Let's Talk Printing - Why Your Images Are Worth More Than 10 Cents

Hey friends, this is a post I've been meaning to do for a long, long time. It was hard to get around to because, well, it's a lot less fun to write up a blog when it's not about someone's beautiful new baby, a fantastic wedding, or some far-flung travels. But after spending close to 30 hours in the last week on finalizing just 20 images to print for a fine art show, I feel that I'm far overdue for this. This is about printing, about paper and ink and color management and the good ol' fashioned joy of holding something beautiful in your hands.

I have a lot of clients that ask me why I don't charge ten cents a print, or offer to give me a CD in exchange for their high resolution images. And I get it. I totally do. We love bargains, we love sales, and we love instant gratification. We enjoy the feedback of a Facebook share, or the ability to pick up a photo in two hours or less if we should stray from the idea of pixels and on to prints. And that's all well and good, but I'm here to tell you that you and your memories are worth more than instant gratification

I am not holding your images hostage. I promise. I am not waiting for you to hand over a lump of cash so that I can cackle as I press command + P and roll around in your money. To be completely and totally honest, 100% of the time I will make more money and save myself a bucket of time if I sell high-resolution digital images. Your images have already gone through light post-processing, all I have to do is copy and paste them on to a disc or a USB and voila! my work is done. When you print through me, your images undergo a secondary editing process. Usually I do a bit more touch-up on the image, like getting rid of unsightly background items and then the image is resized and sharpened specifically for the medium and size it will be printed. A 4x5 print on semi-gloss paper undergoes a totally different process than a 30x40 canvas Gallery Wrap. It can add up to a lot more time than simply clicking and dragging an item in to a shopping cart.

So, why do I want to print your images, why even bother? Because I've spent literally hours making sure the color and crispness of your images will translate from real life to the camera to the computer screen and eventually to the specific printed medium of your choice. Because, I spent years color managing and printing while working on my Bachelor's of Fine Art. Because you have already made the investment to have your photographs taken and readied for a tangible off-screen experience. Because I know what a high quality print looks like and I want you to feel that same awe when you hold one in your hands or hang one on your walls. And most importantly, because I know how important and how much joy a photograph that can be passed from one generation to the next feels like. Long before I took up the mantel of a wedding/family/baby/etc. photographer, I felt special connections to family photographs. I love handling my parents wedding album, which looks just as beautiful now as it did 30 years ago. I love laughing at the images of my brothers and I when we were toddling about this world. My very favorite personal project, aptly named the Inheritance Series, repurposed those family images, and dealt with how they shaped my own perception of my family's past. 

We watch technology take running leaps and bounds before our very eyes. Perhaps in ten years, the USB will be similar to the floppy disc - I'm already watching most of my client base transition in to computers or tablets where a CD drive is unavailable. Who honestly knows what the technological future will bring? Your digital files are meant only as an intermediary proofing service, that's it. CDs are not meant for long-term storage solutions, USBs can easily be lost, and even if you get hundreds of favorites on Instagram with those files, your grandkids aren't gonna give a flying fig. So print your images, and print 'em good.

The Box Store Print Test

I've started bringing along a selection of the exact same images that I've printed myself, through Walgreens, and through Snapfish to consultations with clients to educate them on print quality. I figured it's time to put them online, too, so that the awesome folks who know from the get-go that they want to hire me can scope them out. These examples are not meant to bash on those printing services; they're big box stores and you honestly are getting what you pay for. As a general rule from this experiment, I've noticed that Walgreens images tend to lose a lot of information in darker spots as well as have a bit of noise (where you can visibly see pixels), and Snapfish tends to over-saturate. Aside from what you can see with these scanned prints, it's also worth noting that my printing paper is of heavier stock and has a slight texture because it is a silver-based paper.

Without further ado, here are some example images.

Part of what made Andrew + Dorothy's wedding so beautiful was the softness that a recent downpour had brought along with it - all the color tones were muted that day, but for her bouquet, which brought a bright pop of color. We lose that balance of color subtlety in the Walgreens and Snapfish versions of the print, as well a fair bit of detail in the clouds.

Here we have the incredibly beautiful bride Renoula in one of my favorite portraits from her + Matt's big day. (Fun fact: she's actually reclined inside of the gorgeous hunter green bathtub that's been moved from multiple family homes and passed down through the generations.) Both Walgreens and Snapfish lost the detail and highlights in her eyes and Snapfish turned her, well, Oompa Loompaish. 

Here's Ally's engagement ring - we shot on a chilly but beautiful day in the late fall, and were lucky enough to find a vibrant red tree. Snapfish lost the color details entirely and Walgreens left a green hue (which is specifically noticeable in the top right portion). 

And finally, noisy backgrounds and a loss of detail (specifically those sweet little fuzzy eyebrows) in this portrait.

Do I sound like I'm being a total stickler? Absolutely! But I want you to be aware of my critical eye when it comes to printing, and to try to educate you on why it's such an important aspect of photography. This all plays a huge role in making sure that you have the perfect product to not only represent myself as a professional service, but also to enjoy in your home as an heirloom for many years to come.

Bottom line: I LOVE seeing prints, lovelovelovelove the weight of the paper and beautiful texture the surface has. I revel in the moment when I hand over my sample album to clients and hear their excited reaction, and even better when it's their own printed goodies farther down the line. I love the idea that I can make you smile years from now, and that your children's children will feel connected to you through my photographs. My prints will outlive me, and I can promise that they'll look damn good doing so. And that, my dear friends, is why I think you're worth more than a ten cent print! -MJ