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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!

Solo Camping in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Kodak Portra 160 Film, Shen-Hao TFC 617-A
You gotta see these big - click any image to enlarge

Lately I've been trying to break out of my usual photographic style. Super-vibrant colors, rich contrast, epic wide-angle compositions..."yeah, yeah, we've seen it before, Nick." I've pursued this style for years because, let's be honest, it's an easy way to impress people. Flash some pretty colors on a computer screen and folks gather around like moths to a flame. It's no wonder this style has become so popular in recent years. Just boost that saturation slider in Lightroom and watch the "Likes" rack up.

But repetition is the antithesis to creativity. I've become so overloaded with that hit-you-in-the-face style of landscape photography that I just didn't feel creative anymore repeating my usual look. So when I found myself in one of my cyclic creative slumps again, I decided it was time to switch things up. I needed to try something new - something completely different than my usual modus operandi. I didn't even care if it was good, as long as it was different. An ounce of "different" is worth a pound of "good" when it comes to creating art, in my humble opinion.

With plans to take a solo camping trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to break out of my mold. So I made a mental checklist of what I typically do in my landscape photography: super saturated colors, deep dark shadows, wide angle compositions, and a pronounced foreground element. Good. Now I know what not to do.

My goal was to only take pictures with a lower-saturation film (Kodak Portra 160) so I didn't have the crutch of vibrant colors. This film also has softer contrast - one more crutch gone. Then I stuck exclusively to normal and telephoto focal lengths focused on more distant subjects. In other words, no using that sneaky trick of throwing on the super wide angle lens and getting right on top of an epic foreground element.

Also, the location was Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - a park with no notable geographic formations, no raging rivers or majestic peaks, and no iconic arches drawing people from all over the world. The park is bland compared to the photographer's Disneyland that is Yosemite. Point any lens at Half Dome and you have a 50/50 chance of creating something frame-worthy. But out here in the desolate badlands of southern California, Anza-Borrego Desert would provide no "get out of jail free" cards.

Putting myself in this position was uncomfortable. I was in unknown territory without my binky. The certitude that I would create at least one good photo wasn't coming with me on this trip. After all, what if this low-saturation, low-contrast, telephoto looks turns out terrible? What if nobody likes it?

It was tough fighting years of ingrained habits, but I came out unscathed and better for it. I'm happy with the photos. I like the softer look and the simplified compositions. They are photos I would actually hang on my own walls. But more than the look, I'm happy I broke out of my mold. It feels good to try something new. And ultimately, it's the only way to get the creative gears turning again once they bind up.

Now the question is, how long before I grow tired of this style?

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

And check out my sweet campsite:

Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley
All images on Fuji Velvia 50 film
Click Any Image to Expand

Woah, boy, am I behind on image editing! The photos I'm sharing with you today are from way back in May of this year. We're coming up on Christmas already! I'd like to list out my excuses, but hey, better late than never, right? It actually worked out for the best anyway because I needed some time for these photos to grow on me. There's nothing wrong with them, but they just didn't light my fire when I first saw them.

I took these photos in Los Olivos, California nestled in the beautiful hills of the Santa Ynez Valley. This is wine country, and although I'm no wine connoisseur, I am a connoisseur of rolling hillsides and picturesque landscapes. Luckily for me, the Santa Ynez Valley has both. It's just classic central California out there - lots of open ranch land, big oak trees, that beautiful light. It's easy to see why folks travel here from all over the world (although let's be honest, it's mostly for the wine tasting).

With the recent drought here in California, the hills have been looking less like the Windows XP desktop wallpaper and more like the Mojave Desert. But back in May, the mustard was in full bloom in Santa Ynez, painting the landscape in vibrant swaths of yellow flowers. So on this trip, I loaded up my camera with my high-saturation film (Fuji Velvia 50) and set out to capture the display.

As I mentioned, I initially wasn't pleased with the results. The moral to that story is that I'll always be my own worst critic. Not only that, but I think I'm getting pickier about my photos the more I shoot. I used to be thrilled anytime I got a bit of color and a halfway decent composition. Now I'm a jaded old art critic who demands nothing less than groundbreaking photos. I should relax a bit and ease up on my high standards. I tell my students all the time to stop being so hard on themselves. I suppose there's a lesson to be learned there. Ah, yes, that's right: do as I say, not as I do.

The photos have since grown on me quite a bit and I'm pleased with them now. I think initially I was just so thrown off by the midday lighting. See, I normally take my landscape photos at sunset or sunrise. The light is more dramatic then and it's just become my modus operandi over the years. I specifically wanted to try breaking out of that habit on this trip and trying some photos in the harsher midday light. It took some getting used to, apparently, but now I'm glad I took the photos when I did. I think the color contrast between the blue sky and the yellow flowers is the whole point of these shots, and I certainly couldn't get that at sunset.

I have many more trips to the Santa Ynez Valley in my future. I'm still discovering how I want to capture this place on film, but I think this is a decent start.

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014