From paper to frame: preparing your own exhibition prints

A mirrored shot of a model dressed as a mermaid underwater.
Photographer Cheryl Walsh specialises in underwater portraits that she prints herself. "The stunning mermaid tail inspired me to showcase the colour harmony and symmetry," she explains. "I produced a 76x100cm (30x40-inch) print with a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer on 100% cotton lustre fine art paper." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/5 and ISO250. © Cheryl Walsh

Many photographers have ambitions to print and exhibit their work but are unsure of how to go about it. There's an abundance of choices to make, from paper type through to print settings and frames, making it a challenging but exciting adventure.

Commercial photographer and filmmaker Clive Booth has put together multiple exhibitions in the UK and abroad, and is renowned for his atmospheric fashion, beauty and portrait imagery.

Cheryl Walsh started her photography business making and printing high school portraits. She now specialises in fashion and full-length portraits shot underwater. Cheryl has also exhibited widely, mostly in group shows, and also runs printing courses for Canon USA.

To be sure of the quality of the final product, both photographers insist on maintaining control over the entire process, from capture to frame. They print on Canon imagePROGRAF PRO printers, from the A3+ PRO-300 to the 112cm PRO-4100. A key reason for choosing an imagePROGRAF pro photo printer is the broader colour gamut (the range of colours that can be accurately represented) delivered by the LUCIA PRO pigment ink system. Zero ink switching, with separate channels for matte and photo-black inks, also helps to keep costs down.

Here, the two pros take you through every step of the process of printing photos for an exhibition, from selecting paper to choosing mounts and frames, to demonstrate that printing your own images for an exhibition is not as complicated as you might think.

A portrait of fisherman John Baker on his boat.
A powerful portrait of fisherman John Baker from Clive's personal project, Ileachs, documenting the culture and people of the Scottish island of Islay. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 35mm, 1/800 sec, f/4.5 and ISO160. © Clive Booth
A print of a portrait of fisherman John Baker with title and caption.
For the subsequent exhibition, the photograph was printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer using Canon Pro Premium Matte 210gsm photo paper.
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1. Select the right paper

Photo paper can be broadly grouped into three surface types: glossy, semi-gloss or lustre, and matte. Many photographers favour a particular finish, but lustre tends to be popular because it features some surface texture, reducing reflective glare, and boasts excellent shadow detail, with deeper blacks than a matte paper.

When Clive, a former graphic designer, was commissioned by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Scotland to photograph the Islay RNLI crew, he designed the accompanying exhibition himself, combining typography and photography, and printing it all on Canon imagePROGRAF PRO printers.

One of the most important things Clive had to decide was the kind of paper he wanted to use. "The paper changes the look and feel of a picture," he explains. "My Scottish work had a gritty, earthy feel, so it was all lustre and matte paper, rather than high gloss. Canon produces a whole series of beautiful archival papers."

It's a sentiment echoed by Cheryl. "The paper choice for my images is part of what I consider to be my unique artistic signature," she says. Cheryl considers which paper characteristics will suit the subject matter before she even takes a shot. "If I'm shooting on a black background then I'm going to go with a lustre paper, as the depths of the blacks aren't the same on a matte paper."

Cheryl also relies on the Chroma Optimizer feature in Canon's imagePROGRAF PRO printers. The clear surface coating not only reduces the dulling or 'bronzing' effect on glossy and lustre media when a print is viewed at acute angles, but also makes colours look more natural, while improving the density of blacks. "The prints would not look the same without it," says Cheryl. "It plays a vital role when printing on lustre papers."

A photo of a woman wearing a straw hat in a garden, with the foreground bokeh being adjusted in DPP.

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2. Make the most of Canon software

When shooting underwater and against dark backgrounds, low light and certain fabrics can result in grainy images, or digital 'noise'. Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) editing software is very effective at removing noise from RAW files. "I've saved images over and over with DPP, nothing else comes close," says Cheryl.

Clive often takes portraits with a shallow depth of field, so favours the Dual Pixel RAW (DPRAW) capabilities found in cameras including the Canon EOS R5 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Canon's Professional Print & Layout (PPL) software can read the depth map data from DPRAW files and sharpen the printed image selectively in focus areas, delivering visibly clearer details. You need to edit your image in DPP, then use the DPRAW Print option in PPL.

"You get amazing images," says Clive. "They almost look three-dimensional. That feature alone gives you a print that looks very different to anything else you will have seen."

A computer screen showing an image of a ballerina being edited in Canon Print Studio Pro.
Clive working on prints for an exhibition for Birmingham Royal Ballet. He's using a wide-gamut monitor and Canon Print Studio Pro, the forerunner to PPL. Clive follows a D50 workflow with the monitor set and calibrated to a white point or colour temperature of 5000K, luminance of 120 cd/m2 and a 2.20 Gamma. © Clive Booth

3. Colour management is key

Colour management is key to successful printing, and a properly calibrated and profiled wide-gamut monitor is essential. To get the print colours as close as possible to what is seen on screen, Cheryl and Clive follow a D50 workflow: setting the monitor's white point to 5000K, the brightness or luminance to 120 cd/m2, and using a D50 fluorescent lamp to evaluate the prints.

Cheryl and Clive print their photographs from PPL using ICC profiles. Each Canon paper has its own ICC profile – data that characterises a colour space and defines the colour performance for a given printer and paper.

If you're using third-party paper, you'll need ICC profiles for your specific paper and printer combination – they can usually be downloaded and added to the app. You can save the colour management settings as PPL presets, along with paper types, sizes, print quality settings and rendering intent. "With PPL, you have all your settings in one tab," explains Cheryl. "I make presets for each of my paper types and sizes, so it's easy."

You're almost ready to print, but for best results, first produce a soft proof from PPL – a highly accurate on-screen preview to show how the image will look on paper. "It's important to proof – always," advises Cheryl.

A large fine art style print emerges from a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100 printer.
After going to such efforts to get the shot, Cheryl maintains full control over all her images by printing them herself on her Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100 printer. © Cheryl Walsh
Fine art style images in ornate frames hang on the wall of a gallery.
Cheryl held a retrospective of her work last year, organising her fantastical portraits into nine categories and mounting the images in ornate frames to accentuate their fine art-style qualities. © Cheryl Walsh

4. Pick mounts and frames carefully

Your mount and frame shouldn't detract from the image itself, but Clive and Cheryl have differing views on how they think their photographs are best displayed. "When you have a picture fighting for attention on a wall, putting a big border around it makes it look special, like a piece of art," says Clive.

Cheryl prefers her gallery images to look more like a traditional painting and presents them without a mount, in large, ornate frames. "If I'm selling my images, it's up to the client," she adds. "I'd recommend a natural white mount, certainly for smaller images – I want the focus to be on the image itself."

5. Choosing images to exhibit

Selecting the right images to showcase can be difficult. Do you stick to a theme, focus on creating a narrative or simply select your best work? Cheryl held her first retrospective in 2019, featuring 10 years' worth of images. "It was huge," she says. "My images are all 'fantastical', so I broke it down into nine different categories and picked the strongest image from each."

Both Cheryl and Clive agree that shapes, colours and textures are useful when grouping images, but Clive thinks it's more important to pick the work that best demonstrates your abilities. "Should every picture work in its own right, or do you have a series that forms a narrative? You're looking to show the absolute best of the best – the best of what you have."

Clive also points out that the traditional gallery is only one place to show your work. "Sometimes I'll exhibit my work at ad agencies," he says. "They all have their own exhibition space. In effect, we're all brands, so choosing the right location is really important."

Shkruar nga Kevin Carter

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