Expertly crafted, limited edition
fine prints for the discerning collector
Digital negatives and contact printing
It goes without saying that a photographic print relies on the successful capture of the original image. Many of the historic methods of printing, such as carbon printing and platinum palladium printing are contact processes. This means that the actual physical negative is placed in contact with the medium on which is will be processed. The result is that the size of the image is the size of the print.
And then the digital image was born. Although digital cameras first appeared in the 1970s it was not until the 1990s that they became more main stream, and even then, at a considerable price. However, by the 2000s digital had replaced film.
For years there was debate about the merits of digital vs film. One of the strongest arguments focused on quality. The low resolution of the early digital cameras coupled with low resolution scanners and printers meant that the image quality could not match that of a traditional large format negative.
As with most modern technology, development was rapid. Camera resolution together with scanner and printer resolutions has increased exponentially. With the development of digital, a few industrious photographers saw the possibilities of using this digital technology to their advantage. They set about finding a way of making an enlarged digital negative to use along with their continued practise of contact printing.
By embracing the capabilities of digital capture it is now possible to enlarge negatives. This means that size is no longer restricted when it comes to printing.
These developments have continued to be advanced and today it is possible to not only create enlarged digital negatives from a digital file but also from a film negative, and print to the required size on a digital printer. The possibilities are now seemingly endless.
CREATING AN ENLARGED DIGITAL NEGATIVE
As initially pointed out, a photographic print relies on the successful capture of the original image. By using digital technology the photographic print now also relies on the successful conversion of the digital file to a physical digital negative on suitable output material (either overhead projector or matrix film).
Aside from the obvious camera required to capture the image, the technology involves computer monitors, software, print materials. For consistent results it is essential to start with a computer monitor which is colour calibrated and to have the ICC profile for the output material onto which the negative is going to be printed.
In the journey from capture to digital negative, the print will be viewed under different light sources and on different materials.
A computer screen (transmissive light)
A transparency material (reflective light)
On the final support (reflective light)
Printing chemically and printing digitally produces different results. The look achieved on a computer cannot be achieved on paper (and vice versa) and so adjustments have to be made.
This part of the process is not unlike print repro work where a largely indistinguishable print is made of a copy of flat art. As a photographer we are attempting to create a print image (copy) that is as close to indistinguishable to the digital original as possible. In repro work (colour) test strips are used. To be honest, complete equivalence is impossible but matching to the extent possible is a significant help in achieving the desired result for the final print. For our photographic purposes, the best results are achieved by using a 21 step tablet (or step wedge).
MAKING A STEP WEDGE IN PHOTOSHOP
To ensure that the digital negative will have a full range of tones from the deepest shadows to the highest highlights make a step wedge.
In Photoshop create a new document approx 10”w x 2.5”h, 300ppi, RGB colour space, white background.
Using the gradient tool, select (double click) the first gradient (black/white) and drag it across the page from left to right.
To create the 21 steps. Image/Adjustments/Posterize. Enter 21 as the value for Levels. Print using both the printer and film which you will use for printing the final digital negative.
PUTTING THE STEP WEDGE INTO PRACTISE
Using the newly created step wedge digital negative make several test platinum palladium or carbon prints. Compare the tones between the digital negative and the print. Is there clear separation in the highlights, mid-tones and shadows on the print? If not (and in most cases there won’t be) it will be necessary to go back to the Photoshop file and make adjustments to the tonal curve. After adjustments are made, repeat the process, printing a new digital negative and new prints.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Following these procedures; calibrated monitor, ICC profile and a step wedge matched to the final prints will produce the best possible match between the image on the computer monitor and the final print.