Autumnal Equinox Update: Critical Mass, Lenscratch, and more

“Buddha Moon III”, Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Happy Autumnal Equinox! I’d like to mention a few events as of late…first up is that today my Harmony of the Spheres project was featured on the Lenscratch blog as part of Art + Science week! I’m incredibly excited to be in included as part of this series.

I was also just named one of the Critical Mass finalists for my Adventures in Celestial Mechanics series, with the final 50 being announced next month. You can see the work I submitted and find out more here.

I’m slowly starting to update my website again as well…first up is my new Euclidean Sonata as part of my Harmony of the Spheres project, which you can see here. Let me know what you think of this new piece in cyanotype.

And my last update is that my gaggle of printers has a new member now…as of last night, my new Epson P9000 is up and running. The fate of my now two at least partially broken Epson 9900’s is still in play. I’ll have more thoughts about this newest generation of Epson printer once I have more chance to use it.

The new P9000 on the left, the older 9900’s on the right.


My Printing Book is Now Available!

My printing book (Fine Art Inkjet Printing: The Craft and Art of the Fine Digital Print) is now available in all forms — I just received copies in the mail (and I love how it came out). Obviously it is intended to help people with printing, but I do sneak in many of my photographs as well.

If you’d like a signed version, please contact me and we’ll work out the details. You can also get an e-book or purchaser from the publisher, Rocky Nook, or the normal online retailers.

A presentation, exhibition, a book, a video, and a workshop…

I have a few quick updates about five things, ranging from tonight through August (as well as well that is ongoing). I’m making a presentation tonight at the Portland Camera Club about my night photography at 7 pm. Visitors from the public are welcome, too, and the location is at the Woodfords Club (179 Woodford Street in Portland).

A group exhibition entitled “Order and Chaos” opened today at Eastern Kentucky University that includes a piece from my Harmony of the Spheres project. You can find out more here.

I may have mentioned this before, but one of the many things keeping me busy the last few months has been writing my book on digital printing, which will be published June 2017 by Rocky Nook. I’m extremely excited about this and you’ll hear a lot more from me about this as we get closer (whether you want to or not!).

For those interested in night photography, my Craftsy course “Editing Techniques in Night Photography” is live, and you can use this link to get 50% off of my class (this is an updated link – my old one had expired).

And last but not least, I have the first of my 2017 workshops with Maine Media posted now. My “The Craft and Art of the Fine Digital Print” workshop will be August 20-26. You can find out more here.

New Nickelson Editions website and a slew of client shows

Copyright Robert Moran. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright Robert Moran. All Rights Reserved.

I think I’ve somehow neglected to mention that I recently revamped my Nickelson Editions website, including changing around my services and pricing very slightly. So if you are curious, head on over there, look around, and kick the tires a bit…

One thing I’ve changed around a bit is I’m now providing a blog over there, too, called The Paper Chase that will focus on digital printing as well as client exhibitions. (Those that know me well will know that the title of the blog works on many levels for me.)

The three most recent posts, for example, highlight new exhibitions for Robert Moran, Dozier Bell, and a whole group of photographers at the Maine Photography Show in Boothbay. That Maine Photography Show and the Moran show both open this weekend, as a heads up!

So, for all Nickelson Edition clients, feel free to send along show announcements and the like and I’ll post them there. And don’t worry if you just want to follow 56×56 and not another blog, as I’ll occasionally provide links here to new content over there. 56×56 will continue to be my primary blog home.

Fine Art Printing Talk Thursday night in Topsham/Brunswick

Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday night, at 6:30 in Topsham, I’ll be giving a presentation at the First Light Camera Club in Topsham. I hope to see some of you there!

Here’s the press release:

TOPSHAM — First Light Camera Club will host Midcoast fine art photographer Jim Nickelson speaking about The Craft and Art of the Digital Fine Print Thursday, April 10, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Topsham Medical Building, 8 Horton Place.

Nickelson’s presentation will cover a wide variety of considerations when making fine art digital prints of work. Admission to the program is $10, free to FLCC members; membership costs $35 a year and can be purchased at the door.

Nickelson’s talk will focus on several aspects of digital printing including color calibration, paper choice, maximum print size and image preparation. Nickelson will present his philosophies on printing and offer an overview of the steps necessary to make prints match artistic intent. The program also will cover image editing and image interpretation to maximize the potential of final prints. Selecting a home printer and working with custom and online printers will also be covered.

“I consider the fine print to be the whole purpose of photography, even in a world where digital dissemination of images is becoming more and more prevalent,” said Nickelson, proprietor of Nickelson Editions in Camden, a fine art digital printmaking studio that provides custom fine art digital prints for scores of photographers and other artists.

Nickelson works as a full-time fine art photographer and educator specializing in square format landscape, nature and night photography. His photography has received numerous awards and has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries across the United States. His photographic work also resides in several corporate, public and private collections.

Founded in 1990, First Light Camera Club hosts meetings three times per month from September through May, as well as photographic workshops and field trips all year long. Programs include technical nights, image critiques, photo outings, mentoring and guest speakers. Future speakers will focus on Astrophotography, April 24; Digital Image Critiques, May 1; and Paul Cunningham, official photographer for the Freeport Fire Department and other nearby towns, May 8. For more information, visit; email; or call 729-6607.


Three New Winter 2014 Printing Weekend Workshops at Maine Media

"Hope Elephants #1", Copyright Jim Nickelson. Courtesy Hope Elephants.
“Hope Elephants #1”, Copyright Jim Nickelson. Courtesy Hope Elephants.

In addition to the new Winter Night Landscape workshop I’m teaching in late February, I also will be teaching three weekend printing workshops at Maine Media Workshops this winter. I’m teaching a 2-day Introduction to Digital Printing workshop on March 15th-16th and a second time on April 26th-27th. I’m also teaching a 2-day Advanced Digital Printing workshop on April 5th-6th. I’m happy to answer any questions about either of the courses, and if you’d like to sign up, please click the links and go to the Maine Media Workshops site and follow the steps there. You can find all of my upcoming workshops here.

Here is the course description for the Introduction to Digital Printing workshop:

Bring your digital images to print form in this informative 2-day introductory workshop.

Learn techniques essential for generating high quality digital prints by exploring the relationship between image processing software like Adobe Lightroom and your printer. This course covers the basics of digital color and black & white printing, how to process images for print, common problems digital photographers encounter and how to develop a cohesive personal workflow for consistent output. Students generate and print images on a luster papers using Epson or Canon printers. Instruction includes lectures, demonstrations, critiques and hands-on exercises.

And here is the course description for the Advanced Digital Printing workshop:

Advance your printmaking in this intensive 2-day workshop.Students who have made the leap into digital printmaking may have learned the basics, but if you are striving to advance yourself, this workshop is for you. Students are exposed to use and evaluate the latest Epson printers, ink, papers, and profiles. An integrated approach to using Adobe products like Photoshop and Lightroom will all be detailed and practiced. This intense 2-day workshop goes deeper into fine-art printmaking and explains the tools needed to understand how it differs from making a basic print. Through direct classroom demonstration, critiques, and lectures, students learn a variety of techniques and tools that will help improve and refine both their digital files and print output. Participants leave with finished prints and the knowledge needed to get the results they are looking for. Also, students leave with a vastly expanded set of possibilities for making images.

September 23rd at the Portland Camera Club

"The Tarn", Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.
“The Tarn”, Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.

I’ll be presenting on Fine Art Printing at the Portland Camera Club this coming Monday night at 7 pm at 413 Broadway in South Portland. I’ll be covering a wide variety of things to consider when making fine art digital prints of your work, including color calibration, paper choice, maximum print size, and image preparation.

It should be a lot of fun and I look forward to meeting the group!

Like Falling Stars…

"Virgin River, Reflection", Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.
“Virgin River, Reflection”, Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.

I read a great quote today in an interview (which I recommend reading in full) of German curator Thomas Weski by Jörg M. Colberg of Conscientious:

JC: How can one master the flood of images online? Is there a way to deal with it?
TW: I view this flood of images as a type of visual communication, which I look at and use, but which in the context of art has no bigger meaning for me. The physical presence of a printed photograph still has an enormous influence on me. It allows me to access a photograph in a sensual, even physical way. I could imagine that this approach is going to become more important for other people as well. The photographs stored on my cell phone are not going to be printed, and they thus remain immaterial. They are fleeting – like falling stars…

Like falling stars…Briefly exciting but ultimately ephemeral. What a perfect description of the tsunami of electronic images in the world…

2013 Workshops with Maine Media Workshops

"64 Minutes, Barrett's Cove", Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.
“64 Minutes, Barrett’s Cove”, Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.

I’m very excited to officially announce that I’ll be teaching two week-long workshops next year at Maine Media Workshops in lovely Rockport, Maine.

The first one is a new workshop I’ve designed called The Craft and Art of the Fine Digital Print that will run from September 29th to October 5th. You can sign up here, and the course description is as follows:

In this course, students learn a workflow for creating fine digital prints. The workflow includes digital capture, digital processing in Adobe Photoshop and/or Lightroom, printing on an inkjet printer, and handling the finished print. Digital processing topics include maximizing image quality at capture, color management, sharpening and noise reduction, black & white printing, and local and global edits to color and tonality.

We also discuss the qualities and characteristics of a fine print, many of the plethora of options for inks and papers available to today’s printers, and how best to produce a print to realize an artistic vision.

Particular consideration is given to printing large prints. Students have the opportunity to examine the challenges of printing on a large scale and to learn a wide range of techniques for maximizing overall print quality and for creating and handling large prints. We discuss a variety of different printing technologies and create large prints of the student’s work on the large format printers available at the Workshops.

Students also have ample opportunity to shoot in the field and to apply all of the techniques learned on their own images. Students are required to shoot digital with a DSLR camera of at least 12 megapixels.

The second course is a repeat of my Night Landscape Photography course from last year (though this year we will be shooting different subjects as we will be near the full moon rather than the new moon). The image leading this post is one taken as an experiment during the 2012 course. The course will run from October 13th to October 19th, 2013. To sign up go here, and the course description is as follows:

This course is designed for students interested in exploring the possibilities of photographing the landscape at night as well as the night skies. Night landscape photography provides students with an exciting new perspective on the landscape, allowing students to create photograph that have a mood and look all their own. By expanding their repertoire with night photography, photographers can push their technical and creative limits, and thus learn techniques and skills that can be applied to all of their creative work.

Photographing at night presents many challenges, both in technique at the time of shooting and in unique aspects in processing the images in the digital darkroom and creating fine prints. Students will gain an understanding of how to use the best techniques in the field to maximize the possible quality of the resulting photographs, both technically and compositionally. Students will also learn how to properly process and prepare night photographs, with all their subtleties and characteristics, for display and print.

The class will combine significant time in the field in the evening and at night with the remaining time being spent either in the digital darkroom or in a workshop setting discussing technique, composition, and reviewing and discussing images.

Buffered vs. Non-Buffered/Unbuffered Materials for Digital Pigment Prints

“Cadillac, Late Afternoon Fog #2”, Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.


Should I use buffered or non-/unbuffered materials (matboard, interleaving sheets, etc.) with my digital pigment prints?

The Short Answer

This is a common question I receive from clients and an area of obvious relevance. Surprisingly, after researching this subject, the answer to this question was not as clear cut as I anticipated. After performing my research, I intend on recommending buffered materials for use with digital prints.

The Longer Answer

The explanation of how I came to this conclusion starts with a few definitions. First, buffered materials are materials in which calcium carbonate (a chalk) or a similar material has been added to paper pulp during the paper making process to act as a buffering agent. The calcium carbonate raises the pH level of the resulting material to the alkaline side of things, making it non-acidic, and acts to counter acidic substances or pollution in the environment (such as smog) from impacting the buffered material. Many inkjet papers themselves are buffered for this reason.

Historically, archivists preferred buffered materials for conservation purposes to help combat acid from materials in the environment unless a particular material required non-buffered materials around it. The most common exclusion from being used with buffered materials is any item with components made from animals (i.e., protein-based materials), such as silk or leather. Photographic prints in this category include albumen prints, cyanotypes, and dye transfer prints because of their component materials.

An article Jeffrey Neumann from Picture Framing Magazine (link to PDF here) explains the history of the buffering issue as applied to photographic prints (more info also from Wilhelm Research). In the 1980’s, many conservators started recommending non-buffered materials for use with albumen, cyanotype, dye transfer, and chromogenic (color) prints by extrapolating from damage done to various albumen prints in storage. Additional research in the 1990’s by the Image Permanence Institute – the same researchers who made the initial determination that buffered materials were the culprit – led to the IPI to withdraw their recommendation to use unbuffered materials.

They now contend that either buffered or non-buffered are acceptable for all photographic prints except for dye transfer and cyanotypes. The IPI now instead recommends the use of high quality materials — Museum quality board, acid- and lingin-free, and able to pass their Photographic Activity Test (PAT). They also recommend buffered materials for photographic enclosures (which would include matboards and interleaving paper) as a means to help prevent acid from an enclosure from damaging a print and possibly to help absorb environmental acids.

Information from resellers and manufacturers also support the use of buffered materials with digital prints. Archival Methods, one of the big suppliers of matboard and tissue, suggests using unbuffered materials only for dye transfer and cyanotypes. Resellers such as B&H also say this, though they may simply be parroting what manufacturers such as Archival Methods tell them. University Products also has a nice article on this issue and comes to the same conclusion. (I did find at least one retailer, Light Impressions, that seems to have contradictory advice – recommends buffered but at least in one location says to use non-buffered for chromogenic prints. Given the other information I found there and elsewhere, I think it is likely sloppiness that chromogenic prints are listed there.)

Despite this history, many conservators and others recommend unbuffered materials for use with digital prints. I suspect the reasons for this vary by individual, but a lack of compelling evidence to change their recommendation might be factor (even if the original recommendation for non-buffered had much weaker evidence). I will say that the evidence is not overwhelming — it is not clear to me that anyone has done systematic, long-term research on this issue — but the weight of evidence and theory right now is that buffered materials are better for digital pigment prints.

Does it Even Matter?

A consensus also seems to have formed around the fact that the buffering issue is actually not that important for digital prints — many other factors are much more important in determining print longevity, including exposure to light or sunlight, humidity,temperature, the particular paper and ink combination, and the like. Mark McCormick-Goodhart of Aardenberg Imaging & Archives (which I think to be the best source now of info on digital print longevity) emphasizes the unimportance of the buffering issue in a post on the Luminous Landscape forum. Here’s what he says:

The major factors determining your print longevity are your material choices for inkjet paper,inks and possibly coatings combined with the actual environmental conditions, ie., the light intensity on display, the temperature on display or in storage, and the relative humidity on display or in storage.

Picture frame glazing, matting and mounting (which should be specified acid and lignin-free but largely irrelevant whether buffered or unbuffered) goes a long way to reduce the external air pollution effects. Note that some companies marketing conservation quality matt board will have their products also certified with the PAT test (photographic activity test) that is available as a testing procedure at IPI (the Image Permanence Institute in Rochester, NY). It’s a worthwhile test for silver gelatin print processes, certainly doesn’t hurt and may be beneficial for some ink jet print processes if the matt board passes it.

Mark also provided input on the dpreview discussion boards along similar lines:

For pigmented inks, the buffered versus non buffered question is a rather academic discussion, as the pigment particles are not going to migrate from acid to base conditions which is what can possibly happen (under high humidity conditions) when acidified dyes come in direct contact with an alkaline buffered tissue or mount board. Buffering agents in rag board are typically materials like calcium carbonate. While buffered mat board can protect against “acid burn” from external polluting sources (No3 and SO2 gases from urban smog, etc), it won’t stabilize wood pulp papers with lignin remaining in the bulk material, etc. I’ve seen many “archival” mat boards that don’t live up to their marketing hype. Stick with reputable manufacturers of mat board and papers, and consider the non-buffered materials if you are matting and storing dye-based inkjet materials. Otherwise, either buffered or non-buffered will be OK provided, as Neil also noted, the inherent processing during manufacture was done well.


My recommendation is to use buffered materials with your pigment-based digital prints, but non-buffered materials should also be fine if you want to go that way. I’m personally more convinced that buffered solutions are superior and will accordingly use them for my own photographs and will also recommend them for my clients going forward.