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Why your local box store just won't cut it for professional prints.

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Raph Nogal Photography - Toronto Wedding Photographer | Wedding Photography Blog: Why your local box store just won't cut it for professional prints.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why your local box store just won't cut it for professional prints.

OK, now I have nothing against big box stores, in fact like most people, I do accasionally venture into my local Costco, Walmart, Future Shop and the like... While box stores have their issues I don't really want to get into the debate and discuss how boxstores are destroying the smaller local brick & mortar or Ma' & Pa' stores.... But what I do want to get into is professional quality prints.

Now, before I started getting serious about my photography, I was content with box store quality prints...that is until I printed our wedding photos. We did get prints from our photographer and they looked great, so we decided to do some more printing ourselves...However, things didn't seem quite right... The beautiful white dress that I thought Kristi wore on our wedding day was actually a light least it was on the prints that we got from the box store. I investigated further. Either most of the quests along with my groomsmen and I all had light blue shirts, or there was just something not adding up on the prints. I checked the closet - shirt is white and the beautiful dress - a gorgeous satin white. I compared these prints to the prints we got from our photographer - AHA! it then became all clear....

In the digital age, prints have become almost the equivalent of 35mm film. Most people nowadays display photos primarily on Facebook, send them through email, and if you got one of those digital picture frames for Christmas, perhaps you have a few digital files on a rotation when company comes over.

However, prints still grace us with their presence on most of our walls. There is just something special about a paper print - something you can touch, something that has texture and something that you can display proudly in your sanctuary - your home, your studio...

So why print at your local box store? Perhaps it's the cost? convenience? But from my experience, that all comes at a price...usually in the form of poor and/or inconsistent quality.

Although most box stores have dedicated professional printers, not everyone knows that there are places to get specific ICC colour profiles for those printers. Colour profiles?...Whatcha talkin' about Willis? To put is super-simply... it can be a very accurate preview of how your printed image will look. If you have a calibrated monitor, the way your digital file looks on the screen with the applied colour profile, will match what you see on the actual print that you'll hold in your hand, assuming you print on the printer that corresponds to that profile (huh?). A site like Dry Creek Photo is a great place to start. Now a lot of people don't have photoshop and just don't want want to deal with it...but that's not even where the problems begin.

I have a calibrated monitor, I have the colour profile downloaded and the preview on my calibrated screen looks great...I go to a local box store to get my prints. I actually go there three times to print the same file... and here are the results.

This is not our wedding photo but a part of some image just to illustrate the point. Same file, printed at the same place, at different times using the same printer, with no file manipulation in between. The prints were scanned in at the same time.

Raph 1, Box Store 0

(Well, I suppose because I had to print it 3 times and they finally got it right on the 4th, not sure if I should be getting the point... it's more like Raph 0, Box Store 4)

The whole point of this is to illustrate the importance of specialized photo labs and trusting the professionals to give you amazing and consistent quality prints. Trust your photographer to his or her experience and expertise to get you those prints from a professional lab that he or she trusts. If you get digital files from your session, seek recommendations or research specialized labs to get the most out our your prints and educate yourself on how to get the best quality prints from those digital files. Will that digital file print in 8x10" format...well, yes, but you'll need to crop the photo as the camera's digital sensor is in a different ratio...where do I crop ?, which parts do I cut off, which ones do I keep ? Will that file I got from the photographer be big enough to print a 36" x 20" canvas? if not, how can I make the image bigger ? ... but it's only $1.99 to print an 8x10" at the box store, and the photographer want $25.I think you get my point.

And yes, sure, there is the occasional time where they get it right the first time, but the issue for me is inconsistency. 

While I know it costs more, and for bigger prints - a lot more to get print printed through the photographer or a pro lab...but I can't help going back to that old saying, which I think was written because of bad quality prints,"you get what you pay for".

So next time you're thinking of displaying that beautiful wedding photo in your home that showcases that gorgeous WHITE dress you spend thousands of dollars on......remember, you're not just paying for the paper.


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At April 13, 2011 at 5:42 PM , Blogger Szymon said...

All valid points. I'd like to expand on this idea....the problem is not just big-box stores. It's also small boutique type chains at your local shipping mall, that pose as "professional" photography studios/stores. Perfect example: "Black's Photography". They pose as specialists, but they don't know any more photography than the awkward teenagers working at Best-Buy. Stores like "Black's" are actually hit you twice, because they charge you like a professional studio (more than box-stores), but their print quality is about as good as Walmart (Sometimes worse!). Trust me, find a real photographer to give you prints of important events/subjects.


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