Many couples these days are opting for wedding packages that offer only the high resolution image files with royalty free reprint rights, and no prints or an album. This is a great option for those on a tight budget, but there are some catches you should be aware of.
As soon as you get the disc of your images, either on CD/DVD/USB Flash drive, you should immediately make copies. Discs and drives have both been known to fail. You want to have redundancy built in. The same way you wouldn’t want to have a photographer show up to your wedding with only one camera, you shouldn’t rely on only one copy of your images. Uploading them to sites like Picasa or Flickr is usually free and allows you to re-download the high resolution images in case something happens to the disc with your images. Putting them up on Facebook is not enough of a means to save your images. Facebook uses a compression technique to make uploading quicker. You would not be able to print out even a good quality 4″x6″ photo using the images you saved in “Facebook Albums.”
After you have properly saved multiple copies of your images you shouldn’t just keep them in digital format. You paid to have a photographer capture these memories that will last your lifetime together. Electronic media storage formats are constantly changing, hard drives can fail, and online companies storing your files can go out of business. Think about it, when was the last time you used a 5.25″ disk or watched a movie on a VCR. Technology changes over time, and it makes it much harder to get the stored information off old storage formats.
One of the best media readers with a tried and true, centuries old, history is right on your face, your eyes. Technology may change dramatically over the years, but we should still be able to see printed out photographs in the future. Unfortunately, all prints are not the same. Just as you use higher quality paper for important documents like resumes and invitations, rather than using regular xerox paper, you shouldn’t print out important photos you hope to keep in great condition for years to come on discount photo paper. Digital prints made at your local pharmacy, or by online services like snapfish.com, use paper which is not archival quality. Archival quality paper is made to stand the test of time, so that your images don’t fade or rip easily. When you first print out discount prints, they may look comparable to an archival quality print (the skin tones may not look as good in the discount print, and the details may not be as sharp). After just a few years though, particularly if that image is on display in a frame, the discount print will start to really show its true colors, or lack there of.
Sadly, I have had clients looking for restoration services because they have lost the disc their photographer provided them or it no longer works, and their discount prints have faded so badly that they have taken them down because “their faces look like they melted off”. Getting a good quality archival quality print in the first place is vastly cheaper than getting someone to do photo-restoration just a few years down the line.
So what should you do? Instead of taking your images to the pharmacy and printing out all of them on low grade photo paper, look at the images at home carefully, and select the ones you really like. Often archival quality paper only costs about double what discount paper does (depending on the size of the print). For the best results, you should go through your photographer directly if they offer prints. If that isn’t an option for you, the next thing you can use is an online service like Mpix.com. They use Kodak Professional Supra Endura VC Digital Paper paper which has a standard archival value of 100 years in home display and 200 years in dark storage. In the end, by printing out only the images you really like, you may end up saving yourself some money.
The best way to keep your images is in an album. This allows for “dark storage” in a nice package you will be proud to have on display. If you choose to have some of your images custom framed, spend the extra dollars to get the UV protective coating to decrease the risk of fading over time. You can either have your photographer or a designer make you an archival quality album, or you can make one yourself. If you are making one yourself, be sure to look for the words archival and acid-free in the album’s description. Albums with slip in mattes are also available to consumers, just be sure that the mattes are also acid free. If you can afford it though, you should get an heirloom quality album made, with images printed on archival quality paper and bound to thick matte board or plastic pages. Most wedding photographers offer this service. If you weren’t able to afford it when you first got married, possibly make it a 1 year anniversary gift to yourselves. The production costs of these fine albums and design time necessary are considerable, so you can expect prices ranging from $500-$2000 depending on the options you select. If the prices your photographer is charging you are well outside your budget, see if your contract permits you to have another designer create an archival quality album for you or ask if he or she offers smaller sizes like an 8″x8″ album.
You may notice that I didn’t mention photobooks above. Photobooks are currently a big trend in do it yourself photography. Their production costs are much lower than that of high quality custom designed wedding albums. Sites like snapfish.com and Blurb.com allow consumers to make professionally bound photobooks. Unfortunately, they are not printed on archival paper. They are more protected from the light than your traditional discount prints since they are in a book, but they often suffer more wear and tear from people flipping through them regularly. I believe that these make great presents for parents and friends, but they should not be a substitute for your wedding album. Even some professional wedding photographers are offering photobooks now as a discount option. I would suggest that if this is proposed to you, that you ask how much an upgrade would be to an archival quality album, it will often be a few hundred dollars more, but I promise you, it will be money well spent.