If you thought about where to get your prints done cheaply, then you’re probably considering places like Costco, Walgreens, or other pharmacy-style places. They take a while, and the quality that you’re getting is of a specific quality. Without getting too deep into it, they’re using dye-sublimation processes that make your photos look super glossy. Folks like the look, and if that’s your jam, then you should consider how to make those glossy print photos look their absolute best.
In the two photos above, you’ll see the clear effect of light on a glossy print. In one image, there’s a giant reflection on the photo so you can’t even see all the details of it. But in the other photo, the light is above the print, and the positioning makes it look much different. The lighting is the key factor here.
Years ago, we did a bigger tutorial on this, and you can see the lighting effects on several types of paper in this article.
How is this working? It’s similar to a mirror. If you take a picture of yourself in a mirror and use a flash that’s directly facing the mirror (such as with a selfie), you’ll get the effect of the flash bouncing back at you. If the flash is facing upward, though, the light is going to bounce off of another surface and not be as reflected.
For a glossy print to really shine, the light source must come from above it and shine directly down on it. To clarify this, if you’re looking directly at the glossy print and it’s in landscape orientation, then the light should be positioned above the top-long edge of the piece of paper.
Unfortunately, this is a huge problem in museums and galleries as most installation experts don’t understand how to actually make prints look good. When you go to most photo galleries, there are reflections all over the place because they don’t change the positioning of the lights. What’s even worse, is that this is the standard for lots of museums. But if you give each photo its own individual light, you’ll see a huge difference.
Of course, there’s also something to be said about using museum glass to minimize the reflections on each photo. A photograph should be viewed the way it was printed in the best way it possibly can be without distractions. Otherwise, what’s the point if it looks better on your screen?
The art of treating a printed photo with the respect it deserves is mostly gone. And that’s especially the case with glossy prints. But they should be treated with respect and care — like the scarce thing they truly are these days. To do that, we have to treat photography like art again. And for that to happen, we have to make actual art that can’t be duplicated easily by an AI algorithm and a tech bro.
The camera companies aren’t necessarily helping with problems like this. Those higher-end conversations need to start happening more frequently for photography to continue to survive. Our history has the answers, but we just need to live with those answers.
We shouldn’t look at this as going back in time. If you’re concerned about deforestation with the creation of paper, consider how much e-waste is made from devices daily.