How many of us have reached for that dusty shoebox in the attic with old photographs only to find that the contents had faded far beyond the memories associated with them?
We then thanked God for the gift of the Digital Age.
A few CDs were all we needed to store our entire image collection and the old shoeboxes could finally be allowed to rest in peace in the trash can. Some of the really, really senior ones among us may have even had the ‘vision’ to scan and store their images on floppies! (Kids, just so you know, I’m not referring to wide-brimmed sun hats here!)
The floppies became obsolete and followed the shoeboxes. As did the DVDs that became unreadable. And the hard drives too, that inexplicably chose to crash on us when we least expected.
We were back to square one.
Worse, actually. With the prints we had some record. Faded and discolored maybe, but a record, nonetheless. With corrupt media we lost everything!
And so, as in most things in life, we come round a full circle and begin once more to look at the option of printing our images.
Take a look at the large canvas print in the image above. Viewing an image on a computer screen and viewing a framed, archival print is a chalk and cheese comparison. A museum-quality print wins hands down. Any day of the week, and then some.
The keywords here are ‘museum-quality’ and ‘archival’. Some of you may have heard the time ‘giclee’ (pronounced zhee -clay) used in the same context.
This then, in a nutshell, are a few of the factors that go into making museum-quality prints…
Inkjet printers are, for now, everyone’s go-to printer. The vast majority of these are cheap and, if we are willing to tweak the settings, most popular printers will probably produce pleasing photo prints for most people on the planet.
Having said that, attempting to match these home-made snaps with giclee or museum-quality prints is like pitting Sad Sack in a ring with the Hulk.
For one, a prerequisite of archival quality prints is that they be done on printers capable of printing at least at 300 dpi (dots per inch).
More important is the type of inks used. Again, take a look at the canvas print in the image above.
The inkjet printers we use at home/ office use dye-based inks. They may look reasonably nice but unfortunately begin to deteriorate the minute they leave the printer.
Pigment-based inks on the other hand, used in giclee printing, are far superior and estimated to remain true for hundreds of years… yes, you read right… hundreds of years!
Also, most archival printing is done on printers using at least 6, usually upto 12 or more, separate ink colors and shades of black and grey. All this contributes to reproducing subtle detail, contrast and levels of black that your regular run of the mill printer simply cannot match.
- Print Medium
The print medium is the sheet on which the print is made (eg. paper or canvas).
There are very strict guidelines for a particular medium to be labeled as ‘archival’. The most important one being that it needs to be acid free. Acid plays an important role in paper making. Unfortunately, it is also one of the main causes of image degradation.
Regular papers made from wood and have significant amounts of acid content and hence not suitable for museum-quality prints.
Most archival media are cloth based (referred to as to as ‘rag’) and are acid-free. Some of these are further coated with alkaline substances like bicarbonate to help neutralize any acid that may develop on the print over time.
There are a mind-boggling variety of ‘museum quality’ archival media out there. Paper /canvas, Matte/Glossy, textures ranging from smooth to rough, and shades of white that are so subtle they’ll get you red-eyed trying to detect differences.
The ideal choice of medium is said to vary depending on the genre of the image and the ‘look’ of the image that the photographer is trying to achieve.
Over the years I’ve explored having my prints made by several commercial printers using a variety of media. I’ve also tried and tested non-archival options like the canvas of my daughter above.
Of the lot, I like the look of my images on Canson’s Infinity Edition Etching Rag Archival 310GSM paper or Hahnemühle Daguerre Canvas 410GSM and now print almost exclusively on these media.
Like I said before, viewing an image on a computer screen, no matter how large cannot compare to admiring a framed giclee print hanging on a wall. The fact that it is designed to last generations is a huge plus.
A printed image is a moment frozen in time. Be it a bird, a scene, a monument or a person, it is captured for as long as that particular medium can hold it.
More than that, it is also a record of the inks, medium and even printing techniques that were prevalent at the time of printing.
Those fortunate to possess old prints that have been handed down from generation to generation will know what I am talking about. Apart from the subjects depicted in the images, the type of paper, ink and the technique used in making those prints will be unique to that particular era and most likely obsolete in today’s day and age.
There is yet another factor to consider. As a nature photographer, many of the species photographed are endangered.
The yellow-eyed penguin on the Otago Peninsula, for instance or even the grey-headed bulbul that I now see fairly commonly at my ancestral home in Goa. These and many other species are fighting extinction and may not be around for much longer.
Sadly, images of these species may well be the only remaining evidence of their existence.
Nature photography has been more of a passion than just a hobby.
I’ve often had to travel miles, live in basic conditions at dangerous locations often waiting patiently for long periods to get eventually a particular image.
The story does not end there. There is a common misconception that a good photographer shoots perfect images in-camera.
This may hold true in a studio where everything can be carefully controlled. Out in the field, let me tell you, there is very little, if anything, in your control and one often gets a only brief window of opportunity to take the shot. Most wildlife photographers are thrilled if even 10 percent of their images are keepers!
Back home begins the laborious task of culling. Each frame is checked for exposure, noise, focus, position of the subject, background, feather detail and if even one of them is below par the image is rejected. Only then are a chosen few taken into Photoshop for editing.
I’ve received no formal training in post-processing images. Yet over the past couple of decades I have a workflow that works well for me. (To the extent that I am often called upon for advice and I have even conducted a few training sessions for photographers. The one-eyed in the land of the blind, I say!)
Each printed images is the final proof of all the time and effort that went into its creation. Make no mistake, I’ve enjoyed every second!
About a decade ago I was recovering from a serious illness. Feeling sorry for me my wife grudgingly gave her consent to drill the walls and hang a ‘few’ prints. Heh, Heh! You know what they say about giving an inch…! There was no looking back from then on.
I now have well over 50 large, framed prints distributed all over our apartment in Mumbai. The spillover get sent to our ancestral home in Goa!
I’m recently in the process of setting up a page on this site to showcase my images. As of writing this it is still under construction but you can browse through the images. Hopefully by the time you read this it will probably be up and ready.
This is the link:
Feel free to browse through. I’d love to know what you think of it. You can drop me a line in the comments section below or on my email address email@example.com.