Printed Versus Digital Photography Portfolios: Which Is Right for You?

Printed Versus Digital Photography Portfolios: Which Is Right for You?

Every photographer out there needs a portfolio, but times have changed, and with digital technology growing at a fast pace, the way people look at our work is changing too. Does this mean that the printed portfolio is dead? 

We Live in a Digital World

It’s 2018. Most of the people out there have smartphones; most of them look at news, photos, videos, and connect with people via their digital devices. More and more, printed publications are becoming niche, some of them transitioning to only digital versions, and some others disappearing completely. The digital world has made it easier to access any type of content anywhere in the world. Now, we don’t have to carry a bag full of magazines and newspapers or even books; now, with a couple of apps and subscriptions, we can have it all in our pocket. Photography has evolved with the new technology, Instagram as the main outlet for digital photography has served as a tool for people to showcase their work to the world and has also worked as a medium for photographers to be discovered by clients and creative directors. Digital platforms have allowed us to be more visible but have also created an excess amount of people out there that are showing their work, which makes it also more difficult to stand out from the crowd and makes it hard for people to find you in an endless sea of photos. Instagram itself posts around 95 million photos and videos per day. That is an absurd amount of content that is being shared out there. For me, there are several pros for having a great digital portfolio:

  • It can be dynamic. You can include GIFs as cover images, your images can move around, your portfolio can be interactive, and you can play in many forms with it.
  • It can be universal. Having a digital portfolio makes it easier for more people to share your work, allowing you the opportunity of being seen in any part of the world without having to ship your work, print a billboard, or handle the costs of printing.
  • It’s good for business. Not only will you be able to reach the world, but you can also track who and how people are interacting with your content, you can create databases, and engage with people that are showing interest in your work, making them potential clients.

Nostalgia for Print

Paper, ink, a hard copy, there is no greater feeling that having your work printed. Whether it is a photo for an exhibit or your home, a printed portfolio, a book, or a project you did for a magazine, there is a unique satisfaction of seeing how an image that you created and have only seen through a screen has now come to life and has a personality, has organic defects, dust, noise, ink variations. You can touch it and feel the paper, and you can see how it interacts with other elements in the environment. When I moved to LA, I decided that I was not going to send my work digitally and that I was going to print a book of my work and take it to the clients myself. It was a great idea, but it didn’t always work, as you cannot simply pop into an office and ask for a meeting, but when it worked, I could see how clients looked at my work and how they engaged more. They took time to look at every single page, they had questions about the photos, and they found it amazing and sometimes called it “old school” that someone wanted to bring their portfolio personally for review. I found out that printed work brings a sense of nostalgia; a printed photograph can take you places and move emotions that you cannot always achieve with a digital image. There is a screen, a barrier between user and consumer that is broken when they get a printed photo in their hands.

As much as I love printed printed portfolios, the cost of making them is high, you cannot update them that often, and you cannot create thousands of them to distribute all over the world. A printed portfolio should be a unique collection of your best work, it should be an homage to your work as a photographer, and it should be something you make for yourself more than for anyone else, because it will give you one of the greatest satisfactions you can experience to have a physical collection of all those moments you’ve captured.

I would love to see more printed work out there even if it is only for our own enjoyment as photographers, and I would love to know how many prefer digital to printed portfolios or if you use both and how.

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5 Comments

Jan Kruize's picture

Print of course, why do you buy that superb. sony34MP camera for otherwise?

Jan Kruize's picture

One reaction? I really don’t understand this. I see other topics with sony and canon fanboys fighting one dynamic step and 42 MP and no one says something about printing. You better all buy a 300dollar dslr good enough for facebook and instagram.

Michael Holst's picture

The investment for a printed portfolio is crazy high and the commitment to what you create is equally high. One of the best parts about digital portfolios is that you can update them as often as you want. If suddenly you don't like a set you had included, POOF they're gone.

That being said, I really love a good printed portfolio. The interaction with the photo is higher because in my opinion, holding it in your hand captures more attention. Digital being so fast pace allows the audience to move onto the next thing quicker.

Kirk Darling's picture

This appears to be fully from a commercial photography point of view.

I do retail portraits, and my most profitable product is the printed wall portrait.

In that context, it would absolute stupidity not to show what I sell, because most clients cannot envision the impact of a 30x40 or larger print from a cell phone image.

So I have portfolios of 30x40 prints--displays in a couple of salons. I even have a selection of 30x40 prints on loose canvas in a huge portfolio that I have available and often take with me on consultations.

Printed portfolio, no doubt about it. Most people cannot make the imaginative leap from a digital image on a laptop to a framed 11x14 portrait but put a print in their hands and they will get it right away.