When Did You Last Make A Print Of A Photograph?

The photography communities I’m involved with online are mostly of an age where there’s a strong heritage of film photography.

With that comes the viewing medium we’ve grown up with – the photography print.

Now I’m not even talking about anything highfalutin or artsy here. It could be as simple as dog eared family snapshots passed down a couple of (or more) generations that remind of us of fond moments gone by.

For my parents’ generation there was no digital option, there was only the same process most other families followed.

You shot your pictures, dropped your film off at a camera shop or lab, then received a little envelope of prints and negatives anything from one hour to a few days later, usually along with a free film to use next time.

As many reading here I’m sure will attest, viewing an image on a screen doesn’t inspire quite the same emotion or pleasure as thumbing through physical prints.

It could be assumed then that those of us brought up on the print, and well aware of its magic and power, remain firm advocates today, printing our favourite shots with great regularity.

But sadly, that’s not the case – certainly not for me.

As much as I think I like prints (and genuinely do), and want to make more of both my intentional photographs, and family snapshots, it rarely happens.

Even after we invested in a decent printer last year to aid homeschooling (some years after giving away our last printer as it never got used with everything online) and I carefully researched and purchased some quality photographic paper with the aim of making family prints, very few have materialised in the months since.

So what’s going on, what’s stopping me from making prints, when it takes merely a few minutes in the comfort of my own home?

Partly, it’s the volumes I have to choose from.

Even scrolling through last year’s batch of family photos in my Google Photos, there are many hundreds (even as I cull pretty heavily as I go) to look through and select that chosen few worth printing.

The sheer choice overwhelms me (as it does in other areas of life, hence why projects like One Month, One Camera work so well for me).

In addition, it’s what to do with them after they’re printed.

I have a few scattered around our bedroom, tucked under or between books, that don’t really get looked at beyond the first day or two of printing them, as I’m not sure how to display or store them.

We have a considerable number of framed photos in the house already (not so much that it feels over cluttered, but plenty), so I don’t want to either be buying more frames and adding to the collection, or replacing those already hanging.

I could of course keep a set of photos in a shoebox, and dig them out on a rainy day every six months, but again that’s never happened so it’s not really likely to now.

I’ve thought about making photobooks, perhaps one of 20-30 photos to capture the highlights of a year and have in one small, manageable form that can be kept on a shelf and easily viewed at our leisure.

But again it’s not really happened, probably mostly due to that overwhelming choice available.

What I probably need is some kind of plan, a routine, if I am ever going to embrace a pattern of printing photographs.

One where perhaps every month I do sift through the previous month’s photos, edit further so we only have an essential 15 or 20, not sometimes a couple of hundred, then at the end of three months, six months, a year, make a photobook of the best of the best.

How about you? What do you with family photos, and your own intentional photography in terms of prints?

It would be great to hear your views and practices to get some inspiration, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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20 thoughts on “When Did You Last Make A Print Of A Photograph?”

  1. Dan, an interesting conundrum, and one we have probably all wrestled with, especially those of us in the age group you alluded to! When I moved from film to digital in the mid 2000s I found that while I made more photos, I just didn’t get them printed. Probably because I could view them on a screen, and because there was no imperative such as when you finish a roll of film. I did experiment firstly with a Kodak printer dock, and later with photo paper on a home inkjet printer, but found the cost of consumables was very expensive. Probably more expensive than if I had shot film and had it processed. So mostly I didn’t print. After a few years, I did get some printed from time to time when the photo shops had good deals, but I never got into a routine with it and most of my digital shots since then are screen images only. Which my kids will probably never find. Since coming back to film three years ago my habits have changed yet again – I tend to have my films developed and scanned, but I am making a habit of getting those I want to keep printed – usually when there is a 10c deal for 6 x 4 colour prints. Last week I got over 400 prints made at this price, which I think is very affordable. I do this because I have enjoyed going back through my old photos from time to time, and because I have really enjoyed going back through my Dad’s photos. I want my kids and grandkids to have that option one day. Modern prints last for a very long time if stored in a dark dry place so there will be an opportunity for those memories to be revisited many years from now. One of these days I will probably go back through the digital photos as well, although the sheer volume does make the task a little daunting!

    1. Steve, interesting what you say about the imperative when you finish a roll of film. Something I really enjoyed with film is how the number of exposures on the film defined that particular set of photographs. It had a beginning and an end, you shot the roll in one camera (and for me usually with one lens, on one photowalk), then had it processed and scanned and it remained in that small set. With digital it’s so open ended, so unlimited, it’s difficult to get one’s head around where a group of photos ends and another begins. I think this is why I save my digital photos in batches by month, it gives some way of segmenting that otherwise infinite stream of images into digestible chunks.

      And yes same as you with prints of digital images, I’ve just never really found or developed a routine that has worked so prints have been few and far between, despite best intentions.

      And once again yes it is the volumes that make digital so intimidating – another reason I chunk them down into months.

  2. I take candid portraits of my relatives when I visit them. I select the ones I consider best so they can look at them digitally, they say which ones (one or three) ae their favorite and I give them those printed. I have given some portraits for persons that saw my camera and thought they would get nice portraits A couple of weeks ago I asked a young lady selling an artisanal ice-cream made only in a particular city if I could take a portrait of her (and anyway everybody is using masks so no risk of invading privacy) I proposed to give her the photograph but nervously she declined. I understood not much because of the photograph but I am a stranger so naturally I didn’t insist, but I have that feeling that her photograph doesn’t exist if it is not printed, just some ones and zeroes you can invoke while the device have some electrical energy in its short life.

    1. Francis, how do you manage to take a candid photo of someone if you’re sitting talking with them? Or do you mean if it’s a party or something with plenty of people around so you can discretely capture some candid shots?

      I love your description of digital being so transient. I guess yes if we had no electricity, we could not view digital images, they’d be lost and unreachable.

      1. The cameras I use are cameras with fixed lenses, so the shutter is silent. I don’t watch the camera, but the eyes of the persons, my hands are idly grabbing the camera, and here and there there I press the shutter button. In the case of my Fujifilm X100s I can even get the screen turned off and with the OVF there is no light. I do these acrobatics because experience has taught me it can be exasperating seeing a person not be in the meeting but focused in photography, and also because persons can get a bit stressed about posing for a photo so it is more relaxed doing it National Geographic style : D Greetings, Dan : )

      2. I do really like the outcome of candid shots like this, and certain do it with my own immediate family. Trying to get photos of the kids in natural play without being aware anyone’s photographing them is increasingly challenging, even with the youngest (21 months old) who seems to detect instantly when he’s being photographed and wants to grab the camera/phone and take pictures himself!

  3. I identify with what you said about too many options: I recently printed some of my favourite pics of my kids from last year and ended up with 500 images!!!!! I hadn’t checked the number and was quite shocked when they arrived. There were also some that I had selected by mistake and several duplicates, errors made while diggibg through thousands of photos 😅

    1. I know, I don’t know how to manage family photos, other than trying to be incredibly ruthless in editing and only keeping a small handful from each event or trip or occasion. But even then, trying to select say a dozen from a year it’s so difficult, let alone three or five or 10 years…

  4. I print a few of my color digital pictures to share with others but I don’t keep any of the prints for myself. Printing pictures of digital originals never particularly appealed to me.

    I have printed proof sheets of all of the negatives, both color and black & white, and slides that I have taken over the last 70 or so years, and all of my fathers negatives and slides dating back to the mid 1930’s. So I literally print all of my film pictures albeit most of them as little 1:1 images. I have digital scans of all of the negatives and negatives but I make a point of never sharing the original scans. I occasionally post edited copies online but mostly I make 7×10.5 or 8×10 prints to share with others, hang on my walls or store in archival boxes.

    1. Doug what do you mean 1:1 images, you mean prints that are the same size as the negatives? Aren’t they too small to be of any use (I’m assuming 35mm here, medium format would be far easier to see at 1:1)?

  5. I print photo albums of my family travels and events… usually 11×14.
    I used to have an inkjet photo printer but that was more work than it should have been. It constantly clogged and gave bad lines. I think I only had like 3 prints that actually came out with no flaws.
    It broke this year (after only 3 years) so we threw it in the trash…

  6. Since my children were small, I have periodically had printed a batch of the best recent photos and put them in an album, one for each child, and one for my wife and I. Each of us now has three or four full albums from the past eighteen years or so to look back on. Otherwise, I try to print from particular projects. The annual family holiday is usually compiled into a photo book (four copies!), and I did a photo-a-day thing for six months using mostly a smartphone and printing direct to a Canon Selphy. It’s so much nicer having a physical copy and feels much more like an end product – it’s worth the effort.

    1. Del, this is such a lovely idea. And a manageable amount – three or four albums sounds so much more digestible than the 1000s of digital photos we have of our (still young) kids on HDs and in the cloud. I really need to get into printing more photos…

  7. I would always do prints of my photographs but the cost of ink and paper was always going up and up. But that didn’t stop me, what did was the constant changes of the Windows operating system and as a consequence the Canon printers I used no longer had valid drivers making them useless junk. I couldn’t afford to keep replacing them as well as the cost of ink and paper!

    But I do agree that a print is something wonderful to see, so now I have others do the printing of just a few selected photos for framing and display.

    1. John that’s a shame that you were priced out because of the changing hardware. Have you ever used the machines at supermarkets etc that make cheap(ish) prints from images on a phone or memory card while you wait?

  8. Dan, How curious, I have been thinking about the prints I have around my home and especially those stored in a box. I am at a stage where I just have too many possessions and want to cut back on what I have. This decision has therefore got me thinking about whether I want to create more prints. I have no family or friends who would be interested in them. I used to use a lot of the prints in my art work but not lately. I was going to throw the box of prints out but have decided that is a bit drastic and I do have room for them. I have been thinking I would like some new displayed prints in my home of my recent photography work. I want to look into how nowadays one gets prints made. I used to go to a couple of local shops that have since gone out of business. Onwards I go

    1. Susan, I think something like a box of treasured prints can find a place in any home, for the small space they take up and the memories and emotions they can summon.

      We have plenty of online options over here, like Photobox and similar, where you upload your images, order the prints (or books or calendars etc) and have they delivered to your door. I’m sure you have similar options in your corner of the world.

  9. Great post. I look at prints as the final step to any of my more deliberate BW work. But I also just like to have lots of our everyday pics printed as well. But, yeah it’s hard to curate image sets sometime. I try to make a habit of just grabbing a couple dozen from over the past year (each year) and print a set of 4×6’s or make a small book. I also do higher end photo book with Blurb for the BW stuff I like but isn’t nice enough to print big sand hang on the wall. Take a look at my site for a short post of the thinking behind printing books for photographers who struggle with finding the right work to print large.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting David. Really like your photographs. I have considered a book before and yes they are more tactile and engaging than having a more static print on a wall. I guess my barriers have been the expense of doing something when it’s just for me, when I can browse any of my images on Flickr or in my archives, even though I appreciate that a physical print has a different appeal and impact to an image on screen.

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