We live at a time in history when nearly everything can be digital. From our jobs to our education, our social circles to our photos. Photos have always been my closest connection to the past. As the daughter of a professional photographer, I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t have a camera in my hand. Whether it was with my mom’s film camera or a disposable crank-and-shoot (like the Kodak Funsaver), I always wanted to capture moments to be able to look back on later. As I became an adult and got more serious about photography, I switched to digital cameras, eventually picking up a DSLR and, ultimately, a mirrorless digital (I shoot with a Canon R6 these days).
On the surface, not having to take photos to get developed seemed great. I could get my photos instantly and save them to a computer, requiring very little physical space. Of course, hard drive space doesn’t last long when you’re a passionate photographer, and I soon found myself purchasing my first 1 TB external hard drive. This was over ten years ago, and I still laugh at how much a 1 TB hard drive cost back then.
But one day, I had a realization. Out of all the photos I’d taken, framed, and composed with such care and attention to detail, I only ever looked at them occasionally. Usually, the ones I’d uploaded to Facebook or other social media sites at some point. The other photos, even photos I’d paid professionals for — like those from my engagement and wedding day — were buried in the file system of a hard drive that I hardly ever looked at.
Despite photography being one of the central themes of my life, I was hardly looking at or enjoying the photos I had taken. I had forgotten an important mantra that I think everyone needs to adopt.
Print your photos!
Just because we can take and store a theoretically unlimited number of digital photos in the cloud or on backed-up hard drives without ever printing them doesn’t mean we should. According to data collected by Photutorial this year, the average person has over 2,000 photos on their smartphone. That’s just digital photos taken and stored on a specific device; it doesn’t include everything people may have in iCloud, Google Photos, Dropbox, etc.
How many of those photos do you think the average person looks at each day? What percentage of people will remember to pull out their smartphone or computer during a dinner party to show off the photos they love? The numbers are small; most digital photos sit and collect digital dust.
Let’s talk about why it’s so important to print your photos and actually display them in your home.
Your home obviously says a lot about you. As a newborn and maternity photographer, I spend a lot of time speaking with people who are starting or raising families. That’s their priority, and the way they decorate their homes reflects that. While many of us will go through a stage in life where we get our artwork from stores like Ikea and Ross; where posters are used as wallpaper; and where 5×7 Kinko’s prints give us the vibe we’re looking for, that stage doesn’t last forever. As you begin a family and your kids spend their lives growing up in your home, the things you place in your home send a powerful message. It shows (not tells) what matters most to you. There’s nothing quite like the reaction of a child who sees their printed picture on the wall of their home.
Seeing printed artwork of themselves and their other loved ones daily underscores the importance of family to your growing children. Combine that with having collections of photos organized in albums that your kids can actually hold and flip through whenever they please.
Whether you have wall art, albums, or both types of photo display in your home, having these things present helps foster a sense of belonging and can center your family. I’ve also seen how much kids love being able to look at past photos of themselves as babies and even ask questions about photos taken before they were born. It’s a priceless experience.
I grew up in a house where photos were plentiful. My mother was also a photographer, so nearly everything on our walls was either photography of us or a piece of art one of us had made. I came to take this fact for granted, and it wasn’t until my first baby shower in 2019 that I realized this wasn’t the standard experience. One of the games that we played at my baby shower was “Guess the Baby”, where guests were asked to bring a photo of themselves as a baby, so everyone could try guessing who’d grown up into whom. What shocked me was how many people struggle to find a single photo to bring! One friend told me they only had a single photo of themselves as a baby— it was a 1-inch black and white photo that their mother had kept in a locket. The thought of that being the only photographic record of my friend’s first six years absolutely broke my heart. Most of my friends had no photos before the age of 4.
It doesn’t have to be that way. By printing your photos, you’re creating artwork that can be passed down through the generations. Photos printed through professional labs are produced using acid-free archival paper that is intended to last 100 years or more. Fine-art canvas prints do even better. Even though we live in a digital age, what hard drive company or file backup system can boast a 100-year track record? Just think of Google, which is just about 25 years old, and the Google Photos service that launched in 2015. Can we confidently say that Google Photos, Flickr, or iCloud will be around in 100 years?
By printing your photos, you’re transforming something that was once only digital into a physical object. One that can be admired every day, without a computer or smartphone. One that can be held in your hands or displayed on a wall.
One great thing about digital files is how easily they can be shared, stored, and backed up. Don’t let that fool you, though. Digital backups are not anything but guaranteed. I’m not saying don’t back up your photos. What I hope to inspire people to do is to always print their most loved photos and treat those as the originals. The digital that you or your photographer took is for convenience and for safekeeping in case something happens to that precious print. Don’t think that just because you’ve downloaded your photo gallery onto your computer’s hard drive and put a few onto social media, your priceless photos are 100% protected and safe from all harm.
I’m not saying you need to drop everything and go print a stack of photos today, but give it some serious thought if this post struck a chord with you. While my photography studio specializes in creating fabulous wall art for expecting mamas, newborns, and growing families, you don’t have to work with me to enjoy the great benefits of having printed artwork on your own. Having something printed is infinitely better than having nothing printed, and consumer printing services like Shutterfly don’t do a terrible job these days. There’s nothing like getting your photographic artwork produced with a professional-grade photo lab, but that’s simply not in the cards for every family. Do what you can and give yourself the gift of seeing your cherished photos in your home every single day. Don’t let your digital files get buried in your digital clutter only to be forgotten. These memories are too precious for that.