Printing low-light and minimalist images with depth

Pared-back photography doesn't mean leaving out rich detail and interest. Low-light master and nature aficionado Mauro Tronto shares his secrets for perfect photo prints.
A leafless tree silhouetted against the starry night sky, shot in black and white on a Canon EOS R5 by Mauro Tronto.

"In landscape photography, there is no exact science," says Italian photographer Mauro Tronto of his craft. "When dealing with the unpredictability of nature, everything can change – and it is precisely this aspect that pushes me to keep going even when things do not seem to be heading in the direction I had planned." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Drop-in Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 0.15 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Mauro Tronto

Italian photographer Mauro Tronto lets nature do all the talking in his imagery. A magician of light, he depicts the majesty of the elements in minimalist compositions and dark environments – from inky, star-filled skies (see above) to forests lit with glimmering fireflies (see below). He is also adept at making high-quality prints of his photographs to sell, transforming darker-toned images into artworks that look just as good on paper as they do on screen.

"I have had a love for nature since I was a child," says Mauro. "In landscape photography, I immediately found a strong appeal that has turned into an inexhaustible source of inspiration. The landscape must be observed, understood and interpreted."

While Mauro finds his inspiration in nature, translating it into print requires considerable practical skill. He uses his Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer to create his photo prints, which he displays in exhibitions and sells to clients. Mauro also attends conferences on landscape photography and image printing processes, so is aware of common printing mistakes that photographers make, and is adept at avoiding them. Here he explains his process and offers his advice.

Fireflies glow brightly in a forest at dusk in this photograph taken by Mauro Tronto on a Canon EOS R5.

"Professional printers use a large number of inks specifically to maximise the reproducible gamut. A printer such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, with 12 LUCIA pigment inks, manages to reproduce truly impressive tones and nuances, and with an excellent level of detail," says Mauro. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Drop-in Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 0.18 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Mauro Tronto

Embracing the challenges of printing low-light images

Choosing to print low-light and minimalist images with depth brings with it important considerations, Mauro notes. "The most demanding challenge in printing landscape images made in low-light conditions, as well as nightscapes, is to convey the atmosphere of the scene without losing details in the darkest and deepest areas of the image," he says.

Mauro carries a Canon EOS R5 and a kitbag laden with Canon EF lenses and filters. He also uses a Drop-in Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R, and these tools aid in his quest for making such images. The EOS R5's RAW shooting capabilities with 14-bit colour depth help him to capture files packed with information, to ensure plenty of nuanced tonal detail comes through in his edited images.

When it comes to shooting low-light photos with print in mind, Mauro exposes to the right. "Exposing to the right [of the histogram] means maximising the signal-to-noise ratio of the sensor, while preserving the richness, hue and colour depth of a scene," he explains. "It enables me to take full advantage of the dynamic range of the sensor and obtain maximum file quality, so I can develop the RAW file without losing any detail. It also safeguards against one of the most delicate aspects in the processing phase of images taken in low-light conditions: noise."

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Landscape photographer Mauro Tronto holds up an image printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer..

Mauro analyses shots in various phases, processing them through the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom film strip. "It may seem trivial, but choosing images is sometimes a more complex operation than you think," he says. "I check for any technical problems, such as shake, and mark these shots to be trashed. Then I carefully evaluate the composition of the remaining images and select the best ones based on the type of light. If I have photos composed in the same way but taken at different times, closer to a sunrise or sunset for example, light is the key element that basically orients my final choices." © Mauro Tronto

Soft proofing your images for printing

Mauro soft proofs his images in Adobe Photoshop before any printing takes place, viewing the image on his carefully calibrated monitor to see how it should appear once printed, and making adjustments accordingly. The soft proofing process is an important part of printing, since what exists on a backlit screen will somewhat differ from what's represented on paper.

"Due to the profound difference between print and monitor colour systems (CMYK vs RGB), you will have colours that can be reproduced on the monitor but not in print and vice versa," says Mauro. "Soft proofing is a software mechanism that allows us to simulate on a monitor how our photograph will look when printed on paper. Obviously, it is an approximation, because not all CMYK colours are reproducible in the RGB colour space, but if assisted by a quality and well-calibrated monitor, the results will certainly be good."

Canon's Professional Print & Layout software offers colour management features for soft proofing and hard proofing, as well as ICC profiles and rendering intent on delivering optimum screen-to-print match results.

Small figures of two people visible on an all-white mountain slope above a forest, against a whited-out sky, in Castelluccio, Italy, shot on a Canon EOS R5 by Mauro Tronto.

"Composition is the aspect that I dedicate the utmost care and attention to in the field," says Mauro. "The most common mistake that we often tend to make when approaching landscape photography, is that of not searching, of not knowing how to 'see' beyond one's nose. That, or not understanding that sometimes the ideal composition, or the one long sought after, is right in front of us. Instead we ignore it." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Mauro Tronto

Highlighting key features in minimalist prints

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 is a printer that Mauro feels does his image files justice. "Having a quality file from my Canon EOS R5 and being able to represent it at its best on any type of paper, thanks to the imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, is like driving a Ferrari at a racing circuit. It gives you security," he says. "Being able to give three-dimensionality to a print means being able to direct the attention of the observer to the main source of my message. It means giving a strong sense to my photography."

Directing his viewer's gaze is a feature of Mauro's work that is particularly effective when printed. He creates minimalist compositions, such as that showing the subtle arc of an all-white mountain slope rising above a forest, against a whited-out sky, in which the viewer almost misses the small silhouettes of climbers at first glance (see above). Once spotted, these figures draw viewers into 'reading' the image differently and inspecting it more closely.

Similarly, in some nightscapes, he seems to carve out an image from the darkness, directing one to only see the key features and shapes in a scene. Reproducing the rich variations in the blacks and greys are crucial to the success of these images, and one reason why Mauro favours "the output quality provided by the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 in terms of detail and colour".

Suhaib Hussain, Canon Europe Product Marketing Lead, also explains why the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 can be ideal for low-light printing. "The fact that it features a 12-ink system means naturally it will have a much wider colour gamut than printers with a lower number of inks, allowing a wider range of colours and tones to be able to be produced," he says. "There are also four dedicated monochrome inks within the set (PBK, MBK, PGY, GY), which allow for smoother gradations and more detail to be preserved in the shadows, which is easy to lose in other printers."

Two women stand against a wall either side of a corner. One is dressed in black everyday clothes with a brightly coloured scarf and gilet, and the other is wearing a long white evening dress. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by fashion photographer Leo Faria.

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 A large print emerging from a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer. A selection of other printed images are arranged on the surface on which the printer sits.

"The type of paper used may affect the faithful reproduction of the dark areas of the image," says Mauro. "The baryta papers for fine art printing, such as the Canson® Infinity Baryta Photographique II 310gsm, have a smooth texture without reflection, which allows you to fully enhance all the nuances and finesse of the photo, and offers a gamut with very deep blacks, ideal for printing black and white photos."

Importance of choosing the right paper

Mauro uses his Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer paired with Canson® and Hahnemühle fine art papers, and says that his paper choice varies depending on the image. "Photo paper plays a fundamental role in the whole process, and I am often asked which paper to use, but it is absolutely impossible to give a precise answer," he says. "I believe that choosing a paper based on the image to be printed is equivalent to making a tailor-made suit rather than buying one from a store."

He advises buying sample packs containing different types of photographic paper – from matte to glossy, textured to smooth – to try out and to help you choose the best solution.

One factor that influences Mauro's paper choice is durability, since fine art papers are predominantly made of natural fibres and are not artificially bleached, allowing prints to last 60 years or more if properly treated. Texture should also be considered, as it affects rendering of the details and the paper's ability to reflect light and, therefore, to convey the tonal range. The weight of the paper, and its white point – which is the different perceptions of white in a paper – are also worth thinking about, he advises.

Baryta is a fibre-based photographic paper coated with barium sulphate to give it a smooth, reflective finish. "The rendering of blacks on baryta photo cards, for example, is astounding," says Mauro. "This, especially in low-light images, allows me to establish the right balance when printing an image in which there is a strong contrast between lights and shadows."

Finally, the gamut is also a deciding factor. "Different papers used on the same printer, with the same set of colours, the same print drivers and with a specific colour profile, allow me to reach different black depths and different chromaticities depending on the image I have to print," Mauro says.

This depth in the blacks, subtle variations in tone and colour fidelity are elements that sing out in Mauro's award-winning photo prints. After all, if you are seeking to photograph landscapes in a pared-back, minimalist style, each element on the page needs to captivate – and here they truly do.

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Lorna Dockerill

Mauro Tronto's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take and print their photographs

Landscape photographer Mauro Tronto standing in front of a snow-capped mountain range.


Canon EOS R5

A hybrid mirrorless camera which enables you to capture 45MP photos at up to 20 frames per second. "The brightness of the electronic viewfinder on the Canon EOS R5 is adjustable and literally allows me to see in the dark," says Mauro. "It offers amazing image quality and colour depth, and superior autofocus."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

An accomplished all-rounder featuring advanced focusing and metering which captures moments and tracks them the instant they happen, even in difficult lighting. "My faithful companion on many trips," says Mauro. "Solid and reliable in all weather conditions."


Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

A versatile fisheye zoom lens offering a choice of full frame or circular image, delivering fantastic image quality, even with such a wide angle view. "Ideal for situations that require a touch of class and originality," says Mauro.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

A compact and lightweight high-performance lens with a f/4 fixed aperture, ultra wide-angle zoom lens with image stabiliser. Mauro says: "My friends called me "wide-angle man" and this lens offers stunning image quality throughout the frame. It's always in my kitbag."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The latest model built for any assignment and genre, engineered to perform in the most challenging conditions. Mauro says: "The quality and precision of this magnificent lens allows me to remain anonymous while shooting and to experience the emotion of the moment from within."

Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

A compact, high-performance zoom lens which delivers superb image quality right across the frame. "An extraordinary lens, which can be used handheld, despite the weight, thanks to the 4-stop Image Stabilizer," says Mauro. "My absolute favourite lens. Precise and sharp as a razor."


Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000

A superb A2 desktop photo printer with an advanced ink system for a wider colour gamut and a seamless print workflow from input to output. "The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 has an excellent colour gamut, four inks for monochrome printing and a Chroma Optimiser that provides a uniform gloss throughout the sheet. It's the ideal tool to convey my thoughts on paper," says Mauro.

Canon Drop-in Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

The Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R takes the functionality of the Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and adds the ability to use drop-in filters, removing the need to fit filters on the front of a lens, which is especially useful for wide-angles with a large front lens element. Mauro says: "Having the opportunity to evolve while still using your existing EF lenses on Canon's new technologies is a huge opportunity for every photographer."

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