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?
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.
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.
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.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.
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.