Photography History: The Creation and History of the Platinum Print

“The beginnings of the serious use of platinum printing dates back to the late 19th century when photographers who saw themselves as primarily artists were very anxious to differentiate themselves from…lowly amateurs,” says Philippe Garner, the International Head of Photographs at Christie’s, in a recent video about Platinum printing. Indeed, this process is absolutely beautiful and over time it became more selective and high end.

Making the Platinum Prints from Edrington on Vimeo.

The process was largely forgotten despite being loved for its almost painterly characteristics. It was revived by Irving Penn in the 1960s. One of the reasons why Platinum Printing is so highly valued has to do with one of the biggest problems with prints: lighting. You can surely argue that matte paper can solve this issue these days, but most photographers tend to print on glossy and then bring the images under bright light. We’ve got a whole tutorial on how to correctly light prints that you can check out too. When you look at the platinum print, there are absolutely no reflections–which is pretty standard with cotton fiber paper to begin with.

Sound crazy? Well if you’re a photographer that doesn’t print often then it very well might. But if you’re a photographer that prints often (the way I try to) then it makes sense. Matte paper, especially in the higher end options, comes with cotton fibers threaded into it. You can physically see the fibers when you look at the paper. At the same time, these prints aren’t made with a big Canon or Epson printer. In comparison those are pretty simple as even a Canon Prograf 1000 can easily mimic the look of what’s on your computer screen: so what you see is what you get.

Instead, Platinum prints are carefully done with a chemical process. Platinum can do different black levels and very subtle looks that result in beautiful photos. Of course with regular printing, you’ll need to get the right exposure.

Big thanks to Mike for the find