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 is a full-time photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at and check out his eBooks and Lightroom presets!.

  • Maree

    The difficulty in printing is finding a quality printer place. Most prints are woeful especially if you want a 6×4 or 7×5….the quality printers don’t print the small stuff and you don’t always want a large print.

  • Sachin Sen

    I don’t agree with the point. Photobook is really useful even nowadays to preserve our beautiful moments. It gives a different feeling. We can even make photo album of our phone photos. So there is not an end of print.

  • Kevin Lj

    Having photos printed, framed and hung on the wall is always a good feeling. It takes times, thought and action that are all an enjoyable part of the photographic creative process!

  • I belong to a print exchange group that has been exchanging both Black & White and Color prints monthly since 2002. ( It’s great to prepare prints to share with others…and wonderful to receive carefully prepared prints in the mail once a month. Come visit…perhaps exchange with us.

  • just interesting to read

  • I stop trying earning a living at shopritte and afterwards now I am getting $75-97$ p/hour. How? I am only working on-line! My job didn’t actually make me joyful as a result I decided to take a possibility on something new…after four years it wasn’t simple to drop out my day employment but now I couldn’t be more delighted.>>> learn more by clicking here right now

  • Ignacio Alvarez

    I teach photography at Truman College in Chicago and NO! Printing your photographs is not dead and never will be. At Truman we have 4X5 enlargers and strudents nearn how to shoot, develop and print black and white prints, We never have problem getting students because more and more young people are finding the joy of printing and being in a darkroom. I strongly recommend it to anyone that is interested on learning how to print and create something with their own two hands.

  • Ignacio Alvarez

    I am so sick of people like you who use any site to advertise your crap.

  • Tim Lowe

    A darkroom print is not even in the same universe as a digital, inkjet print. They are just different things.

  • ShowHarmony

    There is a dark side to printing: What to do when all those prints start taking over every vacant space in your cave/office. Much as I love prints, and my home has lots on the walls, they are starting to kill me. I’ve sold more than a few, but selling photos is not a booming business.

  • Doug

    Amen Ignacio! As a fine art and commercial photographer, an artist and printmaker for 50 years as of this year I can say also that photography and prints as a fine art is not dead and never will be. Photographers need to read books by the old masters and contemporary masters of photography, i.e Weston, Adams, Strand, Minor White, Paul Caponigro, George Tice, Cartier-Bresson, Stieglitz and on and on. Photographers need to shoot constantly and go to museums and galleries. After decades in the darkroom, in many darkrooms that is, trying to create prints of beauty, there is nothing like seeing your work on walls in museums, galleries, homes and buildings. Photography can be a way of life, an exploration of ones self and of the world in which we live. Explore it.

  • M Geiger

    Since you probably have the image files, what would stop you from throwing away some of those prints on the wall and replacing them with new, fresh ones? Painters have the same conundrum, but we do not have the luxury of having a painting ‘on file’ to replace our originals should something happen to them, yet we still have to thin the herd sometimes, or at least take the painting off the stretcher bars and either roll it up or store it flat. Letting go can be very freeing, the dark side is not being able to let go of stuff.

  • ShowHarmony

    As one who has the hoarder gene in me somewhere, shredding personal work is very painful. I have done some Goodwill donations and that worked out well. But, it was not “freeing”.

  • KC

    You made an interesting point: “three different versions of the same photo”. That’s worth a discussion all by itself, because a print adds a fourth.

    I’m a pro printer as well as a photographer, (now somewhat retired). Making a print is a commitment. It’s the most final of finals. OK, that’s stretching a point. I’ve reprinted things many times, in different ways.

    Several things have happened that made prints fall out of favor. People don’t display prints as much as they used to, certainly not big prints. It “fell out of fashion”. Strangely, people will hang onto a sofa for 20 years, but are not sure about looking at a piece of art for 20 years.

    No it’s not hard to find a good printer. It’s not hard to do it at home/office either. Let me keep this to digital. It’s not “finding a good printing house”, it’s knowing what paper profiles
    they’re going to use to print your image. A glossy print is a different
    profile than a matte print. A canvas print is different is different
    than a glossy or matte print, and so on. It’s not about the surface, it’s about how the medium reflects and how white the base is. Without going into a long
    discussion on the technical aspects of printing, a pro print house will
    share their paper profiles with you so you can soft proof the image before sending it out for printing.

    That’s the secret. Soft proofing. if your computer is calibrated (or close) you’ll get an idea of what your print will look like.

  • You really hit the nail on the head about the fourth dimensional aspect of printing; in this case darkroom printing. When I was a teenager I worked in a “super store” photo lab. The printer was a laser printing giant and back then, that was my idea of what it meant to print a photo. It was all C-41 Dmax and dmin were about as technical as it got there. I can still remember the first roll of Tmax I every encountered was there because it got ruined by another employee who didn’t know the difference.

    A few years ago I began getting involved with large format work which has grown into a near obsession since I wrote this article. Even though I develop all my own sheets I want to move into print making and I’m patiently waiting on a deal for a used enlarger. I’ve thought about contact printing, too, which is not out of the question. Further more, possibly even platinum/palladium process as well but as you said, that would be another discussion that I could drone on about at length.

    My long awaited point is that there is a nearly alchemical feel to shooting and developing film yourself. There’s no middle man between you and the process. I have to say that even though I haven’t personally printed in my darkroom the feeling would be of the same organic vibe. There is a connection which I don’t believe can be fully reached by printing as I currently do(scanning my negatives) and sending image files to a lab or printing at home on a printer.

    Anyway, I’m rambling about this so I’ll stop here. I always enjoy your comments, KC. Always very insightful and knowledgeable.

  • KC

    If you have a view camera, you have the makings of enlarger. Well, most of an enlarger, and accurate enough. Two pieces of plate glass to hold the negative. A light tight box, to shine through the ground glass and glass film holder, and a wall in a dark room. It becomes basically a “horizontal process camera” only in reverse. The trick is getting everything square. I’m over simplifying. There’s a point in large format that a vertical enlarger just isn’t practical especially when making a large print. There are/were horizontal enlargers.

    Going large format to large, even mural sized, prints is a technique that’s slowly getting lost to history. I did a lot of large format work.

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