In 2008, encouraged by those few little kind comments on my flickr page, I walked into a photography school based in South Delhi. Now being all over confident and excited I asked the main man about giving me a scholarship, of course he refused. But he did console me by giving me a gazillion reasons why its against their policies and why I should pay 40k for a beginners course. Only useful tip in the whole 30 min session was “Print a couple of shots from every shoot“.
Now the reason he gave was pretty concrete, specially for amateur photographers like me. Also overtime I’ve realized the importance of it, actually being more useful than he said it was.
Print making is something we all ignore and take for granted. With the advent of digital cameras, we all have been turned to, what can be politely tagged as “Photo Zombies”. We overshoot everything without using 1% of our brains. We shoot ten shots where one is required and we shoot five shots where none is required. All in all we don’t think before we press the shutter release button because the voice of digital memory cards whispers in our ears “its ok, its free, if you don’t like it you can always delete it”. This digital monster makes you save every thing on your memory cards, your hard disc’s, backed up in bundles of dvd’s, never to be seen again. Some do make it out of the dungeons to social networks or photo sharing sites but the majority never see the light of day again.
I took a poll for the same, speaking to over 20 photographers, professional and amateur about their average shots in a month and the number of shots they printed out of those. The statistics were surprising!
“Out of an average 220 shots in a month, only 0.6* shots were printed, a approximate of 0.3%”
So what happened to all of our other pictures? What most of us forget with digital equipment is that photography is meant to take pictures for us to see and document, not just as bits and bytes to crowd the computer. A photograph is not meant to be in a hard disc, its suppose to be on paper, in front of you, on your wall or in a book. Its suppose to be real not virtual. And we are not talking about the snapshots we take with our cellphones to populate facebook, we’re talking about the photographs which you made using expensive cameras, even more expensive lenses and a lot of time.
Now coming back to the main topic, why you NEED to print your work regularly. Now what the South Delhi fellow had to say was that the digital medium gives you instant results but doesn’t assure print quality. His idea was that with film we didn’t have any issues with resolution or enlargement but with the digital medium, limitations exist. Now I know that this is not the problem with professional cameras but saying that talking images even with pro cameras (in film or in digital) doesn’t assure a great print. When you print your images it helps you understand the whole idea of why you should use focal lengths which best suit your subject, giving it the maximum sharpness OR how to meter your images to get the best tonal range. When we print, we see these little details, seeing the picture as a whole gives you a perspective which is not available on your computer screen. Seeing your image in a full size print highlights all the little things from camera shake to that little blur we tend to sharpen. It highlights the grain of films and noise from high ISO shots in digital cameras. It shows what went wrong and gives you the time to contemplate on your actions, reminding you to improve your next shot.
Also seeing these prints in front of you all the time is encouraging. Not only your pictures but the pictures which inspire you need to be in front of you, not hidden away. Printing using chemicals and a darkroom is a art which takes a lot of practice but with digital printing its become a lot easier, cheaper and consistent. A print which costs about 200Rs (4$) in the darkroom can be printed for about 50Rs on a digital printer (1$), much more quickly, without needing separate space for a darkroom.
So choose whichever way you like more, digital printing or the more romantic chemical printing. There are a lot of tutorials for both online. If you can spare a little money, Ansel Adams has a whole book on print making which is brilliantly written, buy that. But take those images which are in your disc and print them. Trust me, it’ll help you become a better photographer.