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