Why Printing Your Work Will Make You a Better Photographer and Save You Thousands of Dollars in the Long Run

Why Printing Your Work Will Make You a Better Photographer and Save You Thousands of Dollars in the Long Run

If your work never leaves the confines of a computer screen then you are seriously missing out. Some people might think printing is an indulgence, but seeing your photography in this way will actually benefit your career on many levels.

There really is something magical about getting your photography printed out. That tactile experience of holding a print still beats looking at a screen any day. I'm sure that's the reason why most people still prefer to thumb through an actual book rather than repetitively swipe the display of an e-reader.

Any form of printing is better than no printing at all, but the major benefits will come from printing large format. So without further ado, here are the benefits of seeing your photography in print:

1. Printing Your Images Big Will Help to Make You a Better Retoucher

Having the ability to look at what you have made in print form will actually help you to take a step back from what you have created and see what is in front of you with fresh eyes. It's really easy to get too close to something you have been working on for many hours or days. Print is a very different medium to a computer screen so even if you only try printing once, I think it will help you to see how your particular retouching techniques hold up. If you're the kind of retoucher who edits individual pixels then creating a giant print will make you realize that most of your efforts are not even noticeable. This should give you the confidence to spend significantly less time on each piece which can only be a good thing for productivity.

On the other hand, if you're the kind of retoucher who is less than accurate with the pen tool, or maybe you haven't quite mastered dodge and burn techniques then seeing your images on a large scale will highlight what you can and can't get away with. Some of those things might be fine viewed on social media, but those bad methods need nipping in the bud if you are serious about your photography.  

2. Making Large Prints Will Help Quench Your Thirst for More Kit (Hopefully!)

We all love new kit but do we really need that new camera body? The great thing about printing a photo considerably larger than you normally would in the real world is that you will start to notice that the camera you already own can make exceptional prints. I recently made an A1 print from an old 20 MP image and it looked just as good as some of my more recent stuff. The point I'm trying to make is that without pushing the limits I would have never known what was possible with my existing kit. So before you take out the credit card push your existing equipment above and beyond what you think it is capable of. You might be surprised at the results and save yourself a few thousand dollars in the process.

3. Large Prints Will Make You A Better Photographer

Seeing your pictures at that size will help you to see all the details which you sometimes miss during the heat of a shoot. Obviously, you can zoom right in to see parts of an image on a screen, but having the ability to see the whole image at the same time will give you a better understanding of how the composition, subtle changes in light and also how the subjects featured are all working together. Once printing becomes part of your workflow it will actually motivate you to create more as you will be eager to see how the next piece will come out printed. This increase in output will accelerate the learning process and ultimately help you grow as a photographer. Printing also gives you a form of closure which helps you move onto the next project and frees up much-needed head space which is crucial for new ideas.

4. Clients Love to See It

As most people consume media on a smartphone these days it can be hard to get across to the viewer how much quality there physically is in your images. Taking a picture of yourself holding a large print really helps to get that point across. The fact you are holding your work helps to show the scale of it and more importantly, it conveys the message that you are proud of what you do as you quite literally stand by it. I find that it's a great conversation piece with potential clients as a lot of photographers these days no longer do it. As a result, it always goes down well on social media.

So is my newest test print really big or am I really small!?

A post shared by Paul Adshead (@pauladshead) on

If you have read this far then hopefully you are considering the idea of creating prints. Printing doesn't have to break the bank either, even standard poster prints these days contain superior detail thanks to advancements in printing technology. The giant image I'm holding above cost no more than $30 and although it's no fine art print it still looks great. More importantly, it serves the purpose of allowing me to inspect my work in the flesh. I'm sure a quick Google will point you towards places where you can get prints done, but one top tip I wanted to share was that most colleges have these kinds of facilities on site. Don't worry if you're not a student as a lot of these places are usually open to the general public and as they are predominantly catering for the student population the prices are normally a lot lower.

I hope these points have helped to sell the concept of large format printing as a tool to improve as a photographer. I have personally found that I am actually saving a lot of time in Photoshop as I no longer feel the need to edit so much, a realization I don't think I would have come to without seeing my work in print. I have also been able to hold off buying a new camera body as I know the file sizes are more than big enough for what I currently need. It really is a win-win situation when you think about all the time and money I am saving as well as the benefits in personal development I am seeing, all thanks to the occasional print.

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41 Comments

Great article and I agree with all the points. I would add that large prints just look better than any other method of viewing. There's something about a large print, getting up close, moving your head around to see every part (instead of dragging a zoomed image on screen), the texture, the way it sits in your room/gallery. Also it tells you that super sharpness is overrated.

I would bet most people would say an image that gives off it's own light looks better than a print. In the past that would have been achieved with projected slides. Today we can do that with huge 4K displays. Even with small high PPI displays, such as the iPad mini 4 that I am typing on right now, images look far better than prints.

I love making large prints, but I look forward to the day when I can expensively display my images on portable OLED displays.

As for your sharpness comment, I doesn't make sense. Sharpness, assuming you want it in the first place, is critical the larger your image becomes.

Peter, please stop replying to my comments for the sake of arguing. Note that my comment is my own view and thoughts on the matter i.e there's something about a large print that really speaks to me. I enjoy that type of interaction as opposed to viewing on a 27" monitor or iPad etc.

You see it as "for the sake of arguing," and you are wrong.

You are posting your views and opinions in a forum. People responding to your comments, including questioning what you have to say, is what happens in forums.

In regards to what I said, it in no way prevents you from appreciating whatever kind of image viewing appeals most to you.

You're being argumentative for the sake of it and you know it. In other words you're a troll.

Paul Adshead's picture

Totally agree about images that give off their own light looking better than a print. Lets see what the future holds for OLED etc...

Paul Adshead's picture

I agree entirely, that's why printed books will be around for a good while yet!

good read. i love big prints but i'm running out of room.

I simply circulate new images in existing frames.

Paul Adshead's picture

Same!

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

Couldn't agree more - Epson stuffed my previous printer, they didn't keep the software up to date as Apple kept upgrading its operating system, so Epson's fell by the way side - and for a while I found myself without a suitable printer (just a limping lame duck) - back in business again and it has been quite a staggering experience. You are quite right - print or perish might be a good motto! Once you get into the habit of printing, a heap of the post processing simply falls by the wayside. And when you go out again with your camera, you stand a far better chance of "getting it right in the camera", further reducing dependence on post processing.

Under the onslaught of keeping everything digital, and the advertising & promotional hype from the various producers of post processing software, so many photographers have headed off in a different direction. And it's a bit of a blind alley. For one thing, it ends up with images that are produced by transmitted light, where prints are viewed as reflected light. The DR is relatively unconstrained in an image viewed on a screen. Pixels are the least of your worries, there's no screen on the planet capable of showing you 56MP images on the dots that make up the screen image. So in the end you aren't really even LOOKING at your image - just a faked digital replica of whatever you created.

True - prints are generally made up of inkjet dots. But the end result can really shine, in a way that digital fails to allow. Worse - every screen you display your digital image on will have a different calibration, and different lighting characteristics - and whenever I encounter that, it makes me shudder.

And as your article stresses, it is only when you view a reasonable enlargement of your image that you can examine and assess it on a meaningful basis.

Plus one - your image is now stored - much more securely than if you leave it on the computer or store it on someone's Cloud.

Paul Adshead's picture

Excellent points Pete! Having your work seen on bad monitors makes me shudder too!

Printing still gives me a huge buzz. Even if none of the other points we have mentioned were true the fact it makes me very happy is a good enough reason on its own!

"So in the end you aren't really even LOOKING at your image - just a faked digital replica of whatever you created."

Of course you are looking at your image; It's just reduced in magnification. In fact, the image will look better reduced in size.

******

I hate inkjet prints primarily because they are not continuous tone. The usual argument against that is that most people can't notice. I disagree. One doesn't need to be able to see the actual ink dots for the image to be affected. The most detailed image I have ever seen was from a dye sub printer, and that includes traditional printing paper. I wish the print industry would have gone in that direction.

.
For most of us, the original capture image is 36x24mm or smaller ...

... carry on.
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Kyle Medina's picture

Great article

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks Kyle! It still feels like magic every time I see a print of mine coming off the machine in the shop...

Craig Tedeton's picture

"most people consume media on a smartphone these days it can be hard to get across to the viewer how much quality there physically is in your images".....SO true!!

Paul Adshead's picture

My heart breaks every time I resize for instagram!!

William Howell's picture

I love printing my photographs, I got one printed on aluminum by Mpix and it makes it real.

Paul Adshead's picture

So glad to hear so many people love printing too! It never gets old!

Great article, Paul and I completely agree with you. Most of the time I print my images on my own Epson printer at A3+ and deliver that personally to my clients. Nothing beats the expression on a face and the emotion of a client when viewing the print for the first time. And at that moment you conclude: this is were all the effort was for.
I've never tried such large prints like you, but maybe I must give that a try as well.

Paul Adshead's picture

Yes, that feeling makes it all worth while! As mentioned above, you can try a large print for quite a reasonable price. Just make sure if you do you have a frame big enough!

JJ Photography's picture

Thank you for posting this article. For an amature such as myself, I find it quite informative and it's something I will definately try. I agree with Pete Guaron, he made some great points and you of course. I am actually looking forward to seeing some of my work in print. If it can cut down some of the post processing time, then I'm all for it. I didn't realize how time consuming it really can be. And hopefully it will also make me a better photographer.

Paul Adshead's picture

Sounds like a great plan! It really is great to experience your work on something other than a screen. Printing always spurs me on to make more work...

In my portraiture work, I have found that clients will inevitably pick too small of a print for their needs. People are just conditioned to believe that 11X14 is the biggest they need. I never hang anything smaller than 16X20 (usually matted to 24X30) unless it's in a collage.

Here's the trick I've discovered: I hang a couple of massive photos in my studio (4'x5') and the rest are smaller but still an appropriate size (16x24, 20X40, etc). Right away, they feel the impact of those large prints, but when I hold up an 11X14 to the wall they instantly realize exactly how small it is, and opt for a larger print. Yes, it increases my sales, but just as importantly, the clients are ecstatic with how their photo looks on the wall.

Save the small prints for night stands (5x7), desk tops (8x10), and bookshelves (8x10, 11x14). Walls deserve large prints.

Computer displays are not for things that really matter to us.

Paul Adshead's picture

Well said James, as photographers we are there to help educate the clients as most of the time they don't really know what they want. I'm sure your customers will love their larger prints and thank you in the long run...

Carlos Hernandez Ocampo's picture

I started on film and one of the best highs I've ever gotten from photography is standing over a vat of developer and waiting for that little sheet of white paper to turn into an image, it gets me every time (it could be the chemicals). I actually went to school to be a painter before I became a photographer, so when I look at one of my images printed huge and hung on a wall it takes me back to those days. Printing has a special hold on our artistic soul, today's world is full of transient digital images, and while technology is indeed amazing and only getting better, there is a sense of permanence to printing your work that "looking" at it on a screen doesn't give you.

Paul Adshead's picture

I couldn't agree more Carlos! Beautifully said.

Mark Scott's picture

I have been wanting to print big but struggle finding a printer wider than 30", and even more difficult time finding a affordable way to mount / frame large prints. And the couple options I have found for frames and mounted prints over ~30x40" have a $100+ shipping premium. Any suggestions?

Paul Adshead's picture

Good question, a lot depends on where you are based. I do think trying to find printers locally is a great way from a cost point of view, you'll also build a relationship with the people who work there and obviously, you'll save on postage too.

As for frames, the cheapest will always be if you choose standard sizes. If like me your work is never standard dimensions I would again try locally first. I know a great woodworker who can make frames any shape or size and I just drive and pick them up.

I hope that helps a little. All the best!