Printing an Image makes it a Photograph

Think I am nuts? Maybe, but take a moment and ponder about it.

Back in the day of film, once you processed your roll, you ended up with something physical. Whether it was prints or slides, you always had the physical product in your hand. In the digital world, we no longer have the physical end-product of photography unless we remember the importance of the print.

Why is the print important? A print is when your image actually becomes a photograph. No, I am not talking in circles. A monitor can display an image but until it is put down on paper, the actual frozen moment is still ephemeral. It transforms into the actual captured moment when it is in the printed form. When you can hold it. When you can look at it closely on a wall or in your hand. When you can feel the paper and revel in the quality of the print. When you can view it under different lighting conditions. When you can finally, (really) experience the quality of the image and feel the moment now long gone. As long as the digital image stays on a hard drive or in the cloud, it can disappear. For good. As if it never existed. Poof.

Very scary.

We have been conditioned on many levels to digitize our paper world. This is good and bad. On the good side, we can dispose of the piles of paper once they are scanned. We have the record in digital form. Keep in mind, that you should always keep the most recent paper copy on hand as well. Think of your bank accounts. If something happens to the systems, what proof do you have that you had those accounts? Digital is good, but digital also instills a massive false sense of security. Never dismiss the power of the physical document.

With digital photography, we are no longer bound by the 24 or 36-exposure roll of film. The rolls were finite and we were prudent with each exposure. We now can take thousands of images in a day without a second thought. The overwhelming multitude of frames makes the idea of printing unfathomable. But it shouldn’t.

With a roll of film, once developed, we would pick our favorites. The prized frame would then be enlarged to a 5×7 or larger. Multiple copies would often be made to share with friends and family. This mindset should be applied to digital photography too. We still pick our favorites from a series of photos. We should finish the process by printing them.

I’ve photographed many weddings. The great majority of couples have no interest in prints. Some parents insist on a book or large portrait of their own. Interestingly, once the parents had their book or print, the couple wanted one too. They suddenly experienced the magic of the printed instant in time.

For photographers who belong to camera clubs, I urge you to compete in print competitions. Yes, there is an expense in printing. Given how much camera gear, software, and everything in between costs, printing is the home stretch, and you shouldn’t take the all-of-sudden frugal view. Ok, I’ll say it – don’t be a hypocrite. Printing isn’t the expensive part of photography. It is, however, the most important part.  Competing in print competitions is vastly different than digital competitions. Printing is an art in itself. As a photographer, learning what makes a good print is as important as everything else that goes into creating a good image. You can print the image yourself or send it to a lab. You can make the choice of what works best for you.

Ultimately, there is an immense satisfaction in holding a beautiful physical print of a special moment.

© Silvana Della Camera

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