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How does one prepare night-time photographs (long exposures of starfields, moonlight, city lights, etc.) for printing? Do particular paper types (e.g. metallic) work better for this purpose?

As it is, normal daytime photographs print much darker than they appear on monitors (since paper doesn't emit its own light). I'm wondering how to print inherently dark photos without losing shadow detail entirely.

Or do dark photos just need to be displayed under really bright lighting?

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    Its not a complete answer so I wont submit one: Paper is VERY important for dark images. I have found that glossy / lustre media is best for giving really deep blacks (you want black to be BLACK don't you!) and quality matters - I have seen various cheap photo papers that produce a sort of slightly milky haze where ink is very heavy. – Digital Lightcraft Feb 24 '14 at 15:07
  • Yes, the Dmax of glossy paper is higher than that of matte paper, allowing "deeper" blacks. – FredP Feb 24 '14 at 16:12
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Unless your photo is almost completely made of very dark tones (on purpose), why would you handle it differently of a "normal" (daylight) one, since it is correctly exposed ?

Provided you have handled your photo well during post-processing, trying to keep the histogram balanced, and your graphic chain is correctly calibrated, you should obtain (as) good prints (as with "normal" photos).

Just two points you might want to watch about paper :

  • As indicated above, a (good quality) glossy paper might be more flattering because it will allow the dark colors to be "deeper" (than on a matte paper, because of the Dmax, see here http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/dynamic-range.htm for example)... and then a specific artistic intent might kick in and contradict this statement (and I know some people who prefer matte papers, no matter what).
  • However, glossy paper is... glossy :-) so imagine if you display your photos in an exhibition with inadequate lighting, the result can be catastrophic - especially with darker images. Semi-glossy paper can be an intermediary solution (my favorite usually).
  • If you have thin light details within large dark areas, you need a paper with well controlled ink diffusion, otherwise these details will be lost (blurred). Again glossy papers usually fare better here.

In English I found this page that seems accurate on papers : http://www.steves-digicams.com/knowledge-center/using-matte-semi-gloss-and-glossy-paper.html

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As it is, normal daytime photographs print much darker than they appear on monitors (since paper doesn't emit its own light).

They obviously won't glow in the dark, but if they are displayed under appropriate light, they don't have to print darker. If they print darker it usually means, that the display brightness is cranked up too much or that the prints are displayed in insufficient light.

I'm wondering how to print inherently dark photos without losing shadow detail entirely.

I am not sure if I correctly understand what you mean by losing shadow detail in this context. If you see the detail on your calibrated display in your editor with soft proof on and you are using good printer profile, the shadow detail should show in the print with any decent print/paper combination.

Or do dark photos just need to be displayed under really bright lighting?

They should be illuminated normally. The print lightness can be adjusted to the light intensity under which they are displayed (up to a point).

As others pointed out, use paper with high Dmax. These are usually the glossy and pearl types. If you need natural or matte paper, there are some with decent Dmax as well, like the Hahnemuehle Photo Rag. Dmax values or L values of papers can be found on the internet. Or if you print at home, get a few sample packs and give them a try. Or talk to your lab...

Type of mounting will also play a role. I would think that for example a night scene print face mounted on acrylic will appear visually more attractive than a glass covered one (especially with less expensive glass).

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Two words: soft proofing. Just remember that most high quality monitors can display a wider gamut, both in terms of range of colors and dynamic range, than most printers. When you soft proof with a color profile for the intended printer/ink/paper combination you limit the gamut of the image sent to the display to what the printer can reproduce. You may not be able to reproduce an image with a printer the way you can see the version before you do soft proofing on your wide gamut display, but you can see how that image will be translated to fit in the capabilities of the printer. Depending on what application you use, you may also be able to define how out of gamut values are translated into values within the capabilities of the printer/ink/paper.

This comprehensive article covers the workflow one artist uses to print her HDR images. This includes what software, printers, and inks work for her.

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