This One End-of-Year Habit Will Make You a Better Photographer. And It’s New Year’s Resolution Free!

This One End-of-Year Habit Will Make You a Better Photographer. And It’s New Year’s Resolution Free!

For the past several years, I have done this one thing at the end of the year, and it has been responsible for my improvement more than anything else. 

I was given my first camera as a young kid in middle school. It was an old Minolta X-370 with a basic 50mm f/2 lens. I only shot a drug store film – I honestly don’t even remember what it was – and all of the film was developed at that same drug store within an hour! It was quite a time. Eventually, that camera was stolen in college, and years later, in graduate school, I picked up a Sony a7 and started getting back into photography again. While I improved, I honestly don’t know that I improved much beyond some trivial technical skills. It wasn’t until I started printing my work that I really felt like I started actually getting better. 

Printing

I honestly believe that there is no better way to critique your own work than to print your work. As you may recall from previous work, there are several writers here at Fstoppers that encourage you to print your work for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, prints offer the chance to have a physical manifestation of your work. The tactile sensation of holding a high-quality print cannot be replicated digitally. Moreover, it offers you the chance to look at your work in a way that you’re not used to seeing it. Even better, the chance to look at your work without the context of a computer means that you have the chance to sit back and enjoy your best images. 

With all of that said, the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to print your work from the year just past. Why, you ask? Because it’s the perfect opportunity to go through all of the photos you’ve taken from the year. That is, it provides a very clear start and endpoint. 

Reflection

Despite all that I’ve said before, the two things that I believe have really helped improve my work haven’t even been mentioned. One is the chance to reflect on my work. As the end of the year approaches and I start to look through all of my photos from the year, I really have the chance to review my work after having walked away from it for potentially several months. In addition, taking the opportunity to look at so much of your work at once, which was made over the course of several months, gives you the chance to see which of your photographs work best and which didn't work so well. Even more still, it gives you the chance to look at the photographs that aren’t the best or the worst but rather, just exist. The natural next step is to think through what makes certain photographs work better than others — particularly when you have different kinds of photographs: photographs of portraits and landscapes, black and white as well as color photographs, and photographs taken with wide angle lenses, “normal” focal lengths, or telephoto lenses. 

To expand on the previously presented idea, compiling your work from year to year provides not only the chance to reflect on your work from that specific year, but it also gives you the chance to compare the best of your work from one year to the next. That is, if you are particularly exclusive in the way you choose what photos to print and have only the best one percent of your work printed each year, comparing your best one percent from 2020 with your best one percent of 2019 and 2018 can really be eye-opening as to the ways your work has improved and can provide some insight as to what differentiates even your best photos from one another. For me, this has meant developing a better eye for framing, seeing photographs I might not have seen before, improving my metering, improving on my editing, and improvements to my scanning. Overall, it is an opportunity to reflect on consistency to see how certain photographs could have been edited to fall more in line with your other photographs.

How To Get Your Work Printed

There is a number of ways to get your work printed. For me, I prefer to get a very few select frames printed and framed — sometimes, I replace older photos, and sometimes, I just add to my collection. There are tons of places to get prints made. Many people take the plunge and get a nice photo printer, but personally, I have no interest in getting my own printer. In Columbus, OH, where I live now, there are a couple of shops where I’ve had work printed, and I think they do a good job and use them both when I want a print ASAP. When I’m getting serious prints that I genuinely care about, I go with Imaging Arts Printing as a personal preference, but again, there any many places to choose from. That said, what I like most about Imaging Arts and the other local spots here in town is that given the nature of small businesses, they’re typically more accommodating and appreciate your business more than the giant online retailers.   

Perhaps the way I like the best is to have my work printed in book form. This year will be my fourth year in a row having a book made, and I’ve really grown to love them. It’s a fantastic way to appreciate the things you’ve done, the work you’ve made, and the experiences you’ve had over the past year. 

For Film Photographers

There’s nothing like a wet print made in a dark room. True, without practice, consistency can be a bit challenging, and any contrast control also takes a lot of practice. Moreover, dodging and burning is much more intuitive in the darkroom, but without creating actual, literal masks for dodging and burning, consistency is extremely difficult to achieve, and I would even argue it goes out the window. With all of that said, however, when you get a good print you won’t ever want to go back to prints from a scanner. Even better, darkroom prints make fantastic gifts because of the quality of the print and the work that goes into it. 

What are your thoughts on having prints of your work made? Is it something that you’ve done before? If so, have you made a habit of it?

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12 Comments

Nadine Wilmanns's picture

I loved to read this article and I`m so motivated to get some prints done now;) I`ve heard this advice quite often but never followed it - ever since we went digital I hardly ever get prints anymore. And I think it`s because I sometimes get so frustrated with how they turn out differently from how they are meant to be in terms of colour and contrast. For example when I hand in files to a magazine and see the pictures printed they often turn out different from what I expected by what I`ve seen and edited on the screen... It just takes a lot of testing and time to work out the perfect print edit I guess..

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

What is your workflow for selecting your year-end reflection candidates for print? Do you set certain images aside throughout the year or comb through sessions in December? Thanks for sharing this idea. I will definitely start to print more just for sake of some kind of tactile reward. - Alex https://www.photosophic.com/

David Pavlich's picture

I've been printing my stuff for about 5 years now, some for family and friends, some to sell. Regardless of how or why you print, a nice image deserves to be printed and displayed. I don't care if you have a 64K monitor, it just isn't the same as a nicely done print.

Daniel Medley's picture

What are some suggestions for getting photo books done?

W Mitty's picture

I think generating a photobook is a great idea. I've done this for several years. I pick my favorite photographs and write the story of how the photo came to be, or some story about the location at which the photo was taken. I give them as holiday presents to family members. They love it (and think I am a much better photographer than I really am)! I like easy audiences.

If you use Lightroom, it is easy to generate a photobook, using the "Book" module. The layout tools are very easy. The text tools could be better, but they are workable. (My biggest complaint is that it doesn't do spellcheck). I usually write up the text in Microsoft Word and copy it into Lightroom.

Lightroom has a direct connection to a company called Blurb. So you can see how much the book will cost as you make it. You also can generate as a .pdf or .jpeg for other printers. If you use Blurb, once you are happy with the layout, you hit a button in Lightroom and the book is sent to Blurb and they take care of the rest. I think there are cheaper alternatives to Blurb, but I have not used them. I have been happy enough with Blurb.

If you don't use Lightroom, Blurb and other printers have on-line or downloadable tools for generation of a book. It is really quite easy to do the mechanics of generating the book. The toughest part is deciding which photos to include and how to group and present them. But that is also the fun part.

I would also recommend if you do this, that you download or request the ICC profiles for whichever printing company that you use. That way you can soft proof the prints in LR or PS and adjust as necessary before committing to printing. Usually you need to up the exposure a little and may have to adjust colors a little depending on the characteristics of the particular printer and paper choice.

I hope this helps to answer your question. At least it might get you started.

Christian Comes's picture

My recommendation is to have a black background, as your pictures will pop up more, and to have the flat pages option (pages always look flat once the book is opened), so there is no curvature, as opposed to the pictures of photobooks that come in the article.
Having a year summary of your pics is one of the best things you can do to yourself!

Chaz Foote's picture

I haven't done any printing for a while but when I was selling prints I spent a lot of money for a printer (Epson R3000) and also kept my monitor calibrated. I could print 19" x 13" photos (typically 18x12) that resisted fading well because the ink was not the standard inkjet type.

The problems I see nowadays in buying printers is that most of them are wireless (which means a glitch in wi-fi will spoil a print); most manufacturers are more interested in selling ink subscriptions and they also offer all-in-ones (scanning/copying/faxing, etc., in addition to printing).

If you want to do your own printing at high quality, be prepared to do some research on which printer to buy and be prepared to spend money.

Wesley Hetrick's picture

I create a calendar each year of my best shots to give to family and friends for the holidays.

El Capitan's picture

What I really miss is the quality of now gone RA-4 printing of color. No one does it anymore, and dry printer print is simply not measuring up, the colors are not as good. Anyone knows of any lab that still does wet color printing please suggest it, thanks!

Doc M's picture

I have been printing for about 5 years now and it is amazing. For the day to day stuff i print books after every trip we take, i use a company called artifact uprising and print soft cover books of each trip with 20-50 photos in them. I give them to the people that joined us on our trips. Usually works out to less than $30 a book but it is so much fun to quickly flip through the pages of each trip book. Tried to do them for a full year and the mean got lost, for my favourite landscapes i have a local company that knows my style well and they print on metal for me. I love big single prints per wall so my house and office are filled with prints that range from 30 - 60 inches in width. My patients love the photos and i love them. I try and change them out with the season or if i capture something amazing. It is my greatest joy in photography is the ability to share my art. While i may never see my photos published in a magazine my photos still bring me and others joy, cheers. If you haven't printed your work please do,