Whether you're brand new or have many years experience, printing your work can be the most satisfying part of photography. Something you might not realize is how much your work might change after you make that first print.
If you broke photography down into capture, edit, and print — printing holds just as much weight in the equation as the other two variables. The transition to digital took away a lot of this physical interaction and absorption of photography over the past 20 years meaning for someone like me, I just never got to experience it. There is nothing more satisfying, in my opinion, than seeing your work in print. Witnessing it within a space surrounded by the presence of other tangible things, touching your work in the physical form for the first time as if it now exists in the real world.
Seeing my work for the first time on a wall made me realize just how much I needed to start thinking about printing before I ever even took the shot, and doing this changed my work forever.
The Art of Printing
Printing is an art in itself. Think about what you see on your monitor is backlit in the RGB colorspace. Maybe you're looking at your images on an LCD IPS panel, or an OLED, or what about the age of your monitor? Then you take the image you see on your screen and change it to CMYK color space, meaning you’re now creating colors using a completely different algorithm. On top of that, the paper you’re using completely affects how that image is going to look. Glossy? Matte? Metal? All those dark areas that you can make out on a screen suddenly get much darker in print because there's no backlight. This process is an entire industry that you could spend your life learning. It’s a lot of fun printing your own work and learning the nuances of it, but if you’re like me you simply might not have the resources to have your work printed how it should be.
The good news is that if you want to print your work, you can skip a lot of the technical aspects by having professionals handle it and focus on what's more important, which is the medium those pieces are printed on and how they are going to present themselves in a room. When I started thinking about prints and the rooms they would fit in, it completely changed my perspective on landscape photography. The world of big grand images with insane dynamic range, vibrant colors, or those extremely dark images with touches of light have been present over the past 10 years.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about how those images would look in a space that it clicked. I started looking at the wall art in public places, hospitals, waiting rooms, hotels, and anywhere that had art. I started to notice and pay more attention to the types of pieces that actually made it onto a wall. I wasn’t concerned with sharpness, perfect color accuracy, or anything like that. I paid attention to the type of image that they were and how their weight felt in a physical space. This changed my photography forever and I think it’s really important to think about for your own work.
This Changed My Photography
When I started thinking about my images for a place on someone’s wall, I started seeing my photography shift. It’s not as if images I took that are bright and vibrant don’t have a place in someone’s home but the reality is they are far less practical. Think about how your work would look in the room you’re sitting in. Is it a statement piece that’s meant to be the center of attention like my photo of the Dolomites you see above? Does the room need something subtle? Something that can catch someone’s attention but can also sit quietly on a wall without needing their attention. So when I sat down and looked at all my work I realized the majority of it was more "dominant" pieces. Photos that wanted everyone’s attention. Photos that stopped people from scrolling on social media. Photos that wouldn’t go well in most rooms.
This was about two years ago and ever since then, I’ve started thinking about my work differently. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still shoot an epic shot if it’s in front of me. But it got me thinking about how a scene’s gravity and allure will manage itself framed on a wall. It also got me more interested in learning about different papers and presentations.
How to Find Your Perfect Print
If you go online right now you’ll be completely overwhelmed by all the options you have for printing: Metal, acrylic, glossy, matte, platinum, luster, satin, and the list goes on. It can be overwhelming. And the only experience I really had was that big grand vibrant prints such as the Dolomites photo I shared earlier would look incredible on metal. But that's about all I really knew.
So what I did was order a few styles of my own images on a few different types of paper to see how all those images present themselves on different surfaces and textures. I highly recommend you do this. Many places offer small packs of different paper types but the problem is it’s not your own image, but it'll still give you an idea of surfaces and print type. What I would highly recommend is to take an image you know and get it printed small on 3-7 different types of paper from the same printer and see which medium you like the most. What matters is understanding what papers and finishes look best depending on the type of photo you’re printing. This is where the art and exploration of the print really become important. Choosing the right print medium is so important for your finalized image. This can be really overwhelming at first, how are you supposed to know what papers are going to match with what photos?
Ideally, I’d be a master at this and be able to see a photo and know exactly what paper would match the needs of each particular image I create. At the very least be able to print an image on a few different options and pick which one works best. Living in my car makes test printing basically impossible. Thus what I decided to do was narrow down my photos into different categories to try and simplify my prints: Images with lots of contrast and vibrant colors, images with more muted textures and tones, and images that needed the paper to “glow”. If I could find a paper that covered each of these scenarios then I'd cover the majority of my portfolio.
Go Explore the Print!
If you want a full breakdown of how I print on the road, what company I picked in a blind test, and what papers I picked for my own prints, be sure to check out the video at the top of this article.
There are plenty of great places to order prints from online, and I highly recommend that if you live in a bigger city to use local shops for a more hands-on experience. Don’t hesitate to buy an economical photo printer and try printing the photos yourself. No matter who you print through, just go print your work! It will change your vision and how you view photography as a whole. The satisfaction I’ve gotten as a photographer seeing my work in print, only me — no one else has to see it, is leaps and bounds more satisfaction than I have ever gotten posting my image for people to see online. I cannot recommend it enough.
Once you hone into the types of prints you want to create and you start putting them on walls around your homes or selling them to friends and loved ones, you'll likely be surprised to find exactly the types of photos that sell. Or you might find that picking out a photo for a specific spot in your home might be more difficult than you think. It's these experiences that will get your creative juices reginited and the next time you're in the field you might start photographing different scenes than you would have before simply because you're thinking about how great that scene would look in a specific physical place.
As always thanks for reading and I hope this inspires you to get out and print your work if you haven't already.