Learn How to Come Full Circle as a Photographer

Aloha to all my students and good friends.

I wanted to take a few moments of your time and begin a new on going forum of my lecture notes and articles. This first one is the one I used at last year’s lecture at WPPI.  Again this year I will also be giving a lecture at WPPI so hope you folks can make it.

The announcement of the Daguerreotype process in 1837 started Professional Photography. It was a laborious process, in which the sitter had to have his head clamped to a head brace and his face painted white. The reason for this is exposures took over three minutes, and furthermore there was no electric light.  That’s why no early photographs of children from that era exist; only what we now call “casket portraits”.  This is because one of the first early jobs for Daguerrian photographers was to take pictures of deceased children.

Oh by the way, did I mention after these copper coated plates were exposed they were developed in Mercury Vapor?   Well, no early photographers using this process lived longer then thirty seven years.  Assignment one for my students is to look up the process and get a detailed description of how it all worked.  http://www.daguerre.org/.   In one of my next articles I will post pictures of one of these cameras and add some drawings of how they worked.

scientist and artist

OK, so where am I going with this article?   Well, back then, the photographer was both a scientist and artist. I use the term artist lightly here as most of these early images were just like a passport picture. Foot note for study here look up Antoine Claudet. I will get back to him in my next article. So you needed to both take the picture and then have a method of printing it. NO LABS.

Now Im going to take a huge leap in time and put us at the turn of the century, were we have glass plates and photo clubs. By the way most women were not allowed in photo clubs just for the guys. Hey same deal for early bicycle clubs. What Im getting at is right up to the the early sixties most Pro Photographers took the pictures in their studio, and developed the large format usually 8×10 or 5×7 film holders in the basement where they also made the prints. Every photographer tried to excel at making master prints. My point:  You could not even be a photographer back then with out being able to do both.


With the birth of the LAB and THE ONE HR PHOTO-BIZ a new era arrived. With “early color”, very few if any professional photographers printed their own portraits. Hey do you know my dad was one of the
first to put in a early color lab to do his own studio?  In essence, here we as a group that lost the ability to practice the other part of our craft. It was a major turning point and of course as we all know all of those early color photographs faded. So a complete generation of photographers lost the ability to be both artist in the studio and technician in making master prints.

the importance of making your own prints

In the mid nineties, led by Epson, we got printers that gave photography back to the photographer. They as a company listened to what us photographers wanted. We could now print color on any surface we wanted. Canvas, watercolor papers and even silk. This, single-handedly, changed the entire playing field of our industry. My whole lecture series at many of the shows is to try and get you all to get back into printing. Printing your own work is the only way to start to learn what a great print is all about. As you make mistakes and experiment, you all grow. I feel you can never truly be a great photographer unless you come FULL CIRCLE and learn the aspects of fine print making. I guarantee that if you print, you will become a better photographer.  By the way, how far do you think Ansel Adams would have got if he sent his images to a Lab?  Do not get me wrong, Labs are great, but unless you understand printing your self and make your own master images its hard to tell someone else what to do.


Michael Gilbert MA.CR. XXV

Please stay tuned for my new Web Page and lots of new articles

  • Nick M. Friend

    Thanks Michael. Can you tell us which printer(s) you currently use or recommend for photographers?

    • michael gilbert

      Aloha and Bonjour
      Love the new Canon 8300 and 6300 series. There is nothing that can really touch them as far as speed and quality. In fact its almost impossible to make a bad print. If you are a canvas water color or Art paper photographer do not even think of any other printer.
      I must say I still have a Epson 7900 series that I do love for some ultra glossy material.
      And if you take the plunge start with a 24 inch machine best ink to paper costs you will save a bundle over any 17 inch machine. Remember the best selling images sizes are 24 x36 Im really hope Canon can come out with a 60 plus machine as that would be my dream
      Hope that helps Nick and anyone else who needs info please just ask

  • Anonymous

    Hey Michael, I’m curious…what was YOUR first digital printer? Do you feel it’s easier for a seasoned photographer to make the jump to producing their own prints today as opposed to when you first made the transition?

    • Michael

      Aloha Stephen that is a wonderful question. Like all the Pros who print we owe or heritage to Epson. Epson was the only company and the first company to listen to the photographers.
      They were the undisputed champions in the industry and gave us our archival ratings and pigmented inks. And back then making a print was very different then today. I and my buddy Randy Hufford in fact launched some of Epsons printers way back when with the first pigmented inks. I think we did this together on stage at a Imaging USA PPA show in Atlantic City, Im afraid to ask how long ago that was. I can say I introduced and promoted this very early on at each seminar and trade show I was at.
      Boy have times changed. Canon is now the leader from my perspective and they have made it so much easier. Stephen you have no idea how easy it is to now do your own images. The quality speed and fun of it is just the first reason. So do not hesitate do it.
      Another one of Michael’s pet pev issues is by the nature of doing your own prints you will become a hundred percent better photographer. Photography is a blend of Art and Science and so much more. So please if you can go out and start with the Canon 6300 series its so
      amazing and feel free to check in and ask questions
      Aloha Michael

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