Why you should print your photos

The photos in this email are all from my Homeless World Cup project (© Anthony Epes). I was feeling the need for some big colour and light on these short winter days.

This time last year I wrote a post about how January is a great time to review your work. Now I go one stage further and say – let’s get down to printing them. I realised recently that most people I encounter don’t make prints of their photos any more.

These are people who spend time and money on getting a great camera and capturing beautiful images, maybe even investing time processing to perfect their images. They then leave the images sitting there on their SD cards, hard drives, clouds etc. Don’t, I say! Bring them to life.

I presume that everyone on my list is old enough to remember that feeling of picking up your photos from the printer or pharmacy. The excitement as you go through the photos and seeing what you have. I think it’s actually more exciting than loading up your SD card, because it’s so finite and real. It feels such an achievement.

There is nothing like that tactile, beautiful feeling of a print in your hands. You’re feeling the paper, you’re examining it, you’re holding in front of you that bit longer than you might if you were just passing through hundreds of photos on your computer. You’re seeing it not as an image beamed into your eyeball by light, but from the light that is reflecting and bouncing off the print. It’s a very different ‘seeing’ quality.

Team Indonesia

It’s a bit like having a room with lots of bookshelves packed with books – you don’t need all those books, but they are wonderful to have – emitting an aura of comfort, beauty and knowledge that feels good to be around.

Prints do the same thing. Coming across a pile of old photos is a wonderful way to interrupt a day of tidying, to remind you of people, experiences, times, places. I mean – if you’d forgotten about that amazing morning fifteen years ago when you watched the sunrise with your girlfriend over a beach in California – how can you search for it on your computer?!?

There are also so many great reasons to print your work that go beyond it being a fun thing to do. Here are some of them:

You can never say for sure if your files are safe

One of the fathers of the internet, Vint Cerf, said recently that we should be printing out everything we want to keep, as it’s totally possible that the internet will go through a digital dark age where vast swathes of information will be lost. Right…

Plus there is a thing called…Bit rot. Which is:

“a slow deterioration of software performance over time or its diminishing responsiveness that will eventually lead to software becoming faulty, unusable.” Wikipedia

Which sounds awful, right? Keep that bit rot away from me and my photos!


Because life changes all the time, and so does software

File applications change all the time – how do you know you’ll be able to access your files in 20 or 30 years? Storage, cloud systems – all of that will change. Google may be ubiquitous now, but who knows what’s around the corner? For now I really like their cloud storage system. You can search your photos by visual clues. I use Dropbox for some storage and sharing, but again – who know what’s in store for any of these companies? And how about Facebook – I read their computers are in California – earthquake country!

OK, so I don’t think there is any need to panic. BUT let us just be aware that these computers aren’t infallible. And what we do know about photos printed on photo paper is that they last! We have photographs that are still around 150 years after they were printed.

Helps you view how your photography is progressing

When choosing photos for his books Elliott Erwitt lays a bunch of prints on the floor, then gets up somewhere high and looks at the flow of the photos. I’ve done this many times when I put a portfolio together, and it’s immensely satisfying. You can use it to help see if you are telling a story well, if your photo project is developing nicely, how your work is generally progressing.

And – don’t just print because there is a good outcome or purpose. Do it for the fun and joy of it.

Printing will help you with your editing, which in turn will make you a better, more aware and accurate photographer. Any process of reviewing your work is excellent training for your eye. When you have to cull a mass of images down to your very best you learn a lot about your work.

The best way to edit your images? Do it with a friend whose eye you respect. It’s essential to get feedback on your work as photographers are notorious for not spotting their best images. We’re often too close to it for true and proper objectivity.

Maybe it’s something like getting a photo book done for special collections of your work (your child’s first year, your tour of Tanzania, a project you worked on). The books don’t cost a huge amount and yet they will be a wonderful way to keep your work and to show people. And Lightroom has an export to Blurb option now.

And if you’d like some help with creating a photo project for possible book-printing, here’s a post I also wrote last January about How to Plan Your Photo Project.


Don’t worry about just printing the best

Print a selection. Print things you just love the memory of even if they’re not amazing. Get to know your work in this physical way.

An idea for you…

Ansel Adams said that: “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” So how about you go through your images from last year and pick twelve to print (or 6, the amount doesn’t matter). I think that would be an awesome way to start the year – inspire yourself with your own creativity.


How I print

I don’t know about high street places, I can’t attest to their quality. But here’s what I do:

  • For every-day printing, for clients and for some exhibition prints I use my inkjet.
  • I sometimes process my own colour film, usually when I have used a special colour process – and I do this at my studio.
  • I use Metro Imaging in London for most of my other film processing and printing. (Metro now have quicker kiosk option, which I haven’t used as I usually get C-Types, but I would think they would be much better than the cheaper high street options.) A couple of years ago Metro printed for me some killer, massive prints for me on vinyl for my Homeless World Cup project. They were like giant post-it notes. It was amazing, and it took on the texture of the wall behind it. Totally different from the C-Type prints I usually hang at exhibitions. They can print on almost any surface nowadays – see the fun you can have now with prints!
  • When I hand-print my work (from both film and digital), which I do for tricky prints or certain exhibitions, I go to Photofusion, which has a great colour and black and white darkroom. Photofusion also do art printing and it’s a bit cheaper than Metro.

Unrelated to printing, but interesting things I’ve been looking at this week:

  • I really loved this book about the photographer JR, who does these epic crazy street portrait projects – forcing us to ‘look at each other’. His Women are Heroes’ project photographed women who are “dealing with the effects of war, poverty, violence, and oppression”, and he then posted giants photos of their faces and eyes amongst the buildings all over the world. This photo is interesting too, a 150ft photo of a newly arrived immigrant to New York, pasted onto the floor. I like how, with imagination and fun, photography can do share super interesting and challenging ideas.
  • New Year’s Resolutions are useless, says me. But this list of 16 ideas to live by from some of history’s greatest minds is brilliant, and from the always awesome site that is Brain Pickings.
  • This is cool – Fabian Oefner’s incredible images of chemicals and colour – like a close up of marbles of oil paint suspended in water and methylated spirits.

So that’s it! I would LOVE to know if you are going to get some of your work printed. Reply to my email or comment on my blog. I LOVE hearing from you, thank you for taking the time.

And please do share my post with anyone you think might be interested in this 🙂

Happy photographing!

Anthony and Diana