A few months ago, the esteemed German photo printing company WhiteWall introduced new black-and-white specific products into its expansive catalog. I recently tried some of the products with my images and am extremely impressed by the company’s craftsmanship.
Color photography is fantastic, and I do a lot of work in color and have made many color prints using my printers and with the services of local and international printing labs, including WhiteWall. But I love black and white photography, and it has always been my preferred way to capture and edit images.
Back in my days as Reviews Editor at Imaging Resource, I worked with WhiteWall products for multiple reviews, including creating a direct print on wood which I have hanging in my office still, and creating my very own photography book. Sadly, my fellow Americans can no longer order a book through WhiteWall, although the product is still on offer for Europeans.
PetaPixel editor-in-chief Jaron Schneider also reviewed a WhiteWall product back in his Imaging Resource days, too, and the beautiful print he ordered has long been a staple in his office, having made frequent appearances in the early episodes of the PetaPixel Podcast. Blair Bunting, friend of PetaPixel and the photographer behind the incredible photoshoot at the edge of space, recently made a giant 94-inch print with WhiteWall.
All that is to say that I’m no stranger to WhiteWall, and neither are my fellow photographers at PetaPixel and beyond. I have seen what the company can do and know first-hand how great its work is. However, even with years of positive experiences under my belt, when I opened my latest WhiteWall print, a black and white print on the company’s new, specially crafted Ilford baryta paper, I was truly blown away.
There is no way for me to truly show the quality of a print in a written review published online. A digital photo of a print will always miss something important. Much like advertising the latest television on a commercial you see on an old TV, a picture of a print is a substandard facsimile for seeing the print in person. That aside, I’m in love with this print.
I’m undoubtedly biased. After all, I chose to print an image that I really like. But because I care about this photo, I’m probably a harsher critic. I’ve printed this photo on multiple papers using various printers, and I’ve never been wholly satisfied with how it came out. I’ve tossed a couple of my worst attempts straight in the trash.
When WhiteWall told PetaPixel about its new paper and promised that it would deliver “strong contrasts” and had a new photo paper crafted exclusively for black and white photography, the gears in my head started turning. Could I finally bring this tricky monochrome landscape shot to life in a way that made me proud to hang it on my wall?
Nobody can explain the printing process better than WhiteWall itself:
The special developing process at the WhiteWall photo lab turns your artistic black-and-white photographs into high-end baryta prints. First, the cutting-edge laser exposes your image onto the photo paper. This is followed by traditional silver halide developing, fixing, and washing. Although the final wet phase precludes millimeter-exact formats, the baryta paper offers so much more: a highly-sensitive panchromatic emulsion, which enhances the picture quality of black-and-white photos to the highest degree — even when they originate from digital image files, meaning you can benefit from the latest photo editing options! At the end of the development process, the chemicals are washed for a particularly long time.
The way it was described to me over Zoom was basically like the laser — or LightJet — printer exposes the photographic paper. It’s almost like my photo, or anyone else’s image, for that matter, is exposed again, but this time on paper instead of an image sensor.
All these fancy terms and sophisticated processes result in gorgeous, beautiful print quality. Having made many inkjet prints over the years, something looks noticeably different about a LightJet print.
WhiteWall has also added some other new black-and-white specific products to its repertoire, including bringing UltraHD sharpening to monochrome printing processes. This digital sharpening can bring out a bit of extra detail in images while not adding much by way of visible noise. In some cases, it’s a great option. In other instances, photos may not need the additional sharpening.
At this point, a person could reasonably ask, “Why should I even print my photos anyway? I’ve got a website and an Instagram profile. That’s the best way to view my work.” And to a certain extent, there is something nice about viewing photos on big, bright, vivid displays.
There’s also something different about a print by how it is illuminated. When viewing a photo on a screen, it is illuminated from behind. A print, on the other hand, is illuminated indirectly from the front. This may seem like a slight difference, although anyone who has tried to dial in the perfect print using their computer display to softproof knows all too well how different it is to view a photo on display versus a print.
Beyond that, there is something special about having a real print in your hands. Touching your work is different than just looking at it on a computer or phone.
In the case of this image, I feel happy whenever I look at it. If it was tucked away on a hard drive or in a Lightroom catalog, I’d only see it on occasion, and I’d never have cause to really look at it. Viewing this print, or any other, remind me of the experience of capturing the photo. While I do enjoy the resulting images and am sometimes really happy with how a photograph came together, what matters most to me is the process. It is what I most fondly remember.
For this photo, when I look at the print, I recall a really pleasant morning of landscape photography in Stonington, Maine, with my dad in nearly-perfect winter conditions that are exceptionally rare along the rugged Maine coast. It’s a memory I’m very glad to remember each day when I see the print.
For any photographer who has yet to print their work, I highly recommend it. It is fun and extremely satisfying. And if you’ve got black-and-white photos to print, WhiteWall is an excellent place to go. The company genuinely respects black-and-white photography, and its extremely impressive monochrome-oriented offerings reflect that.