I’ve toyed with the idea of selling prints for a while, but never taken the plunge. Why not? I’ve got gigabytes of photographs stored and on a server, so how much effort would it be to offer them for sale?
I’ve rarely had to deal with printing during my career. Most of my clients don’t want to print, preferring images for web use. This means all I have to do is edit the photographs on a calibrated screen and then render the images into the appropriate sized JPG and send them over. And for those who do want to use the images in print, the process is similar with TIFFs being sent rather than JPGs (TIFF standing for 'Tagged Image File Format' and is a standard file in the publishing and printing industry). Easy. Job done. So, surely it can’t take that long to get my images ready for my own printing purposes? Unfortunately, sorting out my images to be sold as prints has required far more time than I expected.
My hosting site, which hosts my work in galleries, links to different print labs in different countries and unfortunately for me, insists on all e- commerce go via one of these services. They are all one stop shops that offer prints, albums, cards, calendars and other photo related gifts. This is great if you need these products, however this is just not my jam. I’m after a printing specialist who can offer a top notch incredible product. Luckily for me, there is a great print lab I use in London and even better is the fact they offer an app plugin to Shopify. However this is now where the work starts.
Having chosen a top notch print lab, capable of offering an incredible product, it’s now up to me to do my utmost to develop my images. It would be pointless to use this print lab and then hand over a bog standard image. To maximise the quality of the prints I need to spend more time on them. So what does this mean in practical terms? It means that I can’t just work on my images and upload them as I’ve done in the past. In short it means I need to soft proof my images. Soft proofing is the onscreen preview of the colours, feel, and overall look of a print, specific to a combination of printer and paper. Adobe Lightroom, my preferred image editing software offers this as part of the ‘Development’ feature. To accurately soft proof I need to find and download the exact printer and paper combinations (known as print profiles) so I know what I see on screen is how the image will turn out. I’ve had to download print profiles, specific to the print lab which will do the printing, where each profile has been built and tested to achieve the maximum range of colours according to print finish and paper type. The difference between soft proofing and not is quite remarkable as seen by these two images. And as you can see by the third image, the difference between different profiles is also quite noticeable. For me, this has meant spending time choosing what print finish and paper I think will best suit each image and then fine tuning the images in soft proofing in that specific profile to ensure each image is exactly how I want it.
Soft proofing metallic profile
Soft proofing gloss profile
So far, so good, however attention to detail to maximise a print image doesn’t stop there. Not only do I need to soft proof each image, I now must export each image in the correct print profile. Having worked on each image in soft proofing in a specific profile, when I export each shot I need to ensure each image is rendered in the same profile. If the profiles don’t match up between soft proofing and exporting, then all the time and effort spent in soft proof editing will have been for nought as the image will come out differently than to what I’m after.
For my e- commerce page I’ve initially made a selection of my best and favourite shots from my Auto gallery to offer. For my images I’ve chosen to go with C-Type photographic printing, as opposed to Giclée (pronounced “g-clay”) printing. What’s the difference I hear you ask?
A C-type is a digital file, rather than a negative, exposed using digital technology created by exposing the light sensitive paper using balanced red, green and blue light sources. This creates an analogue style print with depth, subtlety and shadow detail. A Giclée (from the French verb ‘gicler’ meaning ‘to squirt’ or ‘to spray’), by comparison, involves spraying dots of pigment based ink onto paper or canvas. Used by photographers, Giclée is also used by illustrators and painters as the process involves no chemistry nor light sensitivity and is thus perfect for artists who are not capable of mass producing their work but want to reproduce their work on demand.
Is all this time and effort worth it? Well, I couldn’t live with myself if I offered sub standard work and I want people to love these prints. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. If you purchase one of these prints for yourself or a loved one (go on, please do) compare it to a photo of the family from a run of the mill (online) print service. See the difference for yourself.