One of my greatest concerns about the current state of affairs in photography is the notion that making a photograph and then posting it online is the end of the experience.
I come from an era where we had no “online” and the way you “shared” your photographs was that you made a print. Recent studies show that younger photographers make fewer prints than older photographers. I think there are many reasons for this and won’t discuss all of them. But I will discuss one reason.
I think that young photographers want to do something different – to stand out – to be recognized for innovation – as much as they want praise for their photos. This is hard when you’re making the same kind of prints everyone else does. Well a company called “backlit box” has a new product that just might solve that problem.
Back lit images are certainly not a new concept, but no previous product has made the image the star of the show. Other attempts have always had large frames or distracting spaces around the image which draw a viewer’s attention away from the photo. With backlit box, the image becomes the entire focal point and the product itself nearly vanishes.
I tried the service and had four prints made. I decided to use some of my car photographs for this test. They are the perfect subject. One of the things back lit photos do is better represent the third dimension. We are people living in a three-D world, shooting in a two-D medium. Back lit box helps solve that problem. I’ve literally never had so many people say things like “Wow that image looks like a real car” using any other medium, including metal.
(While it’s impossible to demonstrate this in a blog post, above you see two of my photos printed using the BacklitBox method. The lights in my office are turned out and this is all you see.)
Back lit box uses a ”Duratrans” (specifically Fujitrans or Ilfotrans) print media which was developed specifically to use in a back lit application. Other products use inkjet prints that were made to have light bounce off the front. Inkjet inks get their color from extremely fine granules of colored materials (pigments). Visualized up close these granules can be described as colored grains of sand. These grains of sand reflect color very well but transmit none since they are opaque. This is part of the reason that backlit inkjet prints have a muted color gamut. Inkjet pigmented inks have their strengths when printing reflective photo images but the backlit media are simply an afterthought, a limited imitation. ince backlit inkjet images are printed by spraying ink onto a very absorbent coated media, dark areas will receive more ink than lighter highlight areas. This makes it difficult to maintain fine detail in these shadowed areas.
Duratrans material has a silver halide coating adhered to a tough polyester diffusion film which is exposed with light and developed using a traditional photographic process. Shadows and highlights will be exposed to their respective amounts of light but there is no chance for inks to bleed due to excessive buildup. Inkjet media can absorb only so much ink. This limitation helps explain why the shadow areas (Dmax) of an inkjet image will always appear dark grayish when viewed backlit. Add the grayish shadows with the muted color gamut and anyone could easily see a marked difference between a Duratrans and a backlit inkjet image. The dyes which color the light traveling through a Duratrans have been engineered for viewing in front of a light source. Duratrans material can provide unmatched crispness and detail to photographs because it is a continuous tone process. This does not really translate to dots per inch, but a rough estimate would be around 4000 dpi where most inkjet processes allow only 1440 at best.
I sent the company 300 DPI files at size and within three weeks I got my prints back. They come well-packaged and there is a power cord which works by hooking it to either the back or the bottom of the frame. Mounting hardware is also included.
I was 100% impressed with the results with one exception. In a photo with a very large amount of pure black, there was a slight blue tone to the image. The owner of backlit box explained to me that it is one area they are still perfecting. But every other image I sent them came out better than I expected. This caused me to ask more questions about the process.
Backlit box products use an array of LEDs to provide optimum light dispersion over the entire viewing surface. Other products use edge lighting to cut the number of LEDs for cost concerns. This greatly sacrifices the quality of the image due to the uneven distribution of light. Most edge lit products are instantly recognizable by the bright halo around the dark center. I saw no such halo on the BLB product.
Backlit box offers prints in two variants. Both products use the same trans media and an LED array. The first is a consumer grade product. This product has a thick lexan laminate applied to the surface to protect the image, and it comes with a “wall wart” transformer power supply. These are available with a hanging wire and your choice of power cord connector location. The price on this grade is very affordable ranging from $90 for an 8” square up to $265 for a 20×30. This is the maximum size available for their consumer grade product.
The BLB professional grade product has the image face mounted behind a non-glare acrylic sheet which provides a smooth surface, and has an enhanced look and a very solid feel. The professional grade image has a remote mountable transformer that can be hard wired into the building and is designed to be mounted with the power wires routed behind the sheetrock for a clean, permanent looking display. This grade is very easy to price as it is $.70 per square inch for anything above 600 square inches, so a 20×30 would be $420, and a 47.75×95.75 would be $3200. This is the maximum size for their professional grade product.
The hard part of this review is there’s no way I can possibly show you how cool these prints look. You’d have to see them to really get it. I know that many of you will consider this an expensive process. And it is. But in my opinion, it’s well worth it.
If you’re looking for a way to make your photography really stand apart from the crowd, try backlitbox.com.
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