Why print photographs?
Before I answer the question of why you should print photographs, I think it’s worth talking about how photo taking and printing habits have changed over the past couple of decades.
Trends in photo taking and printing
Before digital photography, the only way we could view our photos was via physical prints or slides in projectors. With the exception of instant film photography, consumers would typically take their film to drugstore photo labs for developing. The negatives would be enlarged into prints on photographic paper. This was a process customers typically had to wait at least 24 hours for.
It was estimated that 80 billion photos were being taken each year before the emergence of digital photography. Fast forward to today, and the estimated number of photos being taken has skyrocketed to 1.2 trillion. That’s an extra 1.12 trillion photos being taken per year.
Analog photographs were taken more sparingly due to the cost and inconvenience of film, development, and printing. The downside of people being able to take trillions of digital photos with little effort or operating cost, is that little value is often attributed to each photo. Some will find their way onto social networking to be glanced at for a second. Sadly, only a tiny fraction will be preserved and cherished in a tangible form.
Many people dismiss the need to print photographs, thinking it is no longer required or desired because we have digital means of viewing our images. Digital storage and on-demand content streaming has taken over to satisfy the convenience of having access to whatever we want wherever we are. We declutter our living spaces by selling our CD and DVD collections in favour of using digital libraries or streaming.
Personal photos are quite different to our music and movies though. They are unique to us, and therefore it is our responsibility to preserve archival copies. Personal photographs cannot be replaced should your digital file preservation strategy fail. While CDs and DVDs are typically not considered attractive in interior design, printed photographs have intrinsic value in being on display.
At the same time technology has progressed for photo taking, it has also improved the potential for print quality. High quality printing technologies with archival materials have been adopted by professional photographers and enthusiasts who print photographs in-house or utilize specialized labs.
Unfortunately the opposite is true for the mainstream consumer who may want to print photographs at a local drugstore, supermarket, or budget online service. For this end of the market, photo print quality has declined in favour of convenience and cost per print. The result is that budget photo lab prints can be an underwhelming and disappointing experience.
[I will explain the best way to print your photos in a future article comparing printing methods and services.]
For the purpose of this article, I’m assuming high quality prints are being made.
13 reasons to print photographs
- Photography looks better and more consistent in print. A problem With digital displays is that the same image will be rendered differently across various devices, often with inaccurate color, brightness, and contrast.
- Printed photos are tangible and can be further enhanced by physical size and materials.
- Gifting someone a tangible photo is seen as having more value than electronically sending someone a digital photo.
- Wall art enables your favourite photos to be displayed at their best and enjoyed passively every day.
- Wall art can be incorporated into interior design, with bespoke photography and materials designed to complement your home décor.
- Guests can enjoy albums on coffee tables or in bookcases. You get to enjoy an intimate sharing experience with friends and family.
- Photo albums allow for considered story telling, with multiple related images on a spread providing holistic context.
- Photo albums can be enhanced and customised with a bespoke choice of print technologies, matting styles, and embellished with luxurious materials for album covers.
- Once a digital photo album or photo book has been designed, multiple copies can be printed efficiently for other family members or loved ones.
- A universally readable format by anyone with good or corrected eyesight. Deciphering the image is not constrained by technology that may become obsolete.
- Personal printed photographs are typically not targeted by thieves, unlike technology used to store digital photos.
- Easily identified as important family history when inherited by family members. Digital photos in personal cloud accounts or personal storage devices can often be inaccessible, overlooked, or lost when cloud storage subscriptions end.
- If archival quality print materials are used, they are easy for future generations to maintain and hand down through the generations.
A richer viewing experience:
Examples of printed photographs:
The example below shows a c-type (chromogenic) print. This type of print is analog in nature, exhibiting very smooth/seamless transitions between tones. Reproduction uses light-sensitive silver halide paper as per the tradition of creating enlargements from film negatives. C-type photos have a unique and very photographic feel not found in today’s mainstream photo labs or with inkjet printers.
The qualities of different printing methods is difficult to demonstrate in a blog post that can only present digitized images over the Internet. My advice is to meet with local professional photographers and ask to see samples of print methods and paper types.
[I will explain more on the different methods of printing in a future article.]
Over recent years there has been a resurgence in the sales of instant film cameras, like Polaroid and Fujifilm Instax. These cameras are giving a new generation the ‘tangible’ photograph experience yet retaining their modern day expectations of everything on-demand.
[I will be writing an article on how to select an instant camera soon.]
In the example below, I’ve chosen to show an album spread from when I used to photograph weddings. While not particularly interesting images in their own right, together they help to tell a story and set the scene. Aside from the details of what the bride wore, including her scent, we can also deduce that her wedding day preparations took place at her parents house close to Christmas time. The viewer of the printed album is able to understand the context of the bridal preparations here in an instant. The alternative would be to click/swipe through nine individual digital photos.
Album design can be very flexible. An album allows a creative photographer the opportunity to tell the story as they experienced it. The process could be likened to a movie director controlling the editing phase after filming has been completed. Would you enjoy a movie quite as much if the running times was 50 hours long with mostly repeated scenes played out of sequence?
Wide albums, or square albums with seamless spines, allow for large and impactful presentation of photos. In the example below, I chose a crop with a cinematic aspect ratio to give a more intimate feel to the photo.
Albums aren’t just the reserve of wedding photography. Family and lifestyle photography albums are also popular and available from most portrait photographers.
Photographs look better printed, and prints look even better on the wall in large formats.
The example below is one of my portrait photographs that has been Giclee printed on Hahnemühle German Etching fine art paper. The print was mounted on archival card to prevent warping, then inset with two overlays providing a double aperture with a fine black border. A black and silver distressed effect wood frame is sealed with non-reflective UV resistant museum glass that is near invisible.
This artwork should be lightfast (fade resistant) for 200 years.
Click below for more examples of
Custom wall art portrait photography by Martin Griffiths, Orlando Florida
It doesn’t matter if you create wall art, photo albums, or just keep physical photographs in a shoe box. If you have your photos printed professionally they should be treasured for many generations with little effort.” – Martin Griffiths
Feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment section below.
Read my article on the risks of only keeping photos in digital form:
Planned articles coming soon:
- The best way to print your photos. This may include a comparison of print services.
- Comparison of instant film cameras. How to select an instant film camera.