(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)
Most first prints are work prints. It is the first look at the behaviors of the color management workflow, overall density and balance, the glow of white from the paper, the apparent perceived sharpness. If you think of printing as a process that evolves as you explore, tweak and refine, you step right into the traditions of fine-art photographic printmaking that has yielded an astonishingly beautiful history of photographs on paper.
As a general rule, a fully edited file will still take work to make a beautiful print. Anything less than the most refined edit you can make in Photoshop should be expected to print poorly, and will need extra and sometimes confusing work to make a great print. As general advice, take the time and care to edit your image to a high level of satisfaction, then start the printing interpretation process.
I believe our artwork deserves the best materials possible and that it is largely a waste of time to test on anything less. So I do all of my test prints on the paper I intend to print on, although often as small 3×5 images on letter-sized paper. Sometimes a lighter-weight version of the same paper is available and cheaper.
My papers of choice have been the same for many years now. Specifically the Hahnemühle Museum Etching (which I helped create) for the cotton printmaking paper look. I also use the Hahnemühle PhotoRag Pearl for a more traditional gelatin-silver look. It should also be pointed out that Hahnemühle supplies these papers to my workshops, but of course they are by my choice the papers that I use and want to teach with.
Much has been said in the last few years about the wonders of Adobe Lightroom and the obsolescence of Photoshop. Lightroom is remarkable and powerful. In many forums however, I remind people that for all of their power and conveniences, Adobe’s Camera RAW, and Lightroom, Apple’s Aperture, and PhaseOne’s Capture One are after all RAW processors, not image editors in the same sense of Photoshop’s flexibility and pixel by pixel precision. I believe that Photoshop remains an absolutely critical ingredient in image editing.
Many photographers are simply put off by the complexity of Photoshop, the seemingly endless array of options and elaborate workflows abounding on the internet. Others simply want the flexibility of RAW without all of the work and time that finishing the image in Photoshop implies. The cost differential is also real. I can understand all of these notions, but want to discuss a few of them here.