Why Prints Matter to You as a Photographer

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Digital has done wonders for our industry – it allows us to learn faster, it gives us technological opportunities that we could have only wished for in the “film” days and it has made completely new styles of photography possible. There’s no doubt that the digital shift has been a positive one.

While we embrace all of this change that digital has brought and explore the new depths of technology, I think it’s important to keep one foot in the “analog” world, at least one area – the physical print. The print versus digital discussion is a very controversial topic among professional photographers, and certainly everyone will have their own opinion. Regardless of where you fall in this matter, I’d like to share some thoughts and explain why I feel prints matter for us as photographers and for our clients as consumers of photography.

There are three topics of discussion that I will explore:

  1. Why printing is important for you as a consumer of photography
  2. Why offering printed products as a professional photographer is crucial to your long-term success
  3. How printing your work is the best way to grow as an artist

The Nostalgia of prints

Forget about the fact that you’re a photographer and take your attachment to professional quality imagery out of the equation. Printing as a medium is one of the most meaningful ways that you can enjoy photography. Here are a few reasons why the printed image is so important to you as a consumer of photography.

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A print will always be there

Digital media go out-of-date and out-of-style, and the files that you have stored in these digital formats will also go out-of-style and become unaccessible. Imagine having your vacation photos from 1995 on a 3.5″ Floppy Disk – how might you access those “digital files” today? Of course this is hard to imagine because digital photography wasn’t around in 1995. More recently then, consider the fact that for years you have used DVDs and CDs to store digital files and now that Apple has decided not to install optical drives into their computers anymore, that medium is slowly starting to disappear. You’ll soon have a generation of images that were stored on discs that may not even be (easily) accessible. On the other hand, if you made prints as well, then these changes in technology wouldn’t have a negative impact on you being able to continue to enjoy your images.

A print doesn’t need to be enjoyed on a screen

Being “in the moment” and away from technology is not a luxury that you get to enjoy all that often in today’s digital world. There is something nostalgic and romantic about being able to curl up on the couch with your children and look back at a wedding album, or old family photos, without having to flip open a laptop and press the “next” button dozens of times. When you look at a picture that is printed, you are free of distraction. There is no e-mail bouncing up in the bottom of your screen and no Facebook “dings” going off in another window. You can enjoy the picture and the story it tells in a quiet, distraction-free moment.

A print lasts a lifetime, and often even longer

Physical prints give you heirlooms to pass down as you move on in your life. Often you are not recording (capturing a moment) and printing (preserving the moment) for today, but instead for tomorrow, for your children and your children’s children. Passing down a box of hard drives doesn’t exactly have the same appeal, does it?

Professional photography – why printing is important

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As a professional photographer or aspiring professional, it’s important to consider offering printed products to your clients. Besides the nostalgia, the emotional and logical reasons for enjoying the printed image as described above, there are also many business benefits to being a full-service photographer. Here are a few:

  • Prints can separate you as “great” photographer, apart from the “ok” photographers. It’s easy to make an image look nice at a low-resolution on the web, but to make an image look great in print involves a whole other skill set.
  • Printing your images increases your perceived value as a photographer. Everyone has digital files sitting on hard drives or memory cards. To offer a beautifully finished printed piece shows that you care about your photography and that you put effort into the presentation of your imagery for your clients.
  • Making prints for your clients shows that you care about their customer experience and in delivering their images in their finished form, It also shows that you are a full-service photographer, when many these days are not.
  • As a photographer, if you are trying to make a living with your camera, offering printed products gives you the opportunity to make additional income as opposed to just making your money from your session fees.
  • When you make a print for a client, it means that you control the output quality and the finished product and you don’t leave it up to them to produce their own prints from a consumer-grade lab. Quality control is important for a professional!
  • Ultimately, when you offer prints and other professionally produced physical products, you are supporting the industry (i.e. the labs, the album makers, etc.) who are constantly supporting photographers by providing educational opportunities, sponsorships, trade shows and so on.

Printing as a teaching tool

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We’ve explored why printing is important for you as a consumer of photography and how you must consider offering printed products to ensure long-term success as a professional photographer. But, now I’d like to take another side of the argument: how printing your work can actually be the best learning tool to help you grow as a photographer and artist.

A print will always be the most realistic representation of an image as it is the only medium that is truly tangible and actual. This will ultimately be the best way to judge your work as an image isn’t truly finished until it’s in printed form.

It’s easier to judge an image when it’s printed – you can examine it closer, look at it longer, and see it in different contexts. I have been taught that a great way to judge and find improvement in an image is to print it, display it somewhere that you pass by frequently, and look at it often. Try changing its orientation and displaying it upside-down for a while. You will often see things that you wouldn’t otherwise notice if you didn’t analyze it to that extent. This is a much more effective exercise than staring at a computer screen for hours on end.

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Consider that the process itself of creating a print will help you grow as a photographer because it gives you a greater appreciation for the bigger picture. At the same time, the exercise of getting in close, fine-tuning and perfecting an image for print will show you a lot about your work that you may otherwise have missed if you were just putting together a quick online gallery or contact sheet.

Lastly, a print is easier to pass around and get objective feedback from others. There is no limitation or interpretation that makes digital photography subjective – variations in monitor size, calibration, room lighting and so on. You ultimately can’t argue with print quality – it is either a good print or not – so the discussion and feedback ends up being more about the image than about the presentation.

Becoming a full-service photographer

When you offer a printed product to your clients as a photographer, you make yourself about more than just pictures. You are now about the preservation of moments and in ensuring that your work, and your clients’ memories, will be guaranteed to last a lifetime.

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My next article and discussion in this series will be geared towards the mechanics of exactly how to actually sell prints and make your photography business a full-service studio as opposed to being a shoot-and-burn photographer. Check back soon!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Bryan Caporicci is an award winning wedding and portrait photographer based out of Fonthill, Canada. He is a Fuji X-Photographer. In 2011, he was awarded his Craftsman of Photographic Arts (CPA) designation by the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC), making him one of the youngest photographers in Canada to receive this level of achievement. Bryan’s photography can be found on his website, and he also founded and writes at Sprouting Photographer , which is an educational website all about the business of photography.

  • Bryan Caporicci

    Thanks for having me as a guest-writer to publish this for Digital Photography School!

  • I am continued to be a little frustrated when all of the articles on how to and why to miss one thing about print – when I print an excellent print and have it custom framed and matted even if I am giving it way, I get so see superb work as a great visual and it motivates me to do more and to do better.

  • Bryan Caporicci

    Great point, Bart! That’s exactly what I am saying in this article – there is so much value to printing our work from a growth, educational and nostalgic perspective.

  • Michael Owens

    I agree. I love having my prints around my home, it inspires me to do more work. If I showcase it to myself, and I feel impressed by it. Then surely others will to? 🙂

  • Tod Davis

    As an aspiring amateur i usually only print my best work, but the prospect of a beautiful print keeps me striving for that shot that is worth printing and framing

  • Ministry of Information

    “A print will always be the most realistic representation of an image as
    it is the only medium that is truly tangible and actual. This will
    ultimately be the best way to judge your work as an image isn’t truly
    finished until it’s in printed form.”

    If that’s your personal opinion, that’s fine, and the article makes sense. But wow, I REALLY disagree! I have absolutely no interest in ‘tangibility’, and totally reject the idea that an image is “unfinished” until someone can touch it. An image is an image; whether it’s on paper or a screen simply isn’t a defining factor for me.

    Some people prefer to read books on paper, and listen to music on vinyl (I don’t, in either case) – that’s a perfectly valid preference. However, to suggest music isn’t ‘real’ unless one can physically hold the album would be nonsense; likewise with photographs.

  • Angeline Munoz

    As a newbie in the world of photography, I cannot express the feeling I had when I first printed a few of my photos and framed them. I could not believe I had created something of beauty. It just is not the same feeling seeing my work on the computer.

  • Yuri A. Jones

    This is a great article. As an amateur photographer, printing is my next step (along with getting better, obviously!) However, the idea of printing comes with so many parameters… papers, inks, techniques, labs, image prep, etc. It can be overwhelming. Permit me to link my own site here – http://allegrophoto.co

  • I print a ton of images for my own use, usually rotate them through the different frames in the house. I’d like to start selling prints, but not sure how to go about getting my shots out there and available for purchase. Would love to know how to get in with a gallery or arts market.

  • Dave Lister

    I would love to see some tutorials on *how* to get good prints at home. Color management between devices has been the hardest part of all to learn for me, and believe me I have tried. My shots look great on my screen and pretty good on most other screens I’ve seen them on but I have yet to be ab;e to get a good print without a lot of trial and error.

  • Patrick Abanathy

    As a photographer, I could not have said it better myself and I feel the pain of losing print mediums to the newest trending gadgets. Sad thing is this newer generation will not see the problem until it is too late and everyone has to pay a cloud fee just to see their baby pics. It reminds me of a blog entry I made for our site not long ago. Here it is: http://abanathyphotography.com/2014/02/23/how-much-is-your-yearbook-worth-rise-of-the-forgotten-generation/

  • Josef

    Why the trash talking about film? Everything you can do with digital, you can also do with film. And…film won’t ever become unreadable as you point out is the case with digital files. My grandmother’s wedding negatives from 1945 look as great today as any modern photograph. Whatever format you choose is up to you, but it is amateur to say negative things about film, especially when it isn’t even true.

  • Bryan Caporicci

    Great point, Josef. I didn’t intend to “knock” film but instead suggested that digital photography has allowed for so much growth in our industry. Sorry if it came across that way.

  • Bryan Caporicci

    Thanks for the comment, Patrick!

  • Bryan Caporicci

    Here’s my $0.02 – an image in it’s digital form is only 0’s and 1’s, there’s nothing REAL about it. When you print an image, it turns into a tangible piece of art that you can touch, feel, see and put substance to. That’s when an image becomes a reality and truly can have impact and value, in my opinion. You’re certainly welcome to disagree, though, and I respect that.

  • Bryan Caporicci

    Thanks for the comment Yuri.

  • Amaryllis

    As a new photographer, it took me some time to be enough satisfied with my photos to actually print them. But when I did, and received them, and looked through them, I felt incredibly proud and it gave a meaning to all that time spent trying to get ‘the’ shot. It made me feel very emotional, though it’s just paper! Because now I often look through my printed photos, spending time on each of them, whereas I never spend more than 5 seconds on a photo on my laptop. It’s just how it is.

  • Camila

    Hi! Great post! I have a little problem with prints, and maybe you can help me. I send some photos to print and end up with very dissapointing results.
    My pictures were colorful but some how ended up washed up, like they were overexposed. Is this a problem of colour space (I exported the photos as sRGB, so there wasn’t a problem), of file extension or it is just a bad lab?
    I will appreciate if you could help me with this!

  • Joe B

    I recommend Ben Long’s lynda.com courses on inletkjet printing. They’re long, but that means detailed, explaining why your prints don’t look the same as your display. Ben Long’s message is the same as this article’s: your images look better in print.

  • Higbe33

    Before you show us how to sell our photographs, please do an article on the best way to get a picture printed and framed. I used to make my own frames and get a cardboard back on the 35mm photos I had done. Can’t find a place to do the backing and have not been pleased with the digital prints on wood or canvas. Any suggestions?

  • David

    Make sure your screen is calibrated. That’s the first step in going from screen to print. I have an Epson R2880 printer which gives me fine reproductions of what my screen shows me. My printer is out of production now but can be found on line. I use it frequently to keep the jets clean.

  • Persnickety Prints

    THANK YOU for this article. It is so on point. We’ve been stressing the importance of the tangible to clients for years!

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