Define "Print Quality"

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Lee Shively, Jun 2, 2006.

  1. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    This is a purely academic exercise on my part. I've been thinking about this for some time and have come to the conclusion that print quality is more subjective than objective.

    One the one hand, we have the Ansel Adams school in which the photographer tries to achieve the perfect print. The final photograph will have a full range of gray tones with clear whites and inky blacks and give the impression of giving off an inner light.

    But on the other hand, some great photographers had other ideas about printing their photographs. Some of my favorite photographers are listed.

    Walker Evans' photos always look well-crafted and rich to me but he was known to harrass his lab assistants for spending too much time and effort in trying to make perfect prints.

    Bill Brandt's photos are outrageously contrasty. Some of them are totally lacking in detail with burned out whites and blocked up blacks. But they still work for me.

    Lee Friedlander's book "The Desert Seen" gives a first impression of the prints being awful and washed out but they were meant to capture the essence of the desert's blinding light and they succeed well at this. I find myself squinting when I look at this book.

    Ralph Eugene Meatyard apparently was haphazard in his darkroom work--possibly because he had little time to devote to printing. Yet his photos are still provocative and highly respected.

    Robert Frank has made an artform of grainy, soft photographs printed outside the definition of a "full tonal range".

    Is the classic concept of print quality important to you or are you more inclined to take a different path?
     
  2. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    Ansel Adams said in one of his book is that the negative is the score and the print is the performance. You can not really say what is a perfect print from a negative nor you can say what is a perfect performance from a musical score.
     
  3. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    I would think that the perfect print would be one that accomplishes the intentions of the photographer.
     
  4. highpeak

    highpeak Member

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    What I care is to see if the print can give me some feelings or make me thinking. It can be w/o any details in the dark or total blown out highlights. Of course, it has to be spotted and flatened. I hate to see white spot in shadows or vise versa.
     
  5. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    What works for me is a print that presents itself in such a manner as to satisfy how I feel about my rememberance of what I wanted when I made the photo.

    Thats is pretty subjective..oh my God is that subjective.
     
  6. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    Claire

    H&D said:

    It takes a scientist to make a perfect negative, but it takes an artist to make a perfect photograph.

    I want both (still working on it).
     
  7. wfe

    wfe Member

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    I agree most with JBrunner but is there really such a thing as a perfect print?


    Regards,
    Bill
     
  8. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    The issue isn't perfection, it is 'quality'.

    Lee, go to a museum, look at a bunch of prints that you think are satisfying, and write a short essay. We'll grade the effort.
     
  9. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Naw...I'm doin' the grading here. :wink:

    Appears subjectivity is winning so far.
     
  10. Will S

    Will S Member

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    I'm not sure you are right about Meatyard. I think he just preferred to do small prints. At any rate, it doesn't matter.

    Thelonious Monk was often criticized for not being technically proficient as a pianist, yet he NEVER played a wrong note. And by "wrong" I don't just mean the wrong key, but also wrong rhythm, wrong accent, etc. His technique was proficient for his art.

    Best,

    Will
     
  11. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    I think the only place where you'll find people dismissing altogether the idea of print quality is concept art photo. Material quality seems to have nothing to do with that kind of art; the rest of the world has widely varying, but existing criteria of quality.
     
  12. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

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    I agree completely. A good print starts with a good idea skillfully executed.
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    I'll follow whatever path the image demands, and consider it finished when it asks nothing more of me. After an unreasonably short length of time 90% of my images want to me to change them...

    Murray
     
  14. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I've always taken a different path, sometimes intentionally and other times by accident. So, I can't use any standard set by other people for certain things.
     
  15. unregistered

    unregistered Inactive

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    And yet in the case of "Moonrise over Hernandez", Adams interpreted it over 5 different ways in the course of his career after the initial print. Each was technically perfect (by his standards...highlight detail, shadow detail, nice mid range gradation) and each accomplished the intentions of the photographer. This is also an interesting point for collectors. Usually the original print series, immediatly after exposure, is the more valuable. In this case though, the point could be argued that the last print, or any inbetween, is the most valuable, as the artists values and vision matured.
     
  16. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    One of the most important factors, I've found, is the difference between what you CAN print and what looks best: often, you don't want everything that's on the negative. A 'perfect' negative will often look a lot better after dodging and burning to remove (for example) shadow detail in areas where you don't want it, or to darken a Zone VII to Zone VI.

    Often, I find it quite hard to manipulate aggressively enough because I know what was 'really there'.

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com)
     
  17. lee

    lee Member

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    Gee Roger I did not think you used the zone system.

    Roger said, "or to darken a Zone VII to Zone VI."

    lee\c
     
  18. mmcclellan

    mmcclellan Subscriber

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    I think it was Ansel Adams who said, "There's nothing worse than a great print of a weak concept." This is what it really comes down to -- a strong image can be printed in a lot of different ways (e.g. the earlier reference to "Moonrise") and all of them willbe perceived as good if the image itself is strong. A weak image, on the other hand, will not be improved with a "perfect print," although many photographers out there try to do just that.

    For me, the ideal print quality is one that communicates information in all areas, or at least in all important areas. That is mainly a function of contrast and exposure, ensuring that there is adequate information in all shadows and highlights. After that, there is a certain "artistic" element that comes into play. At this point, the printer tries to make a print that "sings" or a "glows" or "has light coming out of it," to use several common expressions. A difference of one second on a 23 second exposure can make or break the print at this point, as can 5 seconds of more or less development.

    Salgado does not do his own prints, nor do many other well-known photographers. But then their images are so strong that pretty much any print of their negs banged out by a kid in his first 10 minutes in the darkroom will probably be decent! At the same time, though, we see photographers slaving for hours trying to squeeze the "perfect print" out of a negative that isn't worth the time of day.

    It is far more important to put one's time and effort into making negatives that are worth printing than it is to spend hours printing negatives that are hardly worth seeing. With a good negative of a strong image in hand, making a "good" print is a piece of cake, fairly mechanical in fact.
     
  19. unregistered

    unregistered Inactive

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    "But then their images are so strong that pretty much any print of their negs banged out by a kid in his first 10 minutes in the darkroom will probably be decent!"

    You obviously haven't seen his negatives. And the statement devalues those of who are professional printers. If your statement were true, Salgado would save himself a lot of money by finding the cheapest person he could to print his work. And it would probably be the local FNAC.

    "With a good negative of a strong image in hand, making a "good" print is a piece of cake, fairly mechanical in fact."

    Maybe you just haven't seen a good print then. Its hardly mechanical. Again if it was, and a professional printer wasn't involved in the process, I doubt photographers like Salgado would be selling prints for the amount they are...since they'd most likely look like snapshots.
     
  20. NikoSperi

    NikoSperi Member

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    I dunno... I recall reading Henri Cartier Bresson's printer, hearing HCB say he was expert at judging the light and didn't need a meter, complain that he, pardon, He, overexposed the crap out of everything. :tongue:
     
  21. toddstew

    toddstew Member

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    I think that a print is successful when you look at it and can say that you wouldn't change anything. I know that technical jargon can enter into an interpretation, but if someone wants to convey something like blazing mid-day desert light like Friedlander did, would you change how he printed? If you wanted to convey the delight in light that Caponigro has, would you give his prints more contrast?
     
  22. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Lee,

    I have long said that the naming of Zones was a work of genius, and the very easiest way to convey where you are on the characteristc curve.

    But as far as I am concerned, just about everything else in the Zone System is a restatement of basic sensitometry, and is either over-simplified or over-complicated or sometimes both.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  23. unregistered

    unregistered Inactive

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    Maybe, but not all of his negs were. I remember printing some from the early 60's...images of JFK and familly, and they were hardly overexposed. They had about enough exposure I'd say, but under developed...by about a stop. The French are notorious for that style of negs. Then they want punchy prints but detail everywhere....even where it doesn't need to be.

    Drives printers crazy.
     
  24. mmcclellan

    mmcclellan Subscriber

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    You're right that I have not seen Salgado's negs, but I have seen lots of his images -- and they're incredible. Very strong. I was the archivist for Margaret Bourke-White's collection at Syracuse University for a year and studied her negs at great length, as well as printed a few of them. I have also seen a HUGE number of good prints in museums, galleries, and other collections around the world.

    With a GOOD negative, making a "perfect" print is fairly mechanical. If a negative is very difficult to print, then it's different. All that said, when the image in the negative is strong, even if the neg is crappy (e.g., Robert Capa's negs of D-Day or the Spanish soldier getting shot), even a "poor" print still makes for a powerful image.

    Salgado has said several times in interviews and articles that he does not spend time in the darkroom because he prefers to be out shooting. He's not alone in that. Of course, such shooters want good prints from their negs, but there is a wide range of "good" prints that can be made out of their negs, interpreting the images in a variety of ways.

    Recognize rhetorical speech for what it is and don't take things so literally, okay? :smile: