As a society, we now produce more photographs than ever before, and the total number is becoming difficult to fathom. This year, it is estimated that billions of humans armed with smartphones will take some 1.2 trillion pictures.
Many of them will be shared on social media, but many more will simply be forgotten. A few good selfies will flash before your eyes as you swipe left or right on them, late some Friday night.
But hardly any will make the transition into the physical world, bits becoming blots of ink that coalesce into an image on a piece of paper, canvas, wood, or metal — a print.
The reasons for this are rational, and there’s no point fighting progress, but nor should we ignore the value of a print. We may no longer print every photo by default, but this can actually be a good thing for printing.
It is now about quality rather than quantity, and the pictures we choose to print deserve the best treatment.
Honestly, there has never been a better time to print than now, thanks to technological advances in both digital cameras and inkjet printers.
If you haven’t yet tried your hand at photo printing, you owe it to yourself to do so, even if you’re just a casual photographer.
Print isn’t dead — it’s better than ever
It’s a common refrain in the digital age, and not just in reference to photography. Print is dead, or at least dying, right? In truth, a certain type of print has certainly declined, but this isn’t a tragedy.
Prints used to be the only way we had to view our photos. We’d drop our film off at the drugstore and pick it up 24 hours later not because it was a better system, but because it was all we had.
We tend to romanticize the print, but when printing was the norm, many photos were still lost and forgotten (and some were found again).
Most were destined for photo albums or shoeboxes that would sit around and collect dust until moving day. If fewer were forgotten, it was because fewer were made.
Far fewer, in fact — in 2000, Kodak announced 80 billion pictures had been taken that year.
Sure, that sounds like a lot (it was a new milestone at the time), but for those who think of such large numbers as vague clouds of zeros, consider that 80 billion is still 1.12 trillion shy of 2017’s 1.2 trillion photos.
For the mathematically disinclined, let’s put it another way: Subtracting the total number of photos made in the year 2000 from those made in 2017 would have no effect on the number of shirtless mirror selfies posted by lonely men on Tinder.
With so many photos being taken, it’s no wonder so relatively few are being printed. Every print costs money, after all, so of course people aren’t going to print 1.3 trillion photos.
What’s more, the point of printing (often the point of taking a photo in the first place) was to share your memory with someone else.
Now that we don’t need prints to do that, it makes sense that people are choosing not to spend money on them, especially when electronically sharing images also happens to be much more convenient.
But people still love prints. Even the “low end” of printing is alive and well as instant photography has seen a huge resurgence in recent years.
Polaroid Originals has built an entire brand around it, and Fujifilm Instax cameras and film packs made up six of the top ten best selling photography products on Amazon last holiday season.
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