Can you imagine buying a gorgeous new Ferrari, then storing it in the darkness of your garage forever? Sounds pretty crazy, right? But you could be doing almost the exact equivalent when it comes to your photography.
I'm sure you've seen shows like American Idol, or X Factor, or Britain's Got Talent, and so forth. Most of these franchises have been sold worldwide, and they are now global phenomena. The premise is pretty simple in most of them: discover talented, new people, and give them a platform to shine. Indeed, some of the winners and other finalists have gone on to become household names and superstars in their own right. However, the one thing every contestant on these shows has in common, whether they win or lose, is that they want to be seen, and heard, and discovered. They believe in their talents and they want others to see them too.
And that’s why it always shocks me when I see so many photographers that I know or have befriended online who don’t show their work anywhere. Or if they do, it’s usually restricted to online platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. Some of these photographers are absolutely incredible talents whose work could rival that of any pro out there making a living from their images, yet they barely display their photos anywhere. Not for the greater public to see, nor for their own friends and family to see.
All of these people pretty much fit an identical description. They have invested thousands of dollars into building an extensive photography kit full of bodies and different lenses. They have mastered their craft and regularly go out and take exquisitely well-crafted images. They understand the intricacies of post-production very well and are masters at turning their raw image files into final works of art. They then save their images to a hard drive, in carefully labeled folders, and then perhaps, now and then, upload them to some social media channels, where they go through the quick cycle of peoples' news feeds and then disappear into the digital abyss. And there it ends. It genuinely baffles me to see such wasted talent.
The Problems With Facebook and Instagram
If you’re uploading to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, it’s better than nothing, I guess. But there are some fundamental problems with using these sites. The first is the quality of the image that your friends or followers see. The algorithm that Facebook uses is well known as an image killer. The way it compresses photos often takes wonderfully clean, crisp images and turns them into ugly, blurry junk that resembles nothing of the original image that you uploaded. Instagram is a little bit better with maintaining image quality, but the problem with Instagram is that it’s a mobile phone platform. Therefore, it works much better for portraits, or to be more exact, images uploaded with a 5×4 ratio. So, if you’re uploading landscape images, or God forbid, panoramas, they look absolutely crap, because you’re not using the real estate of a mobile phone because of the way most people hold them.
Then there is the issue with your friends and followers actually seeing your images. Since Facebook and Instagram both became pay to play and littered with sponsored posts, they have both drastically reduced the number of friends and followers who actually see your images. These days, I’m genuinely lucky if Instagram shows any of my images to more than 10% of my followers. The other day, I uploaded an image, and Instagram did me the dazzlingly kind favor of notifying me that my post had reached 95% more of my followers than previous posts. And that post had only reached barely 10%! Thus, because Instagram wants you to pay to reach your followers, very often, the images that you upload aren’t even seen by 90% of the people who have elected to follow you. Isn’t that just wonderful? So, if you’re only uploading to sites such as Facebook and Instagram, you can’t even be sure that 80 to 90% of the people that you’re trying to show your work to are even seeing it, let alone appreciating it.
I understand that we can’t all make a living from photography. My main job is working in a university in Japan. And we don’t all have time to march the streets and try to get our works in galleries, or cafes, or bars, or restaurants. Some of us may have completely given up on the dream of ever selling our work for a living or even for a bit of pocket money. But to store all of your incredibly wonderful photos in the deep, dark depths of a digital hard drive? Or leave it to the whims of ever-changing algorithms of online sites? I really don’t understand that. So, what’s the solution?
Print Your Work
Printing my work has given me a new lease of life as far as my photography is concerned. I genuinely derive incredible amounts of pleasure when I feel a new print in my fingers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paper print on a simple 5 x 7 sheet, or a larger fine art print on specialty paper, or a canvas that I’ve ordered elsewhere. Holding it in my hands and carefully looking at the rich colors before my eyes gives me a real sense of accomplishment and achievement. It’s a physical manifestation of the hours and months and years that I’ve poured into my photography. And better than that is I know I’m going to put those prints up on my walls where my family and I can walk past them and see them every day.
It might sound slightly narcissistic, but I honestly stop and look at my photos every single day. Not because I think they’re anything particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking, but more that they are a reflection of my love for photography and a daily reminder of the times that I have spent out in nature or with my kids. This wall above at my house is reserved exclusively for family shots. It's in the living room, so I see this wall the most, especially when I'm taking my kids to bed or waking up with them in the morning. I can stare at these images for hours and reminisce.
I also have photos of local places here in Japan where I live, such as the one above and photos of places I've traveled, such as those below of Greece, where I went on my honeymoon. The memories and positive thoughts that these give me every day cannot be understated. And I wonder how often any of my friends can feel anything like the satisfaction I get by storing their images in folders on a hard drive or intermittently uploading them to social media networks. I can earnestly say that if not for these images of Greece here (and in other rooms), I would never see them, because I have so many hard drives that I wouldn't even know where they're all stored off the top of my head.
Narcissism aside, there are also some other advantages of printing your work. Firstly, it can lead to job opportunities. I've had numerous job offers as a direct result of people seeing my prints. I would say that a good 80% of those jobs have been from people coming to my house and seeing the prints all over the walls. That has led to conversations about my photography, about the photos that we were looking at, and types of work I can do. Without those prints up on the wall, those conversations would never have happened, and those paid jobs would never have transpired.
Secondly, if your printer is good enough, it can lead to print work. Word has got around my small little neighborhood that I have a pretty decent printer, and I now get a regular number of requests to print images for people. What you charge is entirely up to you. Sometimes I charge, sometimes I don't, depending on who it is. However, if I don't charge, I almost always receive something; this is Japan, after all! I invested in an Epson SureColor P800, but you don't need to go that big. I did because I was consistently unhappy with the results I was getting. The requests for prints is an added bonus I hadn't counted on.
Finally, printing images has led to a lot of new friendships. I've taken some incredible images this year of surfers riding massive waves at some famous places near home. After talking to the surfers in the images and giving them access to my sequences and stills, I've also had some requests for A4 and A3 (and larger) prints. This has led to beers on my deck and introductions to some other notable big wave riders in town who I would never have met had it not been for my photography and my prints. I'm forever grateful for the opportunities that have come my way in the last few months.
In closing, I really do want to reiterate that printing your work offers up an incredible sense of satisfaction. It reminds you of your passions and your hard work and can lead to lots of different opportunities you might not have had otherwise. So, if you're storing all your work on your computer or digitally, please think about getting some hard copies of your work to hang at home or in your office. I guarantee you won't regret it.
Do you print your work? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.