Why photographers should get prints of their work

Streetphoto in one of the backyards in munich in spring 2023, for a blogarticle from daniel Stein, that should help you find a fitting photographer for your project.

It was 2021 and I picked up my first prints at Safelight Berlin. At the time, I was planning an exhibition and wanted to find out what the pictures would look like printed, if they work on paper.

The photos traveled with me to Munich and when I finally freed them from their box, I had one of those rare moments of complete satisfaction. Seeing my pictures printed for the first time and in a stately 40×60 cm size was a real eye-opener.

Of course, as it should be for self-critical photographers, patting myself on the back worked for a few weeks and then the ambition to achieve/produce “more” grew again. Nevertheless, this experience was intense enough for me to appreciate my own work much more and to see it in a completely different light: namely in actual light and not in the bluish LED light of some screen.

And that’s what this blog entry is all about, the joy and appreciation of your own photographic work once you have decided to print it large and why I recommend every photographer to do so at least once.

The selection and the process

I take an average of 12 pictures a day and they couldn’t be more banal. There’s a picture of a coffee, a public swimming pool, of a shampoo that I liked and a graffiti that I found funny.

Unfortunately, these pictures don’t really get looked at after they’re taken, maybe they end up in a story on Instagram, but that’s the height of their attention before they disappear into the depths of my phone memory.

But if you decide to print a pictures, it is precisely these snapshots that reappear, you remember events of days gone by and carefully select which picture you could imagine on a wall or in a picture frame.

This not only slows us down, but also creates an overview of the moments that we felt were important, of our everyday lives, which move so quickly and are rarely reflected upon. These can be photos of past parties/concerts with our best friends or a breathtaking view of a mountain landscape – depending on what has emotional value for us.

It also gives you a deep insight into the progress you may be making photographically and can, but doesn’t have to, clearly show you your growth in photography. By the way, in case you get stuck photographically, here is a guide to good feedback.

Bringing something digital haptically into reality

It sounds a bit dramatic, but I think the fact that we no longer hold pictures in our hands, but view them as files on our screens, robs them of their special quality. Not consciously, but because we are bombarded daily by the countless best photos from photographers worldwide via Instagram, advertising and co..

I can still remember from my childhood how my parents used to bring home the envelopes with the 36 pictures of the past 35 mm film from the photo lab in town every month and how we took the photos out of the paper envelope and leafed through them one by one, putting our favorites aside.

Unfortunately, I no longer print all the pictures I send for developing… It does make a price difference, 17 instead of five euros (if I scan myself) on average.

Today, friends open their clouds and scrolls through thousands of images, with 20 pictures of one and the same spot, with minimally changed angles. Casting a picture away from the screen, in our own hands, also helps us emotionally to highlight the shot from the ocean of virtual kinship.

One of the nicest gifts I’ve received so far was a spontaneous photo book filled with Polariod images taken during my birthday. I had no idea about the gift and each of the guests took a picture, glued it in and wrote a short text about it. That would be my tip for a really great gift, by the way, because I’m so happy every time I leaf through it.

Technical background, framing and aspect ratio

So much for the emotional aspect of printing images, but of course there are also technical details that are important and need to be considered… or rather must. In general, it is worth checking the usual technical dimensions of most printing services in advance.

If the images are not the right size for the printer, the labs have to cut the images themselves, so it’s worth doing this yourself beforehand.

Different Aspect Ratios used in modern and classic photography.
Overview of different photo formats, the 3×2 is very common in print.

Often the websites that offer printing services have their own software in which you can fine-tune the exact area to be printed, but not always, Safelight Berlin, the lab I trust, for example, does not offer any software for cropping. You’re sending them only the files and when they dont fit the selected format, they’ll crop them in a way they see most fitting.

Programs such as Adobe Photoshop Express, for example, are free of charge and provide a remedy by allowing users to crop images in various formats (and it’s mostly free to use).

Frames for prints/paintings have fixed sizes as well, so if you print outside the standard, e.g. 16×9 panorama, it might come with a costly price tag, since custom-made frames for these dimensions can be expensive.

Produce images in high resolution from the very start

The other technical aspect is the resolution. This is also referred to as pixel density or DPI. Generally speaking, not every image can be printed at any size, it always depends on the size of the negative or file and its resolution. If you have a film developed, modern providers offer to scan the photos in low, medium or high resolution, of course with different price models.

With digital cameras, you can select the size of the JPEGs or raw files in the menus. If you want to print large, for example in poster format, it is essential to order/shoot the images in the highest possible resolution.

Looked much better in print than in digital, my surprise favorite image from my current exhibition. Cropped to 40×60 or 2×3, a very common size ratio.

Most common cell phone cameras now also have the option of setting the size of the images in advance. If you are unsure whether a photo has the right resolution, it is worth contacting the print service beforehand and asking. If in doubt, there are also some guides online that go into more detail.

As for me, I have never printed larger than the 60 x 90 cm format, which is close to the size of a film poster, and have had no trouble with a large scan from a lab or the image files from my Canon RP. But if you’re unsure, feel free to get in touch with me in the comments.

Find a lab that you trust

The laboratory in which the images are printed is of essential importance. For general understanding; every image file looks different depending on the monitor. Although there are specially calibrated monitors that you can spend a lot of money on in order to have the most realistic color reproduction possible when editing and selecting, this does not mean that an image will be reproduced any less differently on another device.

Sometimes technical errors make a picture more exciting, like the light leaks on the right side in this one.

It’s no different with printers, every printer has its finesse and color profiles, different inks and strengths/weaknesses.

And as if that wasn’t enough, every person operates these machines differently, unless you give the lab clear instructions not to change anything in the images, which I wouldn’t recommend, because after all, they know their machines best and may be able to tease a little more out of the prints.

So, depending on the lab, the final print of an image can be quite different, which is why I clearly recommend having small prints printed by the lab of your choice beforehand and seeing whether you like them and whether you trust the experts with the larger versions.

Choosing the paper and the frames

Unfortunately, I cannot judge first-hand about Dibond printing, but I can about printing on paper and framing pictures. First of all, there is matt or glossy paper. Glossy paper often looks stronger and is more reminiscent of the posters you see in movie theater windows. Of course, as the name suggests, it shines and reflects/reflects light more.

Matt paper has less contrast, is not particularly shiny and is more reminiscent of a painting than a poster. It also has a completely different structural feel.

While glossy photo paper is very smooth and therefore less susceptible to dirt as it is easier to wipe off, matt paper feels rather “rough” in comparison and dirt is often not easy to wipe off. On the other hand, matt photo paper is less susceptible to fingerprints.

Exhibition at the Café Ruffini in Munich 2022.

Personally, I first had my trusted lab print pictures on matt and glossy paper to compare and opted for matt, considering the additional protection provided by a frame. The glass of a frame reflects light, which is another reason for using matt, less reflective paper. I also like the feel better and the softer look, but that’s very individual.

When it comes to the paper, I would also try it out and see what you like. I used to have small prints in the 10×15 size printed on expensive Hahnebühl paper and found that it differs minimally from Fuji premium paper, which only costs a fifth, in this size range for my understanding.

For large prints, especially those I want to exhibit, I still prefer Hahnebühl paper, simply for the beautiful feel, colors and texture.

Short note about frames

I have bought from two frame manufacturers for exhibitions so far. For my first exhibition, the focus was clearly on cost efficiency, which is why I opted for an affordable solution from Rahmen Aab. The frames are clear price-performance winners, they are light, cheap, delivered quickly and come with different glass options.

When framing the pictures, however, I had to contend with chips when clamping the photos, which came loose from the wood at the slightest friction and settled very noticeably on the pictures. Clamping and unclamping individual pictures over and over again only to discover new chips again and again turned into a real Sisyphean task.

For my second exhibition, I wanted to improve the quality and decided to use frames from Boesner, some of which were of the high-quality Photo Edition. I only became aware of many of the weaknesses of the Aab frames when I started using the Boesner frames. Of course there were also chips, but the wood – heavier, the frame color – whiter, the paper on the back – stable cork paper and the mounts when clamping – firm, secure and high quality.

I would therefore not save money on frames, especially if you are using high-quality paper for the print.

Appreciate special moments in life

This brings us to my conclusion and I know I have used the word “appreciation” a little too often in this blog entry, but it is simply so fitting; Seeing your own work printed is an experience that all photographers should have had at least once, whether you consider yourself an amateur or a professional – so go for it (and if you want your own film analog 35 mm portraits taken, why not consider hiring me for the job 😉)

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions, please leave me a comment and if you want to find out more about what’s important for becoming a freelancer in the creative industry, look no further.

Point and shoot cameras on a table next to a catalog.
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Stock-Bilder geschoßen in Hamburg mit dem Model Leona Joia und Daniel Schubert als Fotografen.

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