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Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
View on YouTube to see full HD

If you've spent any time around me or browsing through my blog, you know what a fan I am of printing your work. Digital sharing just isn't enough for me. It feels great to share your work on Instagram and to see your photos on a beautiful HD screen, but really, it doesn't hold a candle to getting a big ol' print made and hanging it on the wall. I think it's about the tangibility of it. A print is substantial, but a digital file seems to dissolve into the ether before anyone can get a real good look at it.

That's why I've been trying to get more prints made. But having recently gone through some storage to find a bunch of old prints, I've decided to be more selective about what images I print. See, these old prints I found...I couldn't care less about them now. But the funny thing is I remember how proud of them I was at the time.

You may be thinking, "Well this is why you shouldn't print. You'll eventually get over it anyway. Might as well not spend the money and just stick to digital sharing."

Valid point, but I see it a different way. The thing about those old prints is they all had one thing in common: They were heavy on the "epic" factor. I mean they were your typical super-saturated, wide-angle, maximum epic-ness type of landscape photos that are so prevalent in digital photography today. You know, those landscape photos that are supposed to make you go "Woah! That's soooo pretty! Can I get that for my desktop wallpaper?" The Peter Lik type stuff.

Much of my portfolio is in this style of photography because, to be honest, it's an easy way to "wow" people. Bright colors and epic scenes are impressive. But my more recent work has taken a turn for the more subtle, the more abstract. I've gradually moved away from those colorful scenes towards simpler color palettes and more simplistic compositions. Kind of like an oil painting more than a digital photo.

I've moved towards this more subtle style for a few reasons, the main one being that the super-epic colorful stuff doesn't seem to go well with most décor. I may be oversimplifying it, but when I look at my own home and when I study the interior design work of some of the best, I notice that subtle color palettes (especially earth tones) and subtle contrast tend to reign supreme. Unless it's a millionaire playboy's penthouse suite in 1989, I just don't think the vibrant colors are a good fit for most spaces.

That's why I couldn't care less about the old prints I found in storage. They eventually ended up in storage all for the same reason - they were too "in-your-face" to hang on my walls. Good wall art should mesh with the other décor in the room, not overpower it. It's no different for fine art photography. There are other things involved in a room - furniture, tables, wall paint, carpet, decorations - all these things need to jive together to create one nice unifying look. That's what successful interior design is about.

I designed this new piece with that in mind. The image is from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on a solo camping trip I took a little while back (read about that trip here). When I took the picture I specifically had this goal in mind of staying away from that epic look with the super saturated colors. I chose Kodak Portra 160 film to render the image in a more muted color palette with softer contrast. Then, when designing the framed piece, I opted for a very simple float frame with a ¼" gap and some gorgeous wood grain. The piece screams simplicity and clean lines...just what I like to see in my own home.

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Nick Carver with one of his Fine Art Photography Prints

As you'll see in the video at top, the image is from a 6x17 negative I scanned on my Epson V750 scanner using Silverfast software and it was printed by Pro Photo Connection in Irvine (check them out here) on Fuji Pearl paper. The print isn't inkjet (you know how I hate inkjet) but is instead a wet process C-type print for superior color, sharpness, and clarity.

I also had Pro Photo mount the print on ¾" gator board and laminate it with a luster lamination. This is an awesome presentation style I discovered with the help of the good folks at Pro Photo and I'm this close to trademarking it because I love it so much! The luster lamination takes the gloss out of the pearl paper which makes the print much easier to see but it still maintains that pearlescent glow. The lamination also makes glass unnecessary because the laminate protects the prints from most common sources of damage. No glass means no reflections, no light transmission loss, and a lot less weight. You really gotta see this in person to appreciate the look, but needless to say, I'm happy with it.

This piece will soon be on display and for sale in an art festival next Spring. So far the reaction has been excellent from those I've shown it to. And I have to say, it feels way better seeing this thing 72-inches-wide on my wall than on a 3-inch smartphone screen.

So get out there and make some prints!

Making a Fine Art Photography Print

Making a Fine Art Photography Print (2 Part Video)
View on YouTube to see full HD

I'm a big advocate of printing photos. I urge my students to do it whenever I can. And that's because my sense of pride and satisfaction is at its peak when I create a fine art photography print to hang on the wall. There's something about it that feels so much better than just sharing it digitally.

I mean, come on, how good can it feel sharing a photo on Instagram? You spend hours and hours getting to a location, setting up a shot, and processing the image only to have it displayed on a 2.5-inch wide screen that viewers will swipe past in under 3 seconds. You get a few likes, and that feels good, but then the picture just disappears into "the cloud" forever. Digital sharing is "here today, gone tomorrow."

But printing...that's different. When you get a print made, you're making a bold statement. You're saying "I'm so proud of this picture that I'm willing to spend money to get others to see it. I want it around for years, maybe decades. I want it on display in such a way that people can't just swipe past it." When you get a print made, you're investing in your work. You're saying that it's worth the effort and expense. And that does wonders for your self-esteem.

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Think I'm overstating it? Get a big ol' print made and get it framed up real nice. Then tell me it feels about the same as posting them on Facebook. The tangibility of a print creates a sense of fulfillment that 1's and 0's just can't. For me, it's about the same as emailing a friend vs sitting down with them face-to-face. Sure, both are the exchange of ideas, but I'm betting you have many more memorable face-to-face interactions than memorable emails.

So that's why I decided recently to make a new fine art photography print. And the image I chose was one I took in Joshua Tree National Park on black and white film. I actually took this picture during an on-location video I made awhile back (check that out here). I love the vibe of this photo and it's something I've wanted hanging on my wall for awhile now because Joshua Tree is a very special place to me. I'm utterly in love with the desert and I've had some of my most incredible experiences in this part of the country. Also, what can I say, I just like the photo!

Whenever I set out to make wall art from one of my photos, I envision the finished piece as my very first step. I picture the framing style, the type of paper, the size - I get it all worked out in my head until it looks perfect. Things will get tweaked here and there as I go through the steps of it, but for the most part, I know the vibe I want and how to get it.

For this piece, I wanted a rough, old-timey vibe with a lot of texture and depth. I'd never used watercolor paper in a framed photo before, but I knew from previous samples that watercolor paper would provide the texture I was after. The only problem I have with watercolor paper is that it's for inkjet style prints and, generally, I hate inkjet prints. They are far inferior in overall look to Lightjet prints, which is what I typically get. But I really wanted that texture, so inkjet it would be.

So what's the difference between inkjet and Lightjet? Inkjet is ink on paper, like what you do at home. Lightjet is photosensitive paper (like in the darkroom) that's put through a machine that exposes your digital image to it with light (like in the darkroom) and then puts the paper through developer and chemicals and such, just like traditional darkroom prints. The end result is a true photographic print baked into the paper itself with a superior look.

I wasn't looking forward to inkjet printing on this piece, but luckily, watercolor paper absorbs ink differently than typical gloss paper, which results in better prints than I'm used to seeing from inkjet. And the technicians at Pro Photo Connection in Irvine (www.prophotoirvine.com) did a superb job on the print as always.

To add some more texture to this piece, I created a deckled edge on the paper, which is where the paper looks torn rather than clean-cut. The process for this is simple and is described completely in part 2 of the video series linked at the top of this post.

Then, to get my depth, I opted for a float-mount in a shadow box. This lifts the print away from the backer board and creates lovely shadows in the frame. The framing was done by my framer of choice: Salamon Art in Fountain Valley, CA (www.salamonart.com). They always do a perfect job.

When getting prints this big, it's a good idea to get a proof first. As you'll see in the video, a proof is an 8x10 snippet of the full print that you can use to verify the look before giving the go-ahead on the full-size piece. This is a great way to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises in the full-size print.

The finished fine art piece came out great. I got the vibe, the texture, and the depth I was after. It's a really cool style overall and I plan to do many more in this fashion.

If you're interested in purchasing this fine art photography print from Joshua Tree National Park or if you'd like to get a similar piece made, please drop me a line here.

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Digital Photography Tips: Auto White Balance Kills Color

View on YouTube to see this photography tip in HD

Photography Tips: Don't Use Auto White BalanceSkill Level: Intermediate

I've had a lot of students ask me lately why the colors in their photos are coming out inaccurate, so I thought it would be fitting to post a digital photography tip all about auto white balance. I'm marking this photography tip as "Skill Level: Intermediate" because I'm going to assume you already know what white balance does and how to control it. And if you don't know what it is, I offer group classes and online courses that can get you up to speed.

The topic of this photography tip pertains specifically to auto white balance - often abbreviated "AWB." The auto white balance setting is like many automatic functions on your camera: it works well enough a lot of the time, but it can really screw things up if you're not paying attention.

Auto white balance works like this: it looks at the photo you're taking and it tries to determine if there's too much of one color family. If it sees too much of one color, it floods the picture with the opposite color to try and cancel it out.

So let's say you have some incandescent lighting overhead when you're taking a picture of your family. Well, incandescent lighting is throwing out a ton of yellow-orange light. So auto white balance sees the excessive warm tones and says, "That's way too much yellow-orange," and so it floods the picture with blue to cancel it out. This is assuming auto white balance is doing a good job. Many cameras don't add quite enough blue in this scenario and leave your indoor shots looking too yellow.

That's the basic concept of auto white balance - if the camera sees too much of one color, it deems that an "unwanted color cast" and then tries to eliminate it by adding the opposite color. This approach to eliminating unwanted color casts is good enough for many pictures. And when you have to shoot quick, good enough is good enough.

But here's the problem with auto white balance...how could it possibly know the difference between a color cast you want and a color cast you don't want? The yellow color cast from incandescent lighting is a color cast you don't want, but the yellow color cast from fall leaves is. The camera can't make the distinction between these two. Your camera is dumb! It doesn't even know what it's looking at. It just sees too much yellow, regardless of where that yellow is coming from.

So when you shoot fall leaves on auto white balance, what ends up happening is this; the camera's auto white balance sees a bunch of yellow and it says, "Well, that's way too much yellow. Must be a color cast my photographer doesn't want," and so it floods the picture with blue to tone down the yellow. The result is fall color that isn't so fall color-y anymore.

Here are some examples:

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 AWB (above) vs. the accurate shade setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 

 

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

  AWB (above) vs. the accurate cloudy setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 

 

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 AWB (above) vs. the accurate daylight setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 

Same thing on a sunset. The auto white balance sees a bunch of warm tones from the setting sun, assumes you don't want them, and then floods the picture with blue to tone it down.

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 AWB (above) vs. the accurate daylight setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

As you can see, auto white balance can really destroy colors in your photos. That leads to my very simple digital photography tip: when photographing subjects with strong color casts, don't use auto white balance. Instead, use the appropriate white balance setting (daylight setting in daylight, shade in shade, etc) or adjust it yourself in the computer by shooting RAW files. I used Adobe Lightroom to adjust the white balance on my RAW files. It's a great program and I highly recommend it to all shooters. Get a great price on Adobe Lightroom at B&H.

Use auto white balance when you need to shoot quick and you're not too worried about the colors being perfect. But when the colors have to be just right, don't use AWB...it may just tone down the colors too much.