Saturday, November 7, 2009

Expanding your palette for photo prints (part 3: canvas, metallic, watercolor)

I talked about the basics in the last two parts, now let's tackle three more: "watercolor" (aka "cotton rag" or "matte fine art"), metallic, and canvas.

In my experience, Canvas is what a family buys for those extra special photos such as the family portrait above the fireplace, wedding and bridal portraits, or individual portraits of children. The common theme here is "portrait," but if I did landscape photography, I'm sure I would have clients purchasing landscapes on canvas as well. A canvas print costs many times the price of a photograph on paper, so what makes it worth the cost?

If you think about the psychology behind it, I think canvas enjoys the strongest connection to artistic legitimacy (i.e. a connection to traditional painted portraits), and that we have been conditioned to think of canvas as more special than paper. I would call this phenomenon the "nostalgia factor." Rare is the person who commissions a painted portrait, so the next best thing in most people's minds is a photographic portrait on canvas. Canvas has a more painterly texture and you can even add textured coatings that might give the appearance of brush strokes. I don't think canvas is inherently better. If you want fine detail, for example, you would be better off with a smoother paper. If you want something modern, you might consider other options. But for traditional looks, canvas gives off a feeling of classic elegance.

Lately, the trend for wrapped canvas (aka "gallery wraps") has been growing. The marketing pitch usually tries to exploit the inherent association of canvas with "art" while simultaneously arguing that since the wrapped image looks great on its own, you can save money by hanging it with no frame. Sans frame, gallery wraps make canvas a "contemporary" option, which is a pretty smart way for people in the canvas business to keep their product relevant.

This has become a very popular alternative photo paper, but you might have trouble finding it at most local labs. Look online (Mpix and Bay Photo are just two of the many online options) for places that do metallic. Kodak Endura Metallic is the market leader as far as I can tell. I can't really show you what a metallic print looks like, because you have to see it in person and look at it from different angles. It doesn't look like a photo printed on tinfoil as you might imagine. Think "glossy," but more interesting. It has a smooth surface, and a silvery base that you will notice most prominently in the lightest colors. Colors are more intense and vibrant on metallic paper. Black and white photos can look stunning on metallic, and some people swear that it's good for just about anything. Personally, I would never use metallic paper for family photos. I have heard people claim that it produces good skin tones, but I would only use it on more stylized photos. Cross-processed and bleach bypass photos would look even better in metallic.

I mentioned in my last post that "giclée" is snob for "inkjet." To be fair, a giclée is usually a high quality inkjet and it is usually done on watercolor paper. Hahnemühle photo rag is my favorite 100% coton inkjet paper. It's not even in the same world as Canon or Epson as far as I'm concerned. Some of the reasons have to do with paper's weight, its D-Max rating (i.e. how deep can the blacks get?), how evenly the paper absorbs the ink, color gamut, and so on.

I would recommend watercolor paper for more dreamy, romantic looking photos (perhaps at a heavier texture), for classic looking black and white, or for most anytime you want a quality matte finish.

And now it's time to play [wild applause], "What paper would Marc choose?" [confused smattering of claps] The game where we get to look at some of Marc's photos and find out which paper he would print them on! [sound of crickets chirping].

photo #1: Boy with dog

Traditional elegance, rich tones. Taken for a client with a tasteful European-influenced home. Canvas.

photo #2: Champion gymnast

Desaturated, stylized, masculine, cool tones. Metallic.

photo #3: Wedding photo

Romantic, pink duotone. Watercolor.

photo #4: Fire escape portrait

Urban, trendy, cross-processed. Metallic.

photos #5 and 6: Bride

Classic, timeless bridal portraits. Canvas for the photo on the left and watercolor for the more contemplative photo on the right. However, if they were displayed next to each other in a home, I would choose the same (either one) for both.

photo #7: CNN Hero, Peter Kithene

Rich, dark, earthy, and timeless. Ivory-hued watercolor.

Obviously, these are just examples with my opinions. But it is my blog, so I won't pretend to be objective.

Parts 1-3 have taken you through the basic choices, but we have only scratched to surface as far as expanding your print palette goes. I am on day three of being stuck inside the apartment, and I am going stir crazy. This isn't the last you will hear about photo prints this month (In the eyes of many photographers, we aren't even close to alternative processes yet), but it had better be the last post I do in my robe in between doses of Advil.


michelle said...

Love the soundtrack. (Oh, and the photos are pretty good, too!)

Thiruppathy Raja said...

Great post with lots of really good information!
Canvas Print