It’s a question I hear from every Client: “Can I have the digital files?” And the answer is: “Yes, of course. But why would you want them?” If you ponder this please dive into the longest post I have ever written and bear with me.
When I started with photography film was King. Digital cameras were already on the market but the image quality was still far from equal to film. The beauty of those times was that we all had prints. If we didn’t print from film we couldn’t really appreciate our photos (unless we projected slides of course). Sadly, darkroom technology and true black and white photography was already pretty much dead when I became serious about photography. I took a darkroom class and loved it. If I was born earlier I would have probably lived in the darkroom. But even with basic color film I loved everything about it. It makes me nostalgic thinking about picking the right film, loading it into the camera and working hard to make the best use out of my 24 or 36 frames. Then it was off to the shop to have my baby developed. I am not a very patient person so waiting for the prints was killing me. And when it was a client’s film I was downright fainting with worry. Picking up my prints from the shop I practically raced to my car ripping into the envelope and carefully lifting each print by the corners to examine my work. The joy if I did well. And the bitter disappointment if the print did not match my vision. But there was always another roll of film waiting for me.
Today we are addicted to digital everything. Email instead of handwritten or typed letters. Digital files instead of prints. Digital books instead of printed. Some of this is good for the planet – less paper, less waste. And with their instant preview digital cameras are a blessing. Take a photo, check the LCD screen and either squeal in joy or try again. There is no doubt that digital is convenient but is it always better? How do we make sure that our grandchildren get to enjoy our photos? Or do we not care about that anymore?
Let’s look back for a moment and consider how technology evolved. Some of us remember the floppy disk. How would you retrieve important data from such an extinct media today? What about the VHS tape? When was the last time you watched a movie on your VCR? Or maybe you have those little camcorder tapes. And let’s look at the CD and DVD. While still used today the longevity of these discs is about 5 years. After that or even during that time depending on storage they start to corrode.
Let’s say you are a generation Z baby and digital is all that matters to you. You post your photos on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other social media you live on. You email the photos to your family and friends and even post them on your family blog. You are happy. When you think of the future you create an archive and back up your files onto an external hard drive. And to be extra safe you buy another drive and make another folder there so that you have your photos in two places. You should be covered. But what will you do when your drive fails? Not if but when because they all do sooner or later. Say you take your remaining drive and make another copy onto a brand new external drive. Then another one and another one as the years go by. I don’t know about you but to me this is a lot of work and risks to keep my digital files alive.
And what if the technology changes a few years down the road? Just yesterday I saw an article about DNA storage. Apparently, it’s now possible to convert digital data from zeros and ones into the four basic elements of DNA – adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. That sounds completely crazy to me but I guess when the CD was first introduced my parents might have thought it was dropped out of space by aliens.
Now what if we all simply go old school and choose to print those amazing images? I know it goes against the grain. We have thousands of photos on our phones, digital cameras, computers, iPads and other devices. We don’t print them. But let’s say you had an amazing photo session with a professional Photographer and the photos just blew your mind. You want them all so you think digital files are the way to go. But what if instead of purchasing the digitals you invest into a gorgeous print on canvas and hang it in your home? It’s a statement piece proudly displayed and everyone who comes to your house stops in their tracks to admire it. Or you purchase a breathtaking, custom designed Album. When family and friends come to visit you hand them this piece of art and enjoy their awe as they turn the archival pages. And when our children grow up and we are no longer around they will still have it to look through and remember. Just like we have and enjoy the faded black and white or sepia prints of our great grandmothers when they were children.
But what if you invest into the digital images because besides having those to share and archive you can print from them whenever and as much as you want? Right. Except things are not that simple. Just like the film negative the digital image is only half finished if your final product is any kind of print. There is a lot that can go wrong at the lab. The photo paper matters. The ink matters. The printing process and the person who oversees the printing matters big time. When you use a cheap print lab you may end up with a poor quality print (no matter how gorgeous is the digital image) effectively negating and ruining the hours of work and effort your photographer surely invested into your images. Your photographer is the Artist that created your Art. He/She knows what the print should look like. He looks at photos all day every day and his sight is trained to spot color casts in prints, sharpness, clarity, saturation and all the other important details that together set the showstopper apart from the less than mediocre.
Everyone is different but if your priority is quality and longevity then investing into printed Art is your best option and the convenience of digital files comes second.
Maybe I am old fashioned or just plain old and crazy. But I like to think that with a piece of Art I can touch I am leaving something behind for future generations besides an imprint of ones and zeros and a digital ghost.
Stepping off my soapbox now. Bowing, sending my gratitude to you for reading all the way down and heading for the ice cream in my freezer.
May Harmony Find You,