Hard Prints vs. Digital Files On Memory – Why Print Pictures?

Will you sell me the original portrait prints you have of your grandparents? Would you sell them for $50? 100? I’ll give you $300 for the original prints, okay?

Probably not!

In fact, if your parents found out you sold those prints they would be livid and you’d lose the car for months.

Yet today, most high school (and college) seniors focus on having digital images in their camera, phone, computer or memory stick. And these are not formal portraits, these are snapshots that exist only as digital files on media, files that can disappear, be lost, corrupted and are unsearchable.

But, all of us cherish formal portraits of our grandparents, great grandparents, aunts uncles etc. And these prints are from negatives, which (if they’re not damaged) few people still posses.

They handled their negatives with little to no concern and most were scratched, damaged and discarded. Just like we handle today’s digital files: with little to no care. (More on caring for digital file issues later.)

At a portrait session recently I sat down with a woman graduating from college. She looked at me and said, “I’m not sure why I am purchasing these portraits”

I asked her, “Aren’t you purchasing these portraits for your family and loved ones, perhaps for your future children?”

She answered, “My mother is dead, it’s been four years and it’s just my dad and I.”

My answer, was a question. “Do you cherish the formal portraits you still have of your mother?”

As she digested the question, I could see her start to cry. And frankly, I was getting misty eyed as well.

She said, “Of course I cherish those portraits.” We both knew the unsaid answer to her original question, ‘Why purchase portraits of ourselves?’

The formal portraits we create today are not just about you. They are for your parents, your future children, family and those who come into your life later, your future spouse.

Because, while this is an important milestone in your life, the portraits, the commencement, the celebrations are not all about you. There are many people who helped you get to this point in life. They need and want portraits to celebrate your accomplishments and your life, this important rite-of-passage.

And, you want hard prints of your portraits. Yes we know it’s a digital world and you want the files in your phone, your iPod and your computer (oh, and now your tablet.)

But the negative here (no pun intended) is that these digital snapshots will not exist in 25 or 30 or 50 were 100 years. The reason I say this? We are not making prints of these images nor are we archiving them in multiple locations for back-ups, nor readable with future technologies (remember the 3.5″ floppy.)

How many times have you had storage media fail, or you lose it, or we can’t read anymore because technology continues to move forward, or your computer crashes? How about trying to find a particular image amongst thousands of images on the CD? Is there any way to search the images by name, date, location, metadata?

Just like your grandparent’s negatives (which were treated with the same carelessness we treat our digital files today) the film does not exist anymore because they were scratched, damaged or thrown out years ago. Just like these negatives, your digital files will not exist forever, unless we make hard copy prints of them.

But ultimately, real portraits on the wall will last. As David Williams (a portrait photographer I admire) says, “The memory of loved ones never leaves this world until all of their pictures disintegrate into dust. This is why portraits are important.”

Can you say that about your digital images stored on your thumb drive or computer?

This final note is for your parents. Mom & Dad, remember yourself as well. Document your relationship at this important juncture in your child’s life with a portrait of yourself, without children.

When was the last time a professional portrait was created for you? Well, for 80% of Americans their last portrait as a couple was at their wedding.

Imagine how important a portrait of you now, at this moment, will be 10 to 20 years from now. It will be a portrait your married children will look back upon and remember from their important times, and be inspiration for their life, raising their children.