The Digital Dark Ages: Why Print Photos?

A few years ago, my family went on our traditional week off down to Cornwall. A good time was had, and Dad at the time had been taking photos on one of those new fangled digital cameras, having retired his old film Pentax SLR many years prior. When we got back, he'd promptly popped the contents of the card onto our home computer.

If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.
— Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet

A few weeks later, the computer ran into a few issues. It wouldn't boot up properly, we couldn't access anything on it, and as a result we had to reformat it back to factory settings. We lost several hundred photographs that day in the blink of an eye, all because they'd not been backed up.

It's a problem that I'm sure many of you have run into at some point in the past. My cousin's phone corrupted a ton of image files last year, including once in a lifetime pictures of her son not long after he had been born. A friend at work recently lost everything stored on her tablet because it had decided to pack up one day and die.

Back it up!

Now the logical solution to this is to perform regular backups. For my customers I run backup hard drives and DVD backups are usually stored out of the office in case of disaster. My own images are backed up too in a similar fashion, but it's important to remember that these methods aren't foolproof.

Physical backups become obsolete. Someday you won't be able to read the data from a CD or DVD without some major hassle. Hard drives fail, image formats become obsolete and unreadable. Websites like Facebook where we store our data are part of businesses that rise and fall over the space of a decade, and when they go we lose everything. So what's the solution?

Print it!

Well my policy has always been that pictures can only be truly appreciated in physical form. Short of catastrophic floods or house fires, the pictures on your walls are pretty safe, especially if you're using the right materials! Here's a general overview and tips on what options are out there.

Supermarket Prints

I call these "supermarket" but they also refer to high street printing shops. This is your basic and cheap option for getting those all important snaps printed out. They're decent, though it's always worth checking up on others who have used their services; when you're paying cheap like this, the quality can range quite drastically. One supermarket I used for a quick job a few years back printed a black and white image for me and it came out blue! Others can play havoc with the colour balancing in your picture and it just doesn't look good.

Online Print Services

Back in the day you'd post off your film rolls to a dedicated print lab and they'd post them back a week or so later. The concept works the same way these days with digital images; upload them to the print lab's website and a few days later they'll slide through your mailbox. Again, read up on what print labs you're using. They've all got their advantages and disadvantages; some use higher quality paper, others better inks and printing processes, and while many use the same colour profiles, the end result can vary. I personally use a business-only provider, but for your amateurs and hobbyists there's plenty of options available. I used to use Photobox quite a lot; they have reasonable pricing, tons of options for sizing and other products to choose from too, plus the quality is great for a commercial supplier!

Photobooks

Much like the greatly lauded albums, photobooks are a fantastic idea for a physical reminder of a great time. You could create your own "yearbooks" containing your favourite pics from each year, or maybe throw one together of your favourite memories on a fantastic holiday? I use SimImaging for my own and for ideas, but Photobox does great versions of their own. Another supplier I'm a great fan of for both product and inspiration has to be Blurb, with awesome options for the style of paper you can use, sizing, covers, and the design of the pages is entirely in your hands!

Canvases

Another great alternative to framed prints for pure presence is the canvas print. Stretching thick cotton material over a wooden frame and printing directly onto that can lead to much more vivid colours, and the fact that they literally stick out of the wall makes it much easier for them to catch your eye! When on the lookout for good quality, try to seek out suppliers who use a heavier material (400gsm is a good area to aim for) and preferably use 100% cotton in their manufacture as opposed to polycotton mixes. Using these materials means the ink soaks up much more effectively and leads to a more true to life vivid colour. On top of that, polycotton mixes tend to stretch and split over the years whereas 100% cotton pieces are the sort of things museums use for their archival pieces. They're built to last, and that's what counts most!

So what are you waiting for?

There are tons of options out there to give you ways of presenting your artwork. Get on it, get your favourite memories committed to paper, and next time you have someone round let them gawk at it! Memories are best when shared with people we love.