Why I Love Prints


Wanna here a secret? I am just this side of I don't care about online viewing of photographs. I love prints — you know the old fashioned notion of photographs on actual paper. Yep, I still make tons of prints on honest to goodness real paper that you can hold in your hands. The fact is that if I even think I care about an image I made I will print it.

Why is my preference so strong for what could be considered an outmoded mechanism for both display and consumption of photographic work?

Technical Reasons


Sure, part of the reason I prefer printed photographs to online is that I'm a control freak in certain ways. I despise that I have no control over density levels (aka monitor brightness) when people view any pictures I care about via some random device. Sure I hate that there's a good chance the color is way off — even for black and white images, which gives a completely different feel.

While on the subject of black and white (as in photographs not this project) there is a difference in resolution for most devices. Sure retina screens look pretty decent. Truth is they definitely are almost impossible to tell any decreeable difference in resolution between a print and a retina screen. It's gotten to the point I can't stand to work/look at non-retina screens. There' more though especially for black and white photographs. More so if we're talking about untoned neutral gray black and white. There's difference in tonality. I hate that word as it really doesn't mean anything beyond "I like this". As far as number of tones, with rare exception every single device out there can only render 255 gray levels vs 16mm colors.


Quite literally if you are printing a higher bit depth image on paper using a good printer and driver you are getting more tonality. Sure you get this for color to but I notice it more for black and white. I'm not saying I can tell an 8bit image from a 16bit image on paper one hundred percent of the time but for certain images there's definitely a perceptible difference. Beyond that there's a giant difference in the way a reflected light image looks and a transmitted light image even if you don't take into account anything that has to do with computers and tech.

Transmitted light images tend to give a giant pow as an initial effect. Great, but not particularly good for living with or for every single picture. Reflected light images tend to come off as more subtle. I am talking about the medium not the content but isn't the medium important? Isn't it especially important for anything considered an artistic endeavor?

Beyond Technical Reasoning

All of these images are from my reject pile of one-star images that I kind of like for some reason but don't know why. A code I've used ever since I started using computers to cull images. Prior to computers I had another code for these using a grease pencil on contact sheets.

Take the previous image. Why do I like this at all? What do I like about it? The light isn't falling in any particularly wonderful way. Sure it's acceptable but not wondrous. Technically it's wonderfully sharp at the extreme edges in Christina's face. Awesome demonstration of how fantastic the Fuji 18-55mm is for a kit zoom down one stop from full open. Who cares beyond gear geeking or whatever.

The reason I like it has something to do with Christina's eye line, hand position, and most of all where that one thumb is. Especially so given the more subtle relationship to the opposing index finger. Now that's cool. That's most likely why I like it. Now… what the hell does that have to do with prints vs. on-line consumption of photographs?


Honestly, the previous example sits somewhere in the in between department for what people notice in on-line images vs. holding prints up close and personal. Another image from my rejected one-star pile above goes a bit further down that road.

Are you looking at this post on a phone? In vertical orientation? If so you most likely missed the biggest thing I like about this image. If you are looking at it somewhere in the neighborhood of 6in x 9in or larger in real measured screen real estate then you may have noticed it depending on how quickly you scrolled by. That bit of motion blur in Christina's far leg and foot and chain that gets less as it goes up and to the right.

I like it compositionally as well but that's a matter of taste. The point is that computers, the web, etc are all designed to take in broad brush strokes of information as quickly as possible. They drive us to do this by habit. Hell, I rarely look at a picture more than 10 seconds on-line and I love pictures. Even 10 seconds is a long, long time on-line. Too bad most of the pictures I give a hoot about are just not 10 second or less pictures. That's the realm of commercial advertising. As much pow as one can get in as short a time possible.

Prints don't have to be big. Even with small prints people tend to spend just a bit more time evaluating them. Compare that to the ten million thumbnails we blow by per second on the web, pausing only ever so briefly at one that screams the loudest.

End Notes

All images made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF lens at f/4. Processing via LR CC and VSCO FILM05 BW400CN applied on import.

More ramblings on prints over on medium.com and a few pre-production prints for sale for the few of you that enjoy them as I do.