Printing your Photos
This topic is of huge importance to me! I think that printing is an essential part of photography. Here’s why!
Printing. It’s honestly a bit of a lost aspect of photography. With the digital revolution, it was no longer necessary to print your photos to see them. You can see them more quickly and more easily on a screen, and with digital files sharing photos have never been easier. It’s so easy to share, and you can share them to a wayyyy larger audience. So why on earth spend any money to print?
There are a few things. Firstly, the whole deal with the seemingly basic act of viewing photos. Viewing on a screen is all well and good, but in my experience there are a lot of practical issues that arise with only ever seeing your photos on a screen. First of all, unless you invest in a high quality monitor, and do the work to color calibrate it, you can’t see the photo’s true colors. Personally, I used and still use the screen on my laptop to view images. I have an iPad to see better colors, but the laptop is where a lot of my interactions with my images happen. And my laptop has a terrible screen, and isn’t even close to color correctness. Second, when viewing images on a screen, images are rendered in an RGB color space. So colors are rendered in combinations of Red, Green, and Blue. However, printing happens in at least a CMYK color space, and can even include more tones for more complex color rendering in print. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. I don’t know why black is K. But the key idea here is that there is a true black in the printing process, whereas there technically isn’t in the screen viewing experience.
Moving on to sharing. Social media and sharing photos has become an integral part of our culture. I’m not going to go into the why, the how, and the to what extent in general society. I’m just going to focus on photographers. Why do we feel compelled to share all of our work? I know I did. There was a point where I shared practically every single photo I liked in regards to my projects. Whenever there was an image I thought might be cool, I’d share it. I posted on Instagram everyday in the hopes of growing my audience. I suppose I was looking for validation. When “growing my audience” didn’t work, I took a step back and took a look at social media’s role in my photography. Now, I share the photos as a record for myself. To that end, I‘ve been sharing my images mostly on Twitter, where I don’t really have many followers who consistently interact with any of my posts. That’s not meant to be sad or anything, that’s just the fact of the matter. But that actually works in my benefit. It allows me to just dump a photo with no expectation of trying to reach anyone. Since I’ve grown a bit distant from social media, I feel like I can devote myself to printing out my images and interacting with them that way. And that cycles back: as I print more images than I share, I don’t feel the need to make the images public, and I can work on reconciling the images with myself rather than seeking the approval of random people.
Finally, I think that printing photos simply gives photos a feeling that a screen just doesn’t have. It’s kind of like the whole deal with film photography and how film photos have a feeling that digital photography just doesn’t have. Having a tangible object changes the way you see the image. First of all, pixel peeping doesn’t really happen. Second, you can see the image in a scale. You are able to see how the image occupies space. You can make determinations if that photo needs to occupy more space, less space, or if it should even occupy any space at all. You may have thought a photo was ok on the screen, but the print could make you feel differently; it may make you like it more; it may make you like it less. Either way, the print allows for a whole other level of connectedness to your photos. The print makes your photos, especially your digital photos, something physical and real. That isn’t to put digital down, however. If you shoot film, you should also be printing your images! Maybe ask your lab to give you prints instead of scans for a roll, and see what you can get out of it. In the whole film vs. digital discussion, that shooting digital and printing your favorite photos would be better than shooting film and only ever interacting with scans.
Something that might deter you from printing is the fact that you inevitably have to pay for the prints. However, I would argue first that the previously mentioned benefits of printing outweigh those costs (though I do speak from a privileged position). But printing doesn’t need to cost a lot. At Walmart, you can get 4x6 prints for 9 cents per print in my area. For exponentially better quality, Costco provides the same size prints at 17 cents apiece. And most drugstores have a printing center that can provide same day photo printing, though at least in my region it does cost more for not as great quality. This is just to say that there are options out there. Additionally, you don’t need to print in large quantities. Just print what you can afford. Don’t be afraid to take your time; it’s worth it. Remember that unless you’re on a deadline, there’s no rush! Just print what you can when you can.