Singapore today is a hotspot of photography exhibitions. Whether it’s the World Press Photo Exhibition held at the National Museum of Singapore, or something more artistic in flavour like Jose Jeuland’s acclaimed “Longevity in Okinawa” display, there is always something visually striking for locals and visitors to enjoy in the Lion City.
Printed images have never lost their power to inspire. For me, there is something mesmerising about viewing a blown-up, printed photograph in glorious full colour, at a gallery, that simply beats a digital reproduction on a smartphone screen every time.
But for the photographers themselves, there are a number of factors that have to be taken into account to make any exhibition a success – not least of all large form printing. In the past, photographers in Singapore would farm out the printing production process to a third party printing house they had worked with over a long period of time. Then, they would receive beautifully printed – and “corrected” – versions of their original shots. In effect, photographers had no real control over how their work was edited, and would have to entrust their artistic visions to someone who was never a part of the creative process in the first place.
Today, things have moved on. All shutterbugs – not just those who are about to exhibit their work – want to have an input into every part of the process of creating a printed image. They don’t just want to see the finished product; they want to see what their shots are like before they are given a digital treatment prior to printing so they can learn from imperfections. It’s about ensuring the fidelity of their original vision. And if they are to achieve it, they need to carry out the printing themselves.
Tools for the job
I’m convinced that selecting the right printer, paper and ink for the job is what this, ultimately, boils down to. Yet I still find it surprising that many photographers who print their own work for exhibitions do not consider what printer they use to be a top priority.
Why is this surprising? It is impossible for any photographer to know how the quality of their final image until it is printed. Think about it: all exhibitions comprise physical copies of images. This is because it brings out the depth, light, shadows and colours of pictures, as well as the individual skill of the photographers themselves. So to get the highest quality possible, they should be selecting a printer that matches their highest ambitions.
Four essential factors for success
When preparing an image for display, photographers need to think about four key areas that will enhance their work and put it in the best possible light for audiences. The first is to make sure that their work is durable. Even if the image is being displayed in a temperature-controlled environment (which, in Singapore, it will be), the heat generated by large groups of people getting up close and personal will eventually take its toll – especially if the work is on display for years.
Secondly, a piece of work will be much more durable if high-quality ink is used. So how do you tell if ink is superior? Essentially, it’s about selecting a professional ink set that offers outstanding colour with strong black density. The denser the shades of black, the better the contrast ratio and optical clarity will be, making images clearer, deeper and more true to what audiences would see in real life if they were surveying the subject for themselves.
Next, we have paper, which is one of the most important factors that all photographers need to consider before an exhibition. Usually, they will select a matte finish when printing large sizes because of the numerous spotlights in galleries. Matte paper reduces the distorting effect these can have on an image. But for best result, the choice of paper will only be truly effective if it is used in conjunction with a suitable printer.
The final element is ink gamut. It almost goes without saying that the wider the range of colours available, the sharper the image will be – especially when combined with high-quality ink, as I mentioned above. This is true even for black and white images, where gradients of grey must be different because of shadowing effects. A large format printer worth its salt, such as the Epson P-series, will offer the widest range of colours and can really bring printed pictures to life. These machines carry all of Epson’s technology and heritage, and are regularly used for exhibitions in museums and the like.
For many shutterbugs, getting their work on display at an exhibition for the first time is one of the most memorable achievements of their careers. What I would say is this: make it just as memorable for your audiences by choosing the right printer. Your work deserves to be shown in the best possible light. Give yourself that opportunity with a machine that lets your work shine.