Many of us love making images in the square format. We either ‘see’ our photographs that way and compose for them in the field, often aided by the clever way many digital cameras these days allow us to display a square mask on the rear view screen. I love this feature and use it all the time on my Fuji X-Pro 2. Shooting in raw, I still have the option back in the studio to use the entire sensor area, but in the field it is so helpful to see the image on the screen cropped square. It makes composition so much easier. (If you shoot in jpeg, the file will be square and the data beyond the boundaries of the square is lost forever).
There is always the option of shooting without considering a square composition, but investigating it back in the studio later. The crop overlay in Lightroom is excellent for discovering if an image has potential as a square. So while I would always prefer to work in the field with the final format in mind when making my considered compositions, I am certainly not adverse to discovering a square image within an oblong when I get home and exploiting it.
Without launching into a full on discussion about composing using the square format it might be interesting to note a few points about why the square format is such an interesting one to work with. When used well, I find it produces very balanced images. For me, it lends itself to calm, meditative compositions rather than the often dramatic stretched compositions that wide angle lenses combined with the oblong produce. Most often the square works well in conjunction with mid range or longer lenses, rather than wide angles (although you can certainly go wide with squares). I often find myself placing things centrally on either axis in my squares, searching for balance or satisfying my love of symmetry. I find it tends to hold the subject within the frame well, constraining it somehow. The square also has an amazing ability to be subdivided in almost limitless ways by circles, triangles, diagonals, ovals, oblongs and squares. The compositional opportunities it allows are by no means static but can be very dynamic and intriguing. There is a nice little blog with some great classic examples of master photographers shooting square HERE.
The irritating thing about working with squares has always been the paper wastage when it comes to printing. Paper manufacturers and suppliers have always been very good to us when it comes to supplying a variety of sizes in oblongs, but this has always meant trimming for the square shooter and wasting some of that precious fine art paper. This is where Fotospeed have stepped in an provided us with the ideal solution, square paper in two sizes, 12 x 12 inch and 8 x 8 inch. It comes in three paper types too. Platinum Etching 285, one of my matt papers of choice, Platinum Baryta 300 which I also use constantly and a paper which is new to me, PF Lustre 275.
I was really privileged when they asked me to provide the box image for the 12 x 12 range. (see below)
Before trying out the papers, after having a chat to Valda Bailey, I decided I really ought to upgrade the firmware and Canon printer drivers for my Canon ImagePROGRAF Pro-1000 printer, which were well out of date. Firmware updates are always a bit nerve wracking somehow, but the update went without a hitch. If you have the same printer as me, you can find the very latest drivers and firmware at THIS PAGE. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU USE THE OPERATING SYSTEM DROP DOWN BOX TO SELECT THE CORRECT OPERATING SYSTEM FOR YOUR COMPUTER. Then follow the on screen instructions. It is all very easy, just make sure you follow the instructions. NB. You do need to be aware that not all printer manufacturers printer drivers will print borderless with custom paper sizes. You will need to check with your printer make and model documentation to check (although I have to say, I never print borderless, I don’t think it is a nice look. Yes, you get the biggest image possible on a sheet of paper, but personally, I think images look much better with a border around them. But thats just my personal feeling).
The next step for me was to create some custom paper sizes in Lightroom so that I could print to the new papers. The Canon drivers (Epson and HP will be the same, I think) don’t have square paper sizes selectable. I also created a print template for the square paper in Lightroom with border sizes which met my needs. I thought the best way to show how this is done was to record a short video, which you can see below.
Once you are set up with the custom paper sizes and paper templates, printing is just as usual in Lightroom. The paper is the same paper we are used to from Fotospeed and so the surface reacted in the ways I was used to. The one paper that they produce in the square format I hadn’t used before is the PF Lustre 275, so I interested to see what characteristics this had. The first thing I noticed when I took it from the pack was the weight of the paper. It is only 10gsm less in weight than Platinum Etching at 285gsm but it is noticeably lighter. The surface has a lustre coating, similar in feel to Platinum Baryta but the Baryta is much heavier at 300gsm. The PF Lustre paper, on investigation, I found is not part of Fotospeeds acclaimed Fine Art range but, rather, part of their ‘PQ’ Photo Quality range. This collection of papers is designed for everyday use, not for your finest archival quality prints that you will frame and want on the wall for decades or to sell to clients. This is reflected in the price. To give you an idea, the surface feel of the PF Lustre and Platinum Baryta are similar (although the Platinum Baryta is actually much more sophisticated in its chemistry and produces far superior prints when handled correctly). You can currently (I write this in March 2017) but a box of 50 sheets of the PF Lustre for £22.00 while the Platinum Etching is £28.99 for 25 sheets.
I have done some test prints with the PF Lustre and can see what it excels at. It is a supremely easy paper to work with. It has a very wide colour gamut. That is, it is able to display a wide range of colours accurately. So if you have prints you are struggling to produce on matt paper, try it on this. It also has a high D-Max. This means it can display very deep, rich blacks. Most, if not all matt papers struggle here. So if you are wanting to print monochrome images with lots of contrast and deep black shadows, try a paper like PF Lustre. Comparing the PF with the Baryta on whiteness you can clearly see that the PF is a whiter paper so the Baryta will inject a little more warmth into your images, the PF will give a little more ‘sparkle’.When would you use PF Lustre over the more expensive Platinum Baryta. I would use it for prints which I expect to have a shorter life. Not all prints are going to hang on the wall or be sold to clients. Maybe you have images which you like and want in print but you know they are not your finest work. Perhaps you want to run tests on images and produce several copies, working on different versions of an image. There could be lots of reasons for using a paper like this and the very reasonable price make it feasible. It’s ease of use make it ideal for those newer to printing too. Less hair pulling as the surface is so forgiving.
However, for your best images, for images to be sold to clients and for images which are to go in your portfolio or to be hung on the wall for years I would always use the Fine Art range of Fotospeed papers. They have been designed with archival properties, being acid free. They have huge amounts of technology poured into their surfaces, along with a lot of love and care into the preparation. The finish they give really elevates the final print. This is reflected in the cost, but for our best images why spoil them for less than the cost of a cup of coffee which is here one minute and gone the next?
Out of interest, I printed an iPhone 5s image which I made a couple of years ago onto both the PF Lustre and the Platinum Etching 285, which is the fabulous fine art Matt paper that Charlie Waite uses for most of his exhibition prints (and if you have seen those, you will know it is a paper to die for). You can see the images below, side by side. I don’t know if you can tell from the image but what impressed (and surprised) me was how close the colours were on both papers. There are tiny (and I mean, tiny) differences, but they are extremely close. There is some difference in contrast because the Etching can’t display the deep blacks of the PF and the Etching’s matt surface naturally gives the image a slight soft, ‘milky’ diffused look. My wife instantly said she preferred the Etching, and I agree but I do have to admit that for a paper that involves such a cost saving I was impressed by the way it performed. You just need to be aware of what it is designed for you and use it accordingly.
So, if you love shooting square, as I do, then I would wholeheartedly recommend stocking up on the Fotospeed square range of papers. The convenience and waste reduction really appeals to me. If you want to view the range you can find them HERE ON THE FOTOSPEED WEBSITE and if you have any problems with placing orders or any technical questions please give Fotospeed a call. Their technical team are very friendly and helpful and pride themselves in their customer service. They will help you out with profiling and any other issues you might be struggling with.
If you would really like to take your printing and understanding of things like colour management, profiles, papers, soft and hard proofing and all the other things which go into producing exhibition quality prints then why not join me on one of my printing masterclasses which I teach in conjunction with Fotospeed. You can find full details and BOOK YOUR PLACE HERE.