A Brides Dilemma- Cheap Disc Only Photos or that Professional Album?

Wedding Photos that RockAs you ponder your wedding plans, I am almost certain you are planning on your photography as well. So what are your choices and why one might be better suited for you than the other.

Far too many couples today are seeking a “cheap” photographer who will give them a disc of images with “rights” to print as many as they want. Sound really good, right?

I mean, you get all the images you want, and you cut your expenses, you get to do with your images as you please, and is well!

Could that be a HUGE mistake? Well, from a consumer standpoint, you are probably thinking NO, it’s not. However, I offer an alternative answer- it probably is.

Here is why I feel that a “disc of images” you get to go print down at you local photo lab is a bad idea. Now, I know that when I get all “techie” and stuff, you get lost and just “click the X” at the top of the page, but this time I hope you will read this and consider some basic realities of digital photography and the images it produces. Once you sort of understand this, you might just save yourself some very lousy prints, didn’t waste money on photography you don’t love, and find a photographer that really is going to give you a quality product your wedding day demands.

Many aspiring photographers that have DSLR cameras take their photos in the JPEG mode. This produces photographs that are compressed, have embellishments added by the camera, and are pretty “ok” for most people for snapshots. Your wedding isn’t one suitable for snapshots, but real living photographs that capture every detail and emotion. Professionals set their image output to Camera RAW. So why does that matter?

First, a RAW image requires the photographer do some basic processing to the image to get every detail looking crisp and sharp, the exposure perfect, the contrast right that makes the image “pop” when you see it, and will then take it into Photoshop to create those images you often see on their websites that make you drool over their images. Many of the “low priced” photographers don’t understand RAW file processing and never use it. So what you really have is “snapshots” instead of fully developed photographs that make those stunning images you HOPE you get from your wedding day.

Now, let’s talk about printing those images you have on disc for a moment and why they don’t look like what you see on screen in many cases.

In order for a digital image to look great (or even BETTER!) in print than it does on screen, there are a few steps that must be taken. Most of these are going to involve steps in post processing that most consumers don’t have either the software or the expertise to do. Now that’s not meant to be disrespectful of you, but just the “nature of digital photography” that even some professionals don’t know!

First, the image must have the full dynamic range of colors properly set for printing. What you see on screen might turn up as dull or washed out in printed form. Good photo editing means this doesn’t happen and “what you see is what you get” from screen to print is nearly as perfect as it gets. Many “out of camera” jpegs are ok, but they could be better. This is why your professionals take their images in RAW- we can process them to their maximum potential for maximum printing results.

Second, proper sizing and print resolutions must be set in post processing. Many labs require a certain pixels per inch for the best quality. Taking an image that isn’t properly sized for the print you desire and set to the proper resolution will look “funny” or simple crappy. Pixels smushed together is just as bad as not enough pixels in larger prints. A disc of images has not been properly sized and the resolution set for every available print size out there. Maybe you want a 16×20 and when you print it, it looks no where close to your screen image. The same is true if you order small prints. So what happened? A “full resolution” file that isn’t properly sized AND resolved for that print you want, well, it’s probably not going to look “right” in prints.

Third, is sharpening. Once you have properly prepared an image for print size and resolution, without proper sharpening, many of the details you see on screen are not going to be there in printed form. There is an art to proper sharpening and even many “pros” (I use this term loosely here) don’t properly sharpen their images. And the sharpening setting for a 5×7 is far different than sharpening for a 20×30 canvas! When you see prints that are properly sharpened, you WILL know it because instinctively your eye sees that WOW factor you want in your wedding photos. NO photographer is capable of sharpening your disc of images and make every print you want look “WOW”! If they say they can, don’t believe them. If you have ever seen a really large photograph where you can see the detail in the iris of the eyes, you can say that image was properly sharpened. A print from your disc is not likely to give you that result.

So WHY should I want an album or professional prints produced?

Great question and one you should be asking at this point. I can’t speak for every professional photographer, but many of the very best I can. Our workflow to produce those images you fall in love with takes time. It takes proper processing of our RAW files, getting the enhancements within the image right, and doing the proper sizing and sharpening of your final prints as perfect as we can. Each of these comes from years of “playing” with our images and learning proper editing techniques over many years of trial and error- mostly error! On average, it takes 30-40 minutes per image to turn something you might call “great” into a masterpiece work of art that you are paying for. A good professional photographer is going to have close to 800-1000 images that he or she is dealing with, so the time factor is what is important here. Just do the math for the time involved.

Designing your album comes next once the images are properly processed and those too require telling the story of your wedding day. When you see it, I can promise you that if you aren’t shedding tears, then something’s wrong. Or perhaps it’s because you hired one of those “cheap” photographers without the skills needed to properly process and design your images into that vision you have right now.

I won’t get into the possibilities of losing your disc or it getting scratched or damaged, but that too is problematic for many couples in spite of their best efforts. And I have rarely seen them share with family and friends when that disc is not around either. Again, another time perhaps.

And about those “online galleries” where you order prints. Again, it gets back to the properly sizing, resolving, and sharpening of your images. If your photographer offers this service, chances are, they are going to upload “full resolution” images that aren’t really “full resolution” for the print you want in the size you want! Same issues you can encounter from a disc of images.

The route you go is totally your call. I do hope you will consider this in making a decision about your wedding photographer. I see the disappointment from many couples who failed to use a professional photographer that knew what he or she was doing because they tried to save a few dollars. I promise that the results you get will be worth it in the long run and you won’t have that let down when your images arrive.

Mike Yost is a wedding photographer in Jacksonville Florida with over 35+ years behind the camera. As a member of the Jacksonville Professional Photographers Guild, he strives for excellence in his work as a photographer. He is also a Family portrait, Senior Portrait, and Newborn and Infant photographer for the Jacksonville and St Augustine Florida area. If you wish to contact Mike for more information, you can email him at info@mikeyostphotographer.com or call him at 904-707-0875.

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