Buying photographic prints in the modern era
January 5, 2019 4:58 PM   Subscribe

We had family photos taken by a professional photographer. I want prints. Help me understand my choices.

The photographer uses PASS, which is where the photos are currently posted. She told us that the photos belong to us and we can get prints any way we want. So there's no copyright issue. I have already downloaded all of the photos to my computer.

PASS sells prints, but they seem pricey to me. A 4 x 6 print costs $5. They describe their prints as "finished with lustre surface for vibrant colors and pixel perfection." I don't know if this means anything. I could presumably also get photos printed at Walgreens or someplace else for a lot less money. But what would the quality of the photos be like?
I only have until January 11 to order prints from PASS.

I am interested in thoughts on the following:
PASS itself - is this a good source of prints? Are they great for some reason? Would it be worth getting at least some of the prints from them?
Alternatives to PASS. Is there something better than my local Walgreens?
Process of getting prints. If I don't order from PASS, how do I get copies made? As in, what exactly do I do? I have downloaded the photos to my computer. Are negatives a thing of the past?

I am not interested in the opinion that anything expensive is necessarily a rip-off. If you actually know something specific about photo processing that tells you that there is absolutely no difference between expensive and cheap prints, that's fine (however, I kind of doubt it, as I've recently noticed that some of my old prints are way better decades later than others). I'm willing to spend more for a better product.

If it matters, back in the days when my local photo processing store existed, I always preferred matte prints.
posted by FencingGal to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
So, I haven't used PASS - a very quick poke at their website says they're in the business of making ordering prints easy, but that doesn't tell me much about their print quality. But $5 for a 4x6 is really quite pricey for a print that size.

I wouldn't use Walgreens or your local drugstore: yes, they can do the prints, but the quality is pretty mediocre, simply because the printers they use aren't great, and it's rarely (if ever) what their employees spend most of their time doing.

When I've needed prints that I haven't done myself, I've used AdoramaPix, but there are lots of options out there; Wirecutter has good recommendations (Adorama is Wirecutter's runner-up pick). For reference, they want 29¢ for a 4x6 on matte paper. Even their high-end options, like their "deep matte", are only $1.29 for a 4x6. I just unearthed a box of prints I had done by them in 2009 earlier today, and they looked as good as they did when I received them (and that was on the cheap, 29¢/print, option!).

Negatives aren't a thing anymore, because they're simply not part of a digital workflow. Your files, that you downloaded, are, in essence, your negatives.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 5:19 PM on January 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Negatives are a thing of the past. PASS sounds overpriced. I've been very disappointed in prints from Walgreens and other stores that offer photo printing. I've had good experiences with the Wirecutter's top pick for online photo printing, Nations Photo Lab.
posted by roomwithaview at 5:22 PM on January 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

As another option, unless you live in a really small town, there’s probably a local printer in your area if you’d like the in-person approach.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:54 PM on January 5, 2019

I just signed up for PASS, looks like the photographer sets the price, which could be as low as 78 cents for a 4x6. As long as high res (not web res) is enabled, probably best if you download them and have Costco print them (as long as it's a location still using photochemicals and doing processing onsite.)
One sign of a good lab is them calibrating their printer. Dry Creek Photo does calibrations for Costco and Adorama, and has a list.
posted by Sophont at 6:07 PM on January 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

My partner, who is quite serious about photography and the quality of prints, uses mpix almost exclusively. More expensive than Walgreens (but higher quality), but quite a bit less expensive than PASS!
posted by pril at 6:14 PM on January 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone who has answered so far.

How do I know if high res is enabled?
posted by FencingGal at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2019

When you choose the images to download, if downloads are enabled, it will have either a hi res and web res button, or just one of the two. Upper right is where you start the download process for the ones you chose.
posted by Sophont at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2019

Once you are sure you have digital copies of your photos that are of the highest available quality, I will say that I have recently found Mpix to be both reasonably priced and good quality. They do basic framing as well if you want your prints framed, also at reasonable prices. I tried them on the recommendation of other MeFites, and now recommend them myself.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:23 PM on January 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use Adorama Pix for my exhibition prints and I've always been very very happy. Upload, make your size and paper choices and get them fast. Important to ME is that they ship flat in amazingly tough multi layer boxes. Might not be relevant if you just want tiny prints. At 20x30 inches though, it matters to me a lot!
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:33 PM on January 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am a professional lifestyle photographer. I use a similar system with my clients where I set the prices, if we are not doing an in-person ordering session. For example, I don't even offer a 4x6 print option, my smallest print option is 5x7, and is $20. My session fee is $200, and that is non-refundable and not used for prints. Most clients spend at least $500 on prints, although during holidays most people spend close to $2000 in prints and products.

When you schedule with a professional photographer, you aren't paying for just a picture. Yes, you can pay for a 4x6 print from Walgreens for less than $1. Why pay $5 from your photographer? This is the difference: When you are paying a professional like me for photography, you are paying for my time and resources. Time includes: booking time, prep time, travel time, session time, initial memory card uploading time, backup uploading time, editing time, sorting time, uploading time of finished images, packaging time, more travel time (to post office or one or one ordering session) not to mention the time for communicating with the client. You are paying for me for my resources for processing these images, along with all the equipment I have to take the images in the first place. You are also paying me for my artistic vision in producing these life memories in photograph form for you.

The $5 print is most likely the price the photographer charges that they deem is worth the effort of their time/resources/artistic vision.
posted by alathia at 9:14 PM on January 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Alathia, this particular photographer specifically told us we could buy prints anywhere we want, so I hope she’s paying for her expenses with the sitting fee. I don’t see why an individual photographer can’t charge more for a sitting fee instead of prints to make sure she’s fairly paid.
I am a firm believer in paying people for their work, and I think people’s now reluctance to do that is one of the great tragedies of the internet. (I’m a writer.)
If she had said we were required to buy prints through PASS, I would have done so.
posted by FencingGal at 10:10 AM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to Costco? They make very inexpensive prints that are pretty darn good quality. I'd make a bunch with them, then if there are a couple, or even one that I want to display I'd look for a high end printer and have it made on super nice paper. I've used in Berkeley
posted by cccorlew at 2:54 PM on January 6, 2019

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