Member, Professional Photographers of America

The Battle of Prints vs. Digitals

What's better...printed photographs or high resolution digitals?  Well, that all depends.  As a mom, I like to receive high quality prints from a photographer, but I also want access to the high resolution files for a backup.  I know I will more than likely never even access the files, but I just feel some sort of security knowing that I have another copy that I can access IF (big IF) something happens to that print and I need another one.  My fear is just that...a fear.  Chances are if I am hiring a professional photographer, my high resolution files are securely stored and backed up multiple times in a variety of ways.  So IF something ever happened to the original print, I could go back to my photographer and ask her for another print.


In June of this year, I recently made the move to offering prints.  I still offer high resolution digitals as an option.  I try my best to meet a variety of needs and I realize that some clients prefer a disc.  What I have noticed however by making this move is that more clients actually choose prints over digitals.  This makes me very happy!  Why you might ask?  Well, if I print your portraits at a professional lab I know that you are receiving high quality prints that will last a lifetime.  I know the colors will be true and accurate.  I know the cropping will be what I composed.  I just have control over knowing that you are receiving exactly what I created for you.  I spend anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours on EACH image that I present to you in your gallery.  I want that same quality to show in your prints. 


Before June I only offered high resolution digitals on a disc.  This caused a great deal of headache for me as a photographer because clients would complain about the colors not looking accurate.  Some local chain stores use printers that give a yellow tint to the images.  Others give a blue tint.  And others are green.  Then there is the quality of paper that is used by these chains.  Some use a high quality paper, while others use flimsy photo paper.  I haven't even mentioned the issue of poor cropping! 

I sent the same high resolution file to 4 different companies for my own "test" before I began offering prints to see for myself if there were really any noticeable differences. I can honestly say....YES!  There are very noticeable differences!  I sent the file to the professional lab that I use, WalMart, Walgreens, and CVS.  I looked for colors and tones and paper quality. 

  • Professional Lab - The colors were accurate and true.  The paper quality was high and was printed using a matte finish.  It was not flimsy.
  • WalMart - The colors were a little on the yellow side, but honestly not too bad.  The paper quality was alright and was printed using a matte finish.
  • Walgreens - These were by far the worst!  The colors were very blue and cold feeling.  The paper quality was flimsy and it was printed with a glossy finish.  There were white rectangles around the entire image because the crop did not match up to their machines.  I would have been very upset if I received photographs that looked like this!
  • CVS - The colors were very saturated and looked green.  The paper quality was the worst.  It was very flimsy and had a bad glossy finish. 

The results were clear and in front of my face.  If you are interested in seeing them, just let me know and at our session I will make sure that I bring them for you to see.  The issue arises because these chain stores might not calibrate their machines as often as a professional lab does which can really affect the colors.  I might order my prints from WalMart today and go back one week later and they could possibly look different based on their calibration.  I know that the prints I order from the professional lab will always be correct.  Printing photos is their business.  They do not sell medicine or milk...just printed photographs and wall art.  I want you to have consistent prints, time after time.


There is yet another issue with discs and/or digital files - one that is not widely discussed.  Recently, Internet pioneer, Vint Cerf, warned about a digital "dark age."  He claims that we will lose a vast amount of our digital information, including important photographs. 

We think about digitizing things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artifacts that we digitized.

He also explains how technology changes very rapidly over time and at some point, discs will not be able to be read by our current machines.  This makes sense.  Just think about floppy discs!  I recently read about a woman that could no longer access her parents wedding photographs because they were on a floppy disc.  How sad is that?  He also explains about "data rot."  Data rot is when digital material decays over time on a drive, disc, or usb.  A better option available right now for saving digital files is by using a Cloud service.  However, Cloud services are expensive and there is no guarantee that the Cloud service you choose will be around in the coming years.  You can read more about data rot here. 

One of the best options you may have right now for ensuring the long term survival of important photos is to print them out physically (with materials designed for longevity) and to keep the prints in a safe place.

At Smith Family Photography we back up all our digital files - your precious portraits - a minimum of 3 times with various methods.  Yes, this is very costly.  However, if you are going to trust me with your precious photographs, you need to trust that I will have a copy of them for the years to come.