In today’s digital world, we create more photographs than ever before, documenting moments with smartphones and affordable DSLRs. In the transition from analogue to digital, a smaller and smaller percentage of photos now make it to print.
However, whether it be onto paper, canvas, wood, or metal, we should not ignore the power of holding something tangible.
American photographer Lauren Menzies believes creating a print gives you control over how your photographs are viewed. “Every screen is different, so by displaying your images in this format, it creates a varying perspective of your work. The screen creates a barrier between the image and the viewer that is removed when printing the photograph.”
Here are some other good reasons to print your photographs in today’s digital era.
Nothing replaces the feeling of holding a print
The tactile feel of holding a print cannot be replaced, especially when it’s your own work. Despite the fact that digital photo technology is better than ever, people still feel a deep love for the printed image, whether archival or of the instant, snapshot variety.
“I have learned how to engage with my audience through printing my photographs—a connection that I know would be inhibited by viewing my work solely on the screen,” Lauren Menzies tells us. “The details of each image are heightened when viewed as a print.”
Image by Lauren Menzies
Ever since the Impossible Project relaunched the beloved Polaroid film in 2008, there has been a huge renaissance of instant film. As of this writing, two of Amazon’s top ten best selling photo products are packs of Fujifilm Instax instant film. This alone tells us that there is still power in print.
We don’t look at our photos in the ‘digital graveyard’
Back in 2017, people took over one trillion photos, up from only 80 billion, as reported by Kodak in 2000. That meteoric rise is, in part, because of smartphone technology. However, we, as photographers, also take more photos with DSLRs. Therefore, our hard drives become like the flat files and shoeboxes of old, full of photographs we don’t look at.
But seeing our work printed changes our relationship to it. Printing a portfolio of images makes it easier for us to develop our curation skills, to see the through-lines in our work and the evolution in our artistic voice.
It makes you a more well-rounded photographer
Although the computer screen allows us to see every pixel of our image, printing a photograph can help us see what we might have otherwise missed. And if we’re in the habit of viewing our work on smaller screens, especially with social media, it’s easy to be blind to the flaws that a print reveals.
Images also translate differently to paper than they do to a screen. Most of us have experienced the shock of seeing a print and realising the difference between the reflected light on a print and the projected light of a screen. This usually means our prints are much darker than expected.
Back in the analogue days of film, photographers had to know how to use a darkroom to develop and print their photographs. Today, mastering this aspect of the craft increases your skillset, ensuring that you know how to present a photograph in both tangible and digital formats—from colour management to choosing ink and paper.
“Learning the process of printing is vital in understanding what works best,” photographer Jake Mein believes. “Sometimes just having a tangible object—and being able to check an image at a large scale—can change how you view the image. I’m not sure if it will make you a better photographer, but it will definitely make you a more well-rounded photographer.”
Image by Jake Mein
You’ll often need printed work for portfolio reviews and presentations
“As I am a commercial photographer who also has my work in galleries, I have portfolios that my agents use to show my work,” photographer Samuel Hicks explains. “They still make presentations with a printed portfolio rather than a digital device. I would say that a lot of the time, a printed folio is still requested when an art buyer or client is working on a potential shoot.”
It brings you closure and a sense of accomplishment
Seeing our images in a finished printed form makes us consider our work from a different perspective. Not only do we see areas of improvement, but we also learn to love our work in its finished form.
“I think that printing your work is kind of closure to the project,” Samuel Hicks tells us. “When you undertake a project, you go through so many emotions, asking yourself if this is good enough, if the images work for what you are trying to say, and if people will like them. When you get to printing them, this means you have gone through the journey of creating work and you’re ready to let them be seen.”
Photographs make beautiful decor and can help you and your clients cherish memories
Most of us love to beautify our homes with art—and photographs make wonderful home décor. Whether the images you print are personal, or for clients, the printed photograph makes amazing wall art. We memorialise once-in-a-lifetime moments like weddings, graduations, births and other special occasions. The printed image gives us the opportunity to see those cherished memories every day.
When tragedies like a fire occur, people often grab sentimental items like photographs. That’s how important our memories are. And when printed on high-quality archival papers, those sentimental photographs can become important family heirlooms that last for generations.
You have to show what you want to sell
Most photographers want to sell prints to their clients. One of the biggest lessons most photographers learn in the print sales process is to show what you want to sell. Display your samples the way a client might display them in their home, like in a collage or cluster. It’ll help your clients to visualise the photographs in their own homes and get a sense for the size of the printed products that you offer. It can also prompt clients to discuss their own spaces at home and how they want to showcase their images. Sample displays in your studio can also help increase sales, as clients can see the value of multi-image purchases.
In this digital age, we spend a great deal of time in front of screens. We shoot with an LCD, retouch our work on a screen, and distribute it digitally. Some of us only have a digital portfolio. But when it comes to developing our skills as photographers, displaying important memories, and expanding our services to clients, nothing beats a print.
“I can tell you the reason why I became a photographer,” Samuel Hicks concludes. I thought I wanted to be a painter, but I went to see Richard Avedon’s exhibition at the Tate in the mid-1990s, and it blew me away. He had prints about four metres wide, hand-printed, and the detail was phenomenal. The care and craft that had gone into those prints elevated the imagery.
“The images were amazing already, but when you see the prints yourself in the flesh, it does not get much better. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a photographer, and part of being a photographer, in my opinion, was making prints.”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.