Why Print Photos in the Digital Age?

I finally purchased a good printer.

It's a Canon Pro-100 and it's far better than anything I've had before. Since it's no longer the latest-up-to-datest model you can — as of this writing — purchase one for about $150.00 after discounts and rebates which is a fair amount less than it cost me.

Besides printing amazing photos up to 13 x 19 inches with ink that supposedly will outlast me (and possibly my grandchildren depending on who you believe) there is another less obvious benefit.

Printing helps make you a better photographer.

How is that possible?

I read somewhere recently that "you haven't seen your photos until you see them in print." I am beginning to understand why that is true. We're in danger of forgetting how great photos can look printed, framed and hanging on a wall.

We've also forgotten how bad they can look in print and how many will never ever escape the shoebox. Monitor pixels can hide a multitude of photographic sins.

When I was shooting film I took a lot more time and was much more particular about what and how I shot. Some time ago I read a statement something like "Digital, if you're not careful, will have you regressing to snapshots instead of photographs." That was pretty harsh but insightful and, being honest, painful because upon reflection that's what I found (and sometimes still find) myself doing.

"If I take enough shots I will probably get a decent one. Besides, there's always Photoshop and/or Lightroom." So I stopped thinking and just kept shooting often using burst mode. (Which is not always a bad thing but that's for another time.) In a word, I got lazy. My expectations were lowered and as a result so was the quality of my photos. Quantity way up, quality down.

When I started honestly evaluating my efforts (if you could call it that) I decided if I had better equipment I'd get better photos. Then…

I purchased a Nikon D7100. Guess what, I no longer had equipment excuses. Actually I never did. My first DSLR's were a Nikon D40, then a D3100. Not top of the line pro cameras but as I look back at photos I've taken with a wide variety of cameras, there's a lot of good stuff there.

What do you use to paint?

  • Brush?
  • Roller?
  • Sprayer?
  • Paint?

A professional painter once told me, "You paint with paint. Without paint, you're just dusting or blowing air. It's why you gently shake excess paint off the brush rather than scrape it off on the rim of the can." He could have observed that you also paint with your eyes and hands. It's a much more complicated process than just giving a monkey a can of paint and a canvas.

What do you use to capture a photograph?

You know where I'm going. It has relatively little to do with your equipment or your software. True enough, better equipment and knowledge of software makes it easier to produce pleasing images. The great photographer Ansel Adams said, "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept."

He also said, “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

In a nutshell, the idea is that you actually make photographs with the single most complex piece of equipment ever created — the human brain.

Adams was also a master in the darkroom and was known to spend hours to make a single image. I personally think he would have liked our electronic darkrooms — Lightroom, Photoshop etc.

If you don't know what you're trying to capture in a photo, your chances of success are greatly diminished.

For example, some time ago (March 20) we went to Bellingrath Gardens for a walk. We figured there wouldn't be a lot of flowers in bloom. It was a little cool and I've been having some respiratory issues, but I took my camera anyhow. Why? Because one of my northern friends had posted some photos on FB of their latest unseasonal snow and he asked me how we were doing down south.

So I decided to take a few quick jpg pics so I could show him. No RAW files, no software manipulating. I took four.

That's it, FOUR.

I usually take 'em by the hundreds. I have about a thousand photos of the gardens after heavy handed purging. I've probably taken at least 10 times that many.

I took FOUR!

But guess what… they accomplished exactly what I wanted. They weren't great but they were pretty and said, "Hey Rick, it's SPRING down here and we're lovin' it." That little gallery quickly garnered 20 Likes and 7 comments. People liked them and it only took them a couple minutes to look and understand the story.

The point is I didn't have to take a hundred to make the point and tell the story.

What's any of this have to do with printing?

It still isn't cheap to print good quality photos so I tend to be picky especially when printing hi res 13 x 19 images. If I print them, I will likely want to display them which means other people might see them too.

So I'm forced to ask myself some questions about the photo.

  • How's this going to look if I print it?
  • Will it be worth framing?
  • Will I be proud to display it?
  • Will other people understand why I took it? — Unless they're micro, macro or abstract, if you have to explain 'em…

I'm beginning to think about what I'm shooting and why.

I read a statement that in essence said, "Good photos reward viewers. Bad photos waste people's time."

It makes me think about not wasting people's time when I invite them to look at my photos whether in print or online.

Still, every photo doesn't have to be a masterpiece.

Snapshots and casual photos will always have their place and, for amateurs like me, the type we shoot most often. Sometimes we just want to record family times, places we enjoy, people we want to remember and so on just for ourselves or our family and friends. Who knows, someday they might be the stimulus that keeps us connected to the past.

But even when we're taking casual pics, we can still think about why we're taking them. We can take them with purpose and use the opportunity as a learning experience and make them as good as we can. Then when that amazing once in a lifetime opportunity jumps up in front of us, we'll be ready.

Just keep shooting… on purpose. And don't forget to print a few now and then.

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