Why Do You Own a Camera if You’re Not Printing Your Photos?

Why Do You Own a Camera if You’re Not Printing Your Photos?

There’s nothing worse than seeing wonderful photographers wasting their efforts by hiding stunning images away on dusty, unseen hard drives.  

My Japanese wife cheered. My mother-in-law laughed. My father-in-law clapped. And I snapped, snapped, snapped. My youngest daughter, 5, had just finished her pre-school's annual dance performance, culminating in six weeks of nightly practice and my ritual of sitting with zen-like patience through seven minutes of various hip wiggles and pom pom waggles as she strutted her inner diva.  

While the curtain may have drawn on my daughter’s time to shine, it was just the beginning for mine. In the shadows of the concert hall, I’d sat unobstructed with my trusty Canon EOS R5 by my side and was able to position myself perfectly to get a great array of shots of my girl to add to the ever-growing collections up on the walls at home.   

That’s why I was there with my camera: shoot to print. I mean, if I'm not going to print my photos and memorialize my daughter’s big day and other momentous family occasions, what’s the point of owning a camera?

I wanted to crop in closer but my daughter insisted we keep her backing team!

To be clear for the raging mob of fist-wavers currently reading 200/120 on blood pressure meters, I’m not talking about photographers who do bespoke work for clients, or product photographers, or studio portrait photographers, or wedding photographers. I’m not insisting you should put photos of John the groom kissing Jane the bride up on your wall above the TV at home, because that would just be weird.  

I’m talking to the everyday photography hobbyist who most likely makes up the majority of Fstoppers readers. Ones who shoot their family and friends or go out into nature to shoot landscapes or wildlife. Perhaps flowers or night light cityscapes. The ones who love photography and love learning about it, but probably don’t make enough money from it to trouble their accountants at tax time. For those photographers, printing should be the final act of a three-act play: shoot, edit, print.  

I’ve got dozens of my images displaying at home. In the living room, it’s an homage to family, predominantly my kids. What I love most about that display is the chronology, not just in terms of age, but also in terms of my own developments as a photographer, editor, and printer. Each of those processes take different skills and consistently adding work up on the white walls shows you how I’m evolving, or stagnating, which can be equally as educational.  

The living room wall before the next installment of 15 photos go up,

In my bedroom, I’ve got a different style of photography, slightly more eclectic and to my own tastes. And that’s the beauty about printing your own work: you have so much freedom. You can put one style of image in one room and a completely different style in another. One room might be black and white, while another is full of vibrant, primary colors. Options are limitless for you to get creative in the shooting and the interior designing.  

I keep this style for upstairs, even though they're some of my most popular.

Unfortunately, 90% of photographers I know forget the third act in the shoot-edit-print process and spend all their time on the first two. Then hide their skillful efforts away on ever-bulging hard drives. I don’t get it. It’s like a riveting drama drawing you in then going to an ad-break just before the climax scene, then never coming back. You wonder what the point of the build-up was. Printing should be the grandiose culmination of your work, where you get to display your efforts and admire them. Putting them up on Instagram where they’re shrunk to the size of a phone screen does not compare, I’m afraid.  

I invested in a decent printer a number of years ago when I got sick of the putrid results printer companies kept dishing up. Lifeless colors, flat contrast, loss of detail: I’d had enough. So, I thought it better to print myself. I’m glad I did, as I’ve learned so much about the printing process and matching colors from screen to paper. I now even get friends asking me to print for them, which could possibly lead to something profitable if I was a wee bit more entrepreneurial.  

However, truth be told, printing companies, at least where I live, have really upped their games in recent years, which has perhaps coincided with the increased quality of phone cameras. As an example, when I ran out of ink a short while ago and was awaiting a new shipment, I printed something at a shop I’d once sworn off because of its unerring record of horrible output quality. And, to my shock, the results were very good. And cheap. So, don’t think you need to go out and throw down more cash than you’re comfortable parting with just to get a fancy printer in your studio, as many shops now do a more than serviceable job.  

Printing has also been an exercise in family bonding in our house. While I’m in charge of the shooting and editing, my wife gives me the yes or no on what types of frames we should get. And during that process when first starting out, we inadvertently stumbled upon a magical idea: get our daughters involved as well. We deliberately ordered wood-colored frames for the living room wall, then gave the girls some paintbrushes and let them splash themselves black and white out on the deck. A fun and messy time was had by all. And still is. 

Kids love mess!
 Finally, printing brings people together. Our girls are at an age now where they love to have their friends over, but as they’re only 7 and 5, that means parents always come along too. With almost as much precision as the finest Swiss watch, once rules have been set, promises made, and kids set free, the parents will then wander through to our living room with a freshly brewed coffee and stop at our wall to look at photos. Then, for the next 15-20 minutes, we’ll go through our photos and talk about our kids and the milestones they’ve reached. Great friendships have been made and stories told in front of that wall, all because of the photos we’ve printed and displayed.  

Summing Up

My father died during COVID-19, but because I was in Japan, it was 18 months before I could go home and see him. My last conversation with him was over Zoom, then, he passed away the next day. All I have left of him is some old iPhone photos that I've cleaned up and put on the wall with some of my wife's passed family members.

Printing is not dead. We should value it now more than ever in this digital world of instant see, instant scroll, instant swipe, instant forget. It's not hard to make space for your images, and if we're going to spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on improving our craft and making better images, the least we can do is get them off the C drive.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I have nothing against printing, but I've been a hobbyist photographer for over 50 years. There isn't enough wall space for my favorites even if I also cover the outside of the house. :) I used to display my slides with a projector. Now we have large high resolution computer displays and larger flat screen TVs. My screen saver is a random slideshow of my favorites from across my lifetime. Smart albums give one an amazing variety of collections without duplicating the image files. So I'm just adding that printing isn't the only choice for enjoying ones images. Cheers!

Yes they are all good points. For me, there's something visceral in the tactile experience of holding and framing prints. Much like my love for magazines and paperbacks rather than reading on a Kindle. Ironic considering we're on Fstoppers right now, but that's our world!

Agree, printing, framing and displaying is also part of the photography adventure. I'm also an amateur woodworker and like making frames. It is all good and the memories you are preserving for you and your daughter are invaluable.

Then print books, they are also easier to produce and don't require the expense of mounting and framing or take up wall space.

You can get 200 shots in a book that takes up just a little shelf (or table) space. Not only that but a smallish 12"x 8" book can give you a 24" x 16" double page spread to highlight your better shots. Or of course choose one of many other sizes. And add a little text to describe the scene. These books can then be printed as personal and memorable presents for special events/occasions.

I like trees.

Photo paper is expensive.

Ink is even more expensive.

A digital picture frame that's compatible with the cloud is way better.

Trees are sustainable. They can be grown again and again just as they are now and have been for years.

Photo paper can be expensive, but it can be economical as well.

Ink is expensive, however, consider that it takes about $3.50 US worth of ink to print a 16X24 color image. I use middle of the road paper from Red River that costs about $2.80 for a 17X25 sheet (Ultra Pro Satin). I do have the luxury that I make my own frames and mounts, but even commercially available frames aren't that pricey if you look.

And, when people walk into my home, they don't have to look at a screen to see some of my photos. I enjoy what I do and have some pretty nice shots displayed around my home. There is nothing wrong with having a little pride in what you do and printing a shot that you really like is a terrific way to treat a good photograph.

Neither way is right or wrong, but there is no way that a picture that you can't touch (on the cloud) is way better than a real print. I suspect people that own galleries would agree with me.

I bought a router about 10 years ago and set up a woodworking area to make frames myself but then we moved homes and 2 kids came and the sawdust etc meant I haven't revisited making my own. Doing so makes the whole process even more enjoyable and satisfying.

A router was the only thing that I needed to buy to complete my frame making and now it's my favorite wood working tool! I wore out an orbital sander, so now I'm on my second one. It's fun, but you gotta' love the smell of sawdust first. :-)

Yeah absolutely, those routers make one heck of a mess. I loved it though, from going to the hardware store and selecting the wood all the way through to putting clamps on the angled corners, to finally putting the printed image and hanging it up on the wall for everyone to enjoy. You just can't replicate that with digital displays.

Respectfully disagree on the digital picture frames. When they were 1st introduced I thought they were a great idea. I even bought a few for myself and as gifts. Overtime I used them less and less and got to the point I did not like them at all for various reasons - resolution quality, brightness, size, software interface, etc. etc. I've gone back to printing and with the various options for print media the images are stunning. I don't print everything I shoot, but most likely less than 2%, but they're the important ones.

Of course, we'd need to print on thimbles if we wanted to print everything. But, like you, I select a small few from my efforts and they take pride of place on the various walls until I get something that supersedes them.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment don't forget that the 'cloud' isn't eco-free, everything comes at a cost.

Bro.... cmon : p

Digital use is a thing also...kind of a weird title. Digital ads.. social media.. digital video.. promos...installations.. and other digital stuff.

It's great that you encourage printing, but titles like that aren't the way to do it. It's disingenuous at best, and I just starts the conversation off on the wrong foot...

Imho. All be well, Happy turkey day.

PS - The End is Near!!

If you're writing with an amateur audience in mind, the answer to your title question is easy... everyone owns a camera because they're integrated into our cellphones, and everyone owns a cellphone. The reason most people don't print is because they're happy sharing photos on Facebook. Like it or not, we live in a digital world. I'm on board though with your plea in behalf of prints... but for different reasons.

I suspect your argument for printing (which is that photographs deserve a place on our walls) is not likely to change anyone's mind. As Jeff said, wall space is finite. And honestly I'd rather decorate the walls of my home with something other than family snapshots. There are many ways of storing prints without framing and mounting on a wall. Design and order your own photo book, or buy a few inexpensive clamshell boxes, available in common print sizes. Be selective though in what images you want to keep and pass along to the next generation, and print your best images. Our kids probably won't want to sift through ten-thousand digital images after we're gone, even if a flash drive lasts that long. One momentary lapse of interest and a lifetime of images on a digital device gets tossed in the trash. Make some prints before you leave that to chance!

More importantly, I make prints because it's the finished result of my work. I take photography seriously, and feel like printing is an integral ingredient toward becoming proficient in my craft. I often see things in a print that go largely unnoticed on the computer monitor. I strongly believe printing helps us become better photographers. Of course, I grew up with paper so it naturally fits in my comfort zone, as does a paper book or paper newspaper. These familiar things that we can actually touch keep us grounded in a world that seems to be going way too fast. I'm sorry you lost your father.

I agree with most of your points. As I said, I use the living room wall for family stuff, and other rooms for other, more personal stuff. And I agree entirely, printing shows up your mistakes and your progress. It can almost act like a timeline of development. And again, yes, I love photo books and DIY albums. Printing doesn't have to be frames on walls, but for the sake of brevity, that's mainly what I touched on here.

I read your article and the comments so both sides heard! I started in the film days and the only way to see what you captured was to get a 4x6 prints or slides. The problem with prints as far back as the one's I found in my grandmothers attic when I was a kid and even more so today is there is no info on the back like who captured and when and where etc..Slides are boring to others while narrating when and where but again notes on the slides not much space. I have 25+ years of prints and slides in a fireproof safe that I can see my life back when at a time I may get to a home safely. Yes many Hu's and Awe's.
Now the digital world Images are edited mainly like a video game that no one else can do for you saw what you saw. No matter the pixel amount a RAW is a tiff for print or jpeg is reduced in size for whatever site you want to share on.
There Pro's who make $ for their genre and a hobbyist who just enjoys the capture and challenge as maybe an escape like a stamp collector. It is like myself have been retired retired for 25 years and the hobby keeps me up to date with things like just mind building and strong. With just since 2014 I have almost 4,000 images But with info when and if printed. I give as gifts to doctors who keep myself and wife going together a little longer and friends who still work with a photo on the desk and if asked the where and what so the image may last longer than I.
If you are one who sees what others fail to see the hobby pays myself.
Like #1 at dinner today I showed this to a niece and she could not see the horse head to the left and the riders head to the right that nature carved in rocks at the entrance as well as the Indian chief inside yelling inside, Of all the tourist that have been to the Antelope Canyon not one may have seen let alone captured it on the night tour or even a day tour.
Like #2 Faces in the oil at USS Arizona, this with a point and shoot and years before a womans image hit the net.
#3 A cameras see what the human eye can not in the stars above even while under parking lot lights, You can see where it is and just point and shoot so the camera can see.
#4 A close up of the night light using a camera with a 200-600mm + 2X teleconverter + APS-C mode taken from my front porch.
We become weather experts, Sunrise/set spotters, Nature captures, moon watchers with great foreground, Months of the Milky Way and days before and after if bad weather.
Photography is the time travel documentation. Like painters before cameras.
I do get 4x6 prints but in a safe for the day I need to remember where I was in times past. Nobody really cares or only a little while BUT I do put info on the back!!!!!

We are fortunate in Northeast Ohio to live within 20 minutes of two real camera stores and less than 2 hours from 3 additional camera stores. These places have never forgotten how to make beautiful prints. They have been doing it for years! We've been using them for years to make our Christmas cards, wall prints, and prints for our albums.

My wife continues to make photo albums and they line shelves in our living room and family room. When friends and family come to our house they always seem to get pulled into looking at prints on our walls and inevitably open a photo album and sit on the couch, chair, or at the kitchen table where a crowd gathers. They smile, laugh, cry, and share in the photos of our family through the years. I have never seen this situation repeat itself at anyone's home where their photos are all digital, on phones, computers, etc... It is only with real prints this happens. And it really does happen, quite often!

I have had a few dozen of my photos printed big, on metal. From 36" by 24" up to 60" by 40". I really don't care for photos printed on paper, so metal has been my choice.
While I do enjoy the look of large metal prints, I LOVE the way photos look when viewed on a lit-from-within screen. Images come alive when viewed on a high resolution electronic display.
I suggest that instead of printing one's photos, one invests in a very large high resolution "digital frame", and display one's images there, played as a perpetual slideshow.

Metal, paper, canvas, whatever fits your fancy. The reason I like paper is that I can get my kids involved in the process, and in so doing expose them to the joys of photography.

And while I agree that digital displays on large, bright monitors can be visually stunning, most of the time (in my experiences with friends) the monitors are tucked away in the photographers' studios or bedrooms, not out there for everyone to see. If you can display them out in the living room, maybe, but my kids own the TV there!

You can hang a digital frame on the wall just like you can hang a photo on the wall. I do not find extension cords unsightly, but you might. If for some reason you have a mental hangup with a cord running along the floor and up the wall behind the digital frame, then go ahead and keep printing photos. But if a cord doesn't bother you, then you can have awesome-looking photo displays hung all over your walls, just like you do with prints, but the images will look 1,000 times better because they are lit from within, instead of depending on ambient light reflecting off of them and back at your eyeballs.

I have a TV full of images that change every 30 seconds. I also share them on Instagram and Facebook. I have my photos carefully curated, edited, and organized on my phone and in the cloud where I have instant access to any of them. Some I take for the sake of if art, some for family and pets. I take some for documentation purposes. All kinds of reasons.

Why would I spend money on paper and frames?

That's so last century boomer.

BTW .. I'm a boomer. But I guess some of us adapt to tech better than others. 🤓

Viewing photography on a TV vs. a well-made print is like comparing elevator music to a concert at Carnegie Hall. A family pet picture probably makes no difference. Nor does anything on Facebook. The audience for your images is probably only interested in the subject, not the quality or craftsmanship inherent in the photograph. Which is what printing accomplishes that digital devices do not... it exposes the strengths and weaknesses of a photograph. Lousy photos will be happy making a home on Facebook... nobody cares about the photographic quality of a tiny picture on a cellphone. If saturation is the main appeal of a photo, then undoubtedly a bright monitor makes it look great. If detail and subtle transitions of color and tone are important, then paper is the best way to render those qualities. The selection of the type of paper itself contributes significantly to the impact of the photograph. Making prints shows pride and attention to detail in our work; my work is not done until I'm holding it in my hands.

I need to say it again though... technology does not make better photographs. Adapt all you want, but fantastic pictures created 70 years ago are still fantastic pictures. Technology makes some things easier, but it doesn't make a photographer or artist out of snap-shot picture taker. How will you like technology when AI renders about every image consumed by society as a construction of keywords and text instructions, rather than as a result of a genuine experience? Are you gonna adapt to that? Will you still even call it a photograph? Some people actually enjoy the experience of touch and analog products. Are you noticing the millennials who are buying vinyl records? Some things never change. Boomers may have more to offer from our life experience than you think.

My lightening pictures look almost alive on the wall in a bright, well lit 55 inch TV screen instead of on a 8x10 stuck in a stairwell. The dew drops on my macro plumeria shot glitter with the reflections of the sky and show amazing color shifts.

Maybe you need a new TV 🤓

I can click the #2 position on my remote and see all kinds of photographs on my really nice 55" TV. BORING! It reminds me of sitting in a dark room watching someone's slide show from their vacation back in the 60s. "And here's a lightning shot I took two weeks ago.....next slide, please." ;-) Love my TV for watching reruns of Barney Miller and Midsomer Murders but as a display for my best loved photos? Meh.

I absolutely hate the way frames look - even more so when there are matts, as well. A clean "full bleed" presentation is so much nicer to look at and enjoy, with no matt or frame or border around the image to make things ugly. And yes, I feel that way about even the most expensive custom frames as well as the cheap do-it-yourself frames. The best frame job in the world is still worse than no frame at all, as is common with metal or acrylic prints.

You're a brave man to photograph a dance recital. When I've tried to photograph my kid dance company people freak out that they might miss a sale.
You make a good point about printing and Im guilty as charged.

Yeah, there's supposedly a rule in place that says no videoing because they sell an event DVD later, but I think it's impossible to stop hundreds of parents/grandparents etc getting their phones out and snapping away. When the phones come out, so does my Canon! Having said that, we always buy the DVD, as it's only $20 or so and helps the school a little.