My apologies for going completely down-periscope for the last month. As I was wrapping up the previous podcast episode, I found out that Adobe had transitioned to a new API to build plugins for Photoshop, and I decided to look into creating a full-blown plugin to replace my Fine Art Border Scripts, which I literally knocked together on a Sunday after in 2013 as I needed something to automatically add the above center offset Fine Art Border that I use when printing, and it was relatively easy to do. The Fine Art Border scripts have sold pretty well over the years, but they were somewhat inflexible and required the user to edit the text file script if they needed to change the ratio of the vertical offset, or change the width of the border, etc.
A relatively tertiary look at the new API told me two things. The first was that I figured I would probably be able to write the code for the plugin that required the original script files to be manually edited, which would make the plugin much more intuitive, and the second thing I noticed was how incomplete the new API currently is. Mostly due to this second point, to complete the plugin to its current feature level, I literally had to spend every waking minute for the last month, and once again, drove my wife crazy as I got up early each day, and kept my laptop open until moments before we went to bed each night. Of course, you haven’t seen a podcast or blog post for the last month either, for which. once again, I apologize.
But, I am very happy with the results. There are a few things that I want to add in a near-future update, but I’ve ended up with a much more feature-rich replacement for my 2013 scripts, which I’ve called the MBP Fine Art Border Tools plugin for Adobe Photoshop, affectionately known in short form as FAB Tools. As I completed my preparation for this post, I received word from Adobe that the plugin has passed their review, so I am really excited about this. Over time, this post will become dated, so if you check this out much after June 2021, please check the Product Page here for the most up-to-date information. You can also subscribe to the Plugin Notifications list of my newsletter, and I’ll keep you updated when any new features of note are released.
Get FAB Tools!
You can check out the plugin on the Adobe Marketplace already, so click the logo below to check that out, but we’ll also continue on to take a look at the details of what FAB Tools does and show some usage scenarios. I’ll also create a video to walk you through this over the next few weeks, so please keep an eye out for that too.
The new plugin has three main modules. One for framing and resizing for the Web, and the second for print, both with the same visually pleasing vertical offset, but with the ability to change it to any value, moving the image both up or down in the frame. The third module is completely new, to enable the addition of a watermark or logo. Currently, this only accepts images, but I intend to add the ability to add a text-based watermark soon. There is a fourth Tools panel, but that’s to provide links to a few global features, like showing or hiding Tool Tips, or showing the custom formats before the mostly uneditable presets in the Print Frame module. There may be a few more panels in the coming months, but at the time of release, I’m very happy with the specific feature set that I’ve built, and I do hope you find it useful.
Web Frame and Resize
As you can see in this screenshot, the Web Frame module is relatively simple on the front end, with a few nice tweaks to help your workflow. The idea is to add a border, the width of which you specify with the Border (px) field. If you have a specific height and width that you would like to resize your image to, you can enter both values. If you enter either the Long Edge or Short Edge value and turn on Auto-Calculate Ratio, the plugin will calculate the edge that you didn’t enter automatically.
When you enter the Short Edge you’ll notice the Short Edge heading then becomes underlined, indicating that it has priority. To go back to Long Edge priority, simply enter the long edge value. If you’d like to frame your images inside a square, simply enter the Long Edge value to resize to, and turn on the Create Square Border checkbox. We’ll then create square borders and position your images inside.
The Top/Bottom Border Offset slider is where you move the image up or down in the frame. For centuries, fine artists have positioned their work slightly higher in a matte or frame to provide more pleasing visual balance. Moving your image up slightly also gives you room to sign or add a watermark to your work.
The Magic Formula
After a lot of research around 10 years ago, I came to the conclusion that a good balance for fine art prints was to calculate 10% of the height of the image and use that for all four borders while moving the image up by 3%. This gives 10% side borders, a 7% top border, and a 13% bottom border. In the Web Frame module, we convert these percentages to pixels, as you specify the border width in pixels, so moving the image up 3% in a 100-pixel border equates to 30 pixels. Just wiggle it around and hit the Apply button to see what you get though. The Revert button reverts all changes, so it’s easy to try different settings.
Depending on the ratio of your image, you may find that you get slightly larger borders on the top or sides when working to a specific media size. With the Web Frame module though, if you only use Long or Short Edge priority, FAB Tools will add the exact sized border on all four sides, offset to the amount specified. If you want completely equal borders, leave the offset slider at zero.
There are three more checkboxes to talk about before we move on. First, you can add a one-pixel outer border using the color selected as your secondary color in Photoshop. A mid-gray is a good choice. This just helps your images to stand out against a similar color background and will disappear against a darker background.
There is also a checkbox to automatically save and close the image after applying the border, and a final checkbox to add the watermark on completion, and we’ll look at Watermarking in more detail shortly.
Print Frame and Resize
The next module is for framing for Fine Art Prints. This is closest to my 2013 Border Scripts release, but now highly customizable right here in the user interface.
There are 28 presets which, to protect the integrity of the media formats, cannot be modified, other than the border size and vertical offset. If you change the border size it will automatically be saved for future use, but a Revert button will appear, to remind you that you’ve modified the preset and to revert to the preset 10% border if necessary.
In addition to the 28 media presets, there are ten customizable formats, based on popular media size and a few square frames. You can take these and make whatever you want. You can enter the Long Edge, Short Edge, Border width, all in millimeters, as well as a custom name for your format and a short description. Each of these fields is saved as you move away from the field, but if you want to reset this and start again, just select a saved custom format and hit the Revert button. The vertical offset you select is currently not saved as part of your custom format, but if you think it should be, let me know and I’ll consider changing that in a future update.
A completely new addition is the ability to add graphical watermarks with precision to pretty much any location on your image. Start by selecting one of the nine anchor points, including the four corners, center sides, and the center of the image. From there, you can nudge the watermark up to 100% of the image away from the anchor point.
If no image resize has been performed, you can only anchor the watermark in relation to the canvas, but once you have performed a resize, you can also select to anchor the watermark to the inside or the outside of the resized image within the frame.
You can currently only load one image, but once loaded, it will generally be stored until you change it. You can scale the image to a percentage of the width of your resized image, and change the opacity, which is useful if you are placing a watermark over the image area.
Once you’ve specified your settings, you are ready to apply your watermark. When you are happy with the placement, you can also turn on the checkbox in either of the resize modules to automatically apply the watermark after resizing. There’s no need to worry about the image orientation. We calculate the position based on your image size and orientation, so the watermark should be placed perfectly each time.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a fourth panel called Tools, where you can turn off Tooltips, and have the Custom Media show at the top of the Format pulldown on the Print Frame tab, and there are some other options, such as the ability to reset the settings and all of the Media modifications if necessary. There’s also a link to sign up for our Plugin Notifications, and a button to show the folder where the plugin settings are stored, so that you can, for example, back up all of your custom media or if you want to move your settings and media to a second computer that you own, you can do that with the files in the path that is displayed. Note too that although I’ve used the Dark theme plugin screenshots for this post, it fully supports the Light theme as well, and will automatically adjust the colors used based on your theme preferences.
Practical Use Scenarios
OK, so let’s look at a few practical use scenarios for the features and modules we’ve discussed. To be completely honest, one of the reasons I started to look into the new plugin technology, was because I had to modify one of my original 2013 scripts to enable me to easily reframe some of my recent microphotography work to upload to Instagram. Ironically that was also put on hold for the last month as I worked on the plugin, but I really wanted an easy way to add what I call the Fine Art Border to my images in preparation for web upload. I had originally planned to just add a completely square border, most suitable for Instagram, but that became a checkbox option in the final plugin. Here, for example, though, is a small gallery of images with square borders, which looks really neat on sites like Instagram that list images in a square format. It also helps with uploading very tall images, as they get cropped by Instagram, and that has always been a bugbear for me.
Notice how the border automatically calculates the necessary position of the image within the border, and moves the image up, in Fine Art Border style, according to my settings, although I actually used the default vertical offset and border width for these images, and just turned on the Create Square Border checkbox, so that they were all put neatly into the same sized squares. Also, note that once you are happy with the positioning of your watermark, you can simply open the images that you want to resize and turn on the Automatically save and close option, and if necessary the Add Watermark on completion checkbox, and the image will be resized, watermarked, saved, and closed when you hit the Apply button.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, Adobe does not include actions performed on these plugins to be recorded in Actions, so you do have to open all of your images and hit the Apply button for each of them, but with everything else being automatic, it’s not a painful process to go through even a few hundred images if necessary. Adobe is saying that recording in Actions is coming soon though, and I’ll ensure that this works as expected when that happens.
Of course, the plugin also handles the addition of a uniformly sized border, adjusted based on the size of the original image. Here is another gallery of web resized images, this time without the Create Square Border checkbox turned on. Note the square image and portrait orientation image in this gallery. Nothing had to be changed in the plugin to cater to these different sizes and aspect ratios. I just pressed Apply on each image until the end of the set. You’ll need to click on the first image to open it in the Lightbox before you can view the various aspect ratios properly.
You don’t have to add a watermark, of course, and generally, for Instagram, I don’t, but this should be a good illustration of the precision of positioning etc. It’s also great for mocking up prints for sale if you sell prints that are signed. Just scan your signature and save it as an image file, and you can associate that with the plugin in the Watermark module and it will be used until you change it.
The reason that I created my original Fine Art Border scripts back in 2013 was to prepare images for print with the Fine Art Border vertical offset already in place. If you print directly to the media size that you want as your final result, the border can generally be created by adjusting the border widths in your printing software, but getting the ratios the same each time you print can be challenging. I always used a spreadsheet with my calculated border sizes in it, and managed a large number of printing templates, and that can be avoided by running your image through this new plugin. If you are printing to the media size of your final print though, it’s best to uncheck the checkbox to add a 0.3mm stroke border around the outside edge of the image.
If however, you want to use the plugin to help you to save money carrying various media sizes, leave that border on, so that you can see where to trim after you’ve printed. The idea is that say for example you create prints for sale in say A4, 8 x 10 inches, A3, and 11 x 17 inches, but you don’t want to stock all of these sizes as sheet media in various finishes. Let’s imagine that you need an A4 and an 8 x 10 print and you have a 24-inch wide roll media printer. It takes just a few seconds to resize your images using my new plugin, then click on the Padlock of the background layer of one of the images in Photoshop to unlock it, then specify a canvas size small enough to print on your roll width. 24-inch rolls are 609.7 mm wide, so you can either specify say 600 mm, and print without any scaling, or if you know like I do that your printer requires a 3mm border on each edge, you could simply resize your first image canvas to 603.7 mm so that it will fit perfectly after deducting your printers minimum edge gap. Make the height something taller than the tallest print you need, say 220 mm in this example.
Because we unlocked the first image before resizing the canvas, the we can easily move the image in slightly, and then drop our 8 x 10-inch resized image onto the newly resized image, and position it to the side of the first image, as you see in this screenshot. If you print this at 220 mm high on 24-inch roll media, you’d have minimum waste and once trimmed, two perfectly sized prints.
Even if you don’t have a roll media printer, you can save on sheet media varieties in a similar way. Say you received an order for a print on A4 media, but you don’t have any A4 sheets available. You could resize and add the trimming stroke border, then print on something larger, like A3 media. Here is a screenshot of the Photoshop Print screen with a print resized to A4, about to be printed on A3 media. There’s a waste of media that we’d be trimming away, but it does save stocking lots of different sizes of sheet media. And of course, similarly, you could simply lay out two prints on the A3 page to minimize waste.
Note too that some programs have the ability to add additional trimming guides, such as the Corner Crop Marks that I turned on in Photoshop in the above screenshot. Also note that to ensure you print at the correct size, you’d need to turn off any scaling to fit the media. The images are currently saved in the original resolution or set to 300 PPI if the resolution isn’t set for any reason, but either way, it will be set so your resized images will be displayed at exactly the size you need if you print without any scaling turned on.
Click the MBP Fine Art Border Tools logo to jump to the Adobe Marketplace to pick up your FAB Tools!
OK, so that’s about it for this update. As I say, if you are interested in this plugin, and are checking out this post much after June 2021, please check the Product page for the latest information, and if you sign up for our Plugin Notifications newsletter and I’ll keep you in the loop. If you pick up a copy of the plugin and have any problems or suggestions, please do let me know via the support contact form.
※ Adobe, the Adobe logo, and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.
I recently received the wonderful opportunity to display my work in a gallery at the new showroom and museum at Canon’s headquarters in Shimomaruko here in Tokyo, and today I’m going to share details including the creation of my prints, how they were treated in preparation for the show, and offer you a chance to visit the Canon campus to view the exhibit and the showroom and museum yourself.
While I was in the middle of my Japan winter tours, I received an email from a friend in Canon asking if I would be interested in working with Canon to prepare and display a selection of my fine art prints in an exhibition space in a new building with a number of floors showcasing Canon’s products. Specifically, the gallery space is on the floor where there is a camera and lens showroom, alongside a museum of Canon’s cameras and other products over the decades, including their very first camera from 1934. Yesterday I was able to take some photos which I’ll share with you shortly.
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to share my work in such a prestigious location and presented a few options. I initially considered a somewhat subdued selection of winter landscapes, but that idea didn’t fly very well, so I proposed a more colorful selection of images that showed off the potential of both Canon’s camera equipment and their large format printer capabilities. Although I’d been given a blank canvas, it’s not really surprising that Canon went for the more colorful proposal.
Select Media: Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270
The idea was to not only showcase my work as a photographer but also as a fine art printer, as Canon value my ability to make high-quality prints. I was also given a free rein with regards to which print media I would use for the project, so it was not a difficult decision to go with Breathing Color’s incredible Signa Smooth 270 inkjet media. The prints were to be finished by making them into Alpolic panels, so the fact that Signa is not an incredibly heavy paper was not a problem. In fact, it probably helped, as there would be less push-back from the natural curl of heavier papers.
As we negotiated the terms of the job, I had a business decision to make. I didn’t have the go-ahead to start making the prints yet, but we were running on a tight schedule, and I didn’t have enough stock of any single media to make 10 very large format prints, which is what I was proposing. Feeling pretty confident that we could close the deal, I went ahead and contacted my friend’s at Breathing Color, and they kindly rushed my order through, and literally just three days later FedEx delivered three 44-inch rolls of Signa Smooth, one 36-inch roll, and one 24-inch roll. All the way from the US to my door in Japan, in just three days.
I was going to need two rolls of 44-inch, but I ordered an extra roll in case I had to do more than a few reprints. My proposal also included two 36-inch roll prints, and I was running short of 24-inch anyway, as Signa Smooth has become my go-to media when I just feel like printing something out for fun. Now that it’s archival certified, I’m actually leaning towards Signa for print orders as well. You may recall from my review of Signa that it has an incredibly wide color gamut, as well as performing beautifully with black and white prints.
The Printing Process
Having received the go-ahead from Canon, I started working on my prints in March and basically had five days to complete my 10 prints. As far as the actual time to make the prints is concerned, I could make that many in one long day if I had enough room to lay them all out to dry, but although I live in a relatively large apartment by Tokyo standards, using both my office space and living space, there isn’t enough room to lay out more than two 44 x 66-inch prints and give them enough time to degas before stacking them on top of earlier prints.
When I print this size for customers, so far all of my orders have been for single prints, so I extend the table in my studio to create a surface wide enough for them to sit and fully degas for a day before I roll and ship them. As you can see in this photo (below) that is pretty much all of the space that I can use for drying prints used up.
The second place that I can potentially leave prints to dry is literally in front of the printer, with half of the print still resting on the cloth basket that can be used for catching prints, but I configured it to simply feed the print away from the printer by forming a gentle slope down to the floor, as you can see in this photograph (right).
Ideally, prints should be left to degas for 24 hours being stacking or rolling them, but if necessary, especially when humidity is relatively low as it’s been for the last few weeks here, we can reduce this a little without causing problems.
I formulated a drying schedule which basically allowed me to make three prints each day. I would end the previous day with one print drying in my studio, and one drying in front of the printer. By the following morning, the print in front of the printer would have been degassed for at least 12 hours, so I took that upstairs and laid it on top of the last print in the stack.
That allowed me to then make the first print of the day. which I’d leave in front of the printer until after lunch, giving it a few hours to dry. Then, after lunch, I took that first print of the day up to the studio and laid it on top of the last print from the previous day, so that print had about 18 or 19 hours to degas.
Then after taking that first print of the day upstairs, I made the second print of the day and left that in front of the printer until around 6 pm. When I took the second print up to the studio the first print had been degassing for around 8 hours which is just about the shortest amount of time I want to give a print. I then created the third print before finishing my main working day at 7 pm. This third print then sat in front of the printer overnight, as the second print dried on top of the first print for the day until the following morning and the process started again.
Of course, if I’d done three prints per day for five days, that would give me 15 prints, but I always calculate in the time to do reprints. Although prints of this size cost quite a lot just in materials to make, there are almost always times when you have to do a reprint.
One of my biggest concerns is getting little spots on the print where there is dust on the surface of the print that falls away after it dries taking the ink with it, leaving a white spot. To help avoid this I keep the printer covered when not in use and I literally dust it off completely before printing. Also, the new design of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO series printers means the media is fed into the paper upside-down, so any loose dust on the surface of the paper has a chance to fall away before it gets printed on. All of these things contributed to me having just one dust spot in over 200 square feet of print.
This led to me having to do one reprint, and the second was my fault. As I printed one of my Iceland photos I noticed something that I couldn’t quite figure out. There were a few areas of the image that looked as though it had been oversharpened, but the rest of the image looked fine. I checked all of the settings that I usually tweak and couldn’t find any reason for this, so I gave myself a pat on the back for shooting such an amazingly sharp image and sent the image to the printer anyway.
Sure enough, though, having poured over the print, I still couldn’t help thinking that something was wrong, so I went back and inspected all of the modifications that I’d made, and found that I’d cranked up the Structure slider. I had just started using Capture One when I visited Iceland in 2016 and made that photograph, and I still didn’t quite understand what the Structure slider was doing. Basically, it had made certain areas of the photograph a little too sharp and crunchy. I actually learned pretty much straight after that trip that doing this is generally not a good idea, and I’d stopped applying Structure to my images, so this one had slipped past me.
Although the print looked great, knowing that it could be better I couldn’t resist reprinting that photo. The third reprint was of the Dovercourt Lighthouse photo, as despite going over the image with a fine-toothed comb before making the first print, I found a very faint dust spot on the image that I could only see when printed at 3 x 4.5 feet. This is one reason why I love printing so much. It really helps to find imperfections in our work, and I believe that printing large like this even helps to make us better photographers. Large prints are totally unforgiving and will soon let us know about any technical imperfections in our images.
When I’m ready to print, I do go through and check each image at 100% for dust spots and any other imperfections that I ideally don’t want to find after making the print, then when making such large prints, I upsize them as a final step.
All of the images I printed were shot with my Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras, so although I could probably get away with printing the 50-megapixel images without enlarging them, to ensure that they remained as tack sharp as the originals, I use ON1 Perfect Resize to upsize each image the exact size of my prints at 300 PPI.
Here’s a screenshot of Perfect Resize to show my settings (below). The prints actually needed a 3 mm border around the edges so I set my print size for the 44-inch wide prints to 1111.6 mm wide and 1667.4 mm long, which is just the width multiplied by 1.5, as my images are all 3:2 aspect ratio. Of course, once you have your size and settings dials in, it’s a good idea to save a preset so that you can get to the same settings for the rest of the prints.
This is why I rarely use an arbitrary crop in my images too. If you don’t know the aspect ratio of your photos it takes more time to calculate print sizes and makes it difficult to create a uniform selection of images like the ones I’m presenting for this exhibition. You can see the other settings I used in ON1 Perfect Resize in the screenshot.
Once I have the image enlarged to the exact size that I want to print at, at 300 PPI I’m ready to print. I printed the first few images from Capture One Pro, but then I started to get some funky remnants appearing on the print preview, so I tried printing from Photoshop and got the same results. To avoid this, I printed that rest of the images using Canon’s Print Studio Pro from within Photoshop.
To make this process fluid, I created a Process Recipe in Capture One Pro to create a 16bit TIFF with the ProPhoto RGB color space and then just open it in Photoshop, then I launched ON1 Perfect Resize from Photoshop, and changed the settings so that Perfect Resize just modified the original layer, and not create a new one. If you create a new layer at this size it makes the file too big to save without flattening, so this helps to avoid an extra step.
As you can see from this screenshot of Print Studio Pro I also had to leave a 10 cm border on each end of the print to make handling easier facilitate the creation of the Alpolic panels. With prints this large, if you don’t leave yourself something to hold onto as you move the print around, you’ll almost certainly damage the face of the print.
Again, if you are interested in the settings, check out the screenshot of Print Studio Pro (below). One thing to note here is that although I resized to 300 PPI, I still print with the Print Quality set to Highest, which is purported to be 2400 x 1200 dpi, although it’s hard to say what actual print resolution is used.
I do like to print directly from Capture One Pro when possible, and I generally dislike printing from Photoshop, but Canon’s Print Studio Pro that comes with the PRO series printers is actually very nice, so especially as I needed to roundtrip to Photoshop to do the enlarging, this made for a very slick workflow. At the highest print quality, these 44 x 66-inch prints took 34 minutes each, which is amazingly fast for prints of such size and quality.
As I mentioned, Canon had arranged to have the prints treated to create what’s called an Alpolic panel out of them. This was to be carried out by a company here in Tokyo called Frameman. From what I can gather, Alpolic is an Aluminum Composite Material, abbreviated as ACM and Frameman are one of the few companies that can make photographic panels as large as the prints I’d made.
I had requested permission to watch the process of creating the Alpolic panels but was told that it’s performed under very strict conditions to prevent any dust getting into the system. I did arrange to go and take my dusty self to have a look at the panels after the creation, but I got stuck in Tokyo traffic and although I allowed more than double the time necessary to get there, I was still at least 30 minutes out when my arranged time arrived, and the head of the company had to leave for another appointment before I’d get there, so I lost that opportunity.
Setting Up the Exhibition Space
I was able to take some photographs as the people from Frameman hung the prints yesterday, so let’s take a look at a few of those photos. The prints were carefully packaged in individual boxes, which was nice to see (below).
There is a wooden frame attached to the back of the Alpolic Panels, as you can see in this image (below). We can also see the aluminum color here, and the print is basically fused to the front of this panel, so it retains its beautiful matte finish. I was really happy to have chosen Signa Smooth for this because it really suited the space and looked great on those panels.
It was great watching these professionals do their job hanging the panels. After I’d told them the position that each print would be hung, they conferred with me on the height of the prints and then proceeded to measure and affix a red line to the wall to mark the height of the top of each of the landscape orientation prints. I thought it was quite fitting to see a red line running across the black walls. Canon users will understand that.
The crew then screwed wooden plates to the wall at the height of the line, and each panel was hung on these plates. The Frameman people are true professionals, taking great care in the creation of the panels and the hanging, and they also adjusted the lighting in the exhibition space to ensure that each photo was evenly lit, and they hoovered the floor before they left leaving it spotless, and all this in one hour flat.
I’d decided to show off the capabilities of Canon’s large format printers and camera equipment by doing these huge prints, but the downside was that it left me with room to only display ten images. Because of this, I made my selection based on two loosely related concepts. The first is the actual title of the exhibit, which is “Silence & Life”. We created a large panel to place in the entrance to the exhibition space which explains my concept in both Japanese and English, but I’ll leave that to people that actually visit the space to read.
In short, though, I talk about how I feel alive when I’m photographing and being in the zone in the field often places me in a Silence from which I recall the work, but I also get a sense of Silence from much of this work. I also gain a heightened sense of Life through the various people and places that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience as a result of my work as a photographer, and I truly feel that much of what I’ve been able to do is to a certain degree, made possible because of the excellent equipment that Canon creates.
The other concept which is kind of responsible for the order and flow of the exhibit is that we start with my roots, in England. Here are the first two prints, shot during my December 2016 visit. The first print is Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station. This power station plays a part in pretty much every memory I have from when I played outside as a kid, because it’s visible from just about everywhere in the town where I grew up.
I proceed with a photo of the Dovercourt Low Lighthouse, which is something that I learned about from Phil Newberry, a wonderfully talented photographer, who I believe still has the best photo of this lighthouse that I’ve seen. Another loose part of my concept here is that I am kind of looping back from my roots to present day Martin doing the sort of work in England that I’d love to be doing if I’d stayed.
The second wall is three photos from Namibia. I feel so fortunate to be able to visit places like this as part of my work, and I’m eternally grateful to my friend Jeremy Woodhouse for giving me the opportunity to take make my first couple of visits there with him.
Namibia now holds a very special place in my heart as I revisit each year with my own tours and workshops, and the photographs that I make there are incredibly important to me.
The same goes for my Iceland work, and again, I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Tim Vollmer for similarly giving me the chance to work with him there for a total of four years from 2013 to 2016. The price increases in Iceland have kept me away for a while, although I’ve just started talking with a new company about setting something up again for next year. Tim has also since branched out and is doing amazing tours around the world, as does Jeremy, so do check out their websites.
The third and largest wall of the Exhibit is dedicated to Iceland work, as again Iceland is a very special place to me. I had originally wanted to do all black and white images, but this wasn’t colorful enough. My final selection for Iceland though really sums up how I feel about this beautiful country. Much of my Iceland work ends up being quite high contrast black and white, and the rest seems to be very vibrant color work. I have very little that is in-between.
If I had another two or three walls, I’d have loved to share some of my Antarctica, Greenland and Morocco work as well, but with space left for just one photo, I brought it all full circle with this last image from my new home, Japan. Having lived here for 27 years now, Japan is more home to me than England, so I wanted to finish with a Japan shot, and because I love the winter landscape so much, this was kind of my obvious choice.
The final wall next to the door has a panel with my profile on it, and two QR codes which are my digital business cards, so if you get a chance to visit while the exhibition is on, scan the codes and drop me a line to let me know what you think.
Canon Showroom and Museum
Because the exhibition is on Canon’s campus in Shimomaruko, it’s not open to the general public, but I am going to arrange a few visits over the next couple of months to enable anyone that is in Tokyo a chance to not only see the prints but also take a look at the incredible showroom and museum that Canon has put together, which are on the same floor.
Their current line-up of camera bodies are all placed around the center island that you can see in this photo (above) and all of their lenses, right up to the 1200 mm super-telephoto are on display over to the right there.
There is also a circular cabinet with pretty much every camera that Canon has made over the decades (below). It was great to find my old cameras in this cabinet, especially the ones that I’ve had to part company with to fund upgrades etc.
They also have their very first camera with the original name spelled “KWANON” from I believe 1934, and the Hansa Canon from 1936 (below).
Visit on April 16?
Because the exhibition, showroom, and museum are all at Canon’s headquarters, and because a Canon employee has to accompany us, we can only visit on a weekday. I’ve provisionally booked a slot on Monday, April 16 from 2 pm, if you are in or can get to Tokyo and of course, if you are interested in taking a look.
For security reasons, I will need your full name, your company name if you work, and the department name that you work for within your company. If you are not comfortable giving me this information to report to Canon ahead of time, you can’t come. 🙂
If you are happy to share that information though, and you can get to Shimomaruko in Tokyo by say 1:45 pm on April 16, then please drop me a line using our contact form. Just select the General Message category but clearly state that you are interested in joining us for this first visit.
The exhibit will be open until the end of June 2018, so if you will be in Tokyo after April 16 and would like to visit, let me know and I’ll see if we can get a small group together again. We can’t go too many times, maybe once or twice more, so I can’t promise to take lots of people over many days. I’ll certainly see what I can do though.
In finishing, I’d like to thank Breathing Color for making such amazing inkjet media and for rushing my order through so that I could complete this job on time. And of course a huge thank you to Canon for the opportunity to display my work in this beautiful space, and for enabling me to create that work with your camera gear and printers.
A week after this post, I released a video including footage of the setting up process and a walk around the showroom and camera museum.
Craft & Vision eBooks Now Available on MBP!
Before we wrap-up, I’d like to also announce that with Craft & Vision closing their shop doors last year, I am now able to sell my three ebooks directly. If you’d like to read my best selling printing ebook Making the Print, or my other two books Sharp Shooter and Striking Landscapes, you can now get them all here. We also have a three book bundle available with a $5 discount over the individual prices.
Today I’m going to share my thoughts on what makes a photograph or a print “fine art”. This is something that I’ve seen various takes on, and frankly, nothing I’ve read over the years really resonates with me personally, for reasons that I’ll explain.
Nowadays you see so often the term ‘fine art photography’ and ‘fine art printing’. I was wondering what exactly is the definition of ‘fine art’ in photography and when do you call work fine art and where is the line of entering fine art photography? Do you call your work fine art? I was just wondering if you have any thoughts on this subject.
Thanks for the question Gladys. I’ve been thinking of tackling this subject for some time, as it’s something that comes up in conversation, but to be totally honest, the thought of talking about this has been a somewhat scary prospect. I’m not the artsy-fartsy type, and I don’t have a solid foundation in art history from which to pull a plethora of facts and fancy words, but as a photographer trying my best to make art that means something to me and hopefully also to other people, I do have thoughts and opinions on this subject, so I’m going to overcome that bit of anxiety that I’m feeling, and get this out.
My goal with this post is not to tell you exactly what fine art photography is. If your thoughts differ, please share them in the comments section, and we can discuss our ideas to hopefully all become more comfortable with this subject.
Before we jump into the main topic, I wanted to just answer the question, if I call my work fine art? The answer is, it depends on the work. I don’t generally consider myself a fine art photographer per se, but I believe that some of my work is of a standard that could be considered fine art, by at least some people, but as we’ll see, I also think this is a very subjective decision.
What is Fine Art
To start with, let’s think about Fine Art in general. According to Wikipedia, Fine Art is art developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, distinguishing it from applied art that also has to serve some practical function, such as pottery or most metal work. Right away, having been deeply moved by some of the pottery that I’ve come across here in Japan, I find that statement somewhat repulsive.
The article about Fine Art on Wikipedia goes on to mention that in addition to the main fine arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry, today the fine arts also include film, photography, video production and editing, design, sequential art, conceptual art (as in conceptualism) and printmaking.
It’s tempting to include more lengthy quotes from Wikipedia, but rather than doing that, do check out their post on Fine Art for yourself. I’ll summarize some of the key points to form a basis for some of my own thoughts as we progress. The article goes on to say that fine art is a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness and that the perception of aesthetic qualities of a piece of art requires a refined judgment that is usually referred to as having good taste.
“Fine Art” by Taste
I consider myself to have relatively good taste, but I am also a practical person. When I view a set of images I’m going to have a different opinion to others and may consider something that other’s might categories as fine art as total tat. Conversely, I might consider something that others don’t give a second glance fine art, and I’d be perfectly OK with that because, by its very nature, the designation of a piece as “fine art” is totally subjective.
Now, one could argue that my tastes are not refined enough to make that decision, but that idea riles me too. If we go back to the beginning of the definition of Fine Art, one of the key elements is that it is art developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, and we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What we find aesthetically pleasing or beautiful depends very much on each individual.
Attempts to Categorize
If you do a search on the web for “What makes a photograph fine art?” one of the top hits will be a ten-year-old post from photographer Cemal Ekin, in which Ekin attempts to put some structure around the attributes a photograph might display to be classified as fine art photography.
I believe Ekin’s post and subsequent follow-up post are important contributions to this conversation and as far as I’ve been able to find, there have been few other original attempts to put any structure around what makes a photograph fine art, so hat’s off to Mr. Ekin for this.
I’m not going to regurgitate the post directly because I’m not into plagiarism, so please visit the original post if you are interested. What I would like to do though is give my opinion on some of the key aspects mentioned. The categorization starts with the statement “First, and foremost, a fine art photograph begins with a message, an idea.” While I agree that some fine art will contain a message of sorts or an idea, I can’t fully agree with this statement for two reasons.
Evocation Over Message
First of all, for some time now I’ve struggled with the popular idea that for a photograph to be successful it has to carry a message or an idea. For sure, some images will have a strong message, and that definitely contributes to their success, but I don’t think that has anything to do with whether or not they could be considered fine art.
Indeed, I can recall many still life photos that I would consider to be fine art but they do not contain any obvious message. An example from my own work might be this photograph of a dahlia that I shot in a park three years ago, and I fell totally in love with after getting home and processing it into the photograph below. I consider this to be fine art, but there is no message to be seen.
What I would propose is that it is much more important for an image to evoke some kind of constructive emotion. By constructive emotion, I’m talking about happiness, awe, love, optimism, serenity, and admiration etc. but in addition to these, sadness, grief, apprehension or perhaps even fear could still be considered constructive if they help me to understand a cause or feel empathetic towards some one or some thing.
Emotions that I think would stop me from being able to consider a photograph as fine art are annoyance, disgust, loathing, and terror. I don’t consider these emotions to be constructive, and therefore in my opinion, they would get in the way of my appreciation of a photograph. When we look at an image though, if we feel a constructive or positive emotion, the deeper and stronger that emotion is the more likely we are to fully appreciate the photograph.
I’m not going to try and tell you that my Dahlia #3 photograph moves me to tears, but it does make me happy when I look at it. I can’t say for sure why, but when I look at this photograph I feel its beauty, and it changes my emotional state, making me feel happy in an additive sense. If I’m already happy, it makes me happier. If I’m feeling down, it raises me up a little.
Weston’s Pepper No. 30
When I think of still life fine art photographs though, for me the one photograph that always springs to mind first and foremost is Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30. I’m sure you already know the photograph, but if necessary, you can see it also on Wikipedia along with some interesting facts about this photograph that will help to illustrate my point about the message not being an important attribute for a fine art photograph.
It turns out that Weston shot his first pepper in 1927 after photographing various other close-up images since 1920 that he called “still lifes”. Two years later, in 1929, he started a series of pepper photographs exposing 26 negatives. A year later in 1930, he shot at least 30 more negatives of peppers, starting as he had before with plain muslin or white cardboard as a backdrop, but he felt that the contrast against the background was too stark.
Then he tried placing a pepper inside the large opening of a tin funnel placed on its side, which he himself said was a bright idea and perfect relief for the pepper, adding reflecting light to important contours. Weston is also quoted as saying:
It is a classic, completely satisfying ‒ a pepper ‒ but more than a pepper; abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter. It has no psychological attributes, no human emotions are aroused: this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind.
So, thinking about Weston’s creation of Pepper No. 30 we can draw a number of conclusions. First, from this comment, we understand that Weston did not believe his pepper photograph aroused any human emotions. I would very respectfully disagree because I remember how deeply Pepper No. 30 moved me when I first saw it. It makes me happy, and that’s one of my favorite emotions!
Nothing But a Pepper
But, Weston was highly frustrated by people’s attempts to assign various attributes to the photograph, especially by those who tried to assign sexual meanings. On the back of one print of Pepper No. 30 that he gave to a friend he wrote: “As you like it ‒ but this is just a pepper ‒ nothing else ‒to the impure all things ‒ are impure.”
And, I’m sure you will agree that Weston’s Pepper No. 30 is, without doubt, a fully fledged fine art photograph. You don’t have to agree of course, but I doubt that many people would disagree. So my point here is that regardless of what we might try to read into a photograph, containing a message is unimportant as part of an attempt to classify something as fine art. Far more important in my opinion is that the image evokes some kind of emotion, whether that was the intention of the artist or not.
In another sense though, the other thing that we can learn from Weston’s attempts to make a photograph that he was happy with, is the amount of work that he put into creating Pepper No. 30. It took three years of photographing peppers to reach the one that became the most popular and well-known. Keep in mind too that the process of making a photograph with an 8 x 10 Commercial View camera and then processing and printing these images was infinitely more time consuming than the digital processes we now enjoy.
“Intention” is something that Cemal Ekin talks about in his post that I mentioned earlier, but Ekin talks about the intention having to come across with reasonable force. This is another statement that I have trouble with. There is a follow-up comment that tried to clarify Ekin’s position, saying that he meant Intention to mean the opposite of “accidental” and with a clear implication of “repeatability”.
This is what I usually refer to as being deliberate in your work and processes. I believe that being deliberate in our work is vitally important in creating quality photography. The dictionary defines “deliberate” as done consciously and intentionally, which is probably why I prefer to use the act of being deliberate or to act with deliberation, which means to be careful and thoughtful about what you do.
But, I do not think that the intention or deliberation of the photographer should come across with reasonable force in the photograph. Conversely, I think that anything the photographer might have done to achieve the photograph should be invisible to the viewer. I don’t care what happened behind the scenes and don’t need to know.
If I can see any influence that the photographer might have had on the scene, for me, it spoils my appreciation of the piece. While I enjoyed reading about the tin funnel in Weston’s Pepper photograph, I have loved that image for more than 30 years and only read that background information today as I prepared for this post.
You don’t need to know that my wife was holding a black background up behind my dahlia to enjoy the image, but it was a very deliberate decision on my part, as I made that photograph. I had a good idea that I would probably process the image to black and white too, so I worked deliberately towards my goal and created what I believe is one of my best flower shots.
Of course, it’s also very possible that Ekin was thinking more about the results of the photographer’s intention coming across strongly in the image as quality or the aesthetically pleasing nature of the photograph, which I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I prefer to discuss the visual results in that case, rather than the intention.
Another thing that I’ve touched on over the years, and I think plays a big part in creating images that might be considered fine art, is responsibility, in a sense that we are responsible for everything in our photographs. If you aren’t pleased with the angle or perspective, it’s up to you to lower or move your tripod to a different location. If you don’t like the light, you need to come back at a more suitable time.
In a busy scene, it’s vital that you find a pleasing place on the edges of the frame to cut off your photograph. In my image of the trees at Mount Asahi (below) from my Hokkaido Landscape Tour, it was relatively easy to find a position where the foreground bush on the right was lined up with that distant tree with a small gap to its right, but the decision as to where I could cut off the left side of the frame was much more difficult, because it was so busy over there.
Mount Asahi Trees
I think I made the right decision, as I like the overall balance of the end result, but I recall being very deliberate as made my choice of framing, knowing that I am responsible for everything in the frame.
To Clone or Not to Clone
I also have a strict policy on whether or not I will allow myself to clone anything out of a photograph. Basically, if I see something in the scene while I’m making the exposure, and I decide at that point to clone it out later during my post processing, I can go ahead and do that. In my Mount Asahi photo, I cloned out lots of cables from the cable car, but I was also very deliberate in choosing my camera position so that I could hide one of the main towers supporting the cables behind the trees.
However, if I don’t notice something in the shot until I get to the computer, and I can’t live with leaving it in, I abandon the photograph. I consider it a failure, and will not allow myself to use it. This might sound harsh, but this is how I’ve trained myself to be responsible for everything that I include in my photographs.
I also believe that a successful photograph is often as much about what we decide to leave out, as it is about what we include in the frame. Being responsible for the contents of your image and deliberate in your framing will greatly help to improve your work and be a major contributor to making what one might consider fine art.
Fortune Favors the Hard Worker
A couple of other attributes that Ekin lists and I agree with are Choice and Technique or Craft. In nature and wildlife photography our deliberation comes into play by getting ourselves to a location at the right time to have a chance to capture something beautiful, and ensuring that we have everything we need to make our photographs. Then we need the technical skill and mastery of our craft to be able to capture a photograph that could result in something that might eventually be considered fine art.
Let’s look at a couple of other examples from my own work, just to illustrate a few more points. Firstly, I would consider my photograph Jewel on the Shore (below) from Iceland in 2014 to be worthy of fine art classification. First of all, finding a potentially beautiful scene on a shore full of washed up glacial ice takes a bit of patience and a trained eye to know when you’ve found something potentially beautiful.
I was attracted by this scene because of the large chunk of beautiful translucent blue ice in the middle of the image and the smaller piece of ice encompassed by “growlers”. Chunks of ice the size of cars are known as growlers because of the sound they make as they rumble along the hull of a ship in Arctic waters.
Jewel on the Shore
I framed the scene, initially with my tripod at full height, and started making long exposure shots. As I made my first few exposures trying to capture the water washed up over the foreground, which it did every 10 seconds or so, I realised that being able to see the horizon of the sea over the top of the ice was distracting, so I lowered my tripod to about kneeling height, and started to make a few more exposures.
As I worked, the clouds opened up a little, and the sun started to shine directly between the two large growlers on the right, illuminating the small piece of deep glacial ice in the middle of the group, and that started to reflect the light down onto the black stony beach like a prism. I couldn’t believe my luck!
I continued to make a few more 4-second exposures, but now I was hoping that the water didn’t flood the scene for the entire time because too much water stopped one from being able to see the light focussed down onto the stones. This was the frame that I consider the best of the batch. The light is perfect, the color in the ice is beautiful, and the dark sky over the left of the frame really all came together beautifully.
So there are a couple of points I’d like to make here. Firstly, the fact that I was there, working the scene, and being able to recognize the potential of what was being presented to me helped me to ultimately make a photograph that was different and dare I say much better than what I was initially working towards. I was incredibly fortunate to have the light shine through a gap in the ice and light up the small piece like a prism, but I’m a big believer in the idea that fortune favors the hard worker.
Being mentally prepared and able to recognize opportunities, and being technically able to capture them are essential skills to enable us to repeatedly and deliberately capture images that we can be really happy with, and that will eventually start to define who we are as photographers.
This is in no way a requirement, but another thing that I find important as I think about images of my own that I might classify as fine art is visual simplicity. I love minimalism, as a photographic genre, and I think that much of my minimalist work could also be considered fine art, but it’s not necessarily about having very little in the photograph. The scene can be almost filled by the subject, as with the old tree in this photograph (below) but I still consider this to be a very simple image to appreciate.
Kussharo Lake Tree
The import part of my process here was thinking through my process as I decided on the composition to build on what nature had presented me with. My chosen composition helps to abstract the tree against its plain white background. Laying down in the snow to get this low perspective helped me to accentuate the subtle line of the snow under the tree against the frozen lake. The resulting image feels to me almost like a painting, perhaps an old traditional Japanese Kakejiku scroll.
A Sense of Maturity
There is one last thing that I’d like to touch on before we talk about fine art prints, and that is that as I view images that are considered, or I would consider fine art, there is generally a sense of maturity about the image. This is something that doesn’t necessarily require the photographer to be mature in age, but I believe it does only come from practicing photography for long enough that it becomes a very natural act for the artist, and that shows in the work.
One listener kindly commented that they felt this photo of the top of an iceberg shot near Tasiilaq in Greenland last year had a good sense of maturity about it. That made me very happy, especially when you consider that I was bobbing around in a speed boat in the channel out to the open ocean, this is a good indication that I’ve mastered my craft enough to get results in challenging conditions, and gives me confidence that I’m getting results that at least some people can appreciate.
When I look at the work of others that is considered fine art, this sense of maturity is definitely a common trait, so I believe it’s worth bearing in mind, and something to strive towards if you don’t feel your own work is quite there yet.
Fine Art Prints
OK, so although we’ll come back to the bigger theme of Fine Art Photography shortly, I mentioned at the start I also want to touch on how to define a fine art print, and if you think of this as a physical artifact, and initially disregard any aesthetics, this is something that you can assign attributes too, and check them off a list as you evaluate your fine art media options.
The main consideration is that your chosen print media has to be archival quality, and that usually means that you will be using a matte finish paper designated as Fine Art media. If you check out the product list on my friends at Breathing Color’s web site, you’ll find a Fine Art Paper section that contains only matte finish media.
To further refine your choices, drill down to the Resources tab on each paper’s product page, and check to see if there is an Archival Quality Certificate, which shows that the Fine Art Trade Guild has certified the paper. Many of the fine art papers available are certified for 100 years display life, which is generally considered museum quality archival.
When searching for fine art media, it’s generally also a good idea to check that the paper is OBA Free. Optical Brightening Agents make the media appear brighter but they can break down over time degrading the paper, reducing its longevity. Some archival media, such as Breathing Color’s Optica One, does contain OBAs, although it is still archival certified, so they aren’t totally evil, but I will generally go for OBA Free when I have a choice.
Signa Smooth 270, 600MT and 28MT Art Paper are all not certified archival although I hear that Breathing Color is continuing to tweak the coating formula for Signa Smooth, hoping to get certification soon. My fine art paper of choice at the moment for sale of my own fine art prints is Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse Smooth, as this is OBA Free and archival certified. For personal printing though, just to enjoy the print, I’m using Signa Smooth, as this media has incredible gamut and detail reproduction, so I’m really hoping that they get it certified at some point. Meanwhile, Pura Bagasse is of course still a very beautiful and capable media.
I should also mention that I don’t believe that we need to get so concerned about printing fine art that we forget to have fun with our printing. There are many ways to enjoy photographs other than fine art prints. I love printing to metallic media, and gloss can be absolutely stunning as well. They may not be fine art as in 100 years plus archival, but art is supposed to enrich us, so in my opinion, anything goes in that respect.
What to Print?
Of course, you can’t just print any old tat on fine art media and class it as a fine art print. For practical reasons, I call all of my matte based prints Fine Art Prints, but this is down to the nature of the Web site and how I group images that I make available for sale in my Portfolio Galleries. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to split up a portfolio into images that I consider to be worthy of the Fine Art tag, and those that don’t quite cut it.
Besides, if we go back to my original thoughts on the subjective nature of categorizing images as fine art, it’s perhaps not even down to me to decide. On my old gallery web site, when everything was available to buy a print of, I was often surprised by what people chose, and I don’t want to second guess other peoples’ tastes too much.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but there were times when someone bought an image that I really felt uncomfortable creating because it just didn’t feel good enough to me anymore. That though is one of the main reasons that I took my old site down, and now I only have images that I would be happy to print for sale in my portfolios or print gallery.
Sometimes Size Matters
For some photographs, as Brooks Jensen of Lenswork often says, the devil is in the details. Although Brooks himself is a proponent of the small print, I have some photographs that I would not necessarily consider fine art if printed so small that you cannot dive right into the details. It’s literally the detail of some images that elevates them to the realm of fine art.
For example, this photograph (bel0w) of the trees at the base of Dune #35 in Sossusvlei, Namibia, feels borderline to me when viewed on the computer screen, but printed large, you can dive in and see all of the ripples in the sand, especially to the left of the crest of the dune just above the trees, and this starts to excite me visually, evoking emotions that I don’t feel until I can really enjoy the details.
Shadow on Trees at Dune #35
This is one reason that I have fallen totally in love with the high resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera, and why I felt it important to upgrade to 44″ wide large format printer last year when my old 24″ printer broke down. There is just something so much more enchanting and emotive about a large print.
Then, of course, there is always the question of viewing distance. Wall art really depends on how far away the viewer will stand from the print, and the size of the room. A small print might look lost on a large wall, although many small prints can be effective if there is nothing like a sofa in front of them to stop people getting up close to enjoy the detail. Similarly, a 44 x 62-inch print would perhaps be in little overwhelming on the wall of a tiny town-house.
Intimacy of the Small Print
We are lucky to have such great technology now though. The printers we have these days are absolutely amazing, and the media, including matte media, is now capable of reproducing fine detail in our images even on small prints. With reasonable eyesight or appropriate eyewear, there is also something beautifully intimate about viewing a selection of small prints, and fine art coffee table books are great for enjoying fine art work, perhaps in the comfort of your armchair, or in the company of friends. Although some images depend on being printed large, the majority can probably be appreciated in both forms.
Avoid Borderless Printing
One last thing that I should mention, is that generally, fine art prints do not employ borderless printing. You will usually see either a tasteful border around loose prints or a matte around a framed piece. I also did a lot of research many years ago that led me to come up with a ratio by which I raise the printed area of the photograph on the page so that it’s slightly above center.
Fine Art Border Dimensions
Basically, I use 10 percent of the short edge of the paper as the width for the side borders, and I shift the top and bottom margins so that they are 7% on the top and 13% on the bottom. The result to me looks much more aesthetically pleasing and gives you somewhere to sign below the printed area if necessary.
I forgot to mention in the audio podcast, but I’d like to add that it’s also worth checking that your printer uses archival inks. Pigment inks used to be preferred for their archival quality, although dye-based inks are now achieving archival status as well. Printer manufacturers are starting to get a little bit cryptic on this as well, so the information may not be easy to find, but it’s worth at least trying if you intend to make fine art prints.
What is Fine Art Photography?
Anyway, let’s get back to Fine Art Photography as a whole as we start to wrap this up.
If we dig a little deeper on Wikipedia and take a look at the Fine Art Photography page, there are some great additional points to consider, that also helps me to solidify with my own opinions and feelings on this subject. One point is that Fine Art photography is created primarily as an expression of the artist’s vision. In many ways, this brings me back to my original idea, that fine art is totally subjective and open to the interpretation of the artist, which in this case is the photographer.
Of course, if one intends to become a fine art photographer that depends on selling fine art to make a living, or even if you just want to sell the occasional print online to help feed your photography habit, it is, of course, important that others will evaluate our work as fine art too.
This will also help us to summarize this post, but I have found that over the years, working along the following principles, rough guidelines really, has helped me to make work that people sometimes kindly buy from me as fine art prints.
Some Rough Guidelines
Be deliberate about getting to good locations at the right time
Refine the ability to recognize opportunities
Be deliberate in composition decisions and be responsible for everything in the frame
Hone our craft until technical decisions become second nature
Become skilled at post-processing to bring out the most from our raw files
The resulting work should evoke a constructive emotional response in the viewer
When printing as fine art select archival certified fine art media
Forget about tacky borderless printing
I should just add though, that I am under no delusions that I’m some kind of amazing fine art photographer. I do OK, and I make images that make me happy most of the time. Naturally, as with most people that make a living from a creative pursuit, there are times when I think I suck, but generally, I come back around and think that I can just about hold my own.
This is the position from which I’ve written this post today. You may not agree that the few images of my own that I used to illustrate my points today are fine art, and that, of course, is totally fine. Earlier I used the old adage, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a visual art reference, I think that works just fine, but as I look at images and try to decide whether or not I would consider it fine art, I find myself thinking that beauty is more often in the heart of the beholder, along with a whole slew of other emotions that we talked about earlier.
For me, it’s probably the amount of emotional shift that the image evokes that is my biggest indication of whether or not I would classify an image as fine art. If I look at something and feel absolutely nothing, the image is a total failure. In some ways, it’s even worse than evoking a negative emotion. Writer Elie Wiesel is quoted as saying that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference, and that has always been a very powerful concept to me.
Because of this, feeling indifferent about an image would probably have to be zero on my emotional shift scale. Without trying to be too falsely scientific about this, my gut feeling is that 1 to 3 are images that I might look at, but then dismiss. 4 to 6 are images that make me smile, and 7 to 9 are images that I might say “wow!” to and include them in a favorites list. Only 10 rating images move me to the point that I would consider the fine art. These are the images that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up or bring a tear to my eye.
I hope you have found this useful, and by all means, do share your thoughts in the comments below. Remember this is just one man’s thoughts on a complex subject, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, so I welcome any continued conversation that we might have, as always.
Today I welcome Curtis Hustace to the show to talk about his thirty year career as a commercial photographer and to walk us through some of the techniques he uses when creating his beautiful still life photography.
As this was an ad-lib conversation, we don’t have a manuscript to share with you this week, so please listen with the audio player above, and follow along with the images we discuss below.
Here are the key discussion points.
How Curtis got into photography
Curtis’ 30 year photography career
We look through and discuss the five beautiful photographs below, including…
Come up with a composition, sometimes getting inspiration from old masters
Light sculpting techniques and post processing
How much Curtis’ personal project work influences his commercial work, or vice versa
Three pieces of advice for someone hoping to break into commercial photography
As I mentioned in a recent post, my old large format printer has given up the ghost, so I’ve just had a new Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 installed, and today I’m going to walk you through some of the key new features and provide my opinion of this new printer.
To be totally honest, with my old 24″ iPF6350 breaking after just six years, for a few seconds, I considered moving away from Canon for my large format printing, but then I realized that there was a new line of large format printers that has just been announced, so I decided to take a closer look, and was very excited by what I saw.
Initially, I was simply going to replace my 6350 with the PRO-2000, which is the successor 24″ wide roll media printer, but although this new range of PRO printers are narrower, they are more than twice the height, which means the PRO-2000 cannot be carried up to my 3rd floor studio. It simply will not fit around the top of the stairs, even stood on end.
There was an option to have it crane lifted up to the third floor and go in through the window, but this was going to cost $1,500, and then of course another $1,500 to have it taken down again if I move, or when it inevitably breaks again at some point the future.
I figured if I was going to spend another $3,000 I might as well put that money towards an imagePROGRAF PRO-4000, which is the 44″ wide big brother of the PRO-2000, and have that installed on my 2nd floor instead of up in my studio. And when I say big brother, I really do mean BIG, as you can see in this photo of me with the printer after having it installed (below).
Martin with the Canon PRO-4000 44″ Printer
Before singing the contract, I went to the Canon S Tower here in Tokyo and made a number of large prints on three types of Breathing Color media, and I was very happy with the results. Note that I did my tests on the PRO-2000, before I heard the cost for the crane lift, but the 2000 and 4000 are pretty much identical except for the width of roll media that can be used. This also means that this review will be equally as useful if you are considering the PRO-2000 as it will for the PRO-4000.
Anyway, my PRO-4000 arrived on August 9, and took four people to carry it up to the 2nd floor, and put it onto its stand. I have since spent the last five days setting it up, creating my ICC profiles, and getting to know this beautiful new larger format printer from Canon.
Before we look at some prints, let’s talk a little about what’s new with the PRO-4000. Well, Canon have released a new set of inks for this lineup called LUCIA PRO ink, which actually reduces the number of colors from 12 to 11 pigment inks, but they added a new Chroma Optimizer.
Canon PRO-4000 6 of the 12 Inks
From the Canon web site, I see that “LUCIA PRO ink formulation includes micro encapsulated colorants that enable smooth gradients, an expanded color gamut, and deeper color expression.” In many ways, I agree with this statement, but I’m actually not convinced that the color gamut is expanded. In fact, for some specific situations using matte media I’d the gamut has been contracted a little, but I’ll talk more about this later…
The Chroma Optimizer is used when printing on glossy and semi-glossy media, and acts as a clear coat, improving color and enriches the dark areas of gloss prints. The new inks and Chroma Optimizer are also said to improve scratch resistance and reduce graininess. We’ll take a look at some actual prints shortly.
I was also happy to find that the black line that was always left on the right underside of the prints is no longer a problem. That is something that bugged the hell out of my about my iPF6350 and I know that this was not fixed the 6450, so it’s nice that this is finally fixed.
Only One Print Head
Whereas my old printer had two print heads, costing around $300 each, the new PRO printer lineup use just one, 1.28” wide print head with 18,432 nozzles and anti-clogging technology. This new print head costs around $500, so there’s a $100 saving when that needs to be replaced, assuming that you’d change both heads on the old models of course. Having just the one head also enabled Canon to make the printer narrower in width, which is a nice space saver.
Canon PF-10 Print Head for the PRO-4000
Having just the one print head also enabled Canon to speed up the printing considerably. An 18 x 24 inch print on my old printer used to take around 9 minutes, but with the new PRO-4000 the same size print takes approximate 3 minutes 40 seconds.
New Media Loading Mechanism
The media loading mechanism has also been totally changed. You now load the roll from the front of the printer by opening the Top Cover and the Output Guide as you can see in this photo (below). After dropping the media on its holder into place, you rotate the roll holder which guides the media up into the printer, until you hear a beep, to let you know that the printer can now feed the media.
PRO-4000 with Top Cover and Output Guide Open
Then, you close the two covers and press a button the LCD display to tell the printer to go ahead and feed the paper. Not only does this mean we don’t have to touch the paper as much, we also now have the benefit of the paper being upside down for most of the time before it’s printed on.
This is a benefit because it means that dust is less likely to settle on the print side of the media as you print, and dust that is already on the media, is more likely to fall off, before it’s printed on. If you print on dust, the dust generally falls off as the print dries, leaving a white spec, and for the quality conscious printer that means that the print has be created again from scratch.
Media Information Update
Another very nice touch that I’m pretty sure I could not do with my old iPF6350, is that you can update the Media Information in the printer drivers on other computers. Before, if I added a custom media type, like a roll of Breathing Color paper, to the printer, to get that same media in the drivers on a different computer, I had to use the Media Configuration Tool and add the media again.
Update Media Information
Now, you can just go to the printer drivers and open up the Printer Utilities, and select Media Information from the pulldown, and click the button to update the media. This then goes to the printer and compares the media information on the printer, and if it’s different to the media that the printer drivers know about, it will update this information for you. It’s very smooth, and a very welcome feature.
Wifi and Gigabit Ethernet Connectivity
The PRO series of printers now also supports Wifi Connectivity and the wired network interface is now Gigabit Ethernet. We can also still connect to the printer with USB. You can now print PDF and JPEG documents directly from a memory stick as well.
I have now printed with Wifi, LAN and USB, and found Wifi to be a little on the slow side for a decent sized print, so I bought a 10 meter USB cable so that I can print from my dining table, which really speeded things up. Even though it’s only High Speed USB2, it’s much faster than Wifi.
I also actually bought a 20m Ethernet cable, so that I can plug the PRO-4000 directly into my router on the 3F in case I need to do a lot of work from the studio. With USB being so fast, I don’t know I’ll do this often, but I at least now have the option.
Three Sizes of Ink Tanks
Another great improvement in my opinion is the ability to now choose from three sizes of ink tanks, with 160ml, 330ml, and 700ml tanks available. My old iPF6350 took 130ml ink tanks, so even the smallest of the new tanks holds 30ml more ink. I could fill up the new PRO-4000 with 160ml tanks, but now having the option to install larger tanks, and mix and match the sizes, means we can select the tank size based on how quickly the inks run down.
The PRO-4000 comes with a set of ink cartridges holding 190ml. Before we installed the cartridges into the printer, I took this photograph for comparison (below). On the left is a 190ml cartridge, and on the right is a 700ml.
Canon PRO-4000 190ml starter ink and 700ml ink cartridge
I have also bought some 330ml cartridges, and was going to include one in this photo too, but they are actually the same size as the 190ml cartridge you see here. The only difference is that they aren’t as heavily indented as this 190ml cartridge. You see how it is inset where it says Canon and the white label is? The 330ml cartridges don’t go in that far, that’s the only difference.
Mix and Match Inks
Over the last six years that I’ve been using my old large format printer, I’ve found that because I do a lot of black and white printing, the Matte Black and Photo Black, and the Gray inks tend to run down the quickest, so I have bought a 700ml tank for the Matte and Photo Blacks and the Photo Gray. So that I could show you the difference in size though, I ordered a 330ml Gray, for comparison with the starter inks, only to find they were the same size, as I just mentioned.
I also bought a 700ml tank for the Chroma Optimizer, because I’ve heard this runs down pretty quickly. At a little more than $300 a pop for the 700ml ink tanks though, I think I will be avoiding using 700ml tanks for all but the heavy usage blacks and grays, unless I start to take quite a few more regular print orders that is. The good thing though is that we now have this option, and being able to mix and match tank sizes is great!
Changing Inks on the Fly
Another great new feature is that the inks are now drawn down into a Sub-Ink Tank System, which allows all of the available ink in a tank to be used before having to replace it, to reduce wasted ink, and better still, empty tanks can now be replaced on the fly, without stopping the printer. I haven’t tried this yet, but that’s what the documentation says.
PRO-4000 Slope Configured Basket
The PRO-4000 has a new multi-positional basket that can be adjusted to various configurations. With my iPF6350, where the basket was basically just either stowed, or out, ready to catch a print as it is cut from the roll, I never once allowed a print to fall into the basket.
To avoid scuffing the face of the print, I would always wait until the print had come far enough out of the printer so that it would fall over the edge of the extended bar, leading the print away from the printer to prevent curling. Then, when the print was cut away from the roll, I’d be waiting to catch it.
You can still do a catch basket configuration on the PRO-4000, but also what Canon call flatbed stacking, and my favorite, which is the slope configuration, which you can see in this photo (right).
Although it’s kind of lost with the 18 x 24 inch print shown here, the slope allows the print to be guided away from the printer, and I always go to the printer by the time it’s going to be auto-cut, and catch the print, rather than letting it fall away.
The Red “L” Line
Before we move on from the physical differences, of course, there is the addition of the red line that Canon use on their “L” lens range, to mark that they are the top of the range. This is marketing, but it’s an important statement from Canon, that they have made these printers with their highest standards.
Accounting Manager Software
One thing that I disliked about my old printer is that the Accounting Manager software was only available on Windows, but that’s changed. Now it’s also available for Mac, so I can now track how much ink and paper is being consumed for each print. You simply enter the cost of your various types of media and inks, and the software calculates the cost of each print you make.
This is invaluable for pricing prints, but also, I print for other people sometimes, often with an hourly rate for my time, plus the cost of materials. Until now, I’ve had to start a Parallels session and open the Accounting Manager in Windows, but that’s clunky, so I’ve never liked having to do that, especially in front of the customer. Now I can just crank up the Accounting Manager and see costs instantly, right there on my Mac.
Canon’s Print Studio Pro Has No Border Settings (Corrected)
Another new piece of software from Canon that I tried it their Print Studio Pro, which at first glance looks OK, but I noticed straight away that there was no way to enter specific border dimensions. I like to print my images at a specific offset, slightly above center, and to accomplish this in Lightroom or Capture One, I can enter in the dimensions of the borders down to a tenth of a millimeter accuracy.
In Print Studio Pro, I can move the print around the page with my mouse, but that’s it. There’s no way to enter the border dimensions accurately. I may have missed this, but I searched for a while, and couldn’t find anything, so if it’s there, it’s well hidden.
[UPDATE: Having been prompted by a user comment below, I went back into Print Studio Pro and the border settings were there. I’m not sure what happened initially, but you can set the borders accurately. Sorry about that!]
Check Out Full Details on Canon Web Site
There are other new features, but you can see full details on the Canon Web site. These are just the new features and changes that I’m happy to see in the new PRO-4000, and these all apply to the PRO-2000 as well. The PRO-4000s and PRO-6000S are the new 8 color 44 and 66″ printers, which are not really suitable for fine art photography printing.
So How Good Are the Prints?
Fox on Breathing Color Pura Bagasse Textured Matte Media
Let’s take a look now at a few prints that I’ve already done as tests. First note that although I have bought some 44 inch rolls from my friends at Breathing Color, all of my tests so far have been done using 24 inch roll media. I can’t wait to print something out that is huge, but not until I have an end purpose for the print.
Anyway, after I created a custom ICC profile for each of my media types, I set about doing some test prints. As matte media is usually less forgiving than gloss, I started with the matte stock that I have.
My favorite matte media is Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse, which comes in both a Smooth and Textured version. I printed this photograph of a Northern Red Fox on the Pura Bagasse Textured, and was very happy with the depth of the color and clarity of the image (right). This is a photograph of the print of course, not the original image.
I printed this from Capture One Pro 9, so there is no point in comparing this to earlier prints, but there is a depth that was not really there on my earlier prints, especially around the eyes, where the clarity really comes into play.
Here’s a close-up of just the eye, so that you can hopefully at least partially appreciate what I’m seeing (below). Note that this was a 7D Mark II photograph printed at 18 x 24 inches, so the resolution was around 250 ppi, which is enough for a print of this size, but not as well defined as a higher resolution image.
Fox Eye Closeup – Pura Bagasse Textured
I was happy with this first print, and I did a few others that looked great too, but the next print just didn’t really work under mostly the same conditions as I’d printed before. When I released my review of Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse media in episode 484, I showed how wide a color gamut the media had, by printing a photo of a field of poppies, that was actually way out of gamut.
Now, given that there should have been no way to print the colors that were out of gamut anyway, this may seem a little bit harsh on the new printer, but having created an ICC profile in exactly the same way for each printer, the PRO-4000 simply doesn’t not handle this photograph as well as my old iPF6350 did.
Here’s a photograph (below) of the same image printed on the same paper, with the iPF6350 print on the left, and my PRO-4000 print on the right. As you can see, the edges of the blotches of out of focus yellow have a nasty almost septic feel to it. The bulk of the yellow is what is out of gamut, and the printer has not handled the transition between that and the in gamut colors well.
iPF6350 (left) and PRO-4000 (right) Comparison
Like I say, the base photo is out of gamut, but this was the same for both printers, so this indicates to me that the PRO-4000 doesn’t do as well as the iPF6350 in this situation. In all other respects, I think it’s kickin’ but here, I was a little bit disappointed.
[UPDATE: I still don’t know the cause, but it turns out that this issue may be a bug and I’ve found a workaround which I describe in Episode 554.
UPDATE#2: We now have a stable and easy way to overcome these issues, by embedding the custom ICC profile in the custom media type. See details in Episode 573.]
I also did a lot of Pura Bagasse Smooth matte prints, and here is an example of one of these (below). I chose this shot because those transitions from very bright areas of the sky at sunrise, as they transition to the darker clouds, can often be a bit troublesome to print well, but these came out beautifully. Very natural transitions.
Eagle at Sunrise on Pura Bagasse Smooth
Also, note just how dark the eagle is. Matte paper can sometimes lack really deep blacks, but this is not a problem for the PRO-4000. As you can also see in the next photograph, the dark areas behind this young Himba girl in the left print are also beautifully dark (below). The print on the left here is again on Pura Bagasse Smooth, a matte media.
Himba Girl on Pura Bagasse Smooth (left) and Vibrance Metallic (right)
The photo to the right here though (above) was printed on Breathing Color’s Vibrance Metallic media, which is a metallic gloss paper, and that means it also has Canon’s new Chroma Optimizer applied during the printing process.
Like Traditional Darkroom Prints
This may not come across in a photo, but here’s a photo of the Himba Girl print at an angle (below) looking towards the light. I hope you’ll be able to appreciate that the gloss photos from the PRO-4000 are absolutely outstanding. They are totally smooth, looking very much like a traditional darkroom print. They just don’t look like inkjet prints. Do keep in mind though that this image was shot at ISO 5000 so there is a little bit of visible grain in the original, rather than the print.
Himba Girl Print Close-up
I also printed this photo of some roses with a totally black background, and the depth of the black is just wackily beautiful (below). You can perhaps see a little bit of color in the print, but that’s just reflections from the room.
Printing Roses on Vibrance Metallic
OK, so, that’s about all I have for you on the PRO-4000 at this point. Although it looks like I have to do a little more soft proofing and adjustment for out of gamut images than I have done in the past, I’m very happy with this new printer.
The 44″ width is going to allow me to fulfill more orders for large prints directly, which is great. Until now I’ve had to work with third party printing houses for prints larger than 24 x 36″ but now I can go up to 44 x 66″ or even wider for panorama shot, so this opens up new possibilities for me and my customers.
This review was created totally independently, without any help financially or otherwise from any third party. I paid for the printer myself, at the regular price, and Canon provided no help on the technical details, other than what I gleaned from the product documentation and first hand use of the product.
Support the Podcast
If you found this review useful, and will be buying your own PRO-4000 or maybe the PRO-2000, from my friends at B&H Photo, please use our affiliate link mbp.ac/pro4000 to click through to B&H, and you’ll be helping to support the podcast and blog.