The Joy of Printing

In which the author extols the virtue of printing by venting briefly about how frustrating printers are, using the bare minimum of imagination to shape the future of computing, composing a possibly-bad-taste metaphor involving battery chickens, and making a Hugh Grant reference without feeling the need to bring up THAT incident. You know the one I mean. Nudge nudge.


Be Regular…

So this blog, it transpires, is going to be issued on an almost-monthly basis. On the face of it this isn’t hugely problematic, but you know those websites that offer “100 ways to make your blog the most-read thing on the internet!”? They ALL say – every one of them – the words “blog regularly”. However blogging regularly suggests a working pattern which has some sort of standardisation to it, and at the minute I’m all over the shop. This week counts as a quiet week because, whisper it, I might actually get a day where I actually get to take some actual photographs. Stone the crows.

So what’s got me thinking this almost-month is printing. Not how much of a pain in the ass inkjet printers are, although I can honestly say that every single printer I’ve ever owned has irritated me into wanting to fling it through a window. But printing things, and specifically printing photographs.

Prints Charming…

Between digital cameras and mobile phones, over the last 13 years or so I’ve amassed hundreds of thousands of image files on my computer. A staggering number of photos of stag dos, family holidays, what I had for my dinner on the 6th January 2011 (some sort of pine nut frittata, apparently), and my dog in a funny hat. This is not even thinking about the thousands of images I take for commercial, portrait and wedding clients. And every week I religiously back up all of those image files to one external hard drive, and every month they all get backed up to a second external hard drive. But the question I find myself asking is… why? What am I keeping all of these photos for? When a close relative of mine passed away some years ago, I recall my family sitting around a huge box of photographic prints reviewing them and sharing memories. The digital equivalent of that doesn’t really evoke the same feeling of wistful nostalgia – “Oh look, here’s Peter’s old Seagate USB drive, let’s power it up! Oh wait, our Windows 25 machine doesn’t have USB ports. Or recognise jpeg files. Ah well, chuck it in the bin.”

So I have all of these images of memorable points of my life, and I very rarely sit and go through them unless I’m looking for something specific. Even if I felt inclined to do so, it’s hardly a social event – I can’t envisage the whole family sitting clustered round a single PC monitor.

Surely the point of creating images is that at some stage they are viewed?

When I was starting to think more seriously about being a photographer, one of the things that started to shift in my mind was the idea of removing my images from the digital cage I’d put them in, and letting them roam free-range around the walls of my home.  So I began scouring the discount websites for offers on canvases. I got a few canvases printed off and can honestly say there is something really rewarding about seeing your own work on the wall. It’s great when a visitor comes in and says “oh that’s lovely, who took that?” and you get to do a bashful Hugh Grant voice and reply “um, well, um, me, as a matter of fact, um”. In this respect, the biggest praise I got for one of my canvases was while I was flat-sharing in Glasgow. I woke up one morning to a weird stain on the floor under one of my photos. It transpired that my flatmate had come home a bit the worse for wear, and had been so entranced by the canvas that he’d forgotten about the open can of lager in his hand.

All of this is a roundabout way of suggesting that printing your photos is a really nice idea. Because I’m selling and exhibiting prints I tend to shell out on textured paper and handmade frames, however if you want a less expensive option a lot of high street shops and websites offer printing services which are reasonably priced, easy to use, and will give you quality results. In some cases you can pay less than 10p per photo (depending on how quickly you want the prints and what size you want). Some websites also offer a certain number of free prints through the various discount websites like Wowcher, Groupon, etc. And you can even print photos you took on your phone or tablet, which is pretty useful too.

Things to Consider

There are a few important things to look out for when printing, which people don’t always realise. So here’s a wee checklist of stuff to make sure of:-

(1)  Cameras have different native image ratios – some are 3:2 (3 units long to 2 units high), some are 4:3 (4 units long to 3 units high). It’s worth knowing which your camera has as a 3:2 ratio will print better at 6 inches by 4 inches, and a 4:3 will print better at 8 inches by 6 inches. For reference, 6×4 is the size of a standard postcard. You can change the image ratio in some cameras.

(2)  If you try to print at a size which doesn’t fit naturally to the image ratio of your camera, you’ll have to pick between cutting away a bit of the image to make it fit (also known as “cropping”), or squishing the image to make it fit (leaving you with a white band on two sides). If you decide to crop, make sure that you’ve not accidentally cut the top of someone’s head off!

(3)  Another thing to think about in terms of size of print relates to the camera used to take the photograph. Megapixel count is a useful indicator of the size you can print to, but should be treated with caution as you also need to know the size of the sensor in your camera to be able to verify the quality of the image. I’ll give you an example. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 phone features a 16 megapixel sensor for the camera. My Olympus E-M1 features a 16MP sensor. This means that each sensor has 16 million light receivers on it. But the sensor in the Samsung is 6.86mm x 5.5mm, whereas my Olympus’ sensor is 21.6mm x 17.3mm. So the light receivers on the Samsung are going to be miniscule, and the receivers on the Olympus will be much bigger. As a general rule, the bigger the sensor the better the image quality. That said, regardless of the camera you have you will be able to print at 6×4 as a minimum, and a lot of albums and frames are available in this size.

(4)  A lot of print companies will offer different “finishes” of paper, for example gloss, matte, satin, lustre, velvet… Matte and Gloss are two of the most common. Gloss paper is shinier than matte and really makes colour pop, whereas matte paper is better for muted tones and text. A lot of the time I will print matte rather than gloss, but this is purely personal preference.

(5)  Finally, if you’re looking to get images printed for a portfolio or to sell, you need to make sure the quality is 100% on-the-money. In this case, it might be worth asking around to find a print lab which professional photographers and other creatives use. Sometimes the people reviewing portfolios will be put off by a supermarket chain name being printed on the back of it – sad but true. So you might have to pay a bit more but it will be worth it. In the Glasgow area, companies like Deadly Digital and Loxley Colour are my first stop.

Hopefully that all makes sense – the overarching point being that you can easily and cheaply make great prints of your digital photos. All you need to know is a wee bit of information about your image ratio and sensor size, which can be achieved by googling the name of your camera and either “image ratio” or “sensor size”. This way, it means that the photos you’ve taken of that great stag weekend in Prague, the family beach holiday last summer, or the time you made the dog wear a funny hat, can all see the light of day rather than being locked away.
Oh, and because I’ve mentioned it twice now…