Why Print?

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on printing:

  1. Why Print?
  2. What do you need for Printing?
  3. How to Print

These days when we are deluged with digital images and creating them is so readily available, why even bother to print?  The short answer is that printing is an important learning tool that will help you to grow as a photographer and an artist.


Ansel Adams 1902–1984: “The Tetons and the Snake River”,  Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942. Vintage signed print. National Archives Unrestricted.

(Click for larger image).

There is a sale record for this print on Christie’s auction site.  There is also a short article on some of their prints for auction and a brief video about Ansell Adams.


More often than not, a print will win Image of the Night in our monthly competitions, even when there are more digital images than prints.  This is because a successful print has a special presence.  It’s a tangible thing, a finished object, something with texture as well as tonality.  In creating it, the process of closely examining an image, fine-tuning it and optimising it for a print will also show you a lot about your work that you might miss in merely preparing digital images.

OK, so you want to enter some prints in Society competitions or just generate some for your own purposes – so the next question is “Should you print them yourself?”.  I believe the answer to that question should be Yes!.  In short, it’s your best route to quality, it will probably work out cheaper and the final print will be all your own work.

You can of course get your images printed and there are many reasons to do this.  It might be more economic if you make few prints, you don’t have a suitable printer, you may want a larger print than your printer can make or your printer may have died.  There are many print competitions for which you submit digital images and then if you are a finalist they will print your work.  Canberra Photographic Society competitions also allow commercially printed entries.

However, if you make your own prints, you should easily be able to get better results than a cheap commercial printer (such as Big W or Harvey Norman) and after a while you should also be able to get better results than a custom printer.  This is because only you can understand your artistic vision and for that matter, making your own prints will help to develop it.  While some prints may pop right out from screen through printer to print in completely satisfactory form, others may require considerable time and effort to optimise.

And I think the most compelling reason to do your own printing is that otherwise it’s not really your own work.

Former President Brian Rope told me a story that illustrates this from a more general perspective.  Ostensibly, all that is required for an image to be yours (including a print) is that you pressed the shutter button on the camera.  Some time ago, a photographic competition in China received a number of identical images from different people. It turns out they had all been to the same workshop.  The convenor of the workshop had set up his camera on a tripod, carefully composed the image and made all the required technical settings.  The attendees of the workshop all went through, put their cards in the camera and pressed the shutter button.  Those entries were all disqualified from the competition of course.  They might have pressed the shutter button but apart from that it was not their work.

In the Canberra Photographic Society we believe in freedom of information, assisting anyone who requests it and working cooperatively.  Even so, ultimately I believe that everyone has to take responsibility for their own work, specifically the technical and artistic aspects that require an exercise of skill.  There’s definitely skill in printing, both technical and artistic, and these skills are definitely worth picking up and exercising.

In summary:

  • Printing is an important part of Photography
  • Learning it and practicing it will help you to grow as a photographer and an artist
  • Printing your own prints should lead to better quality than a commercial print
  • You can probably make prints more cheaply than cheap commercial prints (details next post)
  • If you want it to really be your own work, you should print it yourself.


Any value judgements expressed above are entirely my own.  Feel free to discuss any issues or ask any questions in the comments below.


6 comments on “Why Print?

  1. Marwan says:

    Thanks for that Murray. I can relate to what you expressed in the blog, now that I have started to print my own images, and I agree with you that it’s a whole new art and skill, but it makes me feel somehow ‘complete’ as an artist and photographer to produce the final ‘physical’ product of my work. From my experience so far, I find the Print module in Lightroom very good, so maybe we should think about running a demonstration of how to use it; it’s quite easy and straight forward once you understand the steps. We may also run a discussion to hear how each of us print their photos?
    Cheers, Marwan


    • Murray Foote says:

      Thanks very much, Marwan. In my third blog post, I’ll be covering how to print in Lightroom. I’ll ignore Photoshop for that because most people use Lightroom and those who use Photoshop solely have probably been using it for a long time and know all about it.

      On the third Tuesday next month, when I have my quick introduction to Lightroom, I will include printing and soft proofing.

      On the 12th July we have a professional photographer from Victoria giving a presentation on printing.

      That’s a great idea for different people to show their approach to printing but I’m not sure when it can happen. Helen is responding to someone from Kayell who offered to talk on colour management and offering him the 19th July first.


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