Why photographers still need to print

James Tan, photographer and printmaker by Alvin Soon.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

James Tan, photographer and printmaker by Alvin Soon.

How printing your photographs makes you a better photographer.

My Reading Room
How did you become a printmaker?

I joined the Master Photographers Association (MPA) from the U.K. That’s when I noticed that print is especially important, because to enter the MPA you need to go through a print exam. If a photographer doesn’t know how to print his picture properly, he doesn’t pass.

It was around 2007-08 that a senior photographer suggested I focus on printing. I decided then that I would dedicate 10 years to learn everything I could about printing.

What separates a good print from a bad one?

There are two foundations: the first is color management. You need to know how to properly calibrate your monitor. In the entire workflow from camera to print, the printer is actually the most accurate device. The most inaccurate device is the monitor. With an inaccurate monitor, you don’t know what you’re doing.

The other is to know how to edit your picture. A lot of times you can’t always see exactly what you’re doing on the monitor. The moment you print your picture you’ll be able to see all your mistakes. A monitor has, at most, 8.3 megapixels, your camera has way more. You won’t be able to see your mistakes on the screen, you’ll need to print it out.

What are some common mistakes people make when printing their photographs?

Mistakes people make when printing are small. But when you print your picture, you’ll notice the mistakes you made when editing, the mistakes you made during shooting, the mistakes in your concept.

There are four steps to a photograph: The first is conceptualization, the second is the handling of equipment, the third is editing, the fourth part is the print. The print is the trial by fire, because if the print doesn’t turn out well, then it means your picture isn’t good.

So you should print your work, even if most of your photos are going online?

Yes. Print is the final destination. Once you hit the last part of stage four, you’ll see where your picture doesn’t work. Then you cycle back to the first step; you see the mistakes you made, and you learn not to make them again, so it becomes a circle.

How would you recommend someone start learning how to print their photographs?

Get an easy-to-use printer, because there are some printers that aren’t. Canon printers are especially easy to use. Get a monitor calibrator, learn how to use it, start printing on A4. Just start.