Digital fine art photography is a highly exacting segment of the wide-format market, and one that spurs enormous creativity. The technology behind digital wide-format printing has delivered changes to the fine art photography market, and forever altered the way photographers approach their work.
Given this profound metamorphosis, we talked with several photographers about the transition to digital printing and what opportunities and benefits that transition has conferred upon them.
Among very early converts to digital fine art photography was Eddie Tapp, owner of Eddie Tapp Photography. Tapp opened his Atlanta-based photography business in 1973, and switched to digital in 1993. Wide-format digital printing has made it possible to achieve a high level of quality and consistency, with absolutely predictable results. Rarely does he have to make a second print because the first didn’t turn out. Moreover, because of the Canon printers he uses, he can return to an image from two years ago, print it, and get precisely the same results.
“Having a wide-format printer requires the means to mount and finish the images,” he said. “If that isn’t done in-house, having a partner such as a lab, a framer, or a finishing specialist makes it productive, economic, and profitable.”
Tapp recalled that the transition to digital took place across the three stages in a photographer’s workflow, which are capture, process, and output.
“With the capture stage, the transition to digital was easy, because you’re dealing with light, composition, and exposure,” he said. “However, the digital chip is far more sensitive to ambient light, and wrapping your head around photons compared to latent image is a challenge.”
After the capture stage, the process stage requires the acquisition of powerful computer systems and knowledge of how to properly use processing, file management, and business applications. This stage, he says, involves perhaps the most intimidating and time consuming learning curve of the three.
“The output stage is by far the easiest, but that hasn’t always been the case,” he noted, adding that 12 to 15 years ago, this stage involved a battle. “Those of us who are color management savvy would have little or no major issues, but managing color back then was much more manual, if not hit or miss management, with a variety of settings that needed to be changed and tweaked.”
Tapp believes color management has become easy to implement and automate, with terrific results. “Portrait, commercial, advertising, fine art, these are all areas where photographers are taking advantage of digital printing, allowing all of us to improve our craft creatively,” he observed.
Like Tapp, Bruce Dorn, owner of IDCPhoto Video.com in Prescott, AZ, is one of Canon’s Print Masters and a Canon Explorer of Light. He is also a Corel Painter Master. He and his wife Maura Dutra produce a variety of digital art as digital originals. The bulk of their work originates with still capture, is finished as Corel Painter, and is printed on stretched canvas. “Our output is almost exclusively gicleé canvases,” Dorn said. “We’re not a framing shop. We are a really high-end image making business.”
Dorn’s photography centers on classical, folk, and tribal dance, as well as New Western imagery, such as cowboys and landscapes. In addition, he guides safaris to Tanzania and Botswana, and focuses some work on Africana. Dutra’s subject matter includes still lifes, landscape work, and some portraiture. Their work is distributed internationally in open-edition form. “Some of our work will show up in greeting cards, calendars, placemats, decorative tiles—anywhere where artsy imagery might be reproduced in mass production,” Dorn reported.
Dorn and Dutra own Canon printers in 24-, 48-, and 60-inch formats. “Prior to last decade’s introduction of pigment jet printers, I wouldn’t have dreamed of making large-format prints,” Dorn said.