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Sweet Plum Photography – Consumer Lab Comparison

Hello, everyone!

Let me start by admitting that up until about 6 months ago, I had no desire to print any of my digital negatives for you, my clients.  I believed full-heartedly that digital negatives were sufficient and that you could just take what I had created and be able to print for yourself very close to what I could provide from a lab catered to professional photographers.  I mean, seriously.  It seemed as easy as uploading to a site or burning your gallery to a disk/USB and taking them to a 1-hour print lab like Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS.  And another plus was that you could print whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, and however your budget allowed.  That was such a giant and unfortunate disservice that I provided you.

When approached about a lab to print though, which was almost every session, I simply rambled off the popular answer I always have.  Mpix.com.  It is easily accessible and affordable, even though it is admittedly a bit more than a lab you could visit locally.  I honestly believed that their quality was un-matched so I had no qualms about sending you there.  I was able to take on more work by simply uploading to a gallery and calling it a day.

At a point last year, I had a very important session for a very important client.  Once our session was completed, I edited the images and uploaded to an online gallery and sent her a link to download.  She downloaded and went to print her digital negatives.  She received them back from Shutterfly and this was her email to me.

“Hi Diana,

I hope all is well.  Again I so appreciate you taking XXX’s pictures and spending some extra time with us for her session.  So much appreciated!  I had a question about getting pictures printed. .. is there a specific company you recommend?  I sent in pictures to Shutterfly and the background turned out awful (picture on what I mean).  Some are green,  some are pink,  others gray.  There’s no consistency.   And the pictures are just too darn adorable not too display.  Shutterfly people had no idea why they weren’t turning out.  But now I have 200 4×6 green photos.  They resent me pictures from the bad ones and the new ones were the same.  I got those today.  So I’m going to call them tomorrow.  At first I was mad, but now I have to just laugh at how screwed up they are.”

UGGHHHHHHHHH.  This was an important session, y’all.  Everything I shoot is important.  It is.  But this was a session after an immediate family member had passed away and the LAST thing this sweet family needed was to have to deal with bad prints from an otherwise amazing experience that I had provided.  This sat in my gut and just gnawed at me for the better part of last year.  I spend 12+ hours per session investing in my clients.  That’s emails, phone calls, editing, ordering, and so many other behind the scene details catered to make their experience the best I possibly can.  My clients spend a very good amount of time pre and post session investing their time and money in me.  Do I REALLY want the end product of our mutual investment to end in an inferior product?  No.  No, I don’t.

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I didn’t used to care what happened after you left my studio.  Printing problems were not my problems- they were yours.  After all, you purchased the digital negatives knowing you’d have to print for yourself.  I wasn’t even remotely interested in printing my art for you.  I didn’t think it was necessary and told myself over and over that I just didn’t have the time for it.  I was overworked, underpaid, and already spending so much time away from my family that I couldn’t imagine adding on another session just for ordering and then to spend time on quality control.  Nope.  Not going to do it.  Not my problem.  That works.  Except that your only option with me was to receive the digital negatives.  I didn’t offer you anything else.

 

Except that IT IS MY “PROBLEM”.  It is my circus and your prints ARE my monkeys.  Was that cheesy?  Oh well.  I’m just spewing at this point because I’m so angry at myself for the horrible quality of service I used to provide.

 

I do care.  I care so much.  I am no longer a digital image photographer and I have no desire for the end goal of our time together to be that the images end up on social media.  I don’t want our experience together to be reduced to a 30 second comment and like.  Can you post your images from me on social media?  ABSOLUTELY.  Will I stop selling digital negatives?  Probably not.  I think they’re a valid storage option and with the proper education, you can print yourself.  I just want you to be cautious about your investment.  If you’ve noticed I’ve been calling the final edited images “digital negatives.”  That’s what they are.  They are an unfinished piece of artwork.  When you go to print my images at an 8×10, you will crop the images.  Unless your ratio is in a multiple of 4×6 (8×12, 20×30, 24×36…), your image will be cropped to fit the ratio of common print sizes such as 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, etc.

 

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The purpose behind any photo session with me or any other photographer should be to preserve your memories and your memories deserve to be preserved in the best possible way.  Once I realized the gravity of the work I do, I knew I needed to be able to provide the best options possible for you.  Your memories deserve special care.  Hard drives fail.  I’ve lost everything from the first 8 years of our marriage because of hard drive malfunctions or when they’ve been knocked to the floor.  They’re gone.  The very little I have is what is posted on Facebook.  I can’t get those back because I never printed them.  CD’s are basically obsolete. Computers are being built without the CD-ROM drive and your memories will be unable to be recovered.  USB’s/Flash Drives.  They will soon be dinosaurs as well.  Only 20 years ago, we were still using floppy disks.  Tech changes every day so I’d encourage you- if you take nothing else away from this post- take this.  BACK UP, BACK UP, BACK UP.  HAVE BACKUPS TO YOUR BACKUPS BACKUP.  Get those CD’s and USB’s out of your drawer and print first.  Once printed, back up digitally online and on a hard drive.  Lock those hard drives in a stationary safe.  Take as many precautions as you can because once they’re gone- they’re gone.  Make sure your kids will have easy access to the memories that are important to you.  By far the most accessible way is PRINTS.

 

So I set out to see what the labs were really delivering to you when you choose their lab.  I also sent away digital negatives to professional print labs and found my lab I use now!  Worth every single penny.  My work is printed on Hahnemuhle fine art 100% cotton paper.  They’re rated for 100+ years treated properly and guarded against UV, finger prints, and moisture.

musea print, cotton rag print, ultra smooth print, printsmatter, sweet plum photography, glitter session, glitter mini session, motherhood photography, indianapolis, indiana

They are meant to be put in acid-free and UV protected mats and frames and look amazing in our wooden or glass displays!  My prints are not meant to be handled and the only reason I have is for the purpose of the comparisons outlined below.  My prints need to be stored in either the glass or wooden display boxes if you forgo a mat/framing option.

musea print, cotton rag print, ultra smooth print, printsmatter, sweet plum photography, glitter session, glitter mini session, motherhood photography, indianapolis, indiana

If you choose the wooden box, it is highly recommended that you also purchase high quality linen to wrap your prints in and request that I add a white border to your final prints to further protect the image.  When ordering, you will receive the matching digital image to your print for safe-keeping and USBs are included with the box displays as a storage option.  I highly recommend digitals solely as a storage option and using my professional labs for all your albums, prints, framed prints, matted prints, and folios.  For more information on my products, contact me!

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**All images uploaded were the same file for each and every lab, saved at 5×7 at 300 ppi.  When given the option, I chose “do not color correct”.  Images were shipped to my house and that is reflected in the price (CVS was the only exception.  Theirs was the price for a 1 hour print- their only option for me).  Otherwise, everything else was the default set by that consumer lab.  All prints were ordered on February 2, 2016.

 

ORIGINAL FILE:  Note that the images below are straight out of the camera and no adjustments have been made so colors from the original file will differ because of the nature of print vs. digital viewed on screens.  The pro print I have is an exact replica of the digital file when compared side by side.

 

GROSS.

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MPIX.COM was so incredibly disappointing.  I’ve been using them for 8+ years and have always relied on them because that’s where I sent my clients.  I’d be pissed if my photographer sent me here and saw the difference in my print versus my digital file.  Quality control went out the window here.  The paper used was a better quality than most (Kodak Professional Endura) but the dark, green toned image they gave me overshadows that.  Final price = $5.04 and delivered 4 days after ordering.

 

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CVS was, I think, the greatest disappointment.  THEY DIDN’T EVEN CUT THE IMAGE.  In addition, the paper is flimsy.  Oompa Loompas don’t even come in this particular shade of orange and the over sharpening is atrocious.  Final price = $2.45 and picked up same day.

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TARGET’s lustre looks more glossy than lustre, giving it a really unappealing quality for me.  It’s also desaturated, pixelated, and has a green cast.  Final price = $2.74 and delivered more than 7 days after ordering.  It took so long I didn’t even bother to write it down.

 

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NATIONS was not disappointing until I put it side by side with my professional lab.  At first glance out of the package, I thought it was dead on and I got a little worried that the comparison would be all for naught if you could receive the same quality.  However… Nations is the slightest bit desaturated and is missing fine details.  Final price = $4.65 and delivered 6 days after ordering.

 

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SHUTTERFLY.  Oh Shutterfly.  Fail.  The most blurry of the whole bunch, pixelated, and orange casts.  Final price = $3.08 and delivered 6 days after ordering.

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SNAPFISH did just as well as I expected.  SUPER oversaturated, orange, blurry, missing fine details, and honestly just gross.  Final price = $1.68 and delivered 4 days after ordering.

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WALGREENS is completely washed out, pink, pixelated, and second in line for blurriness.  Final price = $2.65 and delivered 6 days after ordering.

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WALMART literally looks exactly like Snapfish.  So much so that I wonder if they’re the same lab.  There are no discernible differences even after staring at them side by side for the umpteenth time.  Final price = $1.89 and delivered 6 days after ordering.

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All in all, like I said, so disappointing.  The professional print from my lab is exactly what it looks like on my screen and in the final digital negative.  Good.  It should.  The proofs that I use are very very close but still don’t hold a candle to what your final product will look like.  I hope this gives you some things to consider when choosing who to not print through.  All returning clients from 2015 will receive 20% off their print order through July 2016.  After that, current print pricing at time of ordering will apply.

 

 

 

 

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  • November 8, 2016 - 4:05 PM

    Janine - Wow, what a great experiment. Good for you. The results really give you pause, I hope that clients can see the massive difference in quality. Nobody should accept inferior quality.ReplyCancel

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