What Counts Is Description
by Carl WeesePaul makes excellent points about working with a new medium. Play to its strengths, avoid its weaknesses. I see a lot of unsuccessful platinum prints, usually because the photographer tries to force platinum to look like silver. This doesn't work: the two media have different strengths and weaknesses, so imitating the look of silver plays to platinum's weakness and ignores its strength.
Monochrome inkjet prints are yet another medium, with different strengths and weaknesses. Instead of imitating silver or platinum, we need to see what makes the strongest ink-on-paper print. But some comparisons may help. At least for an inkjet print on a natural white cotton paper, it's pretty clear that it's not going to look much like a silver print on bright white baryta-coated glossy fiber-base paper. The base material is just too different. But that base material actually looks a lot like the sort of paper we use for platinum prints, so maybe the "inspiration" for how we handle an inkjet print should come from that medium.
The highlights of a platinum/palladium (Pt/Pd) print are nowhere near as bright as those of a silver print (as measured with a densitometer), yet highlight interpretation is probably the medium's greatest strength. The point is that, in a print, what counts is description, not absolute density. A shadow filled with clearly differentiated dark values is more convincing—seemingly darker—than an area of dmax that looks like a pool of spilled India ink. Same for highlights. Light values clearly separated from each other, describing subject information, are more convincing than areas of brilliant paper white. As Mike has mentioned, monochrome inkjet prints have trouble with the highlights, but taking a clue from platinum printing, one answer is simply, don't go there. I've learned to avoid allowing any values in the highest 10% of the histogram. Doesn't that make for muddy highlights? No, not as long as the bright values I do allow show clear separation and description of subject matter. A gray that describes a bright subject is more convincing than a brighter gray that carries no descriptive information.
This is a picture I made expressly for Pt/Pd printing (I wasn't doing "serious" inkjet in 2003):
Posted by CARL WEESE