Please Don't Tell Me You're Doing This With All Your Photos

Please Don't Tell Me You're Doing This With All Your Photos

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?

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.

This canvas image is by the doorway at home, so I see it every time I come and go.

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.

A four-in-one canvas from my honeymoon to Santorini and Mykonos

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.

My trusty Epson

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.

Summing Up

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.

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Deleted Account's picture

I believe this is a personal decision for the individual. Hey, I spend tens of thousands of dollars on my transportation vehicle... it doesn't mean I need to be entering beauty contests or striving to be a professional driver (safe, yes).

It's great that there are venues available for people who seek a career in photography. What's always puzzled me is the aggressive push back I get from friends who insist I try to sell my work (I have no delusions).

They're so busy planning my life... they won't listen to what I value. It's funny... there was just an article today about a photographer battling depression due in part to external pressures to perform. Does anyone listen anymore?

Iain Stanley's picture

I agree completely. In the article I said many of us have long given up dreams of exclusively selling prints to make a living. That’s why I line my walls at home with prints I’m proud of. So I have my own gallery at home :)

Deleted Account's picture

Full disclosure... I scanned rather then read every line. I apologize.

My wife is busy plastering my "one star" snapshot crap all over Twitter. I cringe... then go out back to harrass the squirrels and birds again. Haha.

Thank you for the kind rebuttal. :)

Iain Stanley's picture

All good. My one man show is good enough for me. It’s just a nice, gentle reminder each day that I have taken some nice shots. It gives me an adolescent thrill when/if my little girls say they like the colours or the big, scary tree :)

Deleted Account's picture

The views from children are priceless. You're a wealthy man, Iain. :)

Robert Nurse's picture

I bet your "one-star crap" is good! Let see 'em!

Deleted Account's picture

Brought a smile to my 55th year of human angst... ok then. :)

Was just tinkering on some old stuff. I'll go fish 'em out.

Chris Warner-Carey's picture

I understand the feeling of being pressured to do more than you're comfortable with. There's an art gallery in our small touristy town that displays local artists, and the director has prodded me to enter my photos in a juried show, but there's no way I'm going to do that now. First of all, it's very expensive to matte and frame the photos to meet the requirements ($200-400 per photo) on top of the entrance fees. I'm also a bit wary of the juried show process overall. The art world can sometimes feel like they have assigned themselves the role of "Gatekeepers", and I'm not a young and hungry artist interested in playing those games.

Deleted Account's picture

My mindset exactly. I understand one has to spend money to make money... I'm just to motivated enough nor cash flush enough for that kind of investment.

I took an art marketing workshop about 10 yrs back with the intention to launch myself into an art career in a couple of diff mediums ...but once I started doing the math to set up, frame the work, get it seen; then computing a reasonable profit margin. It was more of a gambling proposition. I just can't afford the loss potential.

I don't present all that in a self-pity sense. As you said, I just wasn't hungry for the experience. I guess I'm more of a Zen sort. I get crazy good returns on sharing my work for free. Even had some stuff requested for gift baskets at a charity fund raiser. I'm a wealthy human. :)

Iain Stanley's picture

I get flamed by friends and others all the time for giving my prints away free to select people. The joy I get from giving is so much more satisfying than a few bucks

Deleted Account's picture

My people. :)

Deleted Account's picture

Gatekeepers... mmhmmm.

dierk topp's picture

to hold a print in your hands or look at it on a wall is so much different than on a screen, even worse on a phone screen. I enjoyed so much, when a print came out of my Epson 3800, it was like in the darkroom time, when the image appears in the developer.
I don't use FB or instagram, I load all my pictures to flickr sins many years.
Years ago I started to print on canvas up to 4m wide or even more. The pictures hang in the isles of the house, where I live and now also on public places.
I don't sell the images, I give them away for the printing costs and enjoy so much, when I look at these huge pictures myself :-)

Deleted Account's picture

I did once print some stunning red tulips and framed them for the infusion center that saved my wife's life. It is an invaluable feeling for me to share that way.

Iain Stanley's picture

Agree completely. Whether big or small, canvas, metal, or print, it’s thrilling to hold your work in your hands and display it on your walls. Even more so on other people’s walls - for money or not

Deleted Account's picture

So I did get my Near & Far Milky Way photo printed on canvas a couple years back... but it was dissatisfying. The details got swallowed in the canvas texture. Rookie mistake.

Would a metal print be a better choice for certain types of images? How does one make the print surface choices?

Iain Stanley's picture

it depends on the person of course, but definitely, for something like the Milky Way, or any frame where the details are of paramount importance, I would recommend metal. The fabric of canvas can eat away a lot of the details of some images.

Deleted Account's picture

I learned the canvas lesson the hard way.

Thank you... with wisdom from the professionals, I'm feeling confident to invest money in another try... on metal.

Iain Stanley's picture

No problem, I look forward to hearing about your results. I find long exposures also look much, much better on metal or paper - not so much canvas.

Deleted Account's picture

Thanks, Iain. I'll try to remember to come share the result of a metal print on my MW image. :)

Danny Colombo's picture

I’m on board with printing, 100%. I’m fond of giving prints as gifts.
My biggest problem with Facebook and Instagram is their terms of service. I’m one of those weird people that actually read that stuff before I sign up or post photos.

Deleted Account's picture

Call me paranoid (I do)... I wonder when someone will see their work in a Zucky production without compensation?

Iain Stanley's picture

Insta and FB have their places I suppose but we’re so at their whims.... I like to have a tad more control

Deleted Account's picture

I found out who my real friends were when I left FB cold turkey a year ago. Poof! Not even an emailed Christmas letter.

Gives me more time to stalk the bird feeder out back. :)

Randy Pollock's picture

This was my first year of printing my images myself...and in the 12 years of being a photographer, nothing has been more rewarding or inspiring to me than to see a 13x19 print coming out of my Canon Pro 10... learning out to use the printer and printing on Red River paper has been so much fun this year.

Deleted Account's picture

Pretty neat, Randy. Nice goldfinch. :)

Iain Stanley's picture

awesome. Yes, calibrating your monitor and getting profiles for different papers and doing soft proofs.....that's another world in itself. But when that printer spits out a freshly coloured print, it's sublime, right?

Adriano Brigante's picture

I've just ordered a Pro-10. It looks like an awesome printer. I can't wait!

Timothy Roper's picture

Printing involves a lot of different skills, so be prepared for a learning curve. It is worth it, though. My goal for 2020 is to spend more time getting better at it.

Iain Stanley's picture

yeah I've spent the last 18 months trying to perfect the entire process. Lots of mistakes and wasted ink/paper but I'm getting pretty good now at mirroring my screen and print output. There's a course on Creative Live by Rocco Ancora that I found absolutely invaluable.

Danny Colombo's picture

I added a second desk lamp with a daylight bulb at my printer for viewing output. It made a difference for me when comparing the print with my monitor.

Carl Crumley's picture

I'm fortunate that I'm one of the owners of a gallery (Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester, NY) so I get to print and display my photos in twelve shows per year. One thing I like to do is contact people I interact with on Instagram and Facebook and encourage them to print their photographs and display them in our gallery as guests. We give them a 50% discount as first time exhibitors to encourage them, and it works. In the last couple of years we've had a dozen or so photographers who never before printed their photographs show at our gallery, and they've been great experiences for them.

Iain Stanley's picture

wonderful! Yes, in this digital, online era I really think a lot of younger people and people who might have taken up photography later on don't appreciate the beauty of seeing your prints pop off the wall. Especially when they are framed by the right light, as I'm sure they are in your gallery. Great incentive on the 50% thing too!

Alik Griffin's picture

You always write such good articles on here.

Iain Stanley's picture

Thank you. It's much appreciated :)

Andrew Finden's picture

For the last decade or so, I’ve made an 8x10 photo book (via with all my best images from the previous year. It means that not only do I have a hard copy of a lot of family photos (I learnt about multiple backups the hard way.. without these, I’d have lost a lot of images!), but it makes for a lovely coffee table book.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes, it is a nice little way to keep the memories of a calendar year alive. Much better than a folder on a hard drive labeled "2019" (thought they are important!) Another advantage as well is that you can become your own best critic by looking at prints in your hand. I find it harder to do when I'm looking at a small phone screen

Deleted Account's picture

Modern version of a photo album. Neat idea. :)

David Bolender's picture

In 2008 our family lost both our mothers and a family friend. The entire family went to Cuba over the winter for a mental break and to rejuvenate after a tough year. Five years later I put together a book with Lightroom and Blurb and had a copy printed for each family member for Christmas. Many, many happy tears at Christmas that year, as we had also lost another member of the family during that time. Totally worth having keepsakes printed.

Iain Stanley's picture

Lovely story in difficult circumstances David. There’s something about having something physical rather than digital to appreciate isn’t there?

Steve White's picture

Andrew, your books are more important than you realize. I'm 64 -- one day I'm going to be gone, and my family will not maintain my Lightroom subscription to look at the 50,000 plus images I have socked away. Whereas, they will look at the books. I have a "Best of..." each year, and I'm doing some projects (nothing fancy, just things I like). These books may last a while until my great-grandchildren finally toss them.

No one is going to look at digital media when we're gone. But they will look at prints, and books, and wall hangings. That's just the way people are.

jonboy london's picture

I agree wholeheartedly with you Ian. Printing restores a sense of craft, artistry and value to photography. Prints don't need to large format either. Something as simple as the limited edition Christmas cards on specialist paper that I printed for friends and clients has been so well received. Their response has been wonderful.

Iain Stanley's picture

Preaching to the converted here. Even simpler, I'm actually buying my daughter a little instasnap camera that produces prints on the spot. I plan on giving her a dedicated area on the living room wall to display her work. I think it will be a lovely way for the family to interact and encourage her in artistic expression (despite the fact she's only 3!!). I particularly agree with your line about a sense of value :)

Deleted Account's picture

I'm so glad to know there are supportive parents like you, Iain. :)

Eric Ventress's picture

It doesn’t involve printing, but about the “seeing your work on a regular basis” bit: several months ago I set my computer wallpaper to randomly grab an image from a folder of my favorite horizontal shots, with a new picture every day. (Two, if I’m at home and have my laptop hooked up to my second monitor) The regular reminder of some cool shots that I’ve taken is a surprisingly strong motivator, and I definitely recommend it.

One of my goals in 2020 is to actually have some of my shots printed. I’m not expecting to do a gallery showing or anything, but just for me.

Iain Stanley's picture

You should definitely get your work printed. Think about the satisfaction you now get from seeing your images up on your screensavers then multiply it by 10. If you don’t print yourself, definitely lay out a little bit more money to print from a reputable source.

dierk topp's picture

I would like to add some comments about printing:

Prints on canvas make even lower M Pixel prints look sharp, as the structure of the canvas ads an impression of sharpness. I have prints from Nikon D3 12 M Pix in 80x120cm, and you can look at them very close and they don't look unsharp! But for very detailed pictures like stars and Milky Way it will be not the best material.

I love the paper from Hahnemuehle, they have so many different papers for all kinds of pictures.
But all papers behave different, even with different inks!

My ideal solution is the colormunki. With this tool I can calibrate end to end, I calibrate the monitor, print a color testpattern on the paper and use the colormunki as a scanner for this pattern and make a perfect profile for this printer/paper/ink combination! It is not cheap, but it saves a lot of money and frustration on printing.

Next I print small crops of the most important part of the picture, as I/we used to do in the darkroom. This way I can use one sheet of paper for more tests and/or more pictures and do the final print, when I am sure about all setting.

One more thought:
I have about 100.000 pictures on 6 TB hard disk and need also 6 TB on external HD for backup with SyncBackFree. I had several HD crashes during the last 15 years and only one time by my mistake lost 3 months of pictures.

Iain Stanley's picture

Which version of Colormunki does that? I know they have a few different priced versions.....?

dierk topp's picture

it is the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo
here is a very bad video about it

Chris Warner-Carey's picture

In my case, I have kept most of my photography to myself, out of a sense of insecurity as to the quality or "value" of my work. I realize that this is a self-fulfilling mindset, and the reality is that the more photos I share, the more positive feedback I get. SO, in an effort to break this self-defeating mindset (and with gentle encouragement from my spouse) I set up a table at a local Christmas craft fair this weekend, and over two days, I sold dozens of photo cards (mostly of birds and landscapes) some matted prints, and I signed up 7 families for portrait sittings. I didn't make any money, since it was a fundraiser for our church, but that didn't matter at all. Along with leading one of the Kelby Photowalks in October, this has been a great confidence-building exercise.

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