6 steps to stunning fine art portrait prints

Portrait photographer Martina Wärenfeldt reveals her top tips for producing quality fine art prints – from shooting, editing and proofing to printing on her Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000.
Photographer Martina Wärenfeldt smiles as she looks at a large-format print of fine art portraits, printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer.

Although photographer Martina Wärenfeldt says she's not technically minded when it comes to shooting images, she's very particular about the finer details when it comes to printing, both as a photographer and as a competition judge.

How do you inject genuine artistry into fine art portrait photography? It's a subject close to the heart of professional portrait photographer and Canon Ambassador Martina Wärenfeldt, who had childhood dreams of being an artist, but turned to photography, and now judges international printing competitions.

There are photographic prints, and then there are fine art photographic prints. But what sets the latter apart from a standard high quality print? And what can give you the edge when it comes to printing fine art portraits specifically? As always, it starts with a well-composed, professionally-lit image, but there are other considerations too, which include the retouching approach used, paper choice and finish, hard-copy proofing and printer choice and settings. Finding the best way to combine multiple elements, fine-tuning your workflow and approach and maintaining control over the entire process from start to finish are critical when it comes to producing a high quality final product.

Martina uses a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer to create stunning prints of her fine art portraits, describing it as her "workhorse" in the studio. "The combination of printer and fine art paper produces a really beautiful print," she says. Here, she shares tips for every stage in her creative process, and reveals why the A2 desktop photo printer is such an important part of her workflow.

A fine art portrait of a red-haired woman holding a spray of foliage and wearing a light green dress matching the colour of her eyes, taken by Martina Wärenfeldt on a Canon EOS R5.

"I really depend on the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000's consistency in print quality," says Martina. "The colour balance and accuracy on paper is so important, from light, luminous skin tones to deep, dark areas within images." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 105mm, 1/160 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 125. © Martina Wärenfeldt

A fine art portrait of a man with a light-coloured beard sitting on a stool wearing a dark suit, taken by Martina Wärenfeldt on a Canon EOS R5.

"I edited this shot to emphasise the muted brown tones and to give real depth to the darker shadows," says Martina. "To look its best, the print needs a paper with good shadow detail and a printer that can bring it all together." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 120mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 200. © Martina Wärenfeldt

1. Preparing for the shoot

For Martina, the print is always the final part of the process and the goal she's working towards, but everything starts at the shooting stage. For the past three years, Martina has been using a Canon EOS R5. "I'd always thought of a camera as just a tool, but I have a real attachment to the EOS R5," she explains. "It's like we've become best buddies. It's compact and user-friendly, and the high-resolution images work really well for retaining texture, detail and tonality in my large-format printing."

Martina's go-to lens, while not a prime, is a firm favourite among portrait photographers. "I bought the camera during the Covid-19 pandemic and the only lens that was available was the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM. The retailer actually apologised about that but I don't generally need a tight depth of field for the way I shoot and the lens suits me really well. I also use a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM, which I love for its compact, lightweight build. It's very inexpensive but I'm really impressed with the quality. I once rented a studio in Los Angeles and shot portraits for two clients using just the 50mm lens, and came away with great images.

"It's important to keep the print in mind when you're planning your shot," Martina adds. "I'm into the painterly look, so I have to work with lighting to make sure there's a lot of detail in shadows and highlights, and that I get a wide range of tonality. Texture is really important too, so I'm careful when choosing clothing and ensuring that texture is visible."

2. Technique and style

When it comes to technique, Martina says that lighting is the most important element. "I have to make sure the lighting is soft, yet produces the depth of shadows that I want for an artistic, painterly look – and to create drama. You have to be careful that shadowy areas don't become too dense and clogged up, though, otherwise they lose definition. Compared with looking at images on-screen, printing actually helps with this because the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 produces really fine detail, even in very dark shadows. I have a grey card for checking white balance, but I don't tend to use it. I go with my eyes and how the image makes me feel, which works for me – I can always make adjustments in post-production. I'm not very technical, it's more about mood and emotion."

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A fine art portrait of a woman in a flowing green dress resting her arm on a chest of drawers alongside an arrangement of flowers and fruit, taken by Martina Wärenfeldt on a Canon EOS R5.

"I love to create prints with a lot of subtle detail but I also want to be able to reproduce the striking colours of the fruits and flowers in this image," says Martina. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 50mm, 1/100 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 320. © Martina Wärenfeldt

A fine art portrait of a young girl with long blonde hair and wearing a green dress standing in front of a tree laden with apples, taken by Martina Wärenfeldt on a Canon EOS R5.

Martina mutes the colours in the edit. "Increasingly, I find that my colour palette and the way those colours work together in harmony has almost accidentally become my signature style," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 83mm, 1/160 sec, f/4 and ISO 800. © Martina Wärenfeldt

3. Workflow and post-production

Martina starts her workflow in Adobe Lightroom and moves to Photoshop. "I don't do much in Lightroom – maybe correct a little, open up the shadows, bring down the highlights a touch, and perhaps put a slight curve on it. It's really just to give me digital images that I'm happy to show to clients, so they can choose photos for printing. When I'm editing for print, I start in Photoshop and don't use any of the automatic or new AI tools. It has to be my eyes, my fingers and entirely my work when I'm creating a fine art print.

With the best will in the world, digital images can sometimes need some serious editing to in order to produce quality prints. "I try not to let settings get in the way of the creative flow when I'm shooting, but I'm meticulous at the editing stage. I really want colour, detail, texture, shadows and light to look their absolute best. I always work in 16-bit, as this gives much more scope for subtlety and overall tonal range."

Naturally, it's important to use a calibrated monitor when you're editing images for print. Martina uses a self-calibrating screen and is happy with the level of accuracy. "If I can rely on the equipment to calibrate itself, it means there's one less job for me to do."

Photographer Martina Wärenfeldt sits in front of a self-calibrating computer screen, with a laptop and Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer beside her.

Martina recommends soft proofing your images on a calibrated monitor using the correct profile for the photo paper or fine art media, to ensure accuracy when it comes to creating the final print.

A hand replaces an ink cartridge in a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer.

The 12-ink lineup in the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 includes individual 80ml cartridges for cyan, photo cyan, magenta, photo magenta, yellow, blue, red, grey, photo grey, matte black, photo black and a Chroma Optimizer. The ink range is optimised for both colour and monochrome photo printing, on all types of media.

4. Proofing for accuracy

When it comes to soft proofing, Martina says it's really important to use the correct ICC profile for the printer and the exact type of fine art paper that you're using to make the print. "I need to do this every time so that what I see on-screen in Lightroom and Photoshop will look the same in print." Canon's free Professional Print & Layout (PPL) software, which works as a standalone program and as a plug-in for both Adobe products, has soft- and hard-proofing options, offers easy control over layouts, and also enables the creation of 'pattern prints'. These can be useful for creating fine art prints, as they feature a variety of versions of the image, with subtle differences in tone and colour, so you can pick your favourite before making the final print.

5. Ink and paper

The LUCIA PRO 12-ink system of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 enables a very wide gamut and tonal range, both of which are ideal for Martina's work. "The colour rendition and reproduction of tone and fine detail exactly suit the way I shoot," she says. "A harmonious colour palette often means very subtle differences in colour, and it's important that the printer can bring those out. Longevity is an important factor as well. If I'm selling prints to a client, I need to know they're going to last a lifetime. I'm also very choosy about fine art paper. My long-term favourite is Hahnemühle Baryta. It has a subtle texture, without being too rough. It's not overly bright and has a lovely warmth to it that suits my style. More recently, I've also started using Canson® Platine Fibre Rag, which is a bit cooler and better suited to some of my images." The imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 has ICC profiles supporting a range of Canson and Hahnemühle papers, as well as Canon's own fine art range.

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A sheet of fine art paper emerges from a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, with four fine art portraits by photographer Martina Wärenfeldt printed on it.

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 can print at all popular photo paper sizes from 100x150cm (4x6 inches) up to full borderless A2, as well as outputting panoramic prints at up to 1.2m in length. Martina also finds it useful to print multiple photos in custom sizes on a single sheet of large-format paper.

6. The imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 advantage

Martina has gained a lot of experience in how to print photos on a Canon printer. "I used to have a different brand of printer but the nozzles in the print head kept clogging up, which wasted a lot of time and ink," she says. "I started getting my prints made at a lab, which was OK up to a point, but when I started wanting higher volumes to submit to exhibitions and competitions, it got really expensive. Prints often came back that weren't quite how I wanted them, which became a real problem. The thing that really sold me on the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 was that a colleague had one and said it was really reliable. That's been my experience too, it just works every time. The A2 paper size is also perfect for almost all of my work and I know that if I make multiple copies of prints, they're going to be completely consistent time after time."

A fine art portrait print on high-quality paper transcends the digital image, as far as Martina is concerned. "When I hand over a print to a client, it's a physical entity that they can hold in their hand," she explains. "They can literally feel the quality as well as see it. It gives them the security that not only are they paying for a high-level portrait, but also for an archival quality print of the highest standard."

All in all, Martina has found that expressing herself through fine art printing has made her a better photographer. "The tactile quality of a print is something you can't replicate digitally. There's also so much freedom of expression when creating a print. I can tailor the final product to completely satisfy myself and my clients. The fact that I'm creating the print adds a personal connection to the artwork, elevating everything. For a photographer, I believe fine art printing is the ultimate proof of craftsmanship."

Matthew Richards

Adobe, Lightroom and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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