A picture worth 10 cents: Comparing the quality of photo printing

Imagine hiring a professional photographer to come into your home and capture beautiful images of your first newborn.

They spend almost three hours capturing every detail while you look on. Your belly is still freshly swollen from giving birth, and is a reminder of how unconditional a mother’s love is.

As you patiently wait to receive your digital files promised in your package, you can’t believe how much they’ve grown. With good intentions you quickly order the images from a big chain lab … and they come back horrible! Your newborn’s skin is now five shades darker, the color could be described as a muddy-pink of sorts, and the contrast is so pumped up they gave your baby blackheads. Sure sounds like something you want to hang on your walls after you just dropped a few hundred dollars on a session, right?

Okay, seriously guys, this happened to one of my clients! She called me concerned about the quality of prints she had just made, assuming she incorrectly downloaded the files. I assured her I was pretty positive it was the fault of  lab and if could she send me a quick snap from her cell phone it would be helpful in figuring out the problem.

When I got the email, I was in horror! Are all my clients prints turning out this bad? Perhaps there WAS something wrong with files?

Using the exact files I sent to them, I quickly ordered a couple of test prints from my professional lab. In the meantime, I needed something to compare them to so I asked her to send me the bad prints and in exchange I would send her the professional test prints. (As long as they came out fine, of course!)

She had her photos printed at two separate big labs and they were even worse in person than the snaps from her phone. But I was SO grateful she brought the issue to my attention. It is so important to educate my client on the future of their digital files.

When the test prints from the professional lab came in the mail, it was like night and day! Nothing was too dark or blown out, and the color and contrast were properly balanced. While I was saddened at the thought of other client’s having similar results, I was relieved that it was not, in fact, my editing!

I decided to run my own experiment on a personal image at two big box labs and compare it to the original.

Note the inconsistency of the exposure and the carelessness of the craftsmanship. Unfortunately the “lab techs” behind the counter lack the proper knowledge to provide you with quality prints. From now on I will always stress the value of a good archival print. Especially if you plan on turning the images into art work for your home.

Every now and then, it makes sense to cheat and use a big box lab! Especially when it’s economical.

I like to take advantage of their discounts when we are throwing a party and I have to send out a large amount of invites. An idea is thrown together with inspiration from esty or Pinterest, designed on photoshop, and sent off to the local big box photo lab.The end result is still nice enough to win it’s way onto a friend’s fridge but not a huge waste of money if tossed out.

You can’t always beat 50- 4×6’s for $5.

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