So this blog has been in the works for a while and I finally made the time to make it happen because I really feel it is important and I have had countless questions about this topic in the past few years.
So here’s what I am going to cover:
-Why should you print your photos?
-Where should you print the photos you took yourself?
-Should you buy professionally printed photos from your photographer?
-Reviews of some popular consumer labs and comparison photos
The hilarious but also poignant Missy Mwac has said THIS about printing photos: ” If you don’t think photos are important, wait until they are all you have left.” Having been extremely close to my great grandparents and having lost them both, I can attest to the truth of that statement.
WHY PRINT YOUR PHOTOS?
A lot of people have told me they don’t print their photos. That is completely fine! There are some photos you may not want printed (like the 35 outtakes of your kid eating a watermelon still sitting in your photo gallery on your iPhone). But there are some you might really regret not printing later (like special events, family memories, and anything taken by a professional).
You want to know why it is important to print your photos? Here are three great reasons:
See where I am going with that? You can take my opinion at face value. Before I was a photographer, I was a wife and a friend and a mom. I took photos with a point and shoot and I printed my photos at Shutterfly (ugh) or not at all. I have discs and discs full of photos from the early 2000s (…and no disc drive on my Macbook). I am not saying print every single photo…but print the important ones and the special ones and the professional ones.
WHERE SHOULD I PRINT THE PHOTOS I TAKE MYSELF WITH MY PHONE/POINT AND SHOOT?
For photos that YOU take with a point and shoot camera, an iPhone, instagram posts, etc, using a consumer printer is fine! In the next section I will be comparing and reviewing consumer labs and showing you the results I got printing the same photo at a variety of popular consumer printing labs. I also recommend making albums and memory books with facebook and social media content- especially if you are a parent. Save it all! One great resource for this is My Social Book . It is a great way to print facebook content. I also use chatbooks and Artifact Uprising for printing instagram content.
That said, let’s discuss professional photos. Most photographers will tell you to print the photos they take through a professional lab. And, yes, they are more expensive. So that leads me to…
WHY SHOULD I PURCHASE PROFESSIONALLY PRINTED PHOTOS AND PRODUCTS FROM MY PHOTOGRAPHER?
This is how I explain it to my clients:
Would you buy a lobster or a filet mignon and cook it in the microwave? No? Of course not. Same goes for photos! Why pay for a professional to take amazing photos, just to have them printed the fastest/easiest/cheapest way??
If you bought frozen burger patties, microwaving them would be just fine. But you wouldn’t pay for the best, just to turn around and cook it the fastest/easiest way. Same for photos. Things you took on your iPhone can be really awesome (i.e.- a really great prepackaged organic burrito? lol) but because of the quality of the camera, printing it via a consumer lab (aka the microwave) is totally fine. But when you pay for the best food, have a professional chef cook it, (don’t call on the teenage line cook from McDonalds and bring them in the kitchen of a 5 star restaurant and say “it’s cool, he will be preparing my meal tonight” LOL). Get what I mean? When you pay for the best, let a professional print it.
But you don’t have to simply take my word for it. I also did a little experiment:
I took one file, and had an 11×14 enlargement printed at various consumer labs, and at my pro lab. Let’s take a look at the results.
***At the very bottom is a chart I made that compares different aspects of the experience from appearance of the image to shipping to cost. Bear in mind that I used the ship to home option for all of these labs. And if you are printing the photos in-store, the results will vary based on the level of competence of the person operating the printer (and let’s be real, usually that is a teenager right?)
Here is a digital file, professionally captured and edited by me:
Here is what I got from my professional lab (side by side with the original file):
It is like Mary Poppins “practically perfect in every way” haha. Skin tone is perfection. The detail is awesome. It is sharp, clear, and perfectly exposed. The paper is thicker and more durable, the colors are richer, and the quality matte finish is unmatched and repels all finger prints. It was delivered in a box with buffer room and attached to cardboard to prevent any bending whatsoever.
And here is what I got from consumer print labs (side by side with the original):
Ugh Target, you know I love you but wow you were the worst. Glossy finish shows every imperfection. Way overexposed (way too bright) which makes the face lose all definition and dimension. And the overall tone is very cool and dull/undersaturated. Target also had the worst sharpness/clarity. The photo is soft (blurry). Also, it was delivered in a tube and trying to flatten it bent it immediately.
Yikes. Another awful one. While detail was a hair better than Target, the color is OFF. Who would want orangish-pink oversaturated skin? And the definition in her facial features is gone. Also…look at her hair color…notice anything? Yep, it is a completely different color. It was delivered in a flimsy cardboard envelope (easily bent).
Guys, bottom line, get your RX here, not your photos. Again, overexposed (too bright) which makes the face lose definition. Again, oversaturated, and extremely yellow and orange skin, and another one where her hair and shirt are a completely different color. It was rolled in a tube for delivery.
Wal-Mart, I am not going to lie, I was surprised. This is the only one that didn’t completely overexpose the photo. And the color tone is fairly accurate. although a little oversaturated. Skin is a tad pink/orange but not too bad. Overall this was the best I saw of the consumer lab prints. However, I only did this one test run, so I don’t know whether they could repeat the decent results for me or for you. It was in a bendable cardboard envelope though. Bummer.
Guys, if you are going to pay a professional photographer to take beautiful photos and you are going to print a photo and put on your wall and look at it for a year, five years, 20 years…why not invest a little more for professional archival quality paper and ink that you know will last, the best finish, and perfect exposure, detail and color? If you break down the cost across even 2 years (and chances are it will be on the wall longer than that), think about how many times you, your family and friends will look at that photo. Think about how that printed photo may be looked at by your child or grandchild or great great nephew one day. Guys, do you want to serve your grandkid microwaved meat?? haha 😛
PROFESSIONAL VERSUS CONSUMER PRINT LAB COMPARISON
***Note: I also purchased prints from Shutterfly, but haven’t received them yet, so I will update this blog once I get that.
A FINAL NOTE FOR MY CLIENTS
Some photographers do not sell or provide digital photos at all because it is really important to them to give you the *best* quality prints and products, so they help you choose and order products directly through them. While some photographers provide you with digital photos and a print release to print them when and where you like, and send you on your merry way. Most photographers feel very strongly that their way of delivering images is the best. In my opinion, there are benefits to the client with each method of delivering the images.
So, I do both. I see a great value in working with you to give you the absolute best printed products, and I want to give you options to buy professional prints and products easily, so I have begun offering my clients a complimentary reveal and order session with your package. This is where I come to your home or you come to me, and we look at your photos together. I bring samples of the prints and products for you to look at and touch, and help you decide what might look best enlarged. This service is for a client who knows they want to purchase professionally printed photos but would benefit from my help choosing the best images, sizes, groupings etc. This is simply a way for me to walk you through everything and answer questions on the spot.
I also understand that many people want to have and preserve the digital files as well. I will also continue to offer my clients an online gallery with prints for purchase through the pro lab of my choice, as well as the ability to download the digital files and print where you choose.
Whatever way you choose to print your photos, I am much happier that you will now be making that choice fully informed with the expected results 🙂