Photo credit: Leonski (cc-by-nd)
If you're like most digital photographers, you probably don't print photos very often. It's become pretty common to go on vacations or day trips with friends and family and then exchange CDs full of photos or Flickr URLs or just send photos around as email attachments. I know lots of people still print photos, but let's face it: lots of people don't.
And, mostly, it's a good thing. Back when folks had to print photos just to see them---and it was never free, not even to shoot them in the first place---they took a lot less photos. Granted, there's a lot more crap we're all subjected to. I heard a story recently from someone about how they'd casually send in photos to their kid's school throughout the year. Photos of field trips and stuff. And how the people receiving those hundreds of photos used every single one for a slideshow that lasted an hour. Kill me now, right?
But there's a lot more good stuff, too. Photography is partly a numbers game. The more you shoot, the more likely you are to get something worth keeping and worth showing.
The thing is, a printed photo is a completely different animal to one viewed on a computer monitor. Even the most mundane photos take on an almost magical aura when you can actually reach out and touch them. They reflect light, you can see and feel the texture of the paper, details you didn't notice before appear from nowhere. A printed photo is somehow grander.
In my experience, the minimum threshold for getting that feeling of magic from a print is 11x14 inches. But the bigger the better. A 16x20 or 20x24 print, especially if you go to the trouble (and expense) of matting and framing, can make a good digital photo downright amazing. This is especially true for exhibitions or competitions. Size matters.
So here's a challenge for you if you haven't printed anything recently: go shoot something and hang it on a wall in your home. Print it at 11x14 or larger. You can get an 11x14 print online for less than $5 and 16x20s for under $20. It's worth it. Get a simple black frame and a pre-cut white mat (around $30) for it. Hang it. Stand back and admire your work. You'll be impressed and so will everyone who sees it.