Some Thoughts on the Art of the Print

Years ago, when I first started getting serious in photography, I read and studied many of the works of perhaps the greatest landscape photographer of all times, Ansel Adams.  His series of three books, The Camera, The Negative,and The Print were my primary study tools and although I would never say I equaled his knowledge and skill, I did learn a vast amount from his teachings.

Although written for “analog” cameras, film, negatives, and chemical printing processes, it is amazing how relevant his techniques and information are today.  Simply replacing “negative” with “digital file” becomes an amazing trip through his artistic technique.

Here are some excerpts, from this third book on printing, modified slightly (italics mine) for a contemporary audience.

Photography is more than a medium for communication of reality, it is a creative art. Therefore, emphasis on technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.

The making of a print is a unique combination of mechanical execution and creative activity. It is mechanical in the sense that the basis of the final work is determined by the content of the digital file. However, it would be a serious error to assume that the print is merely a reflection of the pixels found in this file. The print values are not absolutely dictated by the digital file, any more than the content of the digital file is absolutely determined by the circumstances of subject matter. The creativity of the printing process is distinctly similar to the creativity of exposing proper images: in both cases we start with conditions that are “given,” and we strive to appreciate and interpret them. In printing we accept the file as a starting point that determines much, but not all, of the character of the final image. Just as different photographers can interpret one subject in numerous ways, depending on personal vision, so might they each make varying prints from identical files.

Thus the print is our opportunity to interpret and express the file’s information in reference to the original visualization as well as our current concept of the desired final image. We start with the digital file as the point of departure in creating the print, and then proceed through a series of “work” prints to our ultimate objective, the “fine print.”

The term “fine print” (or “expressive print” as I think of it) is elusive in meaning. The fine print represents, to me, an expressive object of beauty and excellence. The difference between a very good print and a fine print is quite subtle and difficult, if not impossible, to describe in words. There is a feeling of satisfaction in the presence of a fine print – and uneasiness with a print that falls short of optimum quality. The degree of satisfaction or lack of it relates to the sensitivity and experience of the photographer and the viewer. There appear to be people who are “value blind,” just as there are people who are tone deaf. Practice and experience may overcome such deficiencies, at least to a degree, and the viewing of original fine prints is perhaps the best instruction.

Ansel Adams, The Print

Adam’s philosophy of turning your images into fine art are at the core of my new custom printing service that is now available at

Because it is in the print that you can really appreciate the art inside your images in a way that you can never do looking at a computer screen.

I look forward to helping you realize your personal vision that started the moment you pressed the shutter release on your camera.


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