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Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 12: Interview with Master Printer James Tan


We had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. James Tan, a leading printmaker in the Asia Pacific region. His accreditations include, FMPA(UK), ILFORD Master and Canon Master Printmaker.

James Tan

Image by EIZO via http://www.eizoglobal.com/solutions/casestudies/james-tan


Could you kindly give us a short introduction on your photographic journey?

I started out in early 2000 as an apprentice in a commercial photography studio, and was promoted to a full-fledged commercial photographer shortly after. In 2007, I was made an Associate in the Master Photographers Association (MPA) and was later awarded MPA’s Fellowship Rank as its first and only Certified Printmaker in 2009—a special honour in recognition of my print craft. I am also trained in Qualifications and Competition Judging at the MPA Headquarters in Darlington, England. I had the honour of judging at the MPA’s prestigious International Photography Competition, as well as the WPPI Annual Print Competition in Las Vegas. I am currently the MPA’s Deputy Ambassador and Chair of Qualifications for the Asia Pacific region. My role is to uphold the professional standards of MPA photographers and mentor members on image making and business practices. I am also an avid educator, teaching printmaking, colour management, and photography all over the world.


Can you give a brief workflow of your creative process?

The photographic process consists of four parts: 1) conceptualisation, 2) technical mastery of equipment, 3) technical mastery of image editing and 4) mastery of printing. The print is the summation of the photographer’s prowess over all the individual parts. Without conceptualisation, the image will be weak even when captured well. Without technical mastery, the idea will be lost through the inability to properly capture the image. Without proper editing skills and understanding of the digital workflow, the image will break under bad editing techniques. The inherent flaws will be revealed when the print is made. As a master printmaker, I have two aims: to understand my client’s intent behind the image, and to use my skills to bring out the full potential of the image in print.

James Tan at work

Image by EIZO via http://www.eizoglobal.com/solutions/casestudies/james-tan


Which software do you use for image editing?

I use Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, Capture One, and a whole bunch of other software. Each software application has its strength and weakness, and one must understand the capabilities and pitfalls to avoid degrading the image. For example, editing in 8-bit mode in Photoshop will remove much of the tonality of any image, resulting in uneven gradations in the highlight and shadow areas. As such, always choose the 16-bit editing process in Photoshop. I switch between Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to make prints, through the printer driver. I prefer to work in Adobe RGB colour space and use Relative Colormetric rendering intent whenever the source gamut is favourable i.e. when no out-of-gamut colours are being used in the image.


Do you make use of colour management hardware to colour profile your screen and printer?

The use of calibration hardware to manage the colour workflow is absolutely vital. Without calibrators, there will be no way to ensure that your monitor is accurate. And without an accurate monitor, there’s no point in editing an image. It’s like trying to sing without the ability to hear your own voice. It suffices to say that any photographer making fine art prints needs to have one to control the colour editing process.

Calibration hardware, Calibration Tool


When making a print, which printer do you use and why?

It really depends on the job at hand, but as a master printer, I use a wide range of printers—from digital offset to inkjet technology. In my own printing studio, I use the Canon PIXMA PRO-10 and the Canon ImagePROGRAF PRO-500 for prints up to A2-size. Output-quality wise, they are on par with the best. For me, the PIXMA printers fit into my workflow seamlessly, thanks to Wi-Fi connectivity, ease-of-use, flexible sheet feeding options and versatile range of print sizes. Coupled with 8 or more pigment ink colours, they can easily produce a good quality print.


Canon ImagePROGRAF PRO-500


Which paper do you like most and why?

I don’t have a favourite paper as each job is unique in its requirement, but different paper types have unique colour gamut range, handling idiosyncrasies, metameric (or colour rendering) properties, etc. My recommendation is to try a wide variety of paper types, and understand their strengths and weaknesses as well as their suitability for your style of printing. For example, a paper that is great for colour printing may not be the best choice for monochromatic printing.


Which is your favourite print you have produced so far and why?

I have two prints that I love – Blondie, and Slipknot, both crafted for EOS Master Eddie Sung. As a venerated rock concert photographer, Eddie has captured many iconic moments for both bands. Producing these two prints required all my printing knowledge and more. Printed on canvas, the prints had to be liquid-laminated by hand and that took a tremendous amount of time and effort to get right.

Rock band photographed by Eddie Sung

Image by Eddie Sung via http://eosworld.canon.com.sg/eos-master-eddie-sung


And finally, why do you print?

Looking back, it seems that printing had been my calling all along. I started dabbling in printing in 1992-3, when my parents bought me a high-resolution inkjet printer, a scanner, and a copy of Photoshop LE; incidentally it was also the year that International Colour Consortium (ICC) was formed. With these tools, I began editing and printing Japanese animation artworks and even edited game graphics before turning to photography as a hobby. My hobby eventually led me to a career as an accredited professional photographer and photo retoucher, culminating in a 10-year foray into printmaking after my MPA accreditation. In short, I print because I want to create art. An image cannot fully reflect the photographer’s vision without being professionally printed, protected and framed, transforming it from a photo into an art piece. I now endeavour to educate my fellow photographers in the digital age to understand the importance of print, so that the roots of this craft will not be lost.


Do you have any tips for budding photographers looking to produce fine art prints?

Start printing your pictures. The print itself will tell you how near (or far) you are from your goal.


Previous articles:
Introduction to Fine Art Printing
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 2: Colour Space
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 3: Colour Profiles and Rendering Intents
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 4: How Light Affects Colour
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 5: Calibrating Your Monitor
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 6: Calibrating Your Printer
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 7: Selecting a Paper for Fine Art Prints
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 8: Testing the Paper
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 9: Defining Your Colouring and Toning Style
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 10: Interview with EOS Professional Edgar Su
Introduction to Fine Art Printing – Part 11: Turning Prints Into Artworks


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