Review: Digital Fine Art Printing

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Few feelings compare to holding a print, made by your own hand, of one of your photographs.

A close second may be that moment in the field when you know you've "captured" something good, but I believe that that image, brought to tactile life in your hands, is the most rewarding conclusion to a photographer's creative process.

Enter digital fine art printing.

While print-making once was limited to the darkroom, today any photographer can create museum-quality prints, and this is what landscape and nature photographer Robert Rodriguez Jr. sets out to show you in his excellent eBook Digital Fine Art Printing - Field Guide for Photographers.

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Who Is It For

I know many photographers who send their files to labs they've grown to trust, and who exclaim excellent results.

Using a lab is a practical decision -- it saves time and avoids the need to purchase printers, inks, and papers (not to mention matting and framing materials and tools) that enable in-house digital printing.

I tried that route when I first started making prints, but hated the results. Despite a color-calibrated workflow using lab-provided color profiles, I felt every print I outsourced came with a concession in quality. These prints simply were never exactly what I sought (for more perspective on this, listen to Brook Jensen's podcast The Myth of SoftProofing).

The reason for this is that working through a lab, I left my vision for a print in the hands of a lab tech who couldn't possibly understand the true intent I had for that image.

Moreover, I had only the papers offered by the lab to choose from, an arrangement that leaves no room to experiment, learn, or to see or feel differences between paper types beyond what often were limited options.

The reality is that contemporary digital printing technology provides the willing photographer an ability to produce prints of incomparable quality, and to have full control over the detail, tonal richness, saturation, and archival permanence of our photographs.

Like many of you, I'm a self-taught photographer, and the same is true for what I know about fine art printing. It was therefore with great relish that I dug into the copy of Robert's book that he graciously provided for this review.

I knew I was in for a treat from the very first of its pages, where Robert describes his rationale for bringing the printing process in-house. Every word resonated, and my own reasoning for doing the same was validated by a photographer whom I admire for his unique images.

Robert's book is for photographers not yet printing their own prints, or who have limited experience doing so. In his own words,

"I wrote this book for the photographer who doesn't want to be a color scientist or software engineer….most of us just want to make prints that look good."

What I Liked About It

I've spent hours on forums and reading blog posts trying to grasp core concepts related to the printing process (color spaces, color profiles, gamut, print sharpening, paper textures, substrates, etc.) that have yielded only small gains in understanding.

To be fair, these concepts have inherent complexities, but you really don't need to be versed in theory to make great prints. You just need vision, the right level of knowledge, and the right tools.

Something that Robert's book does well is to make such concepts accessible, with easy language couched in a straightforward structure. He gives you enough to "get it", opening a door for those who want to know more while turning the rest of us loose on actual print-making.

This book, to its credit, is not just another how-to recitation of process that's found ad nauseum online. Within its pages is plenty of how-to, but with these explanations Robert uses his own images to exemplify in-camera and in-the-field creative decisions that demonstrate why he makes certain choices.

Lastly, he deconstructs the aesthetics of the fine art print. This information is available elsewhere -- Alain Briot's Marketing Fine Art Photography comes to mind -- but as with other sections of the book, Robert breaks down this important aspect of print-making into understandable concepts, again exemplifying these through selections from his portfolio. By including this, Robert establishes an important baseline from which any photographer can explore her own creativity.

"Don't just think about making the image look good, but instead think about making it effective. These are not always the same, but I can guarantee that effective is always the better choice."

Robert Rodriguez, Jr

Other goodies that Robert includes:

  • His preferred monitor settings
  • A complete processing-to-print workflow for Lightroom
  • A section on handling and presenting prints
  • Plenty of embedded videos and links to additional learning resources

Conclusion

All of my eBook reviews report issues I find with an author's effort. In the past, my gripes have ranged from calling out information that isn't valuable, poor writing, to low production value. I also always give you my honest point of view about whether an eBook is worth its purchase price.

I know exactly what it costs me when I spend an hour or three online chasing down answers, and in this regard Robert's book is a time-saver. At $19.95, Digital Fine Art Printing is priced towards the high end of the photography eBook spectrum and, in my opinion, it's worth the price.

The book is thorough enough to get you started, while defining areas of further exploration for anyone with the hunger to learn more. Net net, I highly recommend this book for any photographer who is interested in learning what it take to run your own prints, or who wants a leg up on a process already underway.

This review has been provided with no promise of financial compensation from the author for copies sold. The links in this post are not affiliate links.

I've provided this review because I think Robert's a great photographer who has produced an informative resource for photographers who want to produce their own prints. You can purchase a copy Digital Fine Art Printing here.