Does making physical prints of your images really matter in this digital age?
Simple answer…. Yes, it does!
Ok, so that alone wouldn’t make for a particularly great blog post and, more importantly, it doesn’t really give you the reasons for why it matters. In fact, dependant on how you shoot, and for what purpose, there are a plethora of different reasons why you should be printing your images.
Digital photography is still King
To preface this post, it’s important to note that the advent of digital cameras has doubtless made many aspects of our photographic lives much easier and less messy. Firstly, we no longer have to wait days, if not weeks, to see how our prized photos turned out or where we might have to adjust our camera settings next time. We simply get instant feedback on the rear of our cameras. Neither do we need to wash magic paper in trays full of chemicals, under the dim glow of a red bulb in an under stairs cupboard (although I’m aware that there is still a huge calling for the somewhat lost art of self-developing and many who bemoan the ease with which we take images now, arguing there’s no mastery in it anymore… but I digress). All we have to do now is simply move a few sliders around, click a few buttons and completely change the look or feel of a photo (see here for why I think you should always be shooting raw instead of jpg). For the vast majority of shooters then, myself included, the arrival of digital cameras has been nothing but positive.
Why print matters
With the digital images we create having the ability to be sent to the other side of the world in seconds, as well as our obsession with putting pictures online for ‘likes’, the one thing that often gets forgotten is physically printing your shots. Which brings us to why it matters so much to do that!
Let’s look at it from the perspective of two different types of photographer:
Non-professional – By which I mean anyone who doesn’t earn their main income from photography
Professional – Conversely, anyone whose main source of income results from their images
Now I genuinely mean no disservice to what I categorise as non-professional, as we all have to start somewhere and none of us are born with the ability to shoot like [enter name of your favourite photographer here]. Further, just because you aren’t earning a living from your shots, it certainly doesn’t mean that they won’t be world class, breath-taking images. However, it’s important to distinguish between the two, as the reasons that both groups should be printing differ from each other, with a little overlap.
#1 – Future proofing
Now this might seem a little odd, to suggest going back to an old medium to ensure your photos will be around in the future, so I’ll start this one off by asking if you remember recording anything on to a Betamax video cassette in the 80s? If you’re not old enough for that, how about recording a song off the radio on to a tape cassette in the 90s? Ever buy a music album on minidisc or Philips Laserdisc or even a Compact Disc? Well if you did any of those things, you’ll know that, with the exception of CDs, you’ll now have quite a hard time trying to play them anywhere, obviously because the formats they use died out long ago. Like the other bygone mediums though, CDs aren’t safe from the unstoppable march of time, with many computer and laptop companies now excluding CD drives from their products.
So what happens when that external disc drive you have that’s filled with cherished images of loved ones and trips away is no longer recognised by the fancy new computer you’ve just bought. Ok, there might be a transition period where new technology will be compatible with its older predecessor but do you really want to go spending days, weeks even, copying terabytes of data from one drive to another.
Then what about coming across an old drive, long discarded in a box that was taken to the attic, with no way of now accessing the files within? Or possibly the worst scenario going, your drive simply dies, leaving you with nothing but an expensive paperweight on your desk! (Coincidentally, this last one is why I highly recommend Robert Vanelli’s 3-2-1 method of backing up. Keep 3 back ups of your files on two different types of media, with one copy kept off site, i.e. In the cloud. You won’t go far wrong with that plan!). Having a physical copy of your images makes certain that they’ll be around for many years to come.
#2 – Ease of access
As I was growing up, my Dad, much like I do now, used to love taking pictures of our holidays and family get togethers and, much like my kids do now, my siblings and I used to get bored of being told to stand in a group while he captured our image in an iconic location on celluloid. I’m so glad he did though, because every gathering we had would result in a mountain of prints being dragged out of a drawer at the bottom of a side unit at my parents’ house. We’d all then sit around reminiscing or laughing at the fashion and haircut trends of years gone by. There were even photos of my grandparents as teenagers and adolescents. We’d all have separate piles of photos and each of us would look at them and pass them around and across the room when we found a particularly funny or touching image.
Now imagine your grandchildren in 50 or 60 years or more trying to look at your family snaps. Do you see them all huddled around a computer screen, scrolling one by one through the images? Assuming, as mentioned in number one above, the medium to display even still exists? That just doesn’t seem realistic, or fun, to me!
#3 – They make a truly special gift
I see both this and hand written letters in the same vein. We’re so used to reading the typed word or viewing a beautiful image on a screen these days, that when we’re presented with a beautifully hand written letter or handle a good quality printed picture, it’s a rare experience. To the older generations, it in itself can be quite nostalgic, regardless of the content and for those who have grown up in a digital age, the ‘novelty’ of it often astounds them.
#1 – Prints give you credibility
Seriously! No matter what your chosen genre of photography, if you turn up to a meeting with a potential client with an iPad full of images, they’ll doubtless be impressed with your incredible portfolio. You turn up with a full, professionally printed portfolio of shots though and you’ll blow their mind. When I go to client consultations for my wedding work, I always take my sample photo albums along and this serves two purposes. First, they get to see the quality of the albums with which you’ll provide them if they hire you but more importantly, the albums are full of my very best shots and they look just incredible on 5mm art board, wrapped in a leather, embossed cover. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve puled the albums out and a couple have said ‘wow, I thought you were just going to show us some shots on an iPad but these look amazing!’.
Simply put, prints make you look more professional.
#2 – They give you access
This has slight overlap with the above but on a slightly different level. This tip was actually given to me by a good friend that shoots NFL Football games in the States, a genre of photography that is extremely difficult to get in to and very restrictive in terms of where you’re allowed to shoot from inside the stadium. Stadium/team managers are ruthlessly fastidious about where photographers are and, more so, aren’t allowed to be. However, to combat this, on one occasion my friend placed a remote camera on the rigging above the tunnel the players run out off and on to the pitch. I’ll shorten the story for ease of reading but suffice to say the resultant shot looked incredible, with the usual pyrotechnics and hooraahing from the players that accompanies the pre-match events. Fast forward a week or so then and my friend sends a huge print of the image to the team manager of the stadium and as soon as it’s delivered, he gets straight on the phone to my friend, barely able to describe how incredible the shot looks and what amazing a gesture it was.
So what happened the next time my friend had a game to shoot at that stadium… You can bet that he was allowed to stand wherever he wanted, allowing him to get some even more amazing shots.
I can’t imagine that would have happened if he’d simply sent him a jpeg of the image by email!
And here’s a couple for both groups
#1 – It will make you a better photographer
Printing an image shows up so many more minor imperfections in your image than a screen does, so the ability to see these more clearly when you print means you won’t make the same mistakes next time or it’ll persuade you to maintain your kit better in the future (like making sure your sensor is relatively clean, for one).
Printing an image will force you to up your photography game and make your subsequent images much better
#2 – Your images will look so much better
No matter how much you pay or how big or how advanced your screen is, it will never beat the dynamic range of a professional printer. Printed images will always look so much better to the naked eye than viewing them on the multitude of screens and displays available today, from computers to phones.
By printing, you make sure that your images will be viewed exactly as you intended and they’ll look infinitely better than on any digital display.
Will you print?
So have I convinced you all that printing your images is the way to go? I hope I have and I’d love to see any pictures of your images framed and taking pride of place on your walls, so feel free to tag me in or use #HybridPeter.