Have you ever seen your parents’ or grandparents’ wedding photos? Chances are they were printed on some kind of what the pre-millenials called photographic paper either as individual prints or presented in a wee slot in wedding photo album. To many they are priceless family heirlooms and they’ll likely outlast much of today’s wedding photography.
The advent of digital photography has changed the wedding industry in a revolutionary way. It was slow to start but eventually it meant that film photography has been almost entirely replaced as a medium for wedding photography. This also meant that the traditional business models whereby the photographer would shoot the ceremony and come back in the evening with a few proof prints for ordering is all but dead. In this original era, photographers were providers of pretty much all the products and services; they were also the sole owners of the material negatives, without which additional copies were impossible to reproduce. Couples relied exclusively on wedding photographers their entire service from prints, to books and albums etc.
The digital revolution changed things immeasurably, making it possible for some basic bargain photographers to operate exclusively as service providers without ever having to sell an actual printed photograph. The mounting industry pressures saw that old school photographers had to diversify further away from their medium and original business model . Savvy clients expected digital copies of their wedding photographs in high-resolution and a license to print them to their hearts’ content. Well, at least, that was the idea.
We find ourselves in a situation where wedding photography print sales have declined dramatically. The unfortunate consequence is that wedding photographs – most photographs, actually – are increasingly relegated to a purely digital format; it's now very unlikely that they will ever see the light of day as a printed photograph for viewing: eyes looking at paper, unaided by the interpretive layers of software operating within an electrical device.
The Consequences Of Not Printing Your Own Wedding Photographs
I often wonder what becomes of the digital copies of the photographs. Are the images made into physical items either as prints, books, or albums? I really really hope so, for it would be a shame if all that effort was wasted on a Facebook post, a Tweet or just an Instagram upload – and I don’t just mean my effort as the wedding photographer in question, but the much greater effort expended by the couples themselves, their vendors and family and friends spanning the months and years leading up to the wedding itself. Not only does the photographic document deserve better presentation, but it also deserves a greater chance at longevity.
What a lot of clients fail to realise about digital media is that it is inherently fragile and has it's own drawbacks. An accidental push of a button, spill of a coffee, stray malware, or an unfortunate power surge can spell doom for your precious files. Depending on the nature of the damage, recovery can either be expensive or impossible. This isn’t fear mongering: it is the reality of digital asset management, and the reason why professionals from all walks – wedding photographers included – are keen on premium data redundancy precautions.
A wee while ago, Google’s Chief Internet expert V. Cerf (He is referred to as an evangelist in the community and that's actually now his real title), gave a very gloomy warning during a speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In a statement to the Guardian He says:
"We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it. We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised. "
His main point was that it's not just the media that needs to reman safe by digital back ups but the very software used itself. We've all have a phone, games consol or computer. But it is his finishing words, about printing your photographs, that sparked my interest in particular as it basically inspired this whole blog. His proposition takes a Big Idea and brings it home with an effortless jab at modernity’s approach to the long-term preservation of personal data.
If you don’t print your photos, how long will they actually last? Your Grandparents and your parents wedding photographs. They have survived not only because of their inherent sentimental value, but because they exist in a physical form that can be passed down through the generations. It is much much more difficult to accidentally chuck away a box of printed photos than it is to accidentally delete or lose track of a virtual wedding folder or gallery. It's sad to say it's easily done because of their physical insignificance.
Physical destruction and careless deletion aside, the greatest threat to digital information is it simply becoming old and outdated. You're almost certainly not still using the same digital cameras that you bought when they first became available, just as you're definitely not using the same phone you first bought when mobile phones became mass produced and wifely available. Tech will come and go and with it, the companies behind them. While storing your wedding photos on multiple storage sites (e.g. a cloud service or on multiple hard drives) diminishes the possibility of inadvertently losing them, they don’t protect against companies going into liquidation, hacking, or some other form of loss. Nor do they offer protection against changing industry giants like Apple who try and use ever more proprietary forms of technology to enure you pend your tech budget with them time and again. The standards for cables, connectors and communication protocols and file types change every year. Software standards are the least changeable but are still periodically prone to the winds of change just like everything else.
I recognize that this is a big old list of worst case eventualities. Much like myself and Katie, knowledgeable clients will convert and move their digital folders and galleries and wedding photographs from one format to another as technology progresses. It’s been done before and it will probably continue well into the future. Did anyone else's parents spend whole days week on week digitising VHS videos or Records to CD's??? My Dad did this constantly when he was at home for days and days at a time such was his passion for keeping the collections he'd spent so long building up over 40+ years.
Printing As Preservation
When stored in a cool, dry, and dark place, photographs printed on quality photographic paper can last for years. Hi-res jpegs are amazing things but part of the file opening and closing involves a compression of all the information and over a number of uses this begins to degrade the information that makes up the picture. This is why people are even now currently looking at new digital formats for future cameras and editing platforms.
Good albums not only protect your wedding photographs, but they are also a beautiful way to store, view, and present them. I personally work with half a dozen different printing companies to service a diverse range of client products. I chose them because they have consistent quality and their stuff lasts. I'll leave a list of printers at the end of the article so you the clients can seek em out and do your own printing using the softwares if you want to. I just want you the client to save your legacy pictures for future generations.
It doesn’t matter where your photos are printed, provided that they are. It would be a horrendous shame if the very consumers who wrestled their right to print from wedding photography industry chose not to. As Bob says - Stand up for your rights! We've had clients on occasion knock out 15-20 albums from photographs from relatives weddings but this seems to be more common in big Indian weddings. My own dad made nearly a dozen DIY albums from our own wedding photographers photos last year using a 3rd party site and they turned out wonderfully! Confession - my Dad is also a photographer with a wicked eye!
I understand not everyone is tactile like me. That's not to say your kids will be and mine won't. But people change as with everything given a long enough time-line you do. I'm not saying to all my clients - GO RIGHT NOW AND ORDER PHOTOS FROM YOUR GALLERY RIGHT NOW! Although that would be nice :-) What I am saying is - as with other big moments in life, all we get are the memories, but your photographs take you back to how it was - time and again. I'm one of those sad buggers who likes thumbing through new and old books in funny wee bookshops in every new place I go to. I am a tactile creature - gimme the print!