When to invest in professional products, and when to head to a budget lab?
Let’s not beat around the bush – professional photographic products are expensive.
This is probably a controversial post - but I’mm not going to pretend that investing in professional, fine art photography products is worth it 100% of the time.
And before all my photographer pals start to crucify me or suggest I’m devaluing the photography industry - let me be clear.
If you are going to invest in a professional photographer, you need to be equally prepared to invest in professional products.
They’re like two parts of a puzzle - the first piece is the artist/photographer who can capture your story in a way you connect with (because holy heck that is an art form in and of itself these days). And then secondly, you need to invest in the end result, and preserve those beautiful photos as many ways as possible.
But budgets are tight - I get it. So the million dollar question is - where do you invest your money, and when should you go to a budget lab?
Before you read any further, you should definitely go and read my blog post 5 reasons to invest in a professional album.
Honestly, I think albums should be our number #1 priority, but sadly they often neglected and many (if not most) of my clients all have good intentions to DIY it, but it’s a pretty overwhelming task. I get a lot of clients coming back to me 1, 2 and even 3 years after their session to tell me they still haven’t printed anything and it breaks.my.heart.
If you’re going to invest in any kind of professional photographic product - make it an album.
And yes, they are the most expensive product on the list (but it’s for a good reason - they are bloody beautiful).
What you might not also understand is why they are so expensive. First of all, they are actually really expensive to make. I choose to partner with Australia’s oldest lab (Atkins) in Adelaide, and the fine art albums are SO DIVINE. Each album is hand constructed using Italian book binding machines and techniques. The pages are sandwiched with archival adhesives back to back making the finished page thickness a mere 1mm. Pages can also be trimmed flush or hand torn for the most lush and divine look and feel. And with proper care, these albums are made to last 100 years - and folks, that kind of quality doesn’t come cheap.
It also takes me a considerable amount of time to cull the photos, and design the album (you get two rounds of revision, which can also be pretty time consuming). If you’ve ever sat down and tried to design an album, you’ll know what I mean!
On the other hand, there are some great budget labs out there, but personally I choose to get my professional photos printed in professional albums, and I save the budget labs for my personal albums (the ones full of iPhone snaps and happy snaps from my camera). The budget labs are pretty good quality, but they don’t use the best printers, the best quality paper, and they’re unlikely to last for generations of your family to love. Budget labs are also a great gift for your parents/grandparents, that way you get to keep the heirloom album, but they still get to enjoy your photos (and boast about them to their friends).
So is the cost worth it? For things like weddings, and newborn/family sessions – I think yes, absolutely.
When I had my first ever print professionally framed, I nearly had a heart attack at the price - $500 for two 16 x 24 print from our wedding (and that wasn’t even including the cost of the prints). Yikes. Was it worth it? HECK YEAH.
Is it worth it for every single photo you want framed? I’m gonna be a little controversial here and say no, it’s not.
Professional framing is worth the expense when you have a few photographs that you 100% never want to take off your walls - for example, a few of your favourite wedding photos. When you use a professional framer, your images are essentially sealed inside the frame which protects them from dust, pollution, light - which basically ensures they last for a lifetime. In my example above, with my wedding photos, I also wanted them framed in beautiful raw Tasmanian Timber (you can’t really find that at Kmart lol). These frames hang in our bedroom now, and I bloody love them. I look at them almost every day, and feel relieved to know they are going to last forever.
On the other hand, in my stairwell I have a huge wall display of framed photos - which I have chosen to frame using Kmart frames. Why? Because the photos inside them aren’t permanent, and I plan on changing them around every few years or so. There’s absolutely no point in having these professional sealed into frames, because I would be ruining that investment the second I tried to open it to change the photo.
So if you are like me and you have a display and are planning to rotate your photos around every few years, it’s better (and more cost effective) to purchase frames from somewhere like IKEA or Kmart. This way you still get great looking frames, but you can easily access the print to swap them around if you wish to do so.
To be honest, I don’t really ever recommend getting prints through budget labs like Kmart/Officeworks etc. Every year or two I do a test print comparison, my lab vs Kmart – and my lab wins hands down every time.
The Kmart prints are always consistently soft/not as sharp as they should be, and quite often the colours print all wrong. Before I became a photographer, and I didn’t know any better, this wasn’t even an issue for me – but having seen how beautiful the prints are through my lab I can never go back to the days of lustre or glossy budget lab photos.
This is why I offer the expensive Fine Art print option, as well as the Matte Art print option.
What’s the difference? When you are printing for professional frame jobs, I always will choose a Fine Art print as these are printed on thick 150 GSM cotton bamboo paper. There’s a wider range of colours, and the end result is lush AF - my lab can custom frame them for you, or if you have a local framer you prefer to use you can take the print to them as well.
But when you want to print things for DIY framing – Matte Art prints all the way. The paper is just a little thinner than the Fine Art series, and have a different printing process so they are more durable in people’s hands. Personally, I have my forever prints from our wedding printed on Fine Art paper, and all the prints that go in my stairwell are Matte Art.
That way, I get the best of both worlds!
Do you need help?
Choosing what photo to print is only half the battle. Knowing what size to print your images, whether to display them individually or in a collection, where to display them is also equally overwhelming, and in my experience clients tend to be cautious and print images much smaller than what will actually suit the space.
If you would like some help choosing what to print, where to hang it, or want to collaborate on your album design with me, you can book a product consultation with me where we can go through everything together.
These consultations are $330, and 100% of this money is put towards the cost of any products you choose to buy during/after your consult.
I’m super thrilled to launch these, and can’t wait to help you get your products printed ♥.