An interesting discussion. My own experience suggests that the two variables that matter are viewing distance and detail. An 8x10 viewed up close works as well as a much larger print viewed from a distance. BUT... the more 'graphic' the image, i.e. the better it scans from a distance, the more likely it is to work even if it's small. An image of mine that's currently in the critique gallery (Snow behind our house) fails utterly if viewed from too far away, so I've printed it larger to scan better without having to move close to it.
I have "felt" what you are saying, and favor printing out large but... surely Edward Weston's contact prints would refute that discussion, no? Without going into reductions, the least enlargement is the contact, and landscape or still life, does not seem awkward or too detailed to me.
Take a look at the work of those who contact print & see if you would rather have the images larger. One way is to use a larger camera. 11x14, 8x20, 12x20 and larger still. This gives the finest image possible and is shot in the size you prefer at the outset. No loss of sharpness & no loss of tone.
Michael Kenna shoots with a square 2 1/4 format & prints about 8x8 inches for everything.
Michael A. Smith shoots with some 8x10, some 18x22 and mainly 8x20 and contact prints only.
Look at the work of both & see if you think it needs enlarging. I think both have chosen what works for their vision & then spend the rest of the time perfecting their interpretation of the world around them.
If you are enlarging, some images seem to cry out for a certain size print while others seem to say nothing other than "I am here" no matter what. Before deciding on what to print to final size I find it helps me to have a set of matboards cut out & print to a few sizes & look at the image in various size mats to see how they look. Then I can figure what print size will work. In the past few years I have pretty much standardized on a few sizes & cut down on a lot of wasted effort... that I hope I now put into the creative activity of photographing.
Another potentially interesting factor to include in the print-size consideration. Some years back, a then-famous wedding photographer commissioned a study of preferred print size among various economic strata. His conclusion was that less well-off people tended to prefer larger (16x20 or larger) prints for individual framing, while "up-scale" clients often preferred 5x7s for individual framing and considered 8x10s as "huge". While I'm not sure the same criteria would apply to "fine art" images - those intended for display as art - I found the comparison interesting.
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
Much of my thoughts on this subject evolved from one single image - this one: http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphot...cat=500&page=1
In a small print it's a picture of a building with some people. As the size increases the emphasis shifts toward the central group of people, then toward the central figure in white.
Since the largest print I have made of it is 30x40cm (12x16"), I have it displayed in the corner of the stairs. That makes it impossible to step away from it, giving the perspective I prefer.
When you look at the 12x16" print from 12" away, it's a completely different picture from what you would see looking at an 8x10" at arm's length. I may have to print it at 40x50" to show what I saw when I took the picture!
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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Im just moving up from 4x5 to 8x10 to contact print in platinum. I am grateful for the opportunity we have for different choices.
It all depends on what we wish to convey. I print on average (if one can say that) at about 17-18" on the long axis, but that is for landscapes which I often feel have some sort of epic something to convey. I feel it helps if size adds impact (assuming quality is not compromised). For portraits and nudes, I rarely go above 14". I am in the process of printing some scenic documentary type images of parts of Spain, which are perfect at 8x10 max. At the end of the day, the choice you make defines you as a photographer, just like any decision, plenty will disagree. However, if you are not faithful to your own creative ideas most of the time (taking comment from others but not being afraind to completely ignore it), what sort of photographer are you? - certainly not one whose work is his own, rather an calculated amalgam of others' ideas...playing it safe. I may not feel that others make the choice that I would feel to be 'right', however, if they chaged it becasue of what someone else thought, that final image loses a lot, no longer being the final output of the photographers vision. Not wishing to sound very pretentions, but images are a window into the photographer. As often as I see another image that 'I would do differently', I see another that challenges my preconceptions.
I ran across this theory and phenomenon when I had my full service portrait studio back in the 1980s.
Originally Posted by rbarker
The theory was that old money bought small photographs because they sat them on the piano etc, and hung "art" on the walls. (paintings).
New money bought large wall portraits because they liked them and could show them off. They had no real education and no appreciation of "art".
People with little money, would buy more photographs than people with a lot of money because "family" was more important to them.
This is obviously a huge generalization but it did hold true in a lot of cases.
The new money/old money argument was also that old money bought silver/gray Mercedes and new money bought red Ferrari's (sp?). Old money was conservative and new money was flamboyant. New money earned it, and old money inherited it and were deathly afraid of losing it, they also kept a low profile.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
Has anyone noticed how "size" is relative? A 10 x 8 print from the darkroom can look quite small. But a 10 x 8 reproduction in a book or magazine looks big. In a coffee table book, images about 12 inches wide look enormous. Is this only because you are viewing these images from close up?
I'm making portraits right now, and 8x10 from 4x5 feels too big. So I'll try 6x8 or so. They'll be in a book, and it feels to me that at book-viewing distance a head shot practically comes off the page at you. Way too much for the feeling I want to convey.
On the other hand, western landscapes need to be big, IMHO, and that's where we can be happy that paper manufacturers make big sizes. It's all in the image and the feeling the photographer wants us to experience.