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Are Printed Photographs Always Better Than Digital?

Are Printed Photographs Always Better Than Digital?

January 28, 2016

While the world has been thrust into a digital era for some time now, the question still begs to be asked: are printed photographs always better than digital ones?

Understandably, both mediums contain pros and cons, and each individual photographer will have his or her own opinion in regards to what they prefer to work with. In order to answer this question though, we must first look at the arguments for and against each medium.

collection of old instant pictures

Printed photographs

Anyone born before the year 1995 will probably have fond memories of their parents clicking away on a film camera, only to have to wait until the photographs were printed to see what was captured. A trip to the photo processing store was just a regular occurrence and photo albums were excitedly filled with memories from holidays, special events, and anything else one’s heart desired.

Despite a definite decline in the use of film photography, some photographers to this day still enjoy using the format for various reasons. Whether they prefer the unpredictable nature of the images, the sometimes hazy and nostalgic aesthetic, or even that beautiful saturation of colors, there are plenty of reasons why the printed photographs of film photography still win people over. One of the most endearing elements of this medium, however, is the fact that the images must be printed in order to be seen.

Even hobbyist photographers will admit to loving the click and whir of a Polaroid camera, as well as the way their heart skips a beat as the Polaroid pops out, ready to slowly develop in front of their own eyes.

When we place this attraction of nostalgia and aesthetics to the side though, one very important argument remains. Printed photographs, when preserved properly, will stand the test of time. Digital files of photographs, experts warn, simply will not.

Digital Photo

Digital photographs

There are some obvious pros when it comes to using digital cameras, including how generous you can be when trying to capture that perfect shot, as well as the high quality of images, and the option to upload and share them via technology.

Digital cameras have always offered the opportunity to have these images printed, however due to their digital nature and our obsession with social media, printing these images is often something that is now overlooked.

We’ve probably all been guilty of uploading our latest holiday happy snaps to the computer or Facebook, only to do nothing further with them. We don’t print them to arrange in a photo album, nor do we frame the printed images or stick them to our wall. Over time, we might even forget about them as they become buried amongst other photos in our folders or feeds.

Prints vs digital

Earlier I touched on the fact that experts were warning digital photos will not stand the test of time. American Internet pioneer Vint Cerf has even gone as far as to claim that huge amounts of digital information (including our photos) may soon be lost in a digital “dark age.”

Because so much of our data is kept in digital formats these days, Vint warned:

“If we don’t find a solution our 21st Century will be an information black hole…We have various formats for digital photographs and those formats need software to correctly render those objects. Sometimes the standards we use to produce those objects fade away and are replaced by other alternatives and then software that is supposed to render images can’t render older formats, so the images are no longer visible. This is starting to happen to people who are saving a lot of their digital photographs…If there are pictures that you really, really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.”

While digital photography transformed the way we capture memories in many positive ways, it goes without saying: if you want your images to truly last for decades, why not print them out and admire them for years to come? This will depend on many factors of course (for example, you might not want to print out images captured purely for online publication), but when it comes to heart-warming memories of loved ones and events, nothing will beat the nostalgia of flipping through a physical photo album, will it?