Welcome back to the final post in our series, The Photo Print Challenge! We are so honored to have Jen of Pirates & Pixies Photography, an incredible professional photographer talking with us about the amazing impact that where you choose to print your pictures can have on how the photos look. Make sure and follow Pirates & Pixies on Facebook to see Jen’s latest projects.
As a professional photographer, I get all kinds of photography-related questions. One of t
he biggest ones centers on where to print your images. It can be overwhelming – there are so many places that print pictures these days! As a custom photographer, I print images for my clients to ensure that they get the best possible quality prints they can. But for your everyday snapshots, where should you go to get good results?
I decided to run some field tests and compare the results. I used a twilight image with some yellows, oranges, and detailed shadows, a sunset image with lots of shadows and bright colors, a black and white image with a matte quality to it, a black and white image that didn’t have the matte effect, and a very light image that didn’t have a lot of dark tones.
For this project, I printed each image at Walmart, Shutterfly, Costco, and Walgreens. Take a look at each grouping and see what you think.
I see a lot of color variations here. Blues, yellows, and some extra shadows that weren’t in the original image. Not all the whites are very white anymore!
#1 and #2 have a less colorful sunset, I think.
Wow, the black and white images all have different color casts! And although #3 has the blackest blacks, it has lost almost all detail in the shadows of her hair and dress.
Purple and green. When you look at them individually, it isn’t as noticeable, but you certainly see the color cast in each image when they are side by side!
The very light image. Which one came out the best, do you think? In my opinion, #2 is the most like the professionally printed picture. The fur the baby is sleeping on is white, but it doesn’t look white in each picture!
This black and white image had a matte finish applied to it in post-production. It was intended to look vintage and slightly hazy. We lost vintage and hazy, as well as a lot of detail, in #3 and #4.
I wanted to order from Target, as I go there so often, but not every Target has a photo center, and the closest one for me was more than 10 miles away.
Besides color, I noticed a couple of things. The Costco and Shutterfly images were printed on a heavier, more sturdy paper. The ones from Walgreens and Walmart were very lightweight, and the pictures from Walmart were slightly bowed and did not lay flat. When ordering from Walgreens, I was unable to order matte pictures – they only offer glossy pictures, which are not my personal favorite. If you have tried to frame a glossy picture, you might agree with me – the gloss has a tendency to stick to the glass, and you can also get a lot of glare.
Overall, I think Shutterfly did the best job with most of the images I printed. The colors, although not as vibrant as professional prints, were good, and they retained the most detail. Costco was close behind, with heavyweight paper, and decent colors. One note of caution for black and whites, however: I think Costco had bit of a purple color cast, and Shutterfly’s were a bit green. Maybe the most important thing when ordering black and white images would be to order from the same company, or not hang them close to one another if you order from different places!
In any case, I think we can all agree that the MOST IMPORTANT thing about ordering photo prints is to order them!
[For these images, I applied a basic sharpen and color correction to the whole image, and increased the brightness and levels to compensate for the RAW image quality, but did not locally adjust any of the colors for each store’s picture.]
Jennifer Steffen, the guest writer and photographer for this post, is the owner of Pirates & Pixies Photography. She’s a runner, a pilot, and an ardent reader, and she currently lives in Las Vegas, NV, with her husband and three children. Jennifer specializes in wedding, glamour, family and children’s photography.