Making a fine art print. From image capture to a best selling fine art giclee print.
Updated: Feb 23
The print is the end game. The finale. The accumulated result of all the time and effort a fine art photographer has lovingly and soulfully poured into what was once just a thought, a spark of interest.
That spark can only be described as a flash of intuition. A sudden peak of curiosity that is undefined until properly and thoroughly investigated and refined within the controlled confines of the camera's viewfinder. After which the curiosity becomes directed by the question "What if?" This questioning is where the separation between a photograph and a snap shot begins. As the experiences of past photographs comes flooding into the photographer's mind, experimentation ensues. Different exposures, angles of view, distances, shutter speeds, depths of field are all explored to find that magic combination that speaks to the photographer and says "Stop. You found it. This is what you were looking for."
That's just the first step. The collection of the raw materials from which a fine art photograph will be made.
You see, the camera isn't smart. Despite all of it's complexities it still only has one goal; to try to make everything neutral, to bring all the colors and shadows and highlights to an easily recorded overall average 18% grey.
Here is the unedited version of Horseshoe Bend sunrise. I carefully watched my exposure histogram to make certain that I had detail in both my highlights and shadows so I can pull information from both ends and have the greatest opportunity for my vision to come to fruition.
This is why, as the RAW files are uploaded to the computer, all those vibrant colors and sharp contrasts suddenly seem dull and unimpressive.
This is also one of the reasons post processing is vital. I do approximately 90% of all digital manipulation in Adobe Lightroom. I only use Adobe Photoshop when I have some trickier effects that I want to employ such as the free transform tool, air brushing with my Wacom pen and tablet or other various high detail oriented work.
Without manipulation, the human touch, the image will never be art. It will stay as a mechanical recording of a scene in front of a lens. The steps taken through manipulation can be subtle or blatant, simple or complex. It depends on what the photographer envisioned at the time of exposure and how much work it takes to reach that result.
Here is the same Horseshoe Bend photo after about six hours of post process editing. As you can see, this is so much more than the original RAW file.
The work doesn't stop there however.
Now that we're excited about the all the editing that's been done, It's time to print. This can get complicated. If you want to research just how complicated it can get, you should check out Jeff Schewe's books about digital image processing. You can find them at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Schewe/e/B001I9Q7XG%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
I've spent years studying digital printmaking to make sure I'm getting the most optimized print that I can, so you can get the best print I can give you.
This diagram shows how the different color spaces interact. CMYK represents the colors that a professional grade printer can produce, sRGB is basically the color space used by JPEG images and AdobeRGB is what can be produced by recording an image as a RAW file. As you can see the AbobeRGB color space almost completely covers all the colors that a printer can handle making the prints more colorful and accurate.
I personally use a color calibrated NEC MultiSync monitor because it has a color gamut range that matches 99.3% coverage of AdobeRGB color space and I can get the most out of my printers.
My fine art prints are printed with Epson SureColor printers and genuine Epson UltraChrome High Definition HD Inks. They are a superb product with longevity reaching into the hundreds of years! If you're interested in taking a look at the spec sheets for this ink set you can find it here: http://wilhelm-research.com/epson/WIR_Epson_SureColor_P600_Printer_2019-02-15.pdf
This is another major factor in creating a fine art photography giclee piece. It absolutely MUST withstand the test of time! Otherwise the colors fade or shift and your reputation as a fine art photographer that you've spent years cultivating, turns to garbage and no one will ever buy from you again. So I've taken the appropriate steps to make sure that doesn't happen.
Now that you have your print, it needs to be matted. This is a minimum requirement in my opinion.
I mat my fine art photography giclee prints with a 100% cotton Museum Rag Mat Board.
A Museum Rag over mat provides optimum archival quality and protection for fine works of art on paper. And is used for extremely valuable and original works or art, rare and antique documents and items of historical importance.
Once again, everything should be used to ensure the highest quality possible.
We're down to the last two things.
There's a ton of different opinions about this. Some people even say that you should never sign a piece on the front! I say print where ever you want. It's your creation.
I prefer to print at the bottom right hand side on both the print itself with a gel ink archival pen, under the mat where it isn't seen (just in case someone wants to change the over mat.) And lightly in pencil, on the mat where viewers can see it and know who the artist is.
Last, but definitely not least, the ever important Certificate of Authenticity or COA.
To put it simply, the COA provides credibility and should be considered a guarantee that the piece in question is made by the artist, of the promised materials and is meant to last long in the hands of its new owner.
I secure the certificate to the back of the board that the print is mounted on using archival (again) double sided tape. Technically this doesn't need to be archival because it doesn't touch the print but, better safe than sorry.
And there you have it. The steps to take to create a fine art photography giclee print that is mounted and ready to frame
Thanks for reading!