As a consumer culture that is now armed with phones and digital cameras, we are taking more photographs then we ever have before. It is estimated that the billions of humans on earth will have taken about 1.2 trillion pictures over the course of their lifetime. Many of them will be shared on social media, but many more will simply be forgotten.
While thousands of selfies flash before our eyes on a daily basis, very few of them will make their way into the material world to be printed on a paper, let alone canvas, metal or wood. Of course this makes sense, we wouldn’t want to fight progress and have a zillion out of focus photos printed in a box somewhere to never be seen again. I remember how my mother would store all of her negatives and 4×6 glossy prints in CVS folders inside of a large popcorn tin. We had a mountain stacked high in the back of a closet and ceremoniously would take them out and filter through them on holidays and when family visited. The majority of them were blurry and had the date stamped across the front so you couldn’t forget when that moment happened.
Fast forward all these years, and I’m now the owner and operator of a successful full service photography studio. Over the years I’ve watched many technological advances come and go in the photography industry. I’ve had many clients write to me recently and tell me that they “only want the digital files” Because of this demand, one of the more recent ways to work is that photographers will send digital files that are downloadable from online galleries to their clients. While this may be convenient to the photographer, and appealing to the average consumer, its not as ideal as it may be cracked up to be.
When a client receives a digital file, it most likely sits on an external hard drive somewhere never to be seen again. If perchance the client does go to have it printed at an average consumer lab like Shutterfly or Walmart, the print quality is well,…. terrible~ so then people will just share the images to social media and look at them their smart phones and carry on with life.
Rather than begrudge the decline of the QUANTITY of prints that are being created by todays consumers, we can instead celebrate the chance to produce HIGHER QUALITY prints that are now being made available through professional photography labs.
(I’m going to digress here for a second to explain the different between a professional lab and an average consumer lab.) The professional photography lab is run by skilled HUMANS!… not machines.. A professional lab is also color calibrated to match your photographers screen; this ensures color corrected prints with perfect highlight and shadow detail. A professional lab carries unique fine art papers unavailable to average consumers~ and yep, you guessed it, paper quality makes ALL the difference folks; magic I tell you!
So that all sounded pretty exciting to me!
But for real, if you’re still asking…”why do I need to make prints Jamie?” Let me explain….Remember 8 tracks? Cassette tapes? Yeah, me to, I loved them… and I can’t find a single place to play my old collection on. BOO!! Oh and remember when your laptop came with a CD rom in it? Yeah, me too! But now my new Mac needs me to plug in an external firewire cable to make it work. Grrrr… Catch what I’m saying? The reality is that there is no guarantee that the computer of tomorrow will be able to even read the photos that you’ve taken today! That my friends is a scary thought. A lifetime of memories on a USB stick or external hard drive that you cannot even open? Yeah, no thank you! For my clients, with every digital file they purchase, they also receive a printed copy of it.
While printing for archival reasons is a logical thing to do, you really ought to start printing prints for another reason… well because its an emotional thing to do. It’s one thing to see a photograph of your child on a screen, its another thing to hold that portrait in your hand, or flip through an album on a rainy day and run that print through your fingers.. cry over it, laugh over it, remember with it, a physical object, not a screen. That process is something infinitely more satisfying to ones soul.
To take this a step further, I customize keepsake boxes, albums and wall art for each of my clients; because what is even better than holding a beautiful print in hand, is to be able to cermonoiously take it out of handcrafted box with your name and date one it. Thats where the real magic happens.
Memories aren’t meant to be scrolled through in a flash, they’re meant to be sat with, reflected upon, absorbed. Because of this, I believe that printed photographs are not dead, not by a long shot! I’d like to think they’re simply reaching their golden age, where you only print what makes your heart sing.
You can keep taking a trillion photographs, delete and throw away a million of them, but for the ones that matter (you know which ones I’m talking about because its a visceral experience when you see them) Do THOSE ones justice, have them printed, mount them, frame them, display them, go ahead and make a shrine to celebrate your life! Take pride in those moments that you, or your chosen photographer pressed the shutter and froze time for. Sit down with your cup of hot tea and flip through the custom designed album and let yourself slow down and remember. That is something a digital file in a USB drive can never do for you.