Not all photographs are the same. On the contrary, every step of the photographer's process carries nuances; from how they capture a photograph, to whether they edit it and on what surface they choose to exhibit the final product. Each variation of this process is even considered its own 'print type'.
Rooted in a rich history, photographic print types have evolved with the times. They exploit different mediums – metal, glass, paper and the digital – influencing every decision a photographer makes. To help you make sense of this, we've compiled a glossary of the most common photographic print types.
Jacqui Stockdale, 'The Waiting Room I'
Silver Gelatin Print
This is among the most common of photographic print types. It was developed in the 1800s and used frequently until the 1960s. Darkroom based, Silver Gelatin Prints see an image projected through an enlarger onto light sensitive paper that is coated with silver salts and gelatine.
The Silver Gelatin Print is still popular today. It can be seen as among the last surviving 'traditional' photographic techniques since it requires no digital intervention. These images are commonly black and white, created from an analogue negative. Esteemed artists who create Silver Gelatin photographs include Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Richard Avedon.
Type C Photographic Print
This type of print came to prominence with the introduction of chromogenic paper by Kodak in the 1950s. It is similar to the Silver Gelatin Print, but with the addition of colour layers embedded in the chemicals. These chemicals when exposed to light work together to create accurate colours.
The use of this method is still common today, and has been adapted to work for the digital negative. This is often named a Digital C Print, or Lambda Print. Instead of light projected through a film negative, these prints render LED light from a digital image directly onto chemically sensitive paper, which is then fixed and run through a water bath to remove excess chemicals.
Pigment Print on Paper
This is often referred to as a Giclee or an Inkjet Print, and is one of the most common forms of photographic prints. This process begins with the choice of a high quality archival cotton rag paper, such as those manufactured by Ilford or Hannemuhle. Dye or pigment based inks are then sprayed onto the paper, thus creating a representation of the digital image.
The process of creating a pigment print echoes the household print, but proceeds a significantly higher quality image. Contemporary artists Jacqui Stockdale and Christopher Rimmer engage this method, relishing how the pigment print gives them total control over their final product.
Jacqui Stockdale, 'The Waiting Room II'
Wet Plate – Collodion Prints
The Wet Plate is an example of a historical technique in the throes of resurgence. A plate, usually dark coloured metal or glass, is coated with light sensitive chemicals and exposed to light through the lens of a large format analogue camera. Once the plate has been through developing chemicals and the image rendered, it can be varnished and presented as a one off photographic work.
This type of print produces fine detail and imbues the subject with an otherworldly quality. Contemporary artists such as Ian Ruhter and Sally Mann are using this process to great effect.
Check out our selection of contemporary photographs here.
Learn how to start collecting fine art photography here.