Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Exposure.Detroit Photography Exhibit

I am honored to have been selected to show some work in the next Exposure.Detroit photography exhibit. The show opening is September 18th at the Bean & Leaf Cafe in Royal Oak, Michigan from 7-10pm. In addition to my exhibition prints, I will have a limited quantity of smaller 11X14 matted prints for only $40 each/two for $60 during the exhibition opening only. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Digital Monochromatic Printing With Piezography

This article was originally written for and published at www.bwvision.com and can be seen here in it's entirety...

Zen Benches

My passion for B&W photography began years ago in a high school darkroom. The first time I watched my print magically appear in the developer tray I was hooked.  I was captivated by the chemical process before me and felt an immediate sense of empowerment and knew endless creative opportunities awaited.

I ended up majoring in photography in college and studied the work of master photographers Minor White, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Imogen Cunningham, among others.  I gained an appreciation not only for the photographs they made but also for the craftsmanship of their prints.  The image tonality, paper surface and archival properties were an object of art in themselves. My appreciation for the fine art print led me to start shooting with large format view cameras and contact printing on silver and platinum-based papers.

Opposing Forces
In the early to mid 1990’s, digital photographic imaging was still in its infancy and I embraced the new technologies with open arms.  I was fascinated by the unbelievable control that was suddenly possible. A digital workflow consists of making the exposure (or exposures), post-processing using image editing software, then most often exporting the image to an online portfolio or website. While the internet has become an invaluable medium for sharing your work with others all over the world, sadly it seems that the fine art photographic print has lost its place as an integral part of the digital photographic process.

So what is one to do when it’s time to print your digital B&W masterpieces? It seems most photographers send their images off to a printing service while others who are a bit more ambitious make prints themselves on photo inkjet printers. An inkjet printer seems like a great choice at first but it uses color inks that give B&W photos strange color casts (a phenomenon called metamerism) when viewed under various lighting conditions.  Color inks also contain dyes that inevitably lead to faded and color shifted prints.

Architektura I
Some of the latest photo inkjet printers incorporate B&W print modes, such as Epson’s ABW (advanced black and white) mode utilizing Ultrachrome K3 technology which uses three shades of black inks. Since it has only three black inks, Epson’s print driver also uses the color inks to resolve finer image detail. Although there have been great advancements in printer and ink technology in recent years, in my opinion an out-of-the box inkjet printer cannot match the quality of a traditional darkroom print.

Anyone who is passionate about B&W photography should question the results that can be achieved by printing monochromatic images on a system designed for color printing.
I explored many options but wasn’t able to find a digital equivalent to traditional fine art B&W darkroom printing. For a while I was creating digital negatives then contact printing them on platinum paper.

Pier Study III
Then I came across Piezography, a printing system which replaces the standard inks in an Epson or other supported printer with six or seven (depending on printer) individual shades of monochromatic ink. Piezography inks contain carbon-based pigments and when printed on archival papers achieve historical image longevity. Piezography exceeds the limitations of Epson printers and to my knowledge is the highest-standard B&W printing system available.

Piezography inksets are available in Neutral, Warm Neutral, Sepia, Selenium, and Special Edition for creating split-tone prints.  It’s also possible to formulate your own custom inkset by mixing and blending inks of different tones.  You can also achieve various results by using different papers; using neutral inks on a warmer toned paper will yield a warmer toned print. There are virtually limitless combinations to explore.

It’s not just the inks alone that offer such excellent results. The real power behind Piezography printing lies in the software. With Piezography the standard Epson printer driver which controls CMYK inks can no longer be used. The creators of Piezography have created media profiles that control ink output for different printer, ink and paper combinations. These media profiles are provided free of charge with Roy Harrington’s $50 shareware application Quad Tone RIP. If desired you can also have a custom profile designed for your individual printing setup.

Zen Benches - Piezography Print
Piezography’s seven shades of black ink (compared to Epson’s three) in conjunction with the media profiles enables the printer to print at a much higher dithering frequency (dots are much closer together) than Epson’s ABW mode. The resulting images have unmatched resolution and are capable of producing a tonal range that exceeds what is possible with silver or platinum-based darkroom prints. I am currently making 10″X10″ prints on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper from a 12.3MP DSLR and they look as good as (and in most cases better than) contact prints I have made in a darkroom from an 8X10 view camera. The resolution is contact print quality and the highlight and shadow detail is phenomenal.

I have experimented with other B&W inksets such as MIS Ultratone with a fair amount of success.  MIS Ultratone2 (UT2) inks are variable-tone which allow you to alter the print tone from sepia to cool silver by adjusting the color control sliders in the Epson driver or by loading different curves to your image prior to printing.  I still believe the Piezography system is superior to anything else currently available but some of these other inksets may be worth experimenting with.

Once you have decided that you want to convert your printer to Piezography, it’s a good idea to dedicate it as a B&W only printer. Switching between color and B&W inks is generally not recommended.  It’s also a good idea to use a flushing solution to remove any residual color ink in your print heads.  It’s important to note that the Piezography system is considered a custom setup and may void your printers warranty.

Architektura I - Piezography Print
In an attempt to be more “green” Piezography inks are no longer available as individual cartridges.  They are now sold in bottles for use in refillable cartridges or a continuous ink system.  I chose to use refillable cartridges since I do not personally do enough printing to make a CIS system worthwhile.  Although it may not be as convenient, I applaud Piezography for their decision to do their part in minimizing the number of plastic ink cartridges that inevitably end up in our landfills.

It seems that pigment based inks tend to introduce more nozzle clogging problems than Epson’s stock inks so it’s essential to keep ink moving through your printer and use it as often as possible.  At a minimum, you should print a test pattern at least weekly.  If you are not going to be printing for an extended period of time, I recommend installing flush cartridges and running a few cleaning cycles before putting your printer into long term storage. I learned this the hard way and had to disassemble my printer and purge the print heads with isopropyl alcohol in order to remove some pretty stubborn clogs. Putting a few drops of ammonia based glass cleaner such as Windex on the foam cleaning pad where the print head parks will also help dissolve small clogs.

25 Cent View - Piezography Print
Unfortunately, my Epson printer model uses cartridges with “smart chips” on them that monitor ink supply levels and deter the use of non-Epson inks. I ended up purchasing a set of auto-reset chips that fool the printer into thinking that the cartridges are full every time the printer is turned on.  These are used in CIS systems and also work well with refillable cartridges. I am currently looking into a software based chip resetter that looks promising as well, although haven’t had much experience with it yet.

Working through some of these custom setup issues was a bit frustrating at times, but once I had everything worked out the results were well worth the effort.
This article is not meant to be a technical explanation of digital monochromatic printing but to share my passion for the beauty of a well crafted print and inspire those that are passionate about B&W photography to integrate high-quality monochromatic printmaking into their digital photographic workflow.

Architektura II - Piezography Print
These days I find myself hovering over my printer with the same level of excitement and anticipation as I did developing prints in the darkroom. If you are serious about making exhibition quality monochromatic prints, I suggest you take a closer look at printing with Piezography.

For further information on Piezography and digital B&W printing, see the resources below.