Does it Make Sense to Print My Own Photos?

If you're hiring a professional photographer to capture your wedding or family portraits, you've likely considered the notion of "I'll just get all the digitals and print them myself". 

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Sometimes this comes from a desire for convenience - being able to hop onto SnapFish at 2am and have the prints show up a week later has it's appeals - but sometimes it comes from a place of economics…

“…surely, printing them myself is less expensive…?”

On the latter note, let's explore that. 

I'm a consumer myself, and am very frugal. 

I also am not an emotional buyer...I make no big financial decision without weighing the tangible costs and returns on the decision. 

So, for my fellow number-crunchers, let's go through this exercise.

For the sake of this example, let's assume the following constants:

  • it's a 1 hour Family Portrait Session with 6 individuals

  • in that hour, you stop at 5 different areas around the location

  • at each stop, you set up 1 full group, 1 parents-only, 1 kids-only, and the rest a mixup of grandma with kids, kids each alone, etc

  • photographer delivers 60 Proofs

  • that's approximately 12 images per "spot"

  • if each spot has roughly the same groupings, that's about 2-3 proofs of each grouping, at each spot

  • in total, 60 proofs means about 20-30 unique "setups", each setup with multiple variations of expression or pose to choose from

OKAY - with all that in mind....here are the questions you need to answer for yourself

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1) How Many Prints Do You *Actually* Envision Having or Gifting to Family?

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Client #1 answers: 

"I want a 3x5 print of every image from the session.

I want to send multiple iterations of the same pose to all my family members, and I intend to cover all the walls in my home with dozens of framed portraits"

Client #2 answers (as most people do):

"I intend to pick my favorite full group shot to hang on the wall, send a 5x7 of the kids to grandparents, and put up a series of candids of my husband and myself on the mantel. 

Other than that, I just like the independence to print my own."

2) Do You Have Any Self-Image Concerns, and/or Are You Worried About Having Unavoidable Background Distractions Removed? 

Client #1 answers:

"Heck no.  If the kids' hair is blowing in the wind, or a tourist crosses in the distant background wearing bright green swim trunks at the very instant we are all smiling and looking amazing, so be it! 

That's part of taking pictures on the beach after all! 

And me? 

I might be a little softer around the middle than I once was, but that's the real me and I'm not going to change now."

Client #2 answers: "I feel pretty good about myself, but softening the lines around my eyes would be appreciated, and my husband's teeth have gotten a bit duller from drinking coffee every day, so a little whitening probably wouldn't hurt him. 

As for the background, I know you'll work hard to avoid distractions, but I understand at a public park, it's inevitable to occasionally have someone swimming in the water behind us, or someone else watching the sunset in the very spot we want to shoot...

I really want these to look amazing on the wall so ideally I'd like those things removed before they get framed."

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3) How Long Do You Intend for These Prints To Be Around?

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Client #1 answers: "Meh...I really just feel obligated to send photos to the grandparents...they're old school and don't do Facebook. 

For me?  The joy will wear off in a year or two and then they'll be thrown in a box.  As long as I can get a little bit of life out of them, I'm good."

Client #2 answers: "Is 'forever' too much to ask?".  If I'm investing the kind of money and time into family portraits, I want something that we can proudly hang and display and enjoy even after I'm long gone. 

I remember finding old photographs of my great-grandparents and the connection through the generations I felt holding it in my hand.  I want that for my family who come after me as well. 

And if I'm hanging something in my home, I don't want a bit of sunlight to fade them to the point they are no longer recognizable...I want quality products that will last."

4) How Technical Are You, and/or Do You Tend to be a Creative "DIY-er"?

Client #1 answers:

"I build computers for a living, I regularly create scrapbooks, I have a Double Diamond Super-Primo Ultimate Status account at Walgreens, CVS, AND Costco's one-hour photo lab, and can create photo collages and christmas card templates with my eyes closed!"

Client #2 answers:

"Technical… as in, email?  Sure, I can work my Iphone and browse the web, does that count? 

Scrapbooks?  I wouldn't even know where to buy the stuff!  USB 3...Is that some kind of neck cream? 

Crop Ratios....I heard that was a good movie...I think? 

heh heh {nervous laughter}."

In other words, "printing your own photos" may sound simple enough, but you need to be comfortable working with digital downloads, USB drives, resizing photos, cropping with digital software, uploading photos to the lab, and knowing enough about paper types, finishes, mounting options, and color adjustments to make the process worth your effort, before you realize you've spent 20 hours on your computer and still don't have anything to show for it.  

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Now, let's see the costs for each Client’s answers:

Client 1 Costs

$708 for 90 Prints = $7.86 each (unmounted, uncoated, unretouched)

Client 2 Costs

$748 for 11 Prints = $68 each (unmounted, uncoated, unretouched)

For Client #1....The benefit to printing your own would strictly be quantity VS quality

For the same money, using the smallest print size we offer, you could have had:

(20) 4x6" prints - retouched, mounted,
coated, textured, professionally printed
on archival luster paper

And still have $8 left to spend. 

For Client #2, however....For the same cost, you could order from the studio:

(1) 16x24" wall art - retouched, mounted, coated, textured, professionally printed on archival luster paper

(3) 8x10 mattes with 5x7 prints - retouched, mounted and matted, coated and professionally printed on archival luster paper

(4) 8x12" prints - retouched, mounted, coated, textured, professionally printed on archival luster paper

(4) 6x9" prints - retouched, mounted, coated, textured, professional printed on archival luster paper

(6) 4x6" prints - retouched, mounted, coated, textured, professionally printed on archival luster paper

And you would STILL have $18 left to spend!

 PPH1211_printing prints

All retouched, mounted, coated, textured, and professionally printed on archival luster paper that is going to last for generations
and, your photographer would have handled ALL the technical, creative, and logistics of order and shipping for you!

If you're Client #1

in this scenario, then YES, in light of the answers assumed above, it might make sense to upgrade if having more prints of every image is more important, as no matter how hard your photographer tries, there is just no way to produce that much quantity at the same price.  

If you're Client #2

then it probably does NOT make sense for you to upgrade, because quality, longevity, professional printing, retouching, and technical savvy are more important, AND from a cost-benefit analysis, you're going to get WAY more bang for your buck by having your photographer do the printing for you.  

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Now, if you're Client #2 and you're thinking

"But I just REALLY love the independence and freedom to print my own images"

That might be worth it for you, but keep in mind that anything you order in print from our studio, you automatically get the retouched digital file, without watermark, that you can later created additional prints of yourself, at no extra charge. 

The retouched digital is INCLUDED with the retouched print! 

So you really are getting the best of both worlds.  

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Why Does This Matter?

It is certainly a lot less work, time, and effort on my part for my clients to simply purchase the digital files and be on their merry way, but it’s more important to me that you have portraits hanging on your wall. No matter how you go about it, I just want to make sure you don’t leave your photos strictly to a digital existence.