Thursday, August 13, 2015

So, is in-house printing for you?  

Is it time to move from the commercial labs?  Over my 20+ years using professional labs, I’ve used good ones, bad ones.  I’ve come close to getting into fist-fights with one lab owner.  Overall, you can get a “decent” job from most labs.  Problems arise as your understanding of your desires [of the printed image] get more defined and more is expected.  Often, communicating what you want is either, a) difficult, or b) not within the business model of the lab.  The choice to move to printing my own images came easy once I answered 3 basic questions—

1) Do I have the technical ability and equipment?
I had to determine if I had the monitors, computers, software and know-how to produce good-quality images, in a variety of lighting conditions.  Did the monitors in my office suffice, or, did I need to upgrade to high-end monitors?  Were the computers fast enough to handle the flow of info?  Did I understand color correction enough to adjust when needed?

With the help of my local photography vendor* I processed 6 images.  I took images from various lighting conditions, from various elements of my client base.  I processed them, sized them to 4x6, and took them to my vendor.  I had him lay them out on a 24x6 layout and print without any correction. 

Within a few minutes, the strip of images was being printed on an Epson 7880.  “Check.”  Images were not only “good” but stunning.  The color and density exceeded what I was getting from my labs by a good margin.

2) Could I justify the cost?
Unfortunately, I had no way of calculating the cost per print.  I knew what I was spending, yearly on lab bills. But, my only cost calculations, from in-house, came from my Kodak 8500 dye-sub printer.  It was easy because paper/ink sheets were sold as a unit.  With the Kodak, cost was about equal to the labs.  My vendor told me, it costs less with the Epson, but didn’t have specifics.  “Check…with caveats.”

As a follow up…8 years later.  I saved $10,000 on lab bills in my first year with the Epson 7880.  Yeah…I could justify the cost…with ease!

Did I do enough volume to prevent clogging?
Lehigh Valley Photo now has 2 Epson printers.  The 7880 is still going strong.  I added a 9900 three years ago for wider prints [up to 44”] as well as matte printing.  I run about (1) 100’ roll of Luster paper per month, per machine.  I also run some sheet material on each.  I have no issues with clogging.  Is that a lot of printing?  I don’t know…neither does Epson, as I have called [several times] to inquire.  Do I print every day?  No.  Do I print every week?  Yes.  There have been times when the machines have sat for 2 weeks [vacations and such].  At most, I will loose a nozzle here or there.  Simple, light cleanings clear any issue.  I leave my “auto-cleaning” off on both machines. If I think about it, during the day, I will run a nozzle check.  I can say the 7880 can sit dormant longer than the 9900 without loosing a nozzle.  
If you have “deep-pockets” should you go out and get a large format printer?  Depends on how deep and how deep you want to go.  Regardless of cost, these are “production” machines; “Production” being the operative word in the phrase.  These machines were designed to run.  If your business/hobby involves [primarily] digital imagery, and you have a small number of images printed, the cost of the machines is high.  The cost of running prints/tests, simply to get ink flowing through the machine on a continual basis will become high.  Ink cartridges run from $90 - $300.  The 7880 takes 8; the 9900, 10.  Needless to say, filling a 9900/7900 with 700ml carts will cost about $2400.

If a large part of your business is printing, strong arguments can be made to make the move.

Do your own analysis.  If you do not have a local vendor to do your test prints, drop me a line.  I can run them through a machine and send them back to you.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Large Format it for you?

For reference and your edification, here is some background which may be in accord with your own situation.

I started printing, like many, in the darkroom. I remember other photographers telling me how much I would love it, speaking in romantic terms about watching the image appear. Well, exit fantasy, enter reality. Working in a dark, smelly room...alone is not my idea of romance. I hated it!

Enter digital...

My first printer was the Kodak 8500. A beast of a portable dye-sub printer; capable of wonderful color on an assortment of paper...provided glossy is your definition of assortment. I purchased it with my Kodak SLRn; also capable of wonderful color.  Truth be told, I have yet to see better color from a digital camera. It is no wonder Leica went to Kodak for their sensor.

Results were a mixed bag. The big issue faced, was the ancillary equipment used to process the images. At that time, image processing was done on a Dell Inspiraon, 15" laptop with LCD monitor...which was not calibrated.  Needless to say, images shot in the studio produced the best results, as little color correction was required. Outside portraits, done in shade were the worst.  Add to the mix the variety of image issues associated with the first full-frame sensored camera to pass the 13mp count and no AA filter... One thing is for certain, the Kodak-team provided an in-deapth need to understand RAW processing. At one time I was using 6 different RAW converters.

As with the darkroom, printing yielded little satisfaction. It was a necessary evil for that quick print.

As the business grew, and the processing equipment improved, I replaced the laptop with a [relatively high-end] Dell with a wide-gamut monitor. Cameras and RAW converters produced better images. I'd settled on RAW Shooter, later purchased by Adobe, prior to their release of LightRoom, to process files.

Lady-luck strikes...

While walking through Staples, I saw a Canon 9500 on sale for $99. It was their last one. They were getting rid of it. To the office it went. Combined with my new cameras and computers, I was astounded by the results. For the first time, prints being done [in my office] were better than those coming from my lab! With the new found confidence in my printing ability, the search for a larger printer began.

I played with various business models in an attempt to cost justify a large printer. I'd wondered if I printed enough to, a) justify the cost; b) run it enough to prevent clogging; c) had enough ability to produce quality prints, consistently, in a variety of shooting conditions.

As stated in the beginning of this post, perhaps you find yourself in this same, or similar, situation? If so, the next post may be of help.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Professional Experience and Digital Photography

I have been a photographer for more than 20 years.  Though many, with like longevity, speak fondly of the days of film-- I am not among these.  I always felt film too restrictive for what I wanted to accomplish; the learning curve, too long [due to processing time]; color printing, completely at the hands of others; product development, limited to what others may offer.

Enter the digital camera. Each of the facets, of photography, I found limiting are now gone.  With a good monitor, good motivation and a simple camera, the [almost] instant visual feedback speeds the learning curve of techniques 1000 times.  Add a good printer [many are extremely affordable], and you have all the control of the print you could every want.  A decent working relationship, with many of the Adobe products, and your development-muse can take you anywhere you might want to travel.

Nope, I wouldn't be a professional photographer if I still had to work in film.

With that said, digital has it's downside.  It has become an numbers game.  How ironic; digital/numbers? Who'd have guessed.  White paper stats like pixel count, pixel density, sensor size, blah, blah, blah.  The number of bodies I've been through since moving to digital; the cost of bodies; the cost of LENSES!  I could not have imagined the day I would spend over $2000 for a 35mm-format, standard zoom lens.  Now, it seems, $1500-$2500 is the price point for a professional lens, by a "name" manufacturer.

How about those thousands, upon thousands of images shot at a single event.  I know wedding photographers who routinely shoot 3000 or more images for the day.  I have to admit, many do it simply because the like the process of taking pictures. They like the sound of the camera. It makes them feel like they are doing something.  Rarely, though, is it ever as a means to an end.  Some brides actually make their purchase decision based on number, "how much and how many?"

We've become a fraternity of analytics; trading in our artistic pallets for the latest chart-de-jour.  Lest you think I'm pointing fingers...No. Quite the contrary.  This was a discussion I had, with myself, about my own situation. But, I am not alone.

The primary reason for the blog, is to document my own practical and intellectual travels.  I will touch on camera technique, lighting, processing and printing. My audience? Myself...and anyone who might find interest.


Friday, June 7, 2013


Welcome to the Lehigh Valley Photo Blog

Where is this going?

Tried YouTube. Tried Facebook. Tried Twitter. None offered the desired platform sought.  I like the written word. Don't deny the power of the video, nor the power of the photograph [obviously]. Some platforms too limiting. Some, simply too convoluted.

The "blog" seems to offers a more intelligent platform from which one can express ideas, images and video.

Looking forward to it.