Printing skill is something that accumulates over your lifetime. I would suggest you talk to as many people as you can, read as many books as you can, do as many experiments as you can..... See if there are any good printers around you that you could watch and talk to as they print. If you can't figure out why your prints don't look as good as you want you will need to find someone who can listen to you and explain what is going wrong from your perspective. The "this is the way I do it so you should be doing it this way too" doesn't cut the mustard for improving your images. Everyone has their own little problems. One thing to keep in mind too is that there are many ways to skin a cat. If you look at many different great printers you will see that they all have their own little quirks that end up defining them. You need to find your own quirks and do what appeals to you.
Frankly for the cost of a workshop you are better off buying a ton of paper and locking yourself in the darkroom for a month, maybe even with only one neg.
IMHO, in order to get to the point of "fine art printing" you must first get to the point of producing a negative that almost prints itself. Pushing your film to its optimum capability, and developing it to draw out those qualities, should leave you with a negative that you can print with least amount of work. It starts with seeing the finished print in your mind, moments before tripping the shutter of the camera. There should be a reason for the negative, not the hope that something "might" be there, is a start to the fine print.
Once you have that negative loaded in the enlarger, and see the first working print(not the contact print), you will know almost immediatly what will make it stand out. Your choice of paper and finish will have already been made before the shutter is engaged, that should have been one of the deciding factors for making the shot.
It does help to see how others print, what steps they take, what chemicals they prefer, their papers of choice. Studying books helps somewhat, that is always your interpertation of what the author is trying to get across. Ultimatly, the decision is yours as to how a particular photograph should look, to portray what you saw the moment you took the image. BTW, you do not need the most sophisticated equiptment, most expensive lenses(tho it helps), some of the finest prints ever produced are of humble origins in tiny makeshift darkrooms.
Just my tuppence worth.
Bob is an amazing printer. I have had the pleasure of being his "lab slave", (BTW not really what he calls me), and you can learn a ton just by watching and listening.
Originally Posted by 36cm2
It can be a little demoralizing watching him print 2 different negs on 2 diferent enlargers at the same time and getting immaculate 20 x 24 prints in 3 sheets of paper.
And a hell of a nice guy. I think it's time I hauled my carcass up to TO to see what he does right.
Originally Posted by Dinesh
This is probably true if you tackle it right.
Originally Posted by M. Lointain
Very sane and rational advice to live by.
Originally Posted by Rick A
Workshops can be inspirational and motivating (and expensive). As analog techniques recede further and further into the digital rear view mirror, and traditional educational institutions purge themselves of darkrooms, newbies may have little choice but to avail themselves of far flung workshops. There is simply no substitute for hands on training, whether self-taught or under the tutelage of master. Meanwhile, this may also be of some limited value to new analog printers.
Unfortunately in real life there are very few negatives that "print themselves". The purpose of a serious printing workshop is to learn how to develop the skills needed to bring fine prints out of negatives of all types. Of course one should strive to make the best negatives, but note: a top notch printer can often make a beautiful expressive print from a relatively poor negative if the image is worth it (and even the best technicians have their fair share of crap negatives), but even a perfect negative often yields no better than an average print in the hands of an average printer. Printing skill is the key, and there is not enough focus on it. Even on APUG note the amount of activity in the film/developing forum compared to the enlarging forum.
In general I very much agree. However from a problem solving point of view one of the reasons for more activity in the film & developing forum may be that the problems arising from this area of photography can be difficult and frustrating to solve; especially when reliable results are desired. On the other hand, if in the middle of a printing session, an issue arises, e.g. with shadow separation or tone etc. then exposing an additional sheet of photographic paper and processing is much more immediate.
I think that before you sign up for any workshop, you should determine what you hope to learn, and if the workshop will address those skills.
Rick has the right idea, the negative is the first step to a good print, but we don't always have the ability to start with a good negative. So the next step is to develop an eye for what is possible from a given negative. If you have anyone near you who is willing, perhaps ask them to print one of your negatives to see how they would interpret it, and explain how they did it.
Hopefully, that would provide an indication of the skills you would like to learn and practice.
As an aside, there seems to be two basic schools of thought when it comes to printing: Those who prefer basic prints that can be produced with straight-forward technique. And those who produce prints using a wide variety of darkroom techniques on the same print. While I admire (and envy) the second sort, my heart is with the first group.
For clarification: I consider basic techniques to include exposure, contrast and simple dodge/burns. Advanced techniques would include multiple dodge/burns, different developers, pre-flashing, bleaching and so on.
Just my $.02
Well, I wonder what is the easy way to get the knowledge from workshops you are talking about in my case - guy living in Europe. :)