Author: R. W. Boyer
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I’ll be the first to admit it — gigantic prints are seductive, striking, and downright fun to make and to see on a wall. A four by six foot print does tend to be an attention grabber. As photographers we’ve spent an enormous amount of cash on cameras, lenses, and do-dads that allow us amazing resolution and image quality. We’ve also spent immense hours making the picture along with countless hours culling, editing, and refining that image. Why not print it as large as you can and show it off?
The obvious reason to print smaller is practicality. How many giant prints can you actually display? Where will they hang? What will you do with a gaggle of huge prints? But beyond pure space constraints there are plenty of better reasons to exercise some restraint when it comes to deciding how big prints should be.
Let’s assume you have a ton of wall space you could fill with a bunch of large prints. I’ll be bold and say that one huge print is a stronger statement than several sorta-large prints. In most cases putting a lot of huge prints together actually reduces the visual impact compared to just one. A concrete example would be a gallery opening I helped prepare for Les Picker. We had all of the wall space in a large room of the gallery. There were dozens of prints in the catalog, but we had a grand total of two huge prints. One at the entrance and one at the very back.
Both huge prints were not even visible at the same time let alone next to each other. These two huge prints were the show’s statement pieces. The rest of the prints were all the same size and much smaller. This kind of arrangement is usually a good idea if you’ve got a lot of wall space and many prints. One or two bold statements with a collection of much smaller prints supporting the center pieces.
Making The Case For Small Prints
The gallery example shows how exercising restraint works, in the sense that you don’t have to print as large as possible. I suggest that you may want to print very small prints most of the time you fire up that printer. I’ve noticed a tendency that many photographers seem to view small display sizes as not worth printing. In this era of large super high resolution screens in every category of device from phone to tablet to desktop computer why would one print a 4” x 6” or 8.5" x 11" print? Even with letter sized paper why not use all of it with the borderless printing capability your printer might have? Like many things, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Holding a print is a different experience than viewing it on a wall. It’s more intimate and I’d suggest in a lot of cases it’s more enjoyable. I love pictures, I love looking at pictures but I hate watching someone scrolling through them on their phone. On the other hand I love the rare experience when someone hands me 10 or 20 small prints to look at. Try it, you’ll be amazed at the difference compared to trying to show them something on your phone or iPad. Truth be told, I’d rather look at a stack of small prints than watch a slide show on a large screen 4K TV. As an added bonus, you’ll find yourself a far better curator of your own work when you make 10 or 20 small prints than when you have 100 (or 1000) on-line. The mere act of putting your picture on paper elevates them beyond the dreaded on-line gallery.
10 Reasons To Make Small Prints
- Holding a print is a more intimate experience than standing back and viewing it on a wall or looking at a screen. You spend more time with each one, your eye scans the entire image and picks up details, you experience the tactile effect of the paper.
- Sharing a small batch of your work as small prints is far more enjoyable and engaging for the viewer. Try it.
- Small prints are more ”gift-able”, framed or unframed.
- Prints offer more opportunities to display your work.
- Printing small more makes you a better printer and refines your eye when you do make a large print.
- Having a bunch of smaller prints on display is a far more elegant way to engage viewers than shoving your phone at them… (“look what I made last month!” — cringe)
- You’ll enjoy your own work far more than having it stashed away on some device. You’ll see it more without having to go looking for it. You’ll actually become a better photographer and editor.
- If you do have a large wall and an array of small prints of the same theme, subject matter, or project, it can be a striking display option as opposed to one large print. I once made a large mosaic of 36, 6” x 6” prints all mounted and framed the exact same way. It covered over 6ft x 6ft of wall space and turned out to be a conversation topic for guests.
- Small prints with info on the back side (printed or hand written) make great ”business cards”.
- Speaking of cards - small prints make fantastic greeting cards when mailed for just about any occasion.
Don’t think about it too much. Don’t be shy. Don’t avoid turning on your printer until there’s *the perfect picture” you want to print large. I say use the crap out of it. You’ll enjoy your photography a lot more, and so will others. At LPFA our small printers see about 10x more use than our large format printers for all of the reasons above and more. My (and Les’) small printer of choice is the Canon Pro-1000. We love them so much we have two.
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