A lot of photographers, myself included, give printing right to couples, while also offering their own print sales. But where should you really print your wedding photos?
I decided to find out who really was creating the best high quality photo prints for your average consumer printing needs. With a quick survey of my social media followers I asked who they use for printing (including online photo printing and high street printers) I then sent the following 6 photographs to the most mentioned printing companies, all of whom have rave reviews by their users, but were they actually quality photo prints? Hopefully answering one of my most often asked questions “Where to print photos?”
The companies were, Boots, Timpsons, Snapfish, Photobox, DSCL colour lab and finally my own professional photo lab printers.
If I have photographed your wedding or you have enquired with me you will know that with every wedding, and every photo shoot I photograph, I supply the full-size digital images for you to use. This includes printing your own photographs or sending them elsewhere to be printed. You can also in the online gallery order prints directly through myself.
Why do I do this? Well, in short, I’m a photographer, not a salesperson. And I would rather just be upfront with my prices including the images into those rather than my prices changing depending on what prints you wanted and all the sales spiel that goes with and all that blah blah blah!
Now don’t get me wrong as a photographer there is nothing I love more than seeing my photographs on display for all to see. I also understand though that everyone has a budget (me included) which is why I allow you to take your photographs anywhere to be printed, or print them yourself.
This, however, got me thinking, and I hope I explain this well enough for you… (this was a part of my degree and the level of geek can get fairly extreme, apologies)
Every screen is different, from your phone to tablet to your computer. If you look at the same image on all of them side by side you will see a difference, the same applies if you look at an image on your phone and have a friend’s phone showing the same image, you will find small differences.
The same, believe it or not, happens with printers, this ranges from the type of paper, the type of ink the printing company uses, and even how the digital file is set up.
Now I edit my photographs on my screen which is set up to be as accurate to real life colours as it can be, and if you order a print on your online gallery it likewise is sent to a professional photo lab printing company to be reproduced as identically as possible to my screen and how I have edited the image.
That said, what happens if you send the images to a printing company out of my control? Will they look their best?
So how did they get on? well, keep reading and see for yourself…
I posted these two images on my Facebook and asked who thought what print was the correct one? If I’m honest I was rather mean and deliberate in not showing anything outside of the images that could give a fair baseline colour to tell which was wrong and right. The more you look at one, the more you tell yourself that is correct and the others are wrong and vice versa. (If you voted in this, the answer for both is the first image is the correct one.)
This happens because your brain is stupidly clever and it is also how you can believe the quality of a print is great, until you put it next to another. It’s only then that your mind gets a little confused. You see, our mind’s eye is fantastic at adapting to light. and seeing what it want to and what it knows rather than what’s in front of it.
For example, if you take a white piece of paper outside on a sunny day it will be perfectly white… If you take it indoors under your kitchen lights, it will probably actually be a slight yellow colour.. but your mind will change it back to white after a time as it reprograms!
Interestingly 4 out of the 6 printing companies used the same paper, and yet the images are so different as the above images show. Snapfish, Photobox, Boots & DSCL colour labs all used Fujicolor Crystal Archive Paper, which is a silver halide colour paper, suitable for high-speed printers used in wholesale printing. Timpsons used a Kodak paper, but couldn’t tell me anything more about the paper itself sadly so I don’t have much to go on. And my lab printers for the glossy prints use a more modern version of the same Fujicolor paper. So let’s have a look at how they got on.
To explain, each print was scanned in on the exact same setting and opened into photoshop to analyse the histogram of colours within the print.
48 hour delivery. Interestingly the full-size files were too big for their website to upload… so I had to make the quality lower. Not a great start!
Every print looks more orange and contrasty and darker than it should have. We can see in the histograms below that the colours do not line up at all. We should expect a change in the histogram but not in the way that is shown. The lack of height on the Snapfish graph also shows us that it is not even in its colours. We can also see that on the Snapfish print there are some spots on her dress of pure white, also known as blown out highlights. This is a photography no no and in general, well, you can see. It’s not a nice look.
48 hour delivery
The prints from Photobox added contrast where there wasn’t any and while creating the contrast somehow the images came back rather dull and lifeless. As we can see from the histogram, the original image is full of subtle colours and tones with great detail, especially on the wedding dress. However, all of that is totally lost in the Photobox print. Interestingly these prints felt thinner than the rest, although they’re supposed to be on the same paper. I could actually see my hand through the paper while I was holding them…
2 hour wait.
Possibly one of the biggest shockers was Boots. All of the black and white prints came out with a blue cast and very contrasty! As we can see in the histogram, it has added colours where they’re weren’t any. On its own away from a reference black and white, you could be fooled into the print being correct but as soon as you show the original next to it you see its miles out.
24 hour delivery.
Now, DSCL is a big company not many will have heard of but I bet a lot of photographers have. In general, the prints are OK… They also do canvasses and serve both the public and trade accounts. All of the prints I ordered came back to me with more contrast and a little darker than they should. This doesn’t mean that they are crazy bad… but it was a noticeable difference.
Instant print. No waiting time.
Gulp. Right here we go… For me, this was the biggest shocker of the whole experiment. I expected them to be the same as boots in all honesty. However, they were not. I will firstly say that all of the other prints were 12″x8″ prints, which is near enough A4, however at timpsons, I couldn’t print this size, so instead, I opted for a smaller size to be printed right away. The service was great and I can’t fault the staff.
The prints on the other hand? Well, they’re dull, almost see through in some parts and just look at what they did to a beautiful French couple who got married in Eskdale?! Again we can tell from the histogram that the highlights just were not replicated at all making the couple look rather unwell…
Pro-Lab Photo Prints.
72-hour delivery – However if you order through the online gallery it can be as quick as next day delivery.
It was incredible to see how my professional photo lab prints compared not only to my screen but to the other companies. Now, I would like to point out that I have not added the histograms to these as there’s hardly any difference at all and so it would be rather pointless. However, I can tell you that the lab prints are slightly more contrasty by nature as is any print but you can’t tell this by eye. They also are full of detail, even down to the small camera grain, or the hair running across Kathryn’s face in the waterfall photograph. None of the other companies picked that up but this one did. They feel true to life and full of vibrant colour.
I also ordered Fine Art prints which are a matt look rather than gloss and they hold even richer blacks and because of their lack of reflection look even more impressive in a frame.
But why is this? Well, not only are they dedicated photographer printers who do this day in day out, they are checked over in person before they are posted out. The extra care and attention is seriously noticeable. The other reason is a little geeky, but if you remember from above that every screen is different? Well, This printing company let me know how the calibrate my screen for their printers in order to make sure that they will look the same when printed. None of the others would let me. Instead, they just let their own computers take hold of the images and do what the computer thinks is right.
So where should you get your photos printed?
I understand that budget is a real thing and I understand not everyone can order a crazy amount of high quality prints.
So what I would say is simple. Think about print sizes, and how the photos are going to be displayed. A simple scrap book, or home made photo books doesn’t need the cost or technology that would be used on your wall art displays on canvas or beautiful prints gorgeously framed.
Get the show stopper photos you adore printed through your photographer for the walls and the smaller ones? If you can also print through your photographer as they will be set up for that, then perfect! After all, you want your favourite moments to be displayed in all their glory!
But if you cant, just print your own photos on glossy paper from your own computer at home. I’m willing to bet it will be just as good in quality as some of the online photo printing places I tried and in general I’m also willing to bet it will be cheaper.
Photos are supposed to be printed and displayed for your enjoyment. So enjoy them, eventually, every hard drive or USB stick will fail and as technology moves on, your framed prints will still be there smiling down on you knowing that they are safe and on display, for all to see.
One last thing, if you ever have an issue with my prints you can always get in touch with myself and I will resolve the issue without hesitation, I’m not sure you have that safety net with some printing companies.
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