The importance of printing, from a photographer’s standpoint

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From the print session at the end of last year’s Making Light workshop – these were a bit of a revelation to the participants, most of whom had never made large prints before. And we were doing straight out of camera printing with no real postprocessing or optimization…

If all of you, dear readers, were sitting in a room, and I asked “How many of you print?” I think not every hand would be raised. “Regularly?” Even fewer. “Large?” Fewer still. And you’ve all proven yourselves to be a pretty exceptional bunch of people, if the comment threads are anything to go by. If anything, the average photographer – taking both amateurs and pros into consideration – these days prints very little, if at all. Yet a concern that seems to dominate a lot of photographers’ thoughts is over resolution; my question is why?

You’d be surprised by how many emails I get asking “But is X enough?” – usually in response to something I said about not needing more than 10-12MP for most uses. I daresay that twelve million pixels used well and printed with care will always outdo thirty-six million sloppy ones plagued by camera shake, sharpening haloes and indifferent resizing. I’ve personally made prints from cameras of that resolution in the 4ft wide range, and they were stunning – more importantly, the end clients thought so, too. Of course more would be better, but when your print is that big – how close are you going to physically be to view the entire thing? There are limits to how much our eyes can resolve when taking in the entire scene at once, and if you’re too close then dimensionality and scale tend to go out of the window. There are of course exceptions – landscapes packed with fine detail, or anything with hair, for instance – but for the most part, we’re long past sufficiency. Let’s park that thought for a minute.

Aside from proving once and for all that your camera has enough pixels, printing serves a far more important function: that of simply giving an image room to breathe and be appreciated. Today, most images are viewed in the worst ways possible: small JPEGs over email, highly compressed ones over social media, and usually on tiny screens with poor gamuts and uncalibrated color spaces. There’s absolutely no way what is being seen by anybody is even close to what the photographer saw, or the camera originally captured.

It always amazes me how people proclaim to be able to tell the difference between equipment X and equipment Y on the basis of a tiny web JPEG; for starters, you don’t even know what level of file quality/ compression you’re looking at, or color space etc. I do A-B testing, processing and viewing/ selection on a calibrated 27″ Apple Thunderbolt Display and still find it small at times – usually when viewing vertical or square images. It seems the world has gone widescreen; the simple fact is that a vertical image will still only take up about a third of the area of a horizontal one. And this makes it not much bigger than an 8×12″ or 8×10″ print – still not very big, and nowhere near big enough to appreciate all the detail.

Then we have the issue of dynamic range and color gamut – the best inkjets will be able to beat the best monitors on the former, and match or exceed them on the latter – you have to remember that an image on a monitor is effectively backlit (transmissive) and a print is reflective. It’s almost impossible to get the same level of deep shadow gradation on a monitor, which is why prints tend to look much richer – especially those of low-key black and white images. There’s also the question of texture; you can select paper texture and warmth to compliment your image. Color images of course look good on glossy, smooth paper to give them density and sparkle; fine art B&W tends to work best on fine, matte fibre papers. (I’ve yet to see a screen with adaptive surface texture.) The final argument in favor of printing is interpretative: you can easily show the same print to a number of people, even simultaneously, and they’ll all see the same thing. It’s a finished end product, in every way. Unless you want to carry your monitor around and ensure everybody has precisely the same viewing angle and brightness, you can’t do the same with a monitor.

Prints have downsides, of course – they’re heavily influenced by the color temperature of ambient light, which means having to make adjustments for things to be displayed under fluorescent or incandescent light, and ideally viewing and proofing under diffuse daylight; the image surface is delicate and easily damaged, and large prints aren’t so easily transportable or easy to handle. Above all, the person doing the printing really has to know his equipment – without the right color management (or adjustments), you’ll never be able to match what you processed for on the monitor. But if you get it right, the results are stunning; I printed frequently up to 13×19″ until 2011 or so, with a few larger than that interspersed between; I didn’t get into the very large realm until then. I’ve not looked back since, and these days rarely print smaller than 20″ on the shortest side (and usually much larger).

Perhaps it’s the novelty of it, since most visual content is consumed digitally these days anyway – but I find that I can happily stare at a large print for some time and be drawn into it; I can’t really do the same with an image on my monitor. I find it’s the same for most photographers and lay observers: they’re captivated by prints in a way that a screen fails to achieve, even if we’re talking small prints and large screens. And there’s nothing wrong with using every presentation advantage possible to show one’s work in the best possible light – isn’t that part of the process of editing, after all? Perhaps we’re too used to seeing digital images; or perhaps not as much care goes into digital output as print output (maybe something to do with big prints costing big money and therefore commanding more effort?). I’m sure many fellow photographers feel the same way: if you went to a photographic exhibition made up of flat panel LCDs, it wouldn’t have the same impact as one made up of well-executed large format prints. This is the crux of it all: large prints are simply fantastic to look at.

An interesting side effect of all this is that film – from digital scans, or direct optical enlargements – seem to print much better than one would be inclined to think after viewing actual-pixel scans or negatives through a loupe. A rather grainy, slightly fuzzy 35mm negative will still make a very engaging 13×19″ print; this surprised me. A good 6×6 negative will make an outstanding 24×24″ in every way – including detail. Yet the same negative, scanned, resolves around 24MP at best – makes me wonder how far a good D800E file can be pushed in terms of print size. Perhaps it’s a consequence of the non-discrete way film resolves high frequency structures compared to digital; edges aren’t ‘sharp’, so there are no interpolation artefacts during enlargement.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that some images and files are better suited to large prints than others; things with fine detail and lots of resolution are prime candidates. Clean subjects with sharp edges and not much detail will print well at any size, but tend to lose impact at anything above normal viewing distances and sizes – say 13×19″. The physical size of the subject also plays a part here: if it’s normally very small, a large print can help give the impression of getting inside the subject; if it’s normally very large, then smaller prints do nothing to convey a sense of scale. Interestingly, life-size reproductions can come across as somewhat surreal – 1:1 scale portraits, for instance, or still lifes. This is something I definitely want to explore in a little more detail in future.

You’ll notice that this article has no images to accompany it; it’s simply because there’s no way you can capture the feeling or impression a large print gives in a small image; at best you’ll just show how big it is relative to something else. And that’s quite a disappointment. I’ll leave you with the following thought – for those of you who’ve never printed large before, select an image, make sure it’ll stand up at the intended printing size*, choose a good print company, and order a 16×24″. You don’t have to go much larger than this; I think the results may surprise you. An advance warning, though: this gets addictive very quickly. Every time I’ve gone to my printer** to do one or two, I’ve come out with many extras. I’ll leave you now, I’ve got to find one of those old-fashioned map cupboards to store my prints in. I just don’t have enough wall space! MT

*Quick and dirty way to do this: resize your image to the intended output dimensions and a minimum of 200dpi; use bicubic smoother to interpolate up, then zoom in until your on-screen ruler shows 1cm as being close to 1cm on a real ruler – if it looks okay, then your print should turn out just fine. I think you may be very surprised at how little numerical resolution you need; a clean file from even an iPhone will do a nice 13×19″.

**I highly, highly recommend printmaster Wesley Wong at Giclee Art, Kuala Lumpur. He’s a HP print ambassador, does all of my commercial and exhibition printing, as well as that for many of the other camera companies and name pros in Malaysia; I’ve never been disappointed and very frequently blown away – as are my clients. For those of you living overseas, yes, he does ship internationally.


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  1. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I don’t know if I am allowed to use this piece of cybertalk – but my reaction was ROTFLMHAO. Or 🙂 for short. And I couldn’t put your article down, till I’d read every word of it, Ming.

    I don’t think of JPEGs or TIF or NEFF files as “photographs”. I don’t think it’s a “photograph” until it reaches some “graphic” form. (Everyone else can have some other opinion, but for what it’s worth, that’s mine. Of course if someone else has a different objective, that’s their choice, and their right to choose.)

    How we get there is a whole different question. I did analogue for half a century (I started young 🙂 ) and now I do digital. Oh – and I’ve a collection of hybrids – taken on analogue and scanned to digital.

    But I don’t see the job as finished, until I print the shot. In the meantime, it’s a means of storage – whichever path you take.

    Screen colour? Recently had a dreadful illustration of your point, Ming. Post processed over 300 photos for a friend of mine, who has since loaded them onto her laptop. The screen of her laptop is not, of course, colour calibrated to match mine – and the photos look quite awful on her screen. Next time I see her, I must ask what they look like on her tablet – she put them all on that, to show other friends – if they look even vaguely like the version on her laptop screen, I hope she never mentions my involvement when she shows them to others.

    Pixels? It’s as good an obsession as any other. Producing a new cam with more mega pixels seems to do a lot for camera sales. I take your point on viewing distance though – and it’s astonishing that it isn’t totally obvious to everyone. After all, we take viewing distance into account when we view paintings in art galleries – so why don’t we all treat photos the same way?

    As an aside – have you seen the original of Salvador Dali’s “Madonna – 1958”? Here’s a description of the effect of viewing distance on that painting:
    From the Met’s description: Here, he paints two different simultaneous subjects with a profusion of gray and pink dots: a Madonna and Child based on Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, after 1513), and a large ear, whose ridged interior surface is defined by the presence of these two figures. Each motif is designed to come into focus at a different distance. At close range, the painting looks completely abstract; from about six feet away, it reveals the Madonna and Child; and from fifty feet, it is what the artist called “the ear of an angel.” To the left of the main images is a trompe-l’oeil detail of a red cherry suspended on a string from a torn and folded piece of paper; its shadow is cast onto another piece of paper bearing the signature of the artist.

    • I see unprinted film shots as storage, too – there’s a lot that can happen between slide (or neg) and print; and print to print they’re not even the same, either.

      Calibration: Oddly, the most consistent (not best, not widest, not most accurate or most pleasing – just self-consistent) devices seem to be the Apple mobile devices…I would not want to process on them, though, as they seem to have everything slightly dialled up to 11 – and consequently would produce rather flat looking output relative to other devices.

      Pixels: because in the minds of many, photographs are still not ‘art’: they’re disposable social media…

      Dali’s ‘Madonna’: I haven’t, and though I will now look it up, I’m sure there’s no point in viewing it on any of my monitors 🙂

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I used to use film as storage – it was OK for me, most of my stuff was B&W. In later years it wasn’t – increasingly it was color neg. Sadly, they deteriorate, even if properly stored (as Hollywood knows, only too well). So I began transferring them to digital, as a back-up. What I have found most interesting is that although they look perfectly dreadful in many cases in their new digital format, most of them actually produce quite amazingly good prints if I treat them to a session of post processing and bang them off to my printer – somehow it breathes new life into them, and they turn out well. Astonishingly well, in fact. Not always, but certainly the majority of them.

        Mobile devices. Sadly, most people’s “photography” winds up on laptops or cellphones or tablets, to be shown to friends and relatives. Just finished post processing over 300 photos for a friend who’d been to England, and was well pleased with the tones, colors, saturation, contrast etc. Until I saw them on her laptop – it was awful. So I asked what the copies on her tablet looked like – still awful, although not quite so bad. The contrast was flat, the saturation had gone, some of the colors no longer existed, and overall it was like viewing old analogue color shots that had been left in sunlight and started fading to a paler image, tinged with pale blue and pink.

        Dali – absolutely none – the effect only really works properly when you see the actual painting. Forgot to mention this aspect of it – in a certain sense, it’s like a photo with gigantic pixels – yet that is actually a large part of what makes it as a painting. My favorite aunt took me to see it in the Melbourne National Gallery when the Met lent them a whole lot of paintings. I stood in front of it for ages – moving closer, then to mid range, then further away – back & forth – savoring the sheer genius of Dali’s creation. THAT is “art”!!! In the end, my aunt grabbed my arm and dragged me away from it, because she thought it was time to go right round the exhibition again, and look at all the people. Now that really IS a fascinating way to view art – or photos or whatever !!!! – unmasking all the ignorance & hypocrisy, for one thing. If you share my sense of humor, you’ll easily recognise how interesting and educational she was – long gone and sadly missed !!

        • Agreed on film as an archival material – as a physical, instantly viewable archive – it’s probably the best we can do now. But for data integrity, no; your digital data is either complete or it isn’t, and you can hedge your bets by making copies on different media. Whether you can open any of that in future is something else entirely, of course.

          Art: I too view the viewers as much as the art – it’s interesting to see what people actually find interesting, and what ‘important’ pieces they just gloss over…

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            What really put the wind up me with digital storage was the sorry tale of the outfit in America offering unlimited storage on the “Cloud” – and when they went into Chapter 11 (which seems to be the American equivalent of liquidation, in most instances) all their customers lost all their data. With digital I keep at least two copies in separate places, and if it’s really important, print copies as well. With analogue it was always the film and prints. Thankfully most of my analogue shots were B&W, so I don’t face quite the same nightmare that Hollywood has with the preservation of old [colour] films.

            • I’d be less worried about the bankruptcy and data loss than the subsequent liquidation: where did all of the hardware go? Who bought it? Where is your data now? It’s the digital equivalent of finding Maier’s box of negatives, except the creators are almost certainly still alive…

  2. Thanks for another great article Ming.

    As I am making my first steps in film photography, my questions might be a little simple. I wondered if there would be a noticeable difference between dark room enlargement and a high res scan then printed from my Epson 7800? I feel compelled to print working in film in a way I never have with digital and I love the idea of working in the darkroom to complete the process. I am planning an exhibition for the summer of a new project iv’e started. I’d like to start learning the techniques now if you think it would be significantly better?

    Also any opinions on lighting of prints, tungsten with colour correction vs LED vs something else?



    • Yes, but not in the way you might expect – the darkroom print will feel more tonally continuous and organic; the Epson may do much better with color – if you get the workflow right…

      Continuous spectrum as close to daylight is probably ideal, but to some extent you can compensate for warmer/colder lights with warmer/colder papers and adjusting color balance.

      • Ah, thank you, that is really helpful. I will be using Black and White so will take the chance to learn something new!
        My digital workflow is an ever developing entity, my next investment should probably be a good monitor with a broad colour gamut rather than a new lens or camera. But time will tell if logic wins or not!

        Thank you again.

  3. Dear Ming,

    For photographers who prefer showing their photos on flat screens, do you think D800E/810 is the “ultimate” full frame DSLR -only in terms of resolution and based on our eyes’ resolving power limitation-, if used with lenses that can use the full resolving power such as Zeiss Otus? Because, if you watch the BBC video below, our eyes cannot resolve more than 33mp or so, therefore screens with 8K resolution seems to be “ultimate”.

    Kind regards,


    • On flat screens? You need perhaps 16MP, including some downsampling. The rest is overkill.

      Our eyes can definitely resolve more than 33MP.

      • On the one hand, the Japanese guy (senior research engineer at NHK, which will be rolling out 8K in Japan by 2018-2020) in the video, specifically between 1:24-1:44 says “the human eye cannot recognise the resolution anymore and thus 8K is enough for human eye and we don’t need more than 8K resolution”. When asked by the commentator if this is the ultimate TV he replies “yes, for 2 dimension 8K is the ultimate system”.

        On the other hand, according to Roger Clark the human eye’s megapixels equivalent is 576, but at the same time he gives an example for a 20 x 13.3-inch print viewed at 20 inches and says that 74 megapixels is required to show detail at the limits of human visual acuity.

        Two authorities providing disparate info. Perhaps viewing on flat screen vs print or viewing 2D on print vs on screen makes a difference?

        • I agree with Roger Clark. The viewing distance matters, and my calculations put our eyes at about 800dpi maximum at minimum focus, if you have perfect vision – that’s about 60MP at 20×13″, which is pretty close to the current level of my Ultraprints.

          • So…

            1) at least for TVs, as you would probably know, the optimal viewing distance for HD is shorther than SD, 4K than 2K and 8K than 4K.

            2) also these TVs have recommended screen sizes which goes bigger as the resolution increases. AFAIK 8K TVs the recommended size is vertically 3.5 meters and therefore it is even questionable whether 8K TVs can enter most people’s homes.

            In the light of these two facts it is extremely unlikely any TV that has more resolution would be manufactured because, first only White Palace or similar buildings may accomodate such big TVs, and second, viewing such a large TV at a shorther optimal viewing distance might be unbearable for the eyes.

            As a matter of fact, that Japanese authority might be calling 8K TVs “ultimate” because of this practical limitations.

            Do you agree with my analysis, or do you think viewing on flat screen vs print or viewing 2D on print vs on screen might make any difference?

  4. Enjoyed your enthusiasm for printing. There was one very important point missing that I always bring up to my printing students. Unless you do your own printing you don’t even know how to process the file. If one is familiar with some simple numbers processing the file correctly yields a print with little of no destructive post processing. I use NX2 on my Nikon files, ensure that my important ( not specular ) highlights are below 250 and then use control points in the software to place detail in the shadows. I can squeeze 3 or more f stops dynamic range without even thinking about HDR. My Epson 4900 will show detail on Exhibition Fiber paper in shadow areas that are above 12 or 13. I get d max that exceeds silver gelatin prints. If I wasn’t making my own prints I would be guessing at all of this. After 6 months of printing most photographers report that they now make better photographs technically.

    • Hopefully the additional thought that goes into the image making also results in stronger composition and better aesthetic images, not just the technical qualities…

  5. Oskar O says:

    Very good article! I think that the key point is that what does someone as a photographer want their “end product” to be? If it’s a photo on Facebook (or even Flickr), the aim is not very high… The nice thing is that screen technology has improved and I regularly use an iPad to show photos, but to make big photos with good detail, printing is still the only way to go. Then there are the tactile qualities and the feeling of viewing the actual piece rather than a JPEG copy. But I think it’s also about more control, about representing one’s vision in something that forms a full package of sorts, rather than small pictures on the Web that will be mangled many times before being displayed.

    • Absolutely – that last point about images getting mangled, may be intentional or unintentional: the problem is you have no idea what the other side is looking at, because you can be almost certain that their display is worse than yours. This of course means something gets lost in the translation…

  6. Wesley Tsang says:

    I started printing again last year with a Selphy CP810, The reason is to let me go through the printing process together with my 3 years old son, tell him what is a “photo”. Now I add the Epson R3000 to my lineup, it did great printing for my photo archive from 40MP Digital back files to iPhone5 output. YES, one must try to print ip5 files via some pp in Lr5, profiled correction… this is amazing camera! And don’t be afraid to buy & print on small paper… for no reason a shot that you love, print it! I love 5×7 paper.

  7. chou chong says:

    Would you or Wesley be able to recommend a good printer in Singapore?

  8. Great article, Ming. Coming from a fine art painting background before getting hooked on photography, I was amazed at how the gratification of seeing a print was not any less than viewing a completed canvas. Nuances of tone are definitely more pronounced on a print than a monitor. Look at a Steve McCurry image on screen — and then look at one on paper (i.e. one of the Phaidon Books)
    — there’s no comparison.

    On a slightly unrelated note, Ming, please make an android tablet version of your photography compendium app!

    • Thanks James. Yes, there’s just something about viewing a print you don’t get out of the screen. No plans for Android, I’m afraid – sales just don’t justify it at the moment…

  9. As Ansel Adams stated, ” if you don’t make your own prints, you’re only 1/2 a photographer.” It’s like writing music and never playing the piece!

  10. *Quick and dirty way to do this: resize your image to the intended output dimensions and a minimum of 200dpi; use bicubic smoother to interpolate up, then zoom in until your on-screen ruler shows 1cm as being close to 1cm on a real ruler – if it looks okay, then your print should turn out just fine. I think you may be very surprised at how little numerical resolution you need; a clean file from even an iPhone will do a nice 13×19″.

    You know Photoshop (I believe CS 4 or 5 and beyond) will do this for you automatically if, in the preferences, you set your correct display resolution.

  11. Hi Ming, I really liked this post. I’ve been primting much more lately after going through a dry spell when I initially transitioned from film to digital.

    One thing that I’ve noticed at least at my local printshop (shameless plug here: – tell Andrea I sent you!) and through Bayphoto, is that I am not sure I trust JPEGs for printing files with important fine deatail. At least for the photopaper digital printing from the Noritsu system at Photolab and whatever Bayphoto uses to get images onto Kodak Endura (E) and Fujifilm Pearl papers, I am afraid to upload anything other than a 300dpi TIFF file with BCA in sRGB. They don’t mind the extra size of the uncompressed file, but require 8-bit rather than 16-bit encoding.

    I suspect that the compression even on a level 10 quality JPEG coversion is in effect a filter of sorts, and I am not sure whether it is lossy at high frequencies, low frequencies, or possibly both.

    Even for web images, I’ve switched from JPEG exporting in Aperture to the Photoshop Export for Web functionality, and see huge differences in the screen output (even though both are ostensibly generating the same quality level JPEGs that are black point corrected and in sRGB space. The pixel shape options are one possible difference, but I think there is more going on.

    I’m curious what you think about file conversions for ensuring optimal quality for commercial photolaboratory printing. Although I send out about 10:1 volumes of RC vs. inkjet/pigment printing, I am assuming there is some consistency as far as workflow goes.


    • For resolution, it again depends on print size: larger prints will definitely benefit from lower compression. Smaller ones, less so. If you’re not approaching resolution limits then JPEG vs TIFF doesn’t really matter (I’m assuming quality 12 here; file sizes of a Q12 JPEG vs LZW compressed TIFF aren’t that different actually). Bigger issue is how high your compression is; if it’s too high it’ll be visible even on the smallest prints. The bigger difference is probably going to be in color rendering/ tonality…and that will be visible at all sizes.

  12. As for storage – I built deep shelves about 10 inches apart and store prints in printing paper boxes. You can store a lot and get to them pretty easily. Not as elegant as the map drawers, but WAY cheaper, lighter, and easier to get into a small space. The sides of the shelves do not need to be solid big sheets, just a 1×4 front and back with plywood shelving. Or you can get 24″ by 28″ wire shelving (Metro) and stack paper boxes on those.

  13. Ron Scubadiver says:

    Ming, I must confess to not making a print larger than 4×6 in a while. I have a ton of stuff that is crying out to be printed, some of it is even salable. Posts like this are far more useful to me than any gear review, and you are a very good gear reviewer.

  14. Megatron says:

    Regarding your comment about the widescreen standard- I think the shift to tablets that can be reoriented to landscape or portrait configurations makes a big difference in the viewing of digital images that is not addressed when using a desktop. Also, the extremely high resolution of these screens makes them an excellent medium for photo viewing.

    • Good point, except the darn covering over the top of the screen is a bit coarse/ matte; images seem to lose some of their pop because of it.

  15. Charlie says:

    Rangefinderforum has an end-of-year poll of *amateurs* asking how many framed prints they created in the prior year:

    Of ~300 respondents:
    — 1/3 of all respondents made 0 framed prints the prior year.
    — 2/3s of all respondents made 0-5 framed prints.

    The results are skewed toward the conservative as some professionals couldn’t resist participating in the poll. Also, rangefinderforum is a fairly hardcore enthusiast site, so one would imagine that respondents would create higher numbers of ‘finished product’ than the general amateur photog population.

    • I thought it was low, but not that low. Makes me wonder: why do these people keep buying more pixels?

      That said, not counting commercial work, I don’t think I did more than 20 in the last year – but 20″ wide was the smallest of them.

  16. Good article. For me learning to print brought out a quantum improvement in my photography. Somewhere around 2004 I walked into the Afterimage Gallery and I was entranced by George Tice’s “Petit’s Mobil Station”. The range of tones in the print were astonishing to me at the time. I told the curator that I had to have the print, so he told me that he would have to have 9000 of my dollars…so I bought Tice’s book instead :-). The print quality in the book is crap by comparison. When I got back to Ireland is decided I needed to learn how to print. It took a good few months of slogging at it but it was worth it as it changed how I took, edited, & post processed images to get the best result.

    • The only book I’ve seen whose print quality actually does the images justice is Nick Brandt’s “On This Earth/ A shadow Falls”. That appears to be gravure on baryta; it’s hideously expensive but totally worth it if you like good printing.

      • Actually I do have that book and it is awesome

        • One of the reasons why I wanted to do the last print run is to make really excellent prints accessible to most people – they aren’t at all cheap to product, but I think that with greater awareness and appreciation, it’s good for all photographers in the long run.

      • I received Salgado’s Genesis book as a gift recently, and started asking a lot of questions about printing process and what constitutes quality because of it. The description of his workflow to match the look of older film negatives with newer DSLR captures was really interesting. Essentially, he has a team of people taking his digital files converting them to film and then giving him a chance to do the enlargements in a darkroom before they are converted back to digital for printing. Very consistent look to the pictures in the large format book, I’m sure his gallery ready prints are stunningly classic looking, and his crew no longer lugs a suitcase of film around for him.

        • I’m doing it the other way round for my film work – still shooting film, but using a DSLR to digitize. I find that works well, and gives me tonality I can’t replicate via digital alone. I couldn’t understand why he did it that way at first, but now I do. Don’t have the team of people to do it for me, though…

  17. Sorry for hijacking the comments, on my side I print mostly A4 size, either per sheet, or on a book if there is a story/link. Despite I got a pixma printer at home Idon’t use it much, I prefer to go the printer shop once you have find one it took me some time to find a good reliable one in Singapore.
    However now that I am moving to London,I was wondering if there are suggested printers that would be come recommended?

  18. John Joyce says:

    At the risk of being indelicate, I am inclined to think that Wesley could make more of your recommendation if his website were just a little more informative. Like papers (and other surfaces), sizes etc. and at least indicative prices.

  19. Just my 2 cents… I spent untold hundreds (may be even thousands) on personal printers in the past. What a waste of money. Just as creating an image is an art, getting it to come out the way you desire on paper is just as much an art. Like I said, my 2 cents, but I would suggest establishing a relationship with a local print shot, or even one online (and yes, the best of those online will work with you sending samples and trying things to get it right, e.g. MPix spend days with me and sent me numerous 8×10 to get the image to look JUST RIGHT), and once you have that mutual understanding and set up your system and monitor you will always (read: 99% of the time) be satisfied with the output. If you take the time with the shops you will have far more options for output than you could afford in the form of printers and substrates. It does help that I live in NYC and I have about 20 professional printing shops within a couple mile radius.

    On a side note: 24×36 is my favorite size, it takes advantage of every ounce of detail in the D800, and is the same aspect ratio as the sensor.

    • Can’t disagree with you. It takes a lot of time and effort. To deal with monitor calibration, I purchased an Eizo ColorEdge self calibrating monitor. I think the monitor is the most critical piece of equipment in the process. What I see is what prints out, but it took a long time to get to that point. Having said that, now that I have a system in place, printing requires just a click after I finish post processing.

    • Michael says:

      I agree with you, too. I spent money on an HP Photosmart a couple of years ago, and while I was pleased with the print quality, I could not really stand its acting like a diva, when it came to do actual printing. Then there are the costs for the ink, which are substantial, especially considering the printer uses ink for its cleaning cycle, even if you are not printing. I switched to an external ink solution to address that, but that had other side effects, including the printer becoming even more diva’esque.

      So the way to go, at least for me, is to work with a good print shop. Less hassle, and lower costs.

    • Absolutely – options are a very good reason to have a regular print guy. There’s no way I can afford to stock roll paper in multiple types and sizes for the one time a year I need it for a particular client…

  20. I know you said it’s hard to capture the feeling of a large print in a small image, but here’s a small image I ran across recently that reminded me I need to print more.

    It isn’t even a technically great image, but that giant Ellen Von Unwerth print hanging behind David Fahey’s head really gives a sense of the thing. Also, he has those cabinets you’re looking for.

  21. In my mind, a good photo is not complete until I have printed it. 95% of the time I print on 17 by 22 inch paper using my Epson 4900 printer. For a weekend outing, I used to print anywhere from 10 to 20 of the best, but that has been curbed due more to space limitations rather than cost. We built flat files into our new bookcases. Now I will print 4 or 5 and the selection process is interesting. The smaller number forces me to critique my photos. And I always find that when I print that one extra one, I regret doing so several days later. My initial cut was right–the first to be printed are the better images. I now find myself asking: Is this one really as good as the first four? This is a case where less is more.

    I am allotted two walls to hang my framed work. Plus I have a 42″ monitor hanging on one wall which is dedicated to my photos–it plays a slide show on a loop–currently jazz musicians from a festival last year. To your point, when people first walk into our house, they are initially impressed with the monitor, but after they have acclimated themselves, they stand in front of the prints in wonder.

    One tip: I used to print the photos immediately upon arriving home and processing them. Often I was up until 3AM. For me, the better workflow has been to process the photos, upload them to my Zenfolio site, and look at them for a week while I am having coffee or whatever. I find that helps with the selection and results in some additional post-processing adjustments.

    Overall, I totally agree with you. People are missing half the fun if they don’t print large. There is nothing more satisfying than looking at a large print for the first time under good light. Another advantage–there is no cheating with a large print. Any flaws or mistakes are immediately apparent.


    Jack Siegel

    • Space is a serious problem for me, too. I’m on the hunt for one of those old-fashioned map cabinets to store my prints in, and I’m also working on a quick-change mounting system to let me rotate my prints…

  22. abouna2 says:


    Any chance Wesley (or you) can recommend a US counterpart? I’d love to try having some prints made (I do miss my darkroom) but just don’t know where to begin in the states. I’ve also been tempted by getting my own large format printer but am always put off for the same reasons you note.

    • I have never sent any work out to be printed, but these folks are supposed to be good. If I recall, they have a cheap trial so that you can get an idea of what they produce. I know them as a black and white house, but it appears they also do color.

      I live in Chicago, so we have a number of places that cater to serious photographers and artists (giclee prints). If you live in an urban environment, I would be inclined to look locally. Sometimes these print shops will let you come in and participate in the process, which I think is important. It can be expensive, like $100 for a relatively large print, but they usually have the equipment to make prints that are sized in feet rather than inches. I’ve thought about doing one for fun.

      • I just want to jump in and say you get what you pay for; better materials are more expensive, not to mention the expertise of the printer. I’ve tried a lot of local outfits – some cheap, some less so – and Wesley is near the top of that tree, but his results are by far the best. It’s very easy to justify: why spend all that time, effort and money on getting the file perfect, but then skimping on the print?

      • Hi Jack. Any chance I could get you to share a couple of the names of the places in Chicago. I live in the northwest suburbs. I’d would be nice to find a place not to far off. Any info shared would be appreciated.

    • If you don’t mind me jumping in as I live in the US: I use, Duggal and Laumont Photographics, and even Zazzle for the odd canvas when they have one of their amazing sales. Mpix does a great job if you set everything up they way they tell you too, and they will work with you to get things just right. Duggal and Laumont are PRO shops, and I meant every capital letter in there… they also have the price tag to go with it. Duggal has what they call an HD C-PRINT with 6,100 apparent DPI. They are beyond anything I have ever seen! The colors and detail are incredible. It does not come without a price, but once you see a print using that technique on a large format, everything else will look inferior. On the other hand I’ve also had a few images printed to canvas by Zazzle during one of their amazing sales and was happily surprised at the quality for the price. Was it PRO level? No. Is it still on my wall? Yes.

      Hope that helps.

    • You’ll have to ask him directly. By the way, I’m getting emails from other customers saying their prints are arriving, so yours should be there anytime in the next week or so 🙂

  23. Yorkshire Mike says:

    I invested in a large format Epson printer six months ago and it’s been better then any new camera or additional lens purchase could ever be.
    Having custom printer profiles made for the paper that i use and calibrating a CRT monitor to the printer,not the other way and my tips for happy printing.

    Everything gets proof printed at 6 x 4 / 6 x4.5 (lab prints) and then I work on my larger prints thereafter.

    I think it’s the best way for amateur/ enthusiasts to archive their everyday snaps. 30 years from now there’ll be a lot a holiday/ family snaps that’ll never see the light of day because hard prints where never made and the data was lost.

    I’m not sure I’d bother taking pictures if I couldn’t print them. For me it’s not photography until I’ve made a print.

    • You bring up a good point about images disappearing: if nobody sees them, they might as well not exist. And even if people see them – on this site, for instance – what you see is a far cry from the full size thing on my 27″ calibrated monitor, which is equally distant from a good print. Who knows what’s going to happen to our digital assets in the future; it actually makes me a bit worried. Worried enough to consider going through the body of my work and printing most of the good stuff, at least in small-format books or something.

  24. Good thought as usual Ming. May I add the importance of unmolested pixels. Too many shooters muck up their files with interpolation. Any commercial photo lab will prefer you let them res-up your files as needed. To wit, most commercial labs in the US utilize ROES software which allows the photographer to choose/crop/upload JPEGs to the lab for printing. Even if one shoots RAW, create one full-res, excellent quality JPEG for printing.

    Regarding optimal portrait size, check out the Old Masters. Fine painted portraits are usually 80-90% of full size. This historical standard was seen as most flattering to the subject.

    • Absolutely: one of the most common complaints I hear from my printer is that the pixels have been molested to the point that artefacts become visible when printing…and because they are ‘baked in’ to the file, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

  25. One more thing on the importance of printing. Starting to print was the most significant step forward for my photography:

    – After I bought an Epson 3800 I didn’t print a single image for about six weeks. Instead, I started evaluating my digital archive, searching for images worthy of printing. In six weeks I deleted about 60% of my images, but did find about 10 that I wanted to have nice prints of.
    – After I found the 10 images I still didn’t turn the printer on. Instead, I started editing them, bringing them into “final form.” This way I learned a bit about Photoshop.
    – The editing (on screen) ran invariably like this: I’d work on a image until I thought “OK, it’s finished.” On the next day I’d look at it (on screen) and immediately notice 2–3 areas that were so obviously bad that I would ask myself why I hadn’t seen them yesterday. After 3–4 iterations I wouldn’t notice anything worth improving even on the following day.
    – So I’d make a print, and immediately (!) after picking the print up from the printer I’d notice a flaw or two. How could I have not noticed that on screen?! So I’d correct that and make another print.
    – On the following day I’d look at my print from yesterday and…see a glaring flaw. After 3–4 print iterations the prints would usually stand a very critical inspection.
    – That made for many boxes of 100 sheets of Ilford Pearl, but like I said in the beginning: best money I ever spent on improving my photography.

    • Very good point: I find myself going through a much more rigorous culling/editing process when deciding what to print; the larger the print, the more rigorous…

  26. I don’t print much – and that’s down to cost – consequently, I’ve convinced myself that I’m happy with my 8Mpix canon 30D.

  27. I used to print often and I used to teach some photography workshops, so showed each group of students a 60×90 cm (24×36″) print of this image and asked them how many megapixels this image started with. I would regularly hear 24, 36 and other similarly large numbers, but in reality the image comes from a Canon 30D and was cropped a bit, so the correct answer is 7 mp. Almost noone wanted to believe me…

    • And I think that goes to show most people a) don’t print; b) have no idea of sufficiency and c) some subjects enlarge better than others, but that’s not immediately obvious 🙂

  28. Matt Focks says:

    Hi Ming.

    Great article, as always. I print pretty big (my standard is 24 inch, my biggest print yet is 44 x 116 inch) from my D800. Depending on how much I photograph (amateur), there are 8 to 10 prints per month usually 44 inch wide. I fully agree that a picture needs to be printed to show its potential. Another way to do this are photo books, of which I print 3 to 4 per year.

    Best regards,

    • Thanks Matt – That’s a whopper of a print! I’m guessing you send them out? Did you do the 116″ from a single frame, or a stitch?

      • Hi Ming.

        It was a single shot from my D800 from a tripod, mirror locked etc.). Given the viewing distance of a print that big it looks pretty good.
        I used a 44″ large image printer from Epson, which I can access from time to time.

        Best regards

  29. Ryan hastings says:

    Could you discuss more of the practicalities of printing? do you buy your own inkjet printer or are all of your prints printed by professionals?

  30. A photographer called Laurence Kim wrote an interesting article lately about what prints (and sells) big, and what not. Look at his “Shooting for the big print” article.

    • He’s in a slightly different market – portraiture/ commissioned prints. Does make a good point about enormous headshots being a bit freaky though.

      • I agree, but I would add that it depends on the size of the viewing room. For instance Chairman Mao on Tiananmen Square doesn’t appears so big.

  31. Another Great article – thoughtful, practical and I like the call to action.

    Have you tested the process?:
    Negative > optical printing
    Negative > scanning > post-processing > digital printing

    Secondly, is it in practice enormously difficult to get good results from a top level prosumer printer like the Canon 1, or Epson R3000?

    Meantime to select an image to print…

    • Nope, not enough experience with optical printing to be able to speak authoritatively on it – best left to the experts for now.

      Last time I tried a prosumer printer was about five years ago; I was never happy with any of the results and landed up wasting a lot of paper and ink. It’s easier just to find a printmaster who knows what they’re doing and how to get the best out of their equipment; consistency, speed (larger printers) and lack of wastage make a huge difference to the experience. I think you’re much less likely to try printing again if you’re used to having to make five or six prints to get a good one…

  32. I bought a Canon Pro-9500 Mk II and I’m very happy with it. I use Harman Hahnemuhle paper and I’m quite happy. This brings back the joy of the darkroom days 🙂

  33. Gary Morris says:

    I print a lot. Mostly on 8.5 x 11 paper (I like the Epson Ultra Premium Luster for color and Epson Ultra Premium Glossy for b&w). I also infrequently print big (all printing is done on my Epson 3880). One observation that you have not mentioned (unless I passed over it while reading)… not everything printed small (8.5 x 11 size paper) looks good printed large (13 x 19 or 17 x 22). Some images just look better small and intimate. Just my 2¢.

    • That’s true, though I find in general if it works at a smaller size, larger works too – the content tends to be more graphic and viewing distances have to be longer.


  1. […] isn’t quite as high (218PPI, vs up to 720PPI for the current generation of Ultraprints – read this article for why printing matters at all, and this discussion for the rationale behind […]

  2. […] quite as high (218PPI, vs up to 720PPI for the current generation of Ultraprints – read this article for why printing matters at all, and this discussion for the rationale behind […]

  3. […] ones, and other images which were not an obvious choice based on my own screen preferences; proof printing plays a huge role here (assuming of course you print large enough!) Which do you prefer? […]

  4. […] I have some specific objectives, always overlaid by the desire to make physical, printed output. Only in the printed image can you see all of the captured information at once, and truly be able to …. I also want to have as high a degree of transparency and control over perspective and focal plane […]

  5. […] forward to today: not only do we not print most of our images, but we shoot so many that we ourselves frequently don’t remember what we […]

  6. […] point. There are two reasons why: cost, and lack of display space. Enormous prints are great, and actually printing work is important, but you’d also better have enormous walls to hold […]

  7. […] a web jpeg; even full-screen on a good 27″ monitor still pales in comparison to a good print (and here’s why). Perhaps I’ll throw these into a future print […]

  8. […] this article for a discourse on the importance of printing for modern […]

  9. […] Tips, Tutorials, Etc + the importance of printing from a photographer’s perspective at Ming Thein and Admiring Light + the life of William Klein, 60 minute video documentary via PetaPixel and […]

  10. […] a Malaysian based photographer who also happens to publish an interesting photography blog.  In this post, Ming talks about many technical issues related to camera sensors, image resolution and printing.  […]

  11. […] The importance of printing, from a photographer’s standpoint ( […]

  12. […] I don’t print my photos any where near as much as I should. Printing ones photographs as reflective images is without doubt the best way to really see ones photos as opposed to looking at them as […]

  13. […] Rather than believe me, here’s a link to Ming Thein who is a very good photographer and photo blogger. […]

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