Printing is the often-undervalued final stage in producing an image. In today’s image-heavy social media age, it’s very easy to overlook printing as a creative output, and produce work with a purely digital workflow. Don’t get me wrong, I really love platforms like Instagram. I find them enormously democratic and engaging. A photographer’s feed enables you to see the evolution of themes, styles and ideas. But it’s all too easy for these images to be swiped, liked, and then forgotten. For me, making a physical print brings the image into the physical world. A print is a made thing, with a maker and a maker’s intent. It has a physical presence and properties which provide additional creative opportunities for the photographer.

I have always made prints of my work. I find this enormously helpful when deciding which images to include in a portfolio. This probably originates from working with film in a darkroom. Printing, when shooting film, is an integral part of the creative process. In fact, capturing an image on film using a camera can be seen as only half of the process of making a photograph. Light enters the camera through the lens to expose the film… but then the light must be projected back through the film and a second lens onto the photographic paper to make the image. In making the print from film, the photographer must create a new exposure, with a new composition. Images are manipulated, dodged, burned, re-touched and coloured. Of course many of these processes can be emulated in the digital workflow (e.g. photoshopping), but the final step of making a physical print, is still essential for me to fully realise the image as I see it in my head. And in fact it’s perfectly possible to dispense with the camera entirely when printing images in a darkroom . . .

. . . photograms can be made by direct exposure and printing of the light-sensitive paper. This works particularly well with semi-translucent subjects, like thinly sliced lemons!

There are practical considerations to making physical prints. Printing with archival grade papers and inks ensures the photo has a long life (100 years or more), which may be significant in age when some digital formats become rapidly redundant.

I also think that printing usefully hones the eye of a photographer, improving one’s ability to create and curate a portfolio of images by spending time with them. But really, it’s the emotional engagement with an image which drives my desire to print.

A high quality fine-art print has a wonderful physical presence. It can be touched, displayed, given or received. Printed images look and feel radically different to those on a backlit LED screen with a deeper texture and richness. A print speaks of the maker’s investment of time and skill. And, as the viewer, a thoughtfully displayed print has our undivided attention – there are no alerts, there is no need to hit like . . . you can just enjoy it.

I often receive requests for prints of my work, and over the past few years have experimented with different kinds of digital printing. Previously, I’ve used a semi-automated service, in which orders were sent directly to a nearby lab, processed, and dispatched, without my intervention. But I didn’t like that I barely ever got to see my prints and that this system didn’t offer me much flexibility or choice. Occasionally I’d get a more specialised request for a particular image, and when I did so, I found myself really enjoying working with a skilled Glasgow printer (much beloved of our local photographic and creative community) from whom I’ve learnt an awful lot. As time has gone on, I’ve found the idea of being able to offer a more bespoke service to those who are interested in my work, whilst also being able to print-on-demand, really appealing . . . so I’ve finally acquired a professional-grade printer, installed it in my studio, and am now enjoying using this to reproduce my work.

This fantastic printer has given me the artistic control and freedom I so enjoy about reproducing my photographic work and, after a few months experimentation, I’m really happy to say that I’m finally able to produce beautiful digital photographic prints myself. Every one of these prints is hand made by me, using lovely archival-grade papers and inks. My prints are embossed and signed and are strictly limited editions.

If you are interested, the KDD shop now contains a small selection of some of my popular images, but I’d be delighted to make a custom print of any photograph you’ve seen here, on my Instagram feed, or indeed in any of our books. So if there’s an image you’d be interested in me making a print of, don’t hesitate to get in touch! I’m tom@katedaviesdesigns.com

Thanks for reading.
Tom

26 thoughts on “why I print: a post from Tom

  1. Hi Tom, as one of the older generation (who even remembers seeing compositors put together hot-metal type and whose graphic designer husband was one of the early ones to wrestle with Apples and digitisation of images), I relish the fact that you love physically-printed images and the immensely creative knowledge that printers themselves can bring to a project. Both you and Kate have a wonderful respect for such skills and contribute greatly to keeping them relevant.

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  2. These are really beautiful images. I’m more of a snapper, but occasionally take a photo that I think would stand up to printing, but then just never get round to sending it off. Consequently, I have a computer (or cloud) full of photographs that just sit there. You’ve reminded me to pick one or two out and get them printed. Thank you.

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  3. Most of Ansel Adams’ magic was accomplished in the printing process. It is an, unfortunately, undervalued aspect of the craft.

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  4. This article is really interesting Tom. I much preferred the images I got from shooting on to film and getting prints. My son has given me his ‘old’ Nikon D70 and I must get to grips with that I suppose! But I still hanker after ‘the good old days’!

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  5. The print is alive and well and will never go out of style no matter how trendy digital gets. I do not own a digital camera. I am still seeing the world through a 60 year old Leica. And every Thursday evening, for 3 hours, I guide, coach and challenge my students in the darkroom to look and discern and produce the black and white print that records exactly what they envisioned when they looked through the lens. Your prints are beautiful, Tom. And I was so happy to read about your commitment to printing.

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    1. Love this comment Josephine. It really resonates with me. Do you know Fay Godwin’s work? She has produced some wonderful images with an old Box Brownie.

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      1. I am not familiar with Fay’s work. Will look it up. I have a student with quite a Brownie (and other toy cameras) collection. She has produced some weird but beautiful stuff. Her prints have also been selected for a yearly juried Toy Camera show in Boston. I have some wonderful students!

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  6. I think printing the image is the “art part”; to be able to truly see the entire composition. I find that when I keep photos digitally, many times my eye stays with the subject. (Which, by the way, is also true of a thumb sketch ) When I print the photo, I see the whole thing , same as a painting.
    Thank you for sharing

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    1. I am KIND OF in agreement with Wendy. ANYONE can ‘gather images’. It is what one does with those images that is the ‘art’ part of it. And it doesn’t matter if you gather images on film, digitally or in a sketchbook. What comes later is what matters!

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  7. Tom, thank you so very much for explaining the print process so well. You explain the virtues of real prints vs. digital so very very well…. Your work is gorgeous; i love it.

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  8. The craft/art of printing is very much like knitting, I think – yes, you can make products more quickly using digital means or commercial knitting machines, but they lose their unique qualities and the makers’ connection. That’s what art and the aesthetic experience are all about, and how art/craft connects us to each other. Print on! Knit on! Create! Thank you both for sharing…

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  9. That was very informative and interesting as I know Nothing about this process. I have a photo of goats that you made and it just makes me happy looking at it! Goats………who knew! Thank you.

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  10. Beautiful post Tom I always love to see your photos and images, a print can be so precious! I am an artist and I do limited edition of my paintings and I love to print them myself one by one! <3 Best wishes Carolina

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  11. Your pictures always make me both think… and feel too. It’s a rare quality and I thank you for it. My dad always used to print his own pictures and got great joy from it, he taught fellow RAF ers how to do this in Egypt during the war with machinery which looked so archaic but the images were good. A fond memory of him relishing the tale of his less x rated exploits makes me smile.

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  12. I worked for my uncle who was a professional photographer for many years and I have never gotten over my love of a good print. He spent most of his career working before the digital technology could deliver the kinds of resolution and colour he needed so I spent a lot of time reloading cameras and picking up prints at the lab. It is an underrated skill set and creative process and I enjoyed reading about your experience of it as well.

    The photographs here are a complete joy and pleasure. I have a small print of yours and I am in the midst of deciding on another. Thank you for your beautiful work!

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    1. Forgot to add, a friend who is now a dyer of fibre once commented that a good part of her confidence with colour (and she is great at it) comes from years of being a photographer and developing her own prints and learning how colour behaves in an image. I forwarded your post on to her because I thought it would strike a chord.

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  13. I too love the printing. I make prints from my phone and put in an album for my grandson. We live a long distance from him so now he has all those lovely pictures to look at. Of cousre,there are lots of him and also family. My mother had a dark room in our basement. I can smell it now. Love your photography Tom. Now,puppy pics.

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  14. What a great idea to get your own professional printer , I have an artist friend who did the same and then had the ability to make cards and prints for hanging etc. Her name is Jane Kisskaddon and she has gone to festivals almost every weekend to sell her art work.

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  15. I love your photography! I have taken Kate’s books to my knitting group here in Alabama and everyone commented on the “beautiful photography”. They all loved seeing the beautiful work you two produce.

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  16. Your work is fantastic, and the care and attention you lavish on the whole process shows in the quality of the images. Glorious…

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