This is Why Photographers Need to Print Their Photographs

All images and text by Nathan Hostetter. Be sure to also follow him on Instagram.

Print is dead! Right? Are there still places that print photographs? Won’t we all have digital wallpaper in a few years? These are all valid thoughts, but any hobbyist or professional photographer should consider the benefits to printing their work.

I’m fairly new to making prints after ordering my first few last summer. I didn’t order these prints for a client or anything, I just wanted to see what one of my photos would look like blown up and hung on my wall.

After doing some research as to how large a print I could make with my current gear, I contacted a great print shop that was recommended to me and learned a little more about the paper types, etc. I chose to make a 24×36 print of the Santa Monica Pier at sunset on Hahnemühle paper. As soon as I hung the print on my wall I was hooked. Everyone decorates their home with wall art, so I wanted to decorate my home with my work. Call me narcissistic, but it’s immensely satisfying to see something you made displayed in physical form. Unfortunately, I don’t print as much for clients as I would like, but I have let my altruistic side take over a bit recently, and presenting someone with a great looking print and seeing their reaction is such an amazing feeling.

Take Pride in Your Work

We all want to do good work. Seems simple enough, right? Have you ever walked into someone’s home and seen some great photography framed on their wall? Why can’t that be your work? It feels good to see something you made hanging on the wall, or to have others appreciate it, or connect with it. Now some artists might say, “you don’t do it for the recognition, you do it because you love it,” but why not? Recognition feels good, why shouldn’t we enjoy it (just don’t let it go to your head). Printing your photos will not gain you any likes, or followers, or any other form a fleeting recognition.

But, printing your work gives you a different kind of sensation, akin to that of crafting something with your own hands. I typically only order prints in small runs, using only images I’m thoroughly proud of, or that are of great importance to me. I must admit, after receiving my first print, I contracted something similar to gear acquisition syndrome; I wanted to print lots of work and didn’t have any buyers. My original motivation to print was for myself, but when you’re trying to work as a photographer, selling prints can certainly help pay the bills. I am very green to the world of selling prints, and I’m still learning the business. Currently I’ve only sold a few prints from the wedding I shot, and a few engagement photos, but I am looking to expand that business. Something I’ve been struggling with is understanding exactly what people are looking for. I would imagine a landscape print might be easier to sell, but I primarily photograph people. With this in mind, I try to look for new perspectives on traditional shoots to capture something I would want on my walls.

Tangible Things Matter

In a world of constant swiping and scrolling, I truly believe tangible things matter. Remember “back in the day” when you would go into Sam Goody on new release Tuesday? You’d find whatever new record you had been waiting for, grab it by those tall, weird, plastic security things, throw down your allowance and rush home to listen. After fighting with the wrapper and that awful security sticker, you’d read every word of the booklet as you listened. Holding a gallery-framed print of your work feels the same. Even if you’ve seen the photo a hundred times before, when you hold it in your hand you study every little detail.

Consider the differences between scrolling through a curated Instagram account (which are basically taking over the platform lately), and a curated photography gallery exhibit; think about how each would make you feel, and the process of viewing each. Sure, the curated Instagram account can be viewed from the comfort of your own home, but in what context are you viewing this work? Chances are you’re two seasons deep into your favorite new binge on Hulu, and during the 3-4 advertisement breaks, you pull out your phone and swipe through as many new images you can take in before your show returns. I’m willing to guess you don’t remember many details about those images or what stories they might be telling from such a brief interaction.

Now, how about going to a gallery? First, if you’ve never gone to a gallery or art exhibit of some kind, I urge you to experience one. Going to a gallery showing requires you to seek out work you enjoy, and are willing to leave your house for. Rather than swiping through the images, you are immersed in them; you are in a physical location, with professionally curated, quality work. While you are there, you aren’t passing time waiting for a show to come on, you’re there with the sole intent of viewing, studying, critiquing, contemplating, and exploring the body of work. I truly believe this experience will give you a new appreciation for both printed work, and the craft of photography in general. It did for me.

Build Relationships with Your Clients

I recently photographed my first wedding this year, and it was quite the experience. My clients and I met several times beforehand to discuss what they expected of me and just to get to know each other better. After the big day was over, I learned so much about them, and took just under a thousand photos. The bride and groom were only expecting 100 edits, no prints, no book, just some photographs to share with family and friends. As I was editing, I kept imagining how beautiful some of these might look framed in their home, so I called my favorite print shop and had them get to work. Several weeks later I received a phone call from the couple expressing their gratitude and sent me a picture of my work hanging in their living room. Sure, I got paid well for photographing the wedding, but that monetary gain didn’t feel near as good as that. To me, this kind of thing is what gets you repeat and referral business. People do not expect altruistic behavior these days, so a kind gesture, much like word of mouth, goes a long way.

Make Someone’s Day

I love surprising my friends. I get asked all the time to photograph this or that for my friends and it’s one of my favorite things to do. But when you come back to them a few weeks later with a nicely framed work of art (featuring them), it’s hard to describe how that feels.

In today’s social media world, everyone sees hundreds of photos a day, so the real beauty just passes you by. Holding it though…there’s no next photo to scroll to, you’re just able to take it all in and smile. -Kris Kowaleski