Printing your Photo's - 3 Ways that Printing your Images can Make You a Better Photographer

Printing our pictures used to be an essential part of the photography process.

In the days of film, it was quite literally the only way of seeing what you had taken and holding the final image in your hand was a crucial last step in the photographic journey.

Roll on a few years and, with the advent of digital photography, a lot has changed. We can now see instantly what the image looks like and, if it's not quite in focus or the exposure isn't quite right, we can just have another go.

Post processing has also changed beyond recognition. Gone are the days of dark rooms, red light bulbs, bulky equipment and strong chemicals. Now we just slot the memory card into our computer and edit away and, if you have a laptop, you can even edit your images in the front room whilst spending time with your family - something that would have been completely unheard of just a few years ago!

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But one of the fundamental changes that digital photography has brought is in how we actually view photographs.

Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are probably some of the best known social media platforms for sharing images and experiences. I love to scroll Instagram and Flickr and often come away feeling inspired and overwhelmed by the shear quality of the images I find.

But unfortunately, many of these beautiful images have never seen the light of day and, because of the shear number of amazing images bombarding us daily, all but a select few will be forgotten very quickly.

So what has all this got to do with printing?

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After many years just storing my images on my hard drive and just looking at them on my computer, around a year ago I started printing my images again and something strange happened. My photography changed.........and this was not just a small change, this was a fundamental shift in my photography which I feel has made me a better photographer.

So, how could the simple act of printing a few images have had such a dramatic effect on my photography? 

Well, I can think of three key points that explain why printing my images has been so important in developing my photographic skills.....

1. Time to really look at your images

When we scroll down our social media feeds, we see many, many images and most of the time we just glance at them, give them a "like" or thumbs up, then move on.

We can also do this when we look at our own images on our computer. After we've finished editing a photograph, we may only then give it a quick glance now and again when we scroll through our image library. Maybe we'll put it in a slide show so it'll show for 5-10 seconds before moving onto the next or, if you really like it, you might put it as a desktop wallpaper or screen saver on your computer for a few months, but eventually it'll most probably be replace by another image. 

Does this sound familiar? I certainly fell into this trap and it really is a shame. We spend so long planning photography trips, learning our skill, buying expensive equipment, editing and re-editing our pictures, all for just the odd 5-10 second glance? Seems a bit of a waste to me.

But printing pictures allows us time to really look and feel our images. There really is nothing quite like holding one of your own pictures in your hands, looking at it under different lighting, turning it over and over and really looking at it i the "real world". It feels so much more real, more tangible, and far more personal than an image on a screen ever could.

One of the First Images I Printed

But having it out here, in the real world, allows us time to live with our images and this can be extremely useful in so many ways.

I have a space in my office where I put my images up and I try to spend a little time each day looking at them. This may be only 5 minutes, or it may be a little longer, but what I have learned by living with my images is that I never get the editing process right the first time!

Sometimes I've changed little things like the with balance or tweaked the exposure slightly, sometimes I've made more radical changes, like cropping or boosting/reducing the saturation. These changes have been made after I'd "finished editing" the picture.

Before printing my images, I would have just left it there and never gone back to re-edit, but since printing and allowing myself time to live with the images for a while, I am able to slowly see the image with a more objective eye and make changes that generally result in a more pleasing image.

Try it for yourself. If you've never printed your pictures before, finish the editing process, then print your picture (or send it away to a printing lab) and put it up somewhere you will regularly have the opportunity to look at it. Over time, you might start to look at it more objectively and see things you perhaps missed the first time around. Remember, there's nothing wrong with going back for a re-edit!

2. Improved compositions

Before I started printing my images, I used to compose my shots with a digital image in mind - something that would look good on my Instagram or Facebook profiles. However, I now compose images with an eye for a printed image and this has definitely changed the way I compose shots and has made my final images much more pleasing.

Let me explain why I think this might be.......

Images viewed online tend to be scrolled past quickly. I love looking at Instagram and Facebook images, but how often do we really linger and study an image for any length of time? For me, not very often!

We tend to glance, "like" and move on to the next image, so as long as an image is eye catching, it will usually do well on social media.

But printing an image to put up on my own wall (or to sell) is a completely different story!

I know that it will be looked at, hopefully for many years to come and I don't want to be constantly looking at an image thinking "oh, I wish I'd raised the tripod a little" or, "a bit further over to the right would've been so much better". I'm certainly spending a lot longer thinking about my compositions and trying different perspectives before settling on a final position for my tripod since I started printing my pictures.

Also, printing images is a great learning exercise. As I mentioned above, spending time living with an image and looking at it regularly can really help you to see how it may have been improved by a slightly different perspective, lens choice or a compositional tweak.

Lessons learned from printing images can really pay-off the next time you find yourself with a similar scene in front of your lens!

3. Enjoyment of the final image

OK, so this one's not necessarily a way that printing can improve your photography, but printing your images is so rewarding and allows us to really enjoy our hard work. 

We may spend several hours hiking to a difficult to reach location, we might have woken up early and driven a long way for a sunrise, or have camped-out over night to be in the right spot for the morning light.

Camping on Rannerdale Knotts for the Sunrise

We spend hours looking at maps, reading weather apps, working out where the sun will rise or set and how this will affect the light. Then, when we get to a location, we wait around for the light, sometimes returning again and again until the light is just right.

There can be a lot of work in getting an image and to just let it sit on a hard drive and never really see the light of day is, to my mind, a real shame. Printing an image is the natural conclusion of all this hard work and to have it up, on a wall so you can remember the experience and enjoy the final picture is one of the real joys of photography.

And, after all, we are all photographers because we love photographs - so why not give your own images the attention they deserve; print them out, put them up and enjoy the fruits of you hard earned endeavours!