The Truth About Printing Photos

I read an article in the Chicago tribune recently that discussed the cost of weddings in Chicago. Spoiler Alert: It's expensive. Chicago ranks fourth in the nation for the cost of a wedding, coming in behind Manhattan, New York, and New Jersey. Everyone kind of knows that already though, right? (Just take what you would spend on dinner at your favorite local bar. Something simple - 2 cheeseburgers, 2 beers. Now multiply that by 150, or whatever your guest count is. That's also 1 drink a piece, not an open bar, and not anything unique yet. So it makes a bit more sense now right?). But the point of my writing is not to talk budget. Within the article it was suggested a way to save money would be to hire a professional photographer but only get the digital files. This way you'd be printing photos yourself rather than paying the photographer for the prints. My friend, my dear, dear friends PLEASE don't do this.

Will it save you money? Yes. Will the photos you invested in paying a professional to create in the first place turn out the way they should? Highly unlikely...

Note: All of the images of the actual prints shown in the post were taken with my iPhone. There is no additional editing.

(Our print is on the left, another pro lab's print is on the right. Gregory and Johnathan were definitely not sunburnt for their photos as it appears in the photo on the right!)

Let me be clear: This is not about business. I do not pay our rent from print sales. That's not our goal. Our goal is to provide you with something that will last. Now, I'm also not suggesting that you order every single photo from us. 500 images at $5 per 5x7" obviously adds up. However, hiring a professional photographer but then printing everything on your own is hiring a professional to not finish their job. It is equivalent to going to restaurant, asking the chef for the best steak but saying "Oh don't cook it I'll take it home and do that." You would never do that! It's pointless to pay for the steak then isn't it?

The beauty of digital is that you can have an archive of these hundreds of photos, whereas our parents only have 20 or so images in their wedding album. The problem with digital is that it's out of our control. Imagine someone finding a USB drive in an attic in 50 years. They will have no idea what to do with that little metal stick. My laptop doesn't even have a USB drive anymore (you have to use an adapter). It will be equivalent to handing a 4th grader a floppy disk today. Or even a cassette tape, but that's just getting depressing.

There are 2 points here:

  1. It's super important to actually print your photos. Having a tangible piece of artwork is the only way these priceless moments will actually survive the test of time.
  2. If you want them to stand the test of time, print wisely.

(The big differences I see above: The CVS print makes everything look more yellow than it should, which has a pretty significant effect on someone with lighter skin. The Costco print makes the trees look neon, and the Walgreens print... oh man, where do we start there! Poor Hayley & Connaught look orange. Let alone his beautiful navy suit just looks like one big dark blob)

1). If you've been visiting the RMP blog for even the smallest amount of time, you've probably already heard me talk about the importance of print. If not, check that out here.

2). Ok, so if I'm saying not all prints are created equal, but I also understand that printing out every single photo we deliver to you through our pro lab isn't reasonable either, what's the solution? I tell each of our RMP couples to invest in professional printing, artwork or albums for the crucial photos. The image of you hugging your grandmother after the ceremony or the moment your mom puts you into your dress. Photos from your First Look and the reaction on your spouses face seeing you for the first time. These are the moments that you will cherish forever. These are the things that capture the legacy you are a part of and want to show someone decades from now. Not only do professional printed photos look how they are supposed to, they will continue to look that way for decades because they are printed through an archival process. In other words, the time is taken to make sure they will last. There's a reason a pro-lab takes longer than your local One Hour Photo. But, that ridiculously drunken moment with your college bestie doing the worm? Well, if you want to blow that up as a poster for a 30th birthday present joke... yea, if that's printed on the cheap and doesn't look perfect, that's not the end of the world is it?

In other words, if it's something you want to have forever, print it through your provided pro lab. If it's something just for fun, that you aren't really invested in, go quick and simple on the print (and if you must do the latter, I recommend either Mpix or AdoramaPix).

As you can see, the worst of all obvious changes from one print to another is a person's skin. If it were just green leaves or the color of a room, maybe it wouldn't bother you. But I can promise you that Taylor's makeup looked gorgeous and not ORANGE! Yikes...

So why does this happen even between pro labs? Have you ever noticed how different each TV looks when you walk into Best Buy? Some are blue, some look yellow, some are super bright and some have more contrast, right? The same thing happens with computer monitors and printers. Professional photographers often spend hours calibrating their computer screens to make sure what we see on our screen is as close to a perfect match as what will come out on paper (there will always be a small variance because one is ink soaked into paper and one is a bright light shining at you). This is why there's such a big difference between the print from our pro lab (#1, paper #1) and the alternative - yet still pro - options you see below.

While the below differences are more subtle, I still think it's incredibly important that what you see from us online is what you see when you hold a print in your hand. With that in mind, we consider Pro Lab #1 with Paper #1 to be the most accurate print. Pro Lab #2 is much more yellow than reality and I'm sure Jessica wouldn't appreciate an extra spray tan she didn't actually get ;-) (The 2nd papers on both labs make the shadows so dark that you can barely see Jessica's mom smiling as she helps with the dress).

Here's the digital file first:

And the prints:

Long story, short: Just like with anything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As you can see in all of the above photos, there's obviously a reason one print costs $0.20 while another costs a few dollars. I firmly believe that you hire a professional, in any service, to take care of you every step of the way. I don't ask my hair stylist for the dye she uses and then go home to do it myself. Why would you want to invest a significant amount in professional photography only to have an unprofessional finished piece?

The crazy thing is even in looking at these prints in my hand compared to my iPhone snaps, there's less difference in the phone photos than in real life. If you'd like to swing by our studio and take a look for yourself, we'd love that! Send us a message and let's meet up!

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