HOW TO PRODUCE COMPETITION WINNING PRINTS

22nd December 2016


Brian Hopper is a photographer based in County Louth, Ireland and has been involved in many aspects of photography for some forty years now.

Brian currently holds the following distinctions: Excellence FIAP Platinum (EFIAP/P), Fellowship of The Irish Photographic Federation (FIPF) and an Associateship of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (ARPS).

Having been involved in a number of photographgic clubs over the years, the drive to compete and improve was a conastant one. Always seeking to challenge himself, Brian turned to involvement in international photographic competitions (salons as they are better known). These salons are run under the auspices of bodies like The Federation Internationale de l’Art Photographique (FIAP) and The Photographic Society of America (PSA). To date Brian has amassed over 3000 acceptances and over 400 awards in international competition and has been awarded the FIAP Blue Badge (Best author in a FIAP salon) nineteen times – a national record and one he is particularly proud of.

In all the photographic competitions he has entered, Brian treasures those he has entered with prints – a printed image is presented to judges exactly as the author wished it printed. Brian has been awarded the “top print” in nearly twenty international competitions – from FIAP salons and biennials to the very pinnacle of the PSA’s print competition – The Image of the Year. Brian has managed to have prints awarded in first, second and third places in both colour and monochrome in this PSA competition where the entry criteria require the eligible print to have been already awarded a gold medal in international competition.

More recently, Brian has been invited to judge in international competitions and has completed twenty two judging appointments including been appointed as Chairman of the Salon Jury twice – a singular honour.





How to produce a competition winning print.

There are so many aspects to printing and indeed to producing the perfect print – I will attempt to provide a logical approach here.

Most photographers like to retain control over their prints for competition, whether that is the paper used for the print or the way it is finally presented, because when a judge examines a print there can be no excuses offered. When it comes to selecting between prints for awards the smallest detail can maks the diference. The judge will hold the print in their hands exactly as you entered it – each detail will indicate to the judge exactly what the author thought of his / her image. Any marks, dust bunnies or imperfections will indicate that the author didn’t really care and this will affect the way the print is judged. Because of international post and handling it is normal practice to forgive minor scratch marks and slight transit damage caused to prints – it would be unfair to penalise the enttrant for slight damage caused outside theit drect control.






There are a few very important steps to producing the perfect print which I will attempt to cover – I also assume most photographers will prepare and print their own images.


Screen Calibration / Printer Profiling.

The single most important aspect to producing any digital image is calibration. We all want the adjustments we employ in post production to be reflected accurately in the final image. We then want those adjustments to transfer to the final print and be produced accurately. Most photographers make a fatal mistake in these two fundamental steps and indeed some never really seem to embrace the process of calibration.

In the calibration of photographic equipment, we measure and set the output of devices to a colour standard. We calibrate each piece of equipment to that standard in order to have some semblence of continuity in the post production process . The fatal mistake most photographers make is thinking they will “get the printer to match the screen” – this never happens. In calibrating different devices we “tune” them to a colour standard and help them to produce the colours to the best of their capabilities.
Much like a guitar and chello in an orchestra - we can tune the instruments and get the musicians to play in harmony from the same sheet of music but each instrument will retain its individual sound and will contribute in an orchestra to the final musical sound. Regardless of how well a musician tunes the chello and guitar they would never expect to get the two instruments to produce the exact same sound.

The same logic applies to our display and printer – each will reproduce colours to the calibrated standard but each will retain their individual characteristics. With proper calibration we will have success in our digital workflow, without calibration, it is a minefield. Screen calibration is vital even if we choose to outsource the printing process – those printing cannot second-guess what a praticular image should look like.






File Preparation.

I cannot stress the importance of proper file preparation in printing a digital image. Time and again I have listened to lecturers gloss over and fudge this very important aspect of digital printing.

If you use an Epson printer your files have to be prepared at 360ppi (or direct
Multiples of 180, 360, 720, 1440, 2880 …..) . If you send a digital file to an Epson printer with any other image resolution the printer software will interpolate the image and work within the resolutions as stated. This interpolation is performed “on the fly” or outside our control and as photographers know, the algorithm for interpolating an image while enlarging is very important – a huge factor in image quality. In printing images larger, print problems like “jaggies” can occur (where stair like lines can occur on edges which should be smooth and straight) and printed images may appear “soft”.

To my knowledge most other printers require file resolutions of 300 ppi.






Choosing the Paper.

There are so many papers for the photographer to choose from but yet, so many make the wrong choice and the final printed image can suffer immesurably from the paper chosen to print on.

Most photographers who print their own images will “test” a number of papers and, in general, choose their “favorite paper” primarily on cost. They get used to preparing for and printing on this paper and are in the main reluctant to change unless problems arise. Generally it takes another pair of eyes to spot any print problem and if this happens to be a judge in competition the print will suffer and loose its “ranking” because of poor quality.


I have heard of a number of photographers who have had their work rejected because of “blown highlights” and they struggle to recognize the basis of their problem. In attempts to rectify this particular problem histograms are re-checked, the white point reset and some even adjust levels or curves to “bring back the whites”. All of these routes to rectify the problem tend to affect the overall tonality of the image. The resultant “fix” compromises the image and never quite seems to properly rectify the problem.

Few understand that a print problem with “blown” highlights or indeed a problem in transitioning between printed and unprinted sections in an image can be the fault of the paper chosen. Most papers use some form of brightening agents to improve the D-max (deep blacks) and extend the overall tonality of the print.

The vast majority of consumer papers are made from wood pulp or alpha-cellulose base and would have a yellow to brown base if some form of bleaching or whitening was not employed. When the paper base is made the further use of optical brighteners are employed because the demand for bright white papers forces manufacturers to add optical brighteners. Before you jump up and say “the paper I use does not use OBA’s” just remember that manufacturers use OBA’s in most inkjet media in order to supply the demand for bright white papers.

In my experience the use of bright white papers for photographic printing leads to many problems printing highlights or indeed the transitioning between mid-tones and highlights, problems like bronzing appear on these papers too. I’m not going to labour on about the problems with print longevity as this problem has more to do with the bleaching of the paper pulp used as the base.

The use of OBA’s is, at this stage, a refined technology but should be avoided – the choice of a photographic paper with low or no OBA’s is preferable for the printing and longevity of photographic images. Some papers are defined as warm-tone but the use of proper ICC profiles for particular papers eliminates the shifts in colour or tonality associated with these modern papers.

The next time you print, open your mind to your choice of paper – the choice of paper alone could change your print results for the better.




Printing for Competitions.

Most international salons have a standard sizing for entries, as indeed many salons mount and frame the prints for exhibition purposes. A3 (un-mounted) is considered “standard” but just be careful because some salons may state a maximum size of 30cm x 40cm. I recommend printing the longest side of the image around 35cm with a margin of 30mm – 40mm. This allows any judge to comfortably pick up the print and examine the paper base while the size of roughly 35cm (longest side) allows for comfortable viewing at arms length. A generous paper weight (320 gsm) will also help as the printed image will be more rigid and will stand up to more intense examination where prints may be taken for viewing under various sources of light. A light stroke on the image is sufficient to define the outline of the print.





Recommendations.


Now that I have covered most of the thorny subject matters associated with print faults let me turn to some recommendations. There are many superb fine art papers available in the marketplace. In general, fine art papers are made from cotton fibers and do not contain optical brighteners. The base colour of the cotton depends on where the cotton is sourced – some cotton is naturally whiter than others.

The ink receiving layers with which the papers are coated have evolved and many now use barium sulphate as a natural brightener. This inorganic compound can now be found in most of the family of modern Baryta Papers. The combination of modern inks, papers and giclée printing techniques can now directly emulate the quality of darkroom prints.

I became involved with a French paper manufacturer around 2009. In my constant drive for perfection an opportunity arose to test some papers from Canson Infinity - I have not used any other paper for my own printing since.

Having been introduced to Canson Infinity Digital Fine Art and Photo papers around 2009, I quickly became convinced of the quality of the range. I have used Canson Infinity papers for all my printing and have garnered many awards in international photographic exhibitions including top monochrome and colour print awards in over fifteen exhibitions. Some of my favorite papers include Platine Fibre Rag, Baryta Photographique, PrintMaking Rag and Aquarelle Rag. I would recommend Canson Infinity Digital Fine Art and Photo papers without hesitation.

The history of Canson® dates back to the year 1557 when Canson® was founded.
In 1865, Canson® was granted an international patent for the improvement of albumen paper, the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative. This patent simplified the photo printing process, improved the quality of the print, while making the process less expensive.
In 1892, Canson® earned a "Diplôme d’Honneur", the top award at the International Photography Exhibition.






Conclusion.


I am also asked regularly to recommend my favourite paper and, to be honest, that is a difficult one. I do have favourites – Platine Fiber Rag and Aquarelle Rag rank near the top but there is “a new kid on the block” – Baryta Prestige (340 gsm). This is, without doubt, the best inkjet paper I have ever tested and it is bound to make its mark internationally.

It is comprised of an acid free alfa-cellulose and cotton white paper base with a true barium sulphate coating – it evokes the look and aesthetic feel of traditional darkroom papers.

Baryta Prestige 340 gsm provides excellent surface durability, outstanding black optical density (D-Max) and superb image sharpness. This paper has good lay-flat qualities, excellent surface cohesion as well as very low gloss differential between printed and non-printed areas. It offers an extraordinary wide gamut, which improves colour reproduction and increases visual impact.


Now you begin to get a feel of what comprises a good inkjet paper - all the facets which combine to make a paper special - and indeed it is a case of not all papers being equal. If you were to settle on only one paper for colour or monochrome printing, choosing Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige 340 gsm would not disappoint . I cannot wait to enter my prints on Baryta Prestige into international competition.




The link to the 1x.com article : https://1x.com/blog/permalink/8023



Comments

Photo comment By Sean Kenny: Excellent article Brian. Very informative and straight to the point. Really enjoyed reading it.
Photo comment By Frankie Lloyd: Thanks very much for posting this article Brian, I found it very informative and helpful and will certainly be of benefit to me as I progress with my photography. Frankie Lloyd ASINWP

Leave a comment

Your Name
Your Email
(Optional)
Your Comment
No info required here, please press the button below.