Ulrik Gliese - Visual Arts - From photograph to finished print
Maryland, USA, July 2004
I often get questions about how much work and which type of work is involved in making an image. Therefore, I have put together this article that describes and shows how a particular image is created step by step all the way from initial photograph to finished print.
For me, the first step in creating an artwork is the photography. This is where a lot of the fundamentals of the image is created either by looking and discovering or by thinking out and constructing or a by a combination of these. For a found subject, the photography is about capturing the image with the strongest seeing. In contrast for a staged subject, it is about setting up the image with the strongest seeing. From a practical standpoint, the camera is to me a tool just like any other artist's tool with all its specific possibilities and limitations. I will use and have used different types of cameras but predominantly use a 4x5" bellows camera.
The outcome of the photography is either a negative, a positive transparency or a digital file. I most often use color transparency film that I have developed at a high quality professional lab.
The first step in making a print from the photograph is to scan the transparency. I currently do this using a flatbed scanner that has the capability of scanning 4x5" film. To ensure that I capture as much information from the transparency that the scanner is capable of, I use the scanner in its basic mode without any tone and color settings. This enables the scanner to use its full dynamic range. After scanning, I apply my custom made scanner profile and convert the image to the Adobe RGB color space. Assuming that the dynamic range of the transparency is less than or at maximum equal to the scanners dynamic range, this provides me with an image file that contains all the information available in the transparency.
Before starting out on the image processing I print out a proof print from the scanned file. This print allows me to evaluate all the information that is available in the file and to establish initial ideas for the image processing that will be required to make the print expressive and exquisite. Many of my images have less dynamic range than the scanner so the proof print tends to be a low contrast print that reveals all the available details in both the highlights and shadows of the image. The proof print is a very dull print that has little emotional impact but it provides an excellent source of information for making a great print.
A significant amount of image processing is needed to produce a print that is vibrant and delicate at the same time. The first step in the image processing is to make global adjustments to tone and color. These adjustments ensure that the overall color balance is appropriate and they add life and intensity to the image. However, it must be ensured that important shadow and highlight details are not lost. It is also very important to maintain a sense of delicacy in the highlights to ensure that the image does not become harsh. I typically print a number of prints during this fundamental part of the image processing. This is important because the outcome after the global adjustments processing, the straight print, is the foundation for making a truly exquisite print. If important details or the delicacy are lost it is close to impossible to bring them back in subsequent steps.
Try to compare the straight print with the proof print by clicking back and forth between them. As seen the effect of the global adjustments is quite pronounced.
The global adjustments bring the image conceptually close to its finished state. However, there are most often certain tone and color imbalances in the image that detracts from its visual impact. These things are corrected with local adjustments that bring everything into place. In other words the local adjustments are done to fine tune local parts of the globally adjusted print to ensure the right balance between the different areas of the image. I do all the local adjustments of tone and color using layer masks and print a number of work prints as I go along to ensure that everything works in print.
The image in this example needed a lot of local adjustments to produce just the right expression and feel. Some of these adjustments are strong and some are very subtle. However, in terms of generating an expressive and exquisite print they all have substantial impact.
In the following I have shown all the different layer masks used for the local adjustments side by side with the resulting work print. Try to compare the outcome of the between the different steps by clicking back and forth between the images. As seen the effects of the local adjustments are much more subtle than that of the global adjustments. However, the overall impact on the final print is substantial.
As seen above, spotting was also done during the local adjustment cycle to correct defects and remove small undesired confusing details. I like to do the spotting on a layer. This keeps the original image information intact and enables future changes if desired.
After all the processing is done the image is sharpened to correct for the softness of the scanning process. The result is a final digital image file that can now be used as a foundation for producing the final print.
To enable comparison of the image as it goes through the three major processing steps of Scan Profiling, Global Adjustments and Local Adjustments I have shown the images for the Proof Print, the Straight Print and the Final Print side by side above. Try to compare these images and see the effect of the different processing steps by clicking back and forth between them.
Printing the final print from the final digital file is not a straight forward matter. First, a good printer profile must be made to ensure a neutral and linear tone and color scale for the printer. A good printer profile will make the image look sort of the same in print as it looks on the monitor. It will never look quite the same though as the print is a reflective medium and the monitor is a transmissive medium. Therefore, individual fine tuning of the image file is always needed for each individual image to really make the image work in print. Fine tuning is also often needed from printing session to printing session for the same image to compensate for variability in the materials and the printer.
After printing and complete drying of the print, I mount it on an acid-free rag board and overmat it with a hand cut mat made also from acid-free rag board. The mat is hinged to the board of the mounted print and this entity forms the final original artwork.
The final print is truly the original artwork and, as shown in this article, a lot of works goes into producing it from the base material of the photographed transparency. My prints are typically made in limited editions as I do not wish to work with the same images too many times over and over again. However, I do not print the entire edition at once as is customary with lithographs. This means that a print from the same image may and most likely will change over time as my artistic vision changes and matures. Such variations, as long as they are beautiful and based in artistic development, are assets rather than discrepancies and they are part of building the depth and beauty of an artist's work.
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