An exercise in self-gratification



Surprisingly enough, over the last 5-months, my grasp of what Photoshop can do has strengthened. This has been more due to gleaning oddments from friends than any disciplined effort on my part to learn the programme (yes, programme not program, this is England, not the USA).

Whilst I have not been disciplined in my efforts to use Photoshop, I have practised the parts that I do understand. I always recall a quote attributed to the South African golfer Gary Player, after he had played a particularly difficult shot, someone commented that he was lucky, his response was, “Yes, I find that the more I practice the luckier I get.”

This holds true for all of us, whatever we may be doing and the results have been quite surprising. My first discovery was that the most expensive paper did not necessarily produce the best results. I bought Epson's “Photo Gloss Film” & the results, for black & white prints, were less than wonderful. What I got was a print which exhibited all the worst characteristics of Resin Coated paper. Anyone want to buy some Epson Photo Gloss Film?

I then tried what Epson were pleased to call “Photo Paper”; the results from this were suitable for making into paper aeroplanes and throwing away, or lighting the fire with. Then Epson brought out some “Photo Gloss Paper”. This was much better, although it still did not have a nice texture.

Up to that time, I had been working on the principle that if one used the printer manufacturer's paper, one ought to be getting the best possible results. That theory was not producing what I was looking for, so I decided to experiment.

Yet again, this experimentation was not disciplined. I was looking for a paper which would give what I call a photographic fibre based appearance, without me having to spend days, or weeks, trying out different printer settings to make it work. I work hard all day and this was supposed to be FUN.

I tried some heavyweight cartridge paper, but that gave too flat an image (it may be suitable for some subjects, but nothing that I have tried on it yet). I then tried my Sterling photographic paper, as I know that this has the texture that I want. I “fixed” & “hardened” a sheet to try. Unfortunately, it did not absorb the ink and that coalesced. An intriguing effect, but not what I was looking for. With the right image and probably a very small print, it might work. I then tried another sheet which I had not hardened, but the results were much the same.

The next trial was with Ilford “Ilfojet” paper, similar to Epson “PGP” but a slightly better look and feel. So far, this has produced the best “gloss” prints that I have done but as there seems to be a new paper out every week, I have hopes of soon finding a gloss paper which has the right texture, ideally like the old Bromesco paper, or Kentona’s Art Classic. I tried Kentona’s “Tapestry” paper, but that was again too flat.

Then I discovered a cotton art paper called “Fabriano 5”. This is superb for natural subjects, would probably suit portraits but equally probably, would not suit graphic subjects. I am not sure how good it would be with colour work. It would certainly produce quite soft tones. Its other really big advantage is that by buying a large quantity, it works out at about 35p per A3 sheet.

During these trials, I was interested to find that when using coloured inks and the same settings, different papers produced totally different tones. The artists among you will no doubt know this but it came as a surprise to me.

Another recent discovery in Photoshop, has been Duotone which is found under “Image/Mode”. The benefit of this is to produce reasonably accurate representations of toned Black & White prints such as Sepia, Blue tone and the like.

So having decided on two papers that I was going to work with, the Ilford & the Fabriano, the next step was to see what I could do with them and this was when it started to get interesting. On my recent visit to Snowdonia, I obtained two images which excited me. I manage to get one, or two, such images most, not all, times I go; perhaps I should go more often.

I have printed these in the darkroom. One is nearly right but the other has not yet come right. I have also scanned and computer printed both, which has resulted in what I think are “better” prints. In the case of the second one, an immeasurably better print and one I am not sure that I can equal in the darkroom.

These prints were obtained by doing the same things in the computer that I would do in the darkroom but in very much less time, considerably easier and in more comfort. In the darkroom, I cannot see the effect of “burning”, or “dodging” until I can look at the finished print. In the computer I can see it instantly and if necessary, cancel it and redo it until I get it right.

Interestingly, I am getting as much satisfaction and pleasure from the computer prints as from photographic prints, to the extent that I have ordered a 35mm film scanner to compliment the flat bed scanner which I use for large and medium format.

Digressing slightly, I spent 3˝ days in Snowdonia; two dry and the rest wet. On the two dry days I took 8 - large format images and on the remainder I used 8 - 35mm films. A bit of a difference! The former requires total involvement; the latter also does but does not encourage it and instinct is used instead. Fun in its own way but not the same.

The main reason for the film scanner is that I prefer to spend my darkroom time working with the large format negatives, rather than spending time sorting the dross from the 35mm films. The scanner will enable me to do this more quickly and in more comfort.

So, have I really been working with “digital imaging” ? I am unsure as to the correct answer to this question. Certainly, I have been manipulating images which are in a digital format but I think that I perceive digital imaging to be the obtaining and display of images by digital means.

So is the scanning of negatives and producing copies of same on a computer printer “digital imaging”, or merely a different way of producing a print. Is it any less “photographic” than taking ones film to the high street shop and have them produce prints from it? There is certainly more photographic involvement in producing one's own prints, by whatever means. Equally certainly, digital manipulation of images, in ways that cannot be done in the darkroom, should not be termed as photographic.

It is probably cheaper to set up, requires less room and is certainly more convenient to produce one's prints via the computer. It provides a lot more satisfaction than giving your negatives to somebody else to print and anything which encourages people to involve themselves more closely with photography is to be applauded.

So you all now have my permission to carry on.

What do you mean, you didn't need my permission? Insubordination will be punished severely!

Closing Thought Is anyone a Photoshop expert ? It is a wonderfully clever programme but fiendishly complicated. I bought “Photoshop for Dummies” but I think the author had in mind a higher standard of dummy than me!


Your comments would be appreciated


Bruce Carter, FZPS