What to Consider For Print Competitions
When it comes to different paper types, let's go back to that because I've got some papers here that I wanna share with you. We do all of our imprinting in my studio for our clients. And when it comes to printing your photographs for print competitions, I used to send it away to a lab and then I get it back and I'd be like, ugh, this is not what I wanted. Why is it so dark? Why is this? But at that point, and a few years ago, I actually wasn't aware of all of the different paper types that are out there that are available, and there are so many, and which papers were better suited to which photographs, so the purpose of having a light image and a dark image. I am by no means a printing expert but I like to have full control over what I'm doing. So even if I have to print multiple images to get it absolutely perfect, I will do that because I know that when it comes up in front of a judge, they're gonna go, "You know what, I really wish this was on "another paper type." Or, "I think this...
image would've been better suited "to a Lustre or, you know, a more cottony "or a more fiber-based paper like a cotton Rag." So they're the things that I've really gotta consider. So every single image, and there's three of mine up on the wall over there that I've entered previously, every single one of those photographs I print on at least three different papers. And I hold them up under a lighting situation like this, similar to judging, judging light booths, to see which paper is gonna best suit that image. And it, I can't tell you the difference that it makes in terms of submitting to a print competition because the, being able to print your work is like the reward. And seeing it come off the printer, there is, for me, no greater level of excitement. When you go back to developing film and processing images that way, you know, when it became digital you'd sent, sent your digital files off to be printed somewhere else and then you get them back. Now I have that same level of a control that I used to have, obviously when you would have to develop film right through to that print process. So I love seeing those prints come off the printer. But for me, being able to choose the right paper is really important. So I've got four different paper types here. Two are cotton Rags and two are a more Lustre base. So one's got a smoother texture and one's got a bit more of a texture to it. So when I've photograph babies and they have this beautiful soft skin, I'm not necessarily going to use an extremely textured paper on their skin because if you look at it really close under the light, it's gonna look quite motley. So considering all of those different elements. But these are my favorite papers when it comes to entering competitions. And I always use Canson Infinity paper because the quality of the paper is phenomenal. The Baryta Photographique, the Platine Fibre Rag, so they're your two more Lustres, one's a little bit smoother than the other. And then you've got your Rag Photographique and then your Rag Edition, and the Edition is the one with more texture. So I've printed these images, these two images on all four papers to show you the difference of how those prints actually come out. Because when you are printing a really dark image like this, the paper can have a huge impact on that final result. So I'll go ahead and turn the light box on. All right. So with the dark image, when you hold it up under the light here, you can start to see where all those blacks are starting to block up and absorb into this paper because it's a much more textured paper. This one here is the Canson Edition so it is the, the Rag, which is quite textured. And it's really quite soft. So those inks are gonna really absorb in there and they're gonna block up. So when you're printing dark images, this is probably not my go-to paper choice because in those blacks, when I know on my screen, I can see the detail and every shadow, I don't want those blacks in the ink to block up, to remove that detail, if that makes sense. So yeah, that's a more cotton, fiber-based. So if we put it now against, I've got here the Baryta. So this is a much smoother Lustre but you can see just how much darker that paper is there than this one. Even though this is lighter and you think you might be able to see all the detail, when I go in, those blacks are really blocking up. But when I have a look here under the lights, I can actually see all the detail in those shadows even though it appears to be a much darker image. It's just it allows the photograph to be more contrasty and to really show that through that print quality. And then we have the more textured Lustre, which is the Platine. This is one of my favorite papers. And this is actually one of the papers that I use to print a lot of my client work on as well because it's got that great level of contrast. So what I'll do is, I'll print my photographs out on all these different papers, I'll hold them up underneath the light, and I'll go, right, which paper is gonna look better under these similar lighting conditions that the judges are viewing them under? 'Cause they literally come up. And I'm guilty of it myself but you come up and they're looking this close to make sure, number one, you know, your image is in focus, but they're looking at the overall print quality as well. Not just the photograph, it can be, god, it can be one of the most impacting photographs but if it's printed terribly, it's the judges, honestly they sit there and they're like, (groans) so frustrating, why, why, (laughs). So I can't emphasize enough just how important this is. So that's a light image and so I would be, I mean sorry, dark image, so I would be more inclined to be focusing on my Barytas, my Platines for photographs like this to be able to show all of that detail in those dark, dark shadows and to stop all of those blacks from really blocking up. We'll have a look at the lighter images. I go with the heavier papers as well, around that 310 GSM. I just, I like the feel of those a lot more but that's a personal thing. But there is, I mean, gosh there's so many papers out there available. So this one here is the Edition, so that's got a beautiful texture to it. I actually loved the final print quality of this on here. But when I come in and I have a look at the baby's skin because it's so soft and you can see the texture in this paper, it's starting to make the baby's skin tones look a little motley, I suppose, blotchy. There's no banding in there, which is perfect. But if you have a look at this later on, you'll be able to see close up the texture in that skin tone. And it's such a small area but when the judges come in to make sure that that, that baby is in focus and, you know, there's no banding and things like that, they're also looking at how that texture of the paper is really impacting the skin. And is it distracting? Could it have, could a better paper choice been selected? So this one here, we've got the Baryta. So it's a pure white, ultra smooth paper. So it doesn't have enough texture for me. Underneath the lights, it's great. You can start to see that there is a slight difference in tone as well. Because this is a pure white paper, it's gonna look a lot cooler. This one here tends to have a bit of a warmer tone to it so it's gonna make the print also appear a lot warmer. And that's another thing to really, you know, be aware of when you are choosing the right papers because some of them will have a sightly different tone in white. If you can get the little sample packs of paper, like they come and they're only about this big, like business card size, and you fan them out, you'll see all those different shades of white. So when you're printing a warm photograph like my owl image up there, if I print that on a warm paper, it's going to look too warm. So I wanna make sure that I'm choosing, not only the right texture of paper, but also the right color. So I tend to go with a lot of pure white papers because then I know, you know, what I'm looking at on my screen, that paper color's not going to have too much of an impact on it. Then we've got our Platine. So this is another ultra smooth. It is a pure white but it does have a little bit more of a texture to it. I love this because what that texture, for me, when I'm looking at it, does is it just makes it appear a little bit sharper. So when I come in and that eye line, if you consider how small that baby's eye is in comparison to the entire image, you gotta nail that focus because if they come in and go, yeah, it's not focused, it's not focused, it's not sharp, they're gonna knock off quite a few points in terms of judging because of that. So yes it is in focus but it is such a small piece of the print that you wanna make sure that the print quality allows you to sorta have that contrast and add to that sharpness that you're looking for. Now with the lighter print, this is the Rag Photographique, so it's another pure white and it's an ultra smooth. And in comparison to our other Rag down there, you can see, it's got the same kinda quality just without that texture. So I would really be tossing up between this one here and this one here. But depending on what you're going for, so I've got the textured Platine and then I've got the smoother Rag, but they would be the two choices that I would go for in terms of what the judges would be looking for in that print quality. But what I love here is the softness that this paper here adds to it. So I would learn more towards the Rag because it's a, it's a beautiful cotton Rag and it's softer, whereas I think this might be just a little too contrasty for a baby photograph, if that makes sense. So depending on what the subject is, depending on, you know, the look that I'm going for, this is why I print on multiple different paper choices to choose the right paper for that print. Especially if it's a dark print because you don't wanna lose any of the detail in those shadows 'cause they're gonna be looking for it every single time. So the power of print is huge. And there's nothing I love more than seeing photographs printed beautifully. And then, as a judge, from a judge's perspective, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a gorgeous image come up, and that image be printed not so well and on a wrong choice of paper. So yeah. I'll turn that off. There is a... The printing world is a whole other world. But when you do start printing your own work, each, each paper comes with its own paper profile. So then you've gotta have obviously a fully-calibrated monitor to be able to know that what's on your monitor is going to come out in print. And then you use those profiles that the paper comes with. You put those into your computer and then the computer and the printer are able to print that image, you know, according to that paper type. So it should look correct. Because if you started to print, you know, one of these photographs on one of these papers and you didn't put that profile in, it's going to look nothing like what the photograph on your screen looks like. So it's really important to understand those printer profiles. But any of these large paper companies have all of that information on their websites as well, how to install those ICC profiles, and a lot of those big printers like the Canon printers we use, then you're able to sort of, you know, calibrate those and sync those up with your monitors to make sure that you're getting the best print quality. Now like I said, I'm, I am not the perfect person to talk to you about that capture to print and that's Rocco Ancora. He's taught a class here on CreativeLive, all about that. So if that's something that you are interested in, I highly recommend watching that class because you will learn so much about that. And he taught me, and that's why I now have full control over my images. And I don't teach this to other people on how to get that perfect print, because that's not what I do. I just know that I need to get perfect prints for my entries into competitions. And that's, that's one of the, I suppose, one of the challenges but one of the things I enjoy the most because when you get it perfect, my god, it's, it's wonderful. It really is a wonderful feeling to see your photograph, you know, exactly the way you wanted it to look. So the viewing station is really important. You can set up your own light box, and which we do. I actually do it with an LED daylight balance continuous light. And I, what I do is, I have a light meter on my phone, it's an app you can download, and I, I look up what the lighting conditions are for the light boxes for each competition. And they may change depending on the type of light box, but it's usually a lighting setup at about, f/2.8, at a hundred ISO, and about a 1/25 of a second. But don't quote me on that. You've got to look it up, and most competitions that offer print competition, they will tell you what those lighting conditions are so that you can print according to those. And you can see the images up on the wall, they may look slightly dark to you especially against a white background. And that's because I print them and I make them for those lighting conditions. If we were to hold those images underneath a bright light, you're gonna see them in a very, very different way, and all of that detail. So you'll often see award prints that look dark and that's because of those viewing conditions. So yeah, I've had a lot of people kinda say to me, "Oh, they're a bit dark." And it's like, oh no, have a look at them under the light. And so what I'll do is, I'll have that light meter on my phone, which is an app, very simple, or you can have a light meter, and I'll hold that up in front of a piece of paper that's hanging on the wall, and then I'll move that light or change the intensity of that light 'til I get it just right, that's matches the, the viewing, viewing lights, and then I'll have a look at all of my prints underneath that to make sure that I can't see any banding, I can't see any blocking up of colors, I can't see things like the texture on the baby's skin, things like that. But before that, I used to hold my prints up outside in the sun in the middle of the day. If I can see detail, they're fine. (chuckles) So it's, it is a lot to consider when you are entering print competitions. There are some incredible print labs out there that will work with you and ask you what your preferences are in terms of paper. So even if you're not printing yourself, places like Graphistudio, you can contact them, and say, you know what, I'd really love to have this printed on two different paper types or three different paper types, like a Rag, a Platine, or something like that. And they're gonna be able to deliver that to you because they know what they're doing when it comes to printing and delivering quality prints. But yeah, it is a lot of fun when it comes to print comp time and my studio becomes a sea of prints all over the floor. And it's just part of that process. But every year you learn something new about it. And it's from experience, totally from experience.