“I don’t take a photograph. I make a photograph.” Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams made notes on how he prepared (edited, that is) an image to get a great print. There were many operations involved to make each of his images sing their beauty. The best fine art photographers today do that a lot more, because our means to make these changes are so extensive that the possibilities are infinite!
Of course, like a painter, the true fine art photographer cannot tell you how long a particular artwork took to make it perfect. It varies greatly, but for me it is not less than three days of work per image, and yet others (like the abstracts) may absorb many hours more than that.
First, I use an extremely complex application to extract the most from the camera image that is possible, and to get the best results, I must modify the technical changes separately for every image. No mass production will get me there. Then, I start working on the image in Photoshop and use the myriad of that application‘s features to get me to my intended result. If it is a multilayered image and/or abstract, it could involve many more hours, because I use artificial intelligence to suggest other ideas, experimenting more to transform the artwork further. This way to work is much closer to painting because many painters “overpaint” their previous brush strokes, prodigiously, bringing more life to the expression.
Once the artwork is ready for its first try at printing, the techniques for that are also very involved. We artists have to make sure our monitor’s colors are exactly that of what our printer makes. Reams of information on how to do this are on the internet, and a quick survey of that data will convince you that this is an arduous path to follow then maintain.
After the tests, we have to decide what size to print and on what material. Artists like me constantly try different paper and canvases to see what works best for an image, then use the material with the highest success rate. That fact alone means that we must print these images ourselves, because it is very difficult, even for printing experts, to interpret what our intended perfect image should look like.
The finished prints may need to be titled, signed and numbered if they are part of a limited edition. That should be the easy part, right? But no, because the printed material is sensitive to the writing methods used. A glossy paper can not use a pencil. You can use ink, but most ink is made with dyes with fading issues. So you must use a pigment pen. Softer surfaced papers always use pencils, because pencil lead (graphite) does not fade.
How much paper border should be left around the image? The effort to get to perfection continues.
Finally, a few words on the materials and the ultimate presentation in your home (or wherever you intend to hang the artwork). If your desire to own an artwork is to use it for a short term, and if resold the value is not too important, your options are more open. If the way the artwork is presented involves special considerations, the options may be more limited. But if you hope to keep the work for a longer period (such as more than five years), or the value remains important to you, the options narrow.
For the artwork’s longevity, traditionally, good fine art photography requires 100% cotton papers devoid of any sulfur presence that yellows the paper with age. Also, the papers should not have any added chemicals to brighten the whiteness. They should not have a base made from plastic. More recently completely competitive paper made from wood pulp has become available, and they are as reliable as the cotton papers.
Then there is the ‘hand’ of the paper that refers to its weight, thickness and stiffness (the more the better for most artworks). For larger prints, look for a weight that is more than 180 GSM (grams per square meter of paper, which is a little larger than 6 oz. per square yard). Many fine art photographers working with inkjet printers are using papers of 280 GSM or more. Fine art photographers prefer using papers of 250 GSM or more. I typically aim for at least 300 GSM.
Highest grade canvas is judged similarly to the papers, and the best ones are fully competitive with the finest papers. Canvas has the advantage of being more flexible, so it is harder to incur creases in them and they are easily rolled for shipping in tubes. For example, my printing is currently on the papers Lyve canvas of Breathing Color Company in the U.S. Lyve is superb for my style of art making, and the canvas especially exceeds all other canvases. The colors are so satisfying, a result of this refined canvas printed on my matchless large format Canon IPF8400 printer.