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Digital Photography – Is it the Death of Prints?

Fotografía, foto, photograph…all ways of saying the same thing. But what is this thing that we all strive to become better at doing and in turn share with the world? There was a time not so long ago that the idea of producing a photograph involved a good bit of skill, patience, and hard work in darkrooms making prints.

The only way for one’s work to make its way in front of the eyes of someone else was for it to be printed. Today, the capability of communicating our images to others digitally has virtually become boundless. We are accomplishing the same old thing in decidedly new ways.

Digital Photography - Is it the Death of Prints?

So, are we slowly bearing witness to the death of prints entirely? With the advent of digital photography, the world of photo making changed. The medium morphed into something more translucent for the masses. The craft became less organic; less physical. Making photographs, dare I say, became “easy.”

That’s not to imply that there aren’t incredible advancements being made to the photographic art directly as a result of digital photography and sharing. What we’re talking about here is a possible disconnection between craft and craftsman (or craftswoman) which happened slowly.

Digital Photography - Is it the Death of Prints?

Perhaps that disconnection is an inevitable natural step as we evolve as a photographic culture. Have we entered into the stages of some type of weird photogenic altruism? Are we missing something by not printing our work?

To print or not to print?

As it turns out we likely are shorting ourselves by not regularly printing our photographs but not in the way we might think. Why go through the problems of manifesting prints when they are, in the eyes of many, unnecessary for most people who shoot with digital cameras.

Printing costs money whereas digital storage cost nothing or next to nothing. Physical prints can’t be “shared” or “liked” on social media. They aren’t something that we can readily copy and paste somehow. And therein lies their value. Not in a monetary sense even though art prints and portraits are still profitable for some. The worth of seeing your own photographic work printed comes from something else.

Digital Photography - Is it the Death of Prints?

Digital photography is wonderful in terms of production, cost, and convenience. But it very well may be that it also lessens our own perception of the power derived from photography, which causes us to stop short of the full scope of the art.

The finality of a print is something that gives us as photographers total control over the end product of all our hard work. The print represents a cathartic culmination of everything that we know about making an image and we present that image to world confidently. Prints don’t rely on screen resolution, color modes, or other variables that plague the viewing of our work digitally.

Digital Photography - Is it the Death of Prints?

How many times have you viewed a photo on your laptop, your cell phone, or your home computer screen only to notice that in fact, you are viewing three different versions of the same photo? If you’re like me, it causes no small amount of photographic anxiety.

The resurgence of prints?

Lately, there has been somewhat of a possible resurgence in the understanding about the benefits of physical photographic prints. Take the increased popularity of Instamatic cameras which hearken back to Lomography and Polaroid-type cameras. Even Leica and Fuji now manufacture cameras that make singular self-developing prints that are one-of-a-kind expressions. Fuji has taken it one step further by also developing a photo printer which wirelessly prints images from your cell phone onto its Fuji Instax instant film.

Digital Photography - Is it the Death of Prints?

The rise in the popularity of the instant medium could mean that we are yearning to slow down and be more committed to our photography. We have become accustomed to swiping right, scrolling up, and clicking over. Could it now be that we are beginning to favor the exclusivity that comes from possessing a print instead of a digital file? Only time will tell what direction the trend will follow.

Final thoughts….

Digital images and physical prints are the twin manifestations of the same artistic vision. Should you always print your work? Perhaps not always. Not every digital photo you make will always be worth a print…but that’s up to you.

Whether or not the digital camera revolution signaled the end of traditional prints is not the issue here. Instead, digital photography, even with all its outstanding contributions to the photographic arts, has possibly caused us to lose sight of the endgame. Sure, sharing your photos so easily with the world is great. It’s an important part of the art of photography. But at the same time, we shouldn’t stop there.

Digital Photography - Is it the Death of Prints?

Print your work from time to time. If you have an image that speaks to you just a little bit louder than the others, print it; hang it on your wall, sell it, share it with a photo gallery. Do something more meaningful than just looking at it on your screen.

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Adam Welch
Adam Welch

is a full-time photomaker, author and adventurer. Find him over at aphotographist.com
and check out his brand new video eCourse on Adobe Lightroom Classic!

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