Night Flag (from the series Insomnia: Hotel Noir)
I was recently exchanging emails with Paul Lester regarding why buy and do your own printing, when in an unrelated comment from Martin the Doonster, I thought that this may be worth repeating.
Doing your own printing is not about economics and saving money. Its about a desire to completely express what you visually intended in a printed image to the best of your ability and intent.
When you have some else do your printing, perhaps with the exception of a custom printer of whom you have a realtionship and who you know is going to print to your exact specifications, you are getting involved in a crap shoot. The real telling example is if you have Savons or Costco reprint your image a couple of times over a months time and then put them side by side for comparison. As Martin recently realized, his printer was taking about 15 points off the shadows, thus his prints had weaker darks and blacks. I ran into the same problem with my Nikon 8000 film scanner, the Nikon programmers had arbitarily decided that on a scale of 1-250, they would only allow scan scale to go from 1-230, loosing 30 points in the dark side of the scale. Yiikes!
Why do they do that? Simple, they think that they are 1.) doing you a big favor in saving your important images from going too dark, and 2.) it reduces a lot of their customer complaints about people getting their pictures too dark. Thus, they save more money by not reprinting images that are too dark versus reprinting because they are not dark enought. For the general public, perhaps these two reasons are good. But that is not going to work for you and I.
The third issue is how often do they calibrate their printing equipment. I do a printer check each time I start up my printing sessions. And I notice when a print starts to shift color because I check each and every print. Then I immediately take corrective action. I also make some very subtle shifts for each print on the printer to further customize each print. In contrast a large volume printer will give me what he gives everyone else. And again, that may not be what I need.
So again, for me, printing my own images is about my desire to have in a print, to the best of my ability, an expression of what I am trying to convey. Which is why I usually took a week to tweak a print in my wet darkroom and why I may spend from one hour to a weekend on one image now.
Best regards, Doug