Professional photographer John Enman.

Professional photographer John Enman.

Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman

When the print was ‘the only thing that counted’

In a box of dusty film developing equipment that was dropped off at my shop there was an old copy of Popular Photography (February 1952 – 35 cents).

Along with ads for the new 1950s Exacta, Bolsey and Contax 35-mm cameras there was an article titled “Print Quality — take it from the Pros.” It began with a discussion by a well know photographic technician at the time that critiqued fellow photographer’s work and always said: “Show me the print.”

It continued with the opinion, “The print is the only thing that counts. It is the reason for lenses, cameras, meters, enlargers and the whole wonderful process.” That 1950s article brought back memories of my searches for the best print paper, exotic developers and, of course, enlargers and enlarging lenses.

Even when I was making portraits and photographing weddings with film in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, it really was about the print and if one wanted a quality photo greater than 4X6 the best option was medium format film and using cameras that used 2¼ x 2¼ negatives.

I worked with a camera called a Hasselblad. A roll of film was loaded in a 12-exposure film magazine and attached to the camera. When 12 exposures were taken, another loaded magazine was exchanged for more photography. Gosh, I now get over a thousand exposures with the 18GB memory card I use in my camera and it has another 16GB just in case.

Our goal in those days was much different than photographers have today, in that modern photographers can easily email a client 10 or 20 portraits of the same grouping to select from without worrying about the cost of processing those that are rejected, or the time-consuming process of making proofs for clients.

I would give wedding couples albums with 5X5, or 8X8 prints, and sometimes I would include additional 11X11 inch enlargements. The total number of 45-cent each prints the album contained was usually less than 100 pictures and each was printed in a custom lab because I would never want people to see anything but the best I could do. And retouching was slow, done by hand and costly.

In modern photography it’s so neat to take risks with our photography; and if a creative shot doesn’t work, delete it and try again. Instead of being limited to 12 permanent exposures for a family grouping, one is able to make multiple exposures, select the best photo with everyone smiling and eyes open, no grimaces or funny faces, and then delete the rest and send the best to clients.

Even though there are Photo Labs for those that might want a print, high quality enlargements can be made at home and heck, the thought of less than 100 photographs in an online wedding album is unacceptable.

Because digital cameras can produce images that don’t cost anything until they are printed (if there are any printed) photographers don’t hesitate to make multiple exposures of every subject. It is not unusual for a serious photographer to return home from vacation with a 1000-plus images stored on memory cards waiting for final selection.

Photography has been exciting all these years because it has been an ever-changing medium; not only with the film and equipment we used, but also in the way we put that equipment to use.

I still like to think of my photos in terms of how good a final print might be. That’s mostly because I am a hold over from a past age in photography when, as that deteriorating old magazine said, “prints are the only thing that count.”

However, I know the majority of the images most photographers produce at the present time probably look better on the computer display than they do as prints. One could be critical about that, but if the image will never be printed I don’t think it really matters to the viewers.

Stay safe and be creative. These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at or

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