The Endgame: The Quest for the Perfect Print - Mezame
Mezame's 'Perfect Print' and experience with EIZO ColorEdge Photography Monitors
Recently, Singapore-based photographer and digital artist, Mezame wrote about his experiences with an EIZO ColorEdge CG2730 photography monitor and how it has revolutionised his workflow.
Here's Mezame's , as written on his blog, published here with his consent.
The Endgame: The Quest for the Perfect Print
There are neither superheroes nor mad titans and definitely nothing to avenge but here I am, happy to talk about the endgame when it comes to photography.
In this post, I will talk about the importance of print in photography and my personal workflow. I will also share my thoughts on the importance of colours and why a good professional monitor is a necessity when it comes to professional photography.
Do take note that these are all based on my own personal experience! I am not paid to create this content. As a professional photographer and photography educator, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the quest for the perfect photography print.
I have one major goal when it comes to photography – I want to reach out for perfection.
That is my endgame.
To me, perfection is not something easily attainable and achievable. That is because change to the idea of perfection is the only constant. The goal line always shifts, the difficulty level will always increase. I would be happy to just be able to have a glimpse of perfection before its standard shifts again.
We can always talk about creativity and passion being the driving force behind art.
Lourens van Muijlwijk, the last samurai. Printed at LunarWorks Studio.
But let’s be realistic, without the right tools, we will not be able translate our ideas into reality. Without the right tools, our quest for perfection can be difficult or even denied.
One must realize there is a symbiotic relationship between tools and ideas.
But how do we quantify the journey towards perfection?
The Importance of Print as a Medium
Printing, in many ways, leads to the physical manifestation of photography, and acts as a tangible representation of the journey towards reaching perfection.
We sold all of our fanart prints at our booth at HOBBYCON 2016.
As an educator, I believe in the importance of accurate information being passed on to learners. I would do a disservice to my learners if I were to provide inaccurate materials that would impair their learning.
My Old Workflow
Capture images at a shoot, making sure lighting is on point
Select required images
Retouch/Edit images required
Test print many times to get the colours right
Print final copy
Delivery to client
In the past, the idea of printing my photography works was a simple affair – take a photo, work on it in Photoshop on a Mac, save an image as a TIFF file with 300-dpi resolution and then print.
Being a broke teenager in polytechnic, every cent counts and yet, printing images for assignments was a harrowing affair. I was always left to wonder, why did my photos look bad? How could I submit these prints with so much colour shift, with so much brightness and contrast issues, for my assignments?
The printing lady at Bras Basah Complex (I couldn’t remember which shop it was then) would go “tsk” every single time I asked her why were my prints no good.
Being the brash teenager that I was, I blamed the printer, the ink, the paper, and everything I could think of but not me. I was following those set instructions. What could be the missing link?
Fast forward to many years later when I began my journey with The Art of Mezame, I still found issues when I send my works for clients to printers.
First test-print for Revenge of the Nephalem. The blacks were excessively crushed and details were lost. Back to the drawing board!
Images would come in dark, or colours, especially the blacks, would be off. Details would be lost as the ink could not make out lines and shapes.
I could not figure it out.
On the social media front, I received comments from some of my followers stating that my images sometimes appeared too dark on their screens. I wondered if I should get them to adjust their screen brightness but doing so would be ridiculous. If you visit my Instagram page, you can see my older works were indeed dark and the colours inaccurate.
It turned out that my screen was not calibrated, and the brightness levels were incorrect for viewing and print. The default screen profile was not good.
My quest for perfection was not derailed, but delayed.
How did I not see this sooner?
I was under the impression that a MacBook Pro’s screen was good enough for accuracy in colours. Retina display screen should be accurate, right? It has to be!
Well, reading up allowed me to understand the importance of screen-calibration, and how it was supposed to be done.
I remember in 2013, I was presented with a Spyder4Pro screen-calibration unit. I was working on my clients’ projects on my custom PC hooked up to 3x DELL U2311H monitor units. They were budget IPS screens.
I recall calibrating the screens was an easy task but, to a certain extent, could become frustrating. It took too long and the results were not fantastic. Either the colours looked weird (maybe I was not doing it right back then), or all 3 screens each had a different idea of how colours like white was supposed to look like!
Even then, I still had issues with my prints. They were admittedly better than before my screens were calibrated, but they were still not helpful with my quest for perfection.
My old PC setup with 3x DELL U2311H IPS monitors set in Eyefinity and later NVIDIA Surround in favour of dual NVIDIA GTX 590s for quad-GPU SLI.
Tony Hewitt giving a talk on his fine art photography works. This event was organized by Phase One and Broncolor Singapore Pte. Ltd.
At this point, I would like to reiterate that this entire post is based on my own personal experience.
An EIZO representative shared with me the benefits of having an EIZO photography monitor as part of my workflow and showed me their features. One feature that stood out was its ability to self-calibrate with its own on-board calibration unit.
But more importantly, Tony’s printed works on display at his talk looked exactly as they were on the EIZO monitors!
I was convinced there and then, and put an EIZO monitor in my wishlist (I was not sure which model I should get back then).
Fast forward to early 2018, I tried a friend’s EIZO CG277 and worked on an image I shot a while back with a Phase One XF IQ3 100mp digital medium format camera system, lit with Broncolor lights. You can read more about that shoot here.
Phase One makes probably the best digital medium format camera system out there and images taken with the 100mp digital back were testament to its success. Broncolor lights are also known for their accuracy in reproducing daylight.
The Broncolor Para 88 mated to a MobiLED and a Move 1200L served as the keylight for this iconic photograph featuring Rainer Cosplay taken with a Phase One XF IQ3 100mp digital medium format camera system.
Rainer taking a look at a preview image of what would later become an iconic photograph on the Phase One XF IQ3 100mp digital medium format camera system.
Seeing how I have these premium hardware at my disposal for this shoot, I had high expectations with how the image should look like in hand.
The final photograph featuring Rainer Cosplay as Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII.
I had it sent for printing on a professional Canon printer at Lunarworks Studio and saw how accurate and beautiful the print was. There is always something magical about a printed version of your photos. To me, a print contains soul. You get to appreciate the photo better.
Recalling my wishlist, I got myself an EIZO CG2730 and as they say, the rest is history.
Printed some of my works at LunarWorks Studio. Professional printing solutions and paper make a huge difference in the outcome of your photography works too!
Why the EIZO CG2730?
The EIZO ColorEdge CG2730 sitting majestically in my home studio.
First and foremost, I did take a look at what other brands had to offer. A lot of professional monitors out there were marketed as a photographer’s solution towards accuracy in details and colours.
I had to factor in several things before settling on a monitor – product longevity and relevance in the years to come, number of years for warranty, after-sales support reviews, accuracy in colour management and representation, etc. But what sets EIZO monitors apart is really its self-calibration tool.
Do I want to go back to having an external screen-calibration unit? Do I want to go through a tedious self-calibration process? Do I want to spend time wondering when should I schedule for the next calibration? Do I want to go through the hassle of deciding which external screen-calibration unit is the best, the most cost-effective, the most accurate…?
OR would I rather just go for something that can take care of its own on a regular basis (everyone loves convenience) and still give me positively accurate results?
Of course, I settled for the latter. Everything else felt like there is a deal breaker somewhere.
I would not want to have to second-guess my works anymore. This time, I would like to settle for just one screen.
The quest for perfection now feels more realistic.
I want to make sure that I can maintain a certain level of consistency in my workflow. Being a photographer who does composites regularly, I am not really fond of the idea of spending hours on Photoshop only to be disappointed with what comes on print. If I am disappointed with my own work, I would not want to deliver that same amount of disappointment to my clients.
Printing out a copy of a cosplay shoot of Mad Max Fury Road’s Immortan Joe (by Saiko Siti Nor).
You can see the joy of their seeing the results of their cosplay photoshoot on print!
I also want to spend my money’s worth on print. I have decided, no more unnecessary reprints of test prints! In the past, I had trouble matching prints to what I see on my screen. That wrench in the works had been going on for so many years now. Can you imagine the amount of time and effort wasted? I would rather print something once and have happy clients.
Even if I were to invest in my own professional printer, ink can be really expensive and its replacement or refills are not something I would like to spend on excessively.
On the environmental front, I would not want to waste paper unnecessarily too. The planet is suffering as much as it is already.
The quest for perfection needs to be an enjoyable process, not a frustrating one.
Colour Me Impressed
As photographers, why do we look at monitor calibration and colour management in the first place?
We can talk about accuracy, consistent quality works, but ultimately, it’s all about streamlining efficiency in productivity.
Firstly, time is of the essence. We have bills to pay. Faster turnarounds of clients’ works means we can send out those invoices quicker, and hopefully, get paid on time earlier.
Secondly, with a faster turnaround time, we can start seeking more clients/projects. That’s revenue.
Thirdly, in this saturated industry, we want to set ourselves apart from the competition and offer the best products and services possible to our clients. Offering quick turnarounds and still provide accurate and consistent high quality works builds a positive relationship with the clients.
We cannot afford downtimes as they disrupt your workflow, and can have catastrophic consequences (especially so when deadlines are near!).
We have all seen it before – photographers arguing online in forums about skin tones being different on different camera brands. There may be some truths to this considering how different sensors are. But if we were to have a good monitor that is calibrated right, that would give us an advantage when it comes to skin tones.
Hooking up the CG2730 to a MacBook Pro is easy – also, working on a 27″ screen as opposed to a 15″ screen is also much better!
A good professional monitor can give that assurance, and the CG2730 delivers. It may not be a 4K monitor, but I figured that is not really necessary. I would rather have accurate colours, especially since I deal with portrait photography.
Overtime, screens may degrade and I do not want to have to be reminded that I needed recalibration of the screen. If there was a way to do it automatically by scheduling calibration of the screen, that would be perfect. The CG2730 can do that.
Gone are the days where I had to dust off an external screen-calibrator once in a while and set calibration of my monitor on my calendar to ensure consistency in colours. An automated process of something that needs to happen regularly is always a welcome in the manner of convenience. I am also assured and given peace of mind knowing that my monitor takes care of colour management diligently on its own. The future is here!
I have tried several applications for colour-calibration. Some can be cluttered and frustrating to navigate.
ColorNavigator by EIZO just works well. Since it is a software developed by the same company that designs and manufactures the monitor, you can trust it completely and be rest assured that the software understands the hardware and vice-versa.
Step-by-step instructions and a clearly-labelled interface makes navigation a pleasant experience.
With the release of version 7, managing colour modes on my monitor according to the ambient lighting conditions (my home studio has a mix of fluorescent and LED lights which come on depending on the nature of usage) is an easy process.
I can create multiple color modes in the proprietary software that correspond to the monitor’s on-screen display list for easier access at the touch of a button.
There is also an option to calibrate all colour modes simultaneously, allowing for a speedier process.
Remember when I said that EIZO has managed to come up with an automated process for recalibration to ensure consistency in colour management? The software does it and allows you to schedule when it does it at regular intervals or specific times. What is most impressive is that this works even when the monitor is switched off.
I was about to leave the room when I heard a click – the SelfCalibration tool decided to take over and do a calibration when it was switched off.
The self-calibration sensor on the top of the monitor doing a reading of the reds as it appears on-screen.
In the event that I forget to do a recalibration, a reminder will appear after a certain number of user-determined hours.
Its integration with the EIZO hardware truly makes self-calibration a seamless process.
A progress bar shows how far away before the monitor’s colour is done adjusting to suit the current ambient lighting.
Once the monitor calibration is completed, it will show a summary of your target and result so you know if you have achieved an acceptable desired result.
An added bonus is that if there is a need for me to hook up another machine to my monitor, I need not recalibrate the monitor again as the colour calibration settings are saved on the monitor instead of the operating system.
When would this be useful? Well, I have a desktop PC and a MacBook Pro and sometimes I work with both setups. This feature in itself helps removes the need for recalibration, bringing the meaning of plug-and-play to another level.
EIZO also made it easier to calibrate according to my needs with the Universal ISO Standard settings – ISO 3664 for viewing conditions and editing and ISO 12646 for colour proofing and print. Depending on the output, I can set parameters to ensure I would always get the best possible colours to work with.
My Current Workflow (with the EIZO ColorEdge CG2730)
I am now shooting with a Sony A7RII with a mix of Canon L lenses and Sony GM lenses + Broncolor Siros L 800 & 400×2 and a Broncolor Move 1200L with 2x MobiLEDs. My workflow is as such:
Capture images at a shoot, making sure lighting is on point
Select required images
Retouch/Edit images required
Test print once
Print final copy
Delivery to client
Second-guessing colours is not an option and should never have been a part of anyone’s workflow.
Part of The Art of Mezame’s core business is providing high-quality prints and photobooks. Hence, the importance of accuracy in colours and details.
These days, I actually find greater joy in retouching and editing. Printing my works is no longer a hit or miss. Everything is on point!
But consider this, being a professional photographer, we want the best for our clients. In the quest for perfection, certain tools just work better than most, and the price tags tend to go with the quality. Word on the ground from other EIZO users is that their monitors run well even up to 10 years before a replacement is required. That, in itself, is impressive.
It was easy to make sure that the print looks as how it should be after working with a calibrated monitor.
Personally, I have already spent a lot of money on professional lighting equipment and modifiers to get the best accurate lighting in my shots, a good professional camera with a decent megapixel count, and corresponding premium glass (sharp, durable lenses) to go with the camera.
The years of accumulated learning experience through trials and errors, and spending so much time and effort to keep the business running are an investment on their own as well.
Why would I want to ruin my journey towards getting the perfect deliverables for my clients by working on a cheap off-the-shelf monitor?
The quest for perfection must go on!
Ultimately, is the EIZO CG2730 a worthy investment?
To that, my answer is a resounding yes.
This piece was first published by Mezame, here, and republished with his kind permission.
Mezame (or Art of Mezame as he is known) specializes in bespoke portrait photography projects with pop-culture references such as epic pre-wedding photography, fine art photography and concept portrait photography.
Mezame runs various photography workshops, classes and talks in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. All workshops, classes and talks focus mainly on photography and retouching using Capture One Pro.