Digitalisation changed the photography landscape forever. Not only has it make photography more accessible to the masses, it also made printing photos a thing of the past.
Aaron Lai can be considered an anomaly. While most might only print out pictures for commercial reasons, he enjoys the process of selecting and printing out his photography as a hobby. We speak to him to find out why.
Aaron shoots big, and prints big, shown here with the Canon EF200mm f/2L IS USM lens.
Not many people print out their photos these days! Why makes you stick with this practice?
To answer this question, I need to set some context first. I take hundreds of pictures each week. These pictures serve as “time capsules” which I capture for posterity, to remind me of that particular moment.
At the end of each day, these pictures would be dutifully imported onto my computer, and then sorted into various folders. As you can imagine, I have tons of folders with many thousands of pictures. Once sorted, they can remain buried for years to come.
Canon EOS 1D-X Mark II | f/3.5 | 1/160s | ISO 320
I love capturing moments that hold special meaning to me – be it my wife’s special smile, or the moment I give my daughters a present and witness the sparkle in their eyes. I wish to always remember these, which is why I print those moments into pictures. In this way, I always keep these special memories in view. It makes me happy when I look at them and get transported back to that moment.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/4 | 1/160s | ISO 1250
Do you pick out pictures to print after every photoshoot?
Most definitely. I think photographers like to present their best work, and I am no different. All the more so if the final consumer of the picture is me! So typically, I would select maybe 10-15% of pictures for editing. Once done, this small pool is further whittled down by 90% to find the absolute best for sharing, uploading or printing. It would be this second-order pool that I select which pictures to print.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/5 | 1/350s | ISO 800
How do you select what kind of photos to print?
Well, this is hard to say. But one thing is for certain – the picture must be visually impactful. Colours, composition, framing, photo genre, are all secondary to the fact that the print must be visually stimulating to me. I need to feel my emotions stir as I look at the image. It’s got to stop me for a brief moment, make me recollect that moment, and then give me positive feelings.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/4 | 1/250s | ISO 640
How important is the choice of paper size?
Personally, I want the prints to be impactful enough to stop me in my tracks. So more often than not, I like my prints to be large, up to A4 size. This may take a toll on the toner and my wallet, but it’s all worth it when you hold that glossy A4 sized print, and the colours pop out at you. That feeling is indescribable and quite satisfying. I highly recommend it.
Canon EOS 1D-X Mark II | f/5.6 | 1/250s | ISO 1600
What do you use to print?
I currently use the Canon PIXMA TS9170. It’s like a Swiss army knife of an appliance to me, and I like it very much. In addition to printing, it’s also a scanner and a photocopier. The printouts are top-notch, and the colours are fantastic. It’s 6-Ink Colour System is what makes the colours so vivid.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/4 | 1/160s | ISO 1250
Canon EOS 1D-X Mark II | f/2.8 | 1/400s | ISO 400
Why do you choose to do the printing yourself, instead of sending it to an external printer?
Convenience, convenience, convenience. It’s all about the convenience.
I have assessed that my PIXMA printer provides prints that are equal to the prints I have received from an external printer. Therefore, I see no need to make that trip down. Time is very precious, especially when you have five young children demanding your attention at all times.
Canon EOS 1D-X Mark II | f/2 | 1/100s | ISO 250
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/2.8 | 1/400s | ISO 200
Did you start shooting differently as a result of printing?
When I first started printing my pictures, I saw that some of my favourite shots were disappointingly out-of-focus. When you print your pictures, imperfections jump out and confront you. It’s hard to see these imperfections on the digital screens.
This has thus forced me to sharpen and tighten up my technique. Am I gripping my camera properly? Are my elbows tucked in before I press the shutter? Am I in the proper standing stance for maximum stability? Thus, an unexpected benefit from printing out my pictures is that it has forced me to improve as a photographer by honing my technique. It was humbling at first, but now, I think I am all the better for it.
What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of printing your own pictures?
We live in a fast-paced world and society. Things are consumed and then discarded. We upgrade our smartphones regularly. We buy new clothes and shoes at a drop of a hat, discarding the old very readily.
Sadly, I sometimes feel that this buy-and-throwaway mindset has seeped into how we treat our memories. We snap and capture the moment, but then instead of contemplating and relishing the memory, we quickly move on to the next experience.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/4 | 1/250s | ISO 500
Printing my favourite memories allow me to combat this. With the memory brought into real-life in a hard copy picture, I am better able to remember these precious moments for many years to come. And I think that can only enrich my life, and make things better.
You’ll only see the digital version on Aaron’s social media, but you’ll get a sense of why that sentimentality converts well into print at @__mr_black___.