Yes, it’s another “you really need to print your images to become a better photographer” blog post. Not my first, not my last, but it’s true, folks.

What’s different about this one is that instead of griping to myself that I need to start printing again, I replaced all of the ink cartridges in the Epson P600 about a week ago, and I started printing. After a few months of procrastinating about it, I’ve finally gotten going on printing out my 2018 portfolio box images and getting them in the box.

On the wall? Two versions of my flower macro, one exactly as I rendered it on the monitor for general use, and the other after adjustments — because a big chunk of the flower’s color is out of gamut for the printer and so the print system adjusted it. The photo to the right that looks less saturated is my adjustment to bring everything into gamut and doing a bit more tweaking.

I’m still deciding which one I prefer; I started out liking the saturation, but having lived with both and studied them, I’m starting to lean towards the less intense colors. That’s why I like to stick them on the wall and stare at them for a while before making final decisions.

If you’re curious, they’re hanging on a couple of gallery-style cable hanging systems — I’m using this set from Chris-Wang modified with a standard office supply store binder clip to hold the paper. This allows me to stick them up and keep them handy without needing to worry about matting, or framing, or damaging the paper, or any of the complications that make it easy to put things off until tomorrow. For a print that’s only going to hang for a week or so, I love this kind of option.

Over the next two or three weeks, I have thirteen images I want to print and get in the box, so I can close out 2018 properly and have them available for showing off in a permanent form — FWIW 8.5×11 glossy paper, at least for now. I may reprint some or all later on art paper but I’m still re-learning how best to prepare for that again (the joy of going so long between printing things).

That’s all good, but not terribly notable, but it’s only the first step back into my printing things. This just arrived, and I’m tickled at how well it turned out. How it got turned into a print is a bit of a complicated story.

Somehow or other, I ran into a fairly new photography podcast called Everyday Photography, Every Day, featuring M.H. Rubin and Suzanne Fritz-Hanson. I’ve talked about it before, because it’s awesome, but if you haven’t tried it out, it’s generally short (15-30 minute) discussions about various photographic topics, leaning heavily towards philosophical discussions and equally heavy away from nerdy gear chat.

It is defined as a chat between a photographer (Rubin) and a regular person (Fritz-Hanson) with a goal of helping you enjoy photography more. The Teacher-Student aspect of this is obvious, but it’s not a lecture, as Fritz-Hanson (self-admittedly a phone photo enthusiast) more than holds her own in the conversations.

Rubin is also the founder of a boutique printer called Neomodern. His goal is to help encourage people to print their images and enjoy them in a more permanent form. Neomodern is, as far as I can tell, the first image printing shop that actively encourages people to take images off their phones and put them on paper and treat them as, well, “real” photos.

That includes having one of their staff master printers evaluate and adjust the image for print, printing on good quality paper, and optionally, matting and framing into an exhibit-style frame for mounting on the wall. You can optionally chat with the printer and discuss the print and the adjustments they’re making, and this gave me an idea…

I ended up selecting 12 images from the last few years. Since Neomodern is overtly trying to bring a Fine Art sensibility to this printing process, I selected based on images I felt might fit into my worldview of fine art. When I reviewed the image, I was a bit surprised at first how few wildlife or bird photos I’d selected, but with some retrospection, that makes sense. My birding photography has a very strong documentary style to it more than an artistic one.

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

This week I sent the first image over. I decided not to work with the printer, partly because of work and partly because I felt like it would need minimal work and spending their time on a discussion would be better on other images.

This one is clearly my first portfolio box image for 2019 (taken 12/22/18 but not processed until after I’d finalized my 2018 images), and it’s one I just fell in love with when I started working with it. I submitted it and paid for processing and the mat/framing and waited for the result. The finished photo shipped in about 24 hours, came in a huge box for the size — the image is 9×6.5 in an 11×14 mat. The tweaking they did does seem pretty minimal, a bit of saturation and some shadow cleanup, plus a very minor crop adjustment.

It was sent to them in final form, as a JPEG, FWIW, just as if it had been an iPhone image. They didn’t have the RAW to work with and clearly didn’t need it.

The package is impressive. The frame is plastic-wrapped wood, smooth black with about a 1″ reveal. The mat is a very bright white, and the photo paper is a nice textured Ilford semigloss. Material quality is quite high. The entire thing ran $165, which — to be honest, I’ve spent more than that just for a frame and mat that size, folks.

I’m really happy with the result, and I think the quality is top-notch. I did a quick pricing of an equivalent print (with mat and similar paper) at Bay Photo (the other lab I use) and it came in very close to that price.

My plan over the next few months: send them some more prints, some to be framed like this, others to be shipped as print only (which costs $25 for an 8.5×11 and $55 for 13×19). you can even get the digital file done for $9.

I’ll be using them to get some of my images onto paper, but there’s another aspect to it. I’m also going to be printing the images out myself, and them comparing my results to theirs, to understand what they’re doing differently, and hopefully, learning from that and improving my own darkroom processing and print abilities.

So for me, this is more than putting it on paper, this is on comparing how I print with how a master prints so I can learn from it without spending hundreds or thousands on a printing workshop. By getting an 8.5×11 print and a digital file back, there’s a trove of information you can learn from just by comparing your work with theirs and understanding what and why they changed the image — and you can even sit down with them for a session as they make the changes and discuss them with you, something you can’t get from other printers.

So to me, Neomodern isn’t just a quality printer that’s working to legitimize phone photography as serious photography (which it is doing) — it’s a legitimate tool for those of us interested in learning to print or improving our printing because you can compare your own results with theirs, and talk about it with their printer, and pull a lot of knowledge back without a huge financial investment.

I think this could be especially useful to that person who’s been doing some printing and feels like they’re stagnated and aren’t improving, and aren’t sure what to do and don’t have someone they can work with to learn.

And there’s a really good, quality print at the end of it you can be proud of, too.

So Neomodern passed my sniff test, and they’ll be getting more work from me in the future, and if you’re looking for something like this, send them a test print or two and see what you think. I think you’ll be impressed.