Turning our favorite photographs into stunning prints

by IR Staff

posted Friday, March 10, 2023 at 11:00 AM EDT

As photographers, no matter the specific discipline you may choose, we capture hundreds, thousands, of photographs year after year. And if you shoot digitally, what do you normally do with all of your photos? They probably end up on hard drives, or in Lightroom catalogs, maybe posted to your Instagram or website portfolio, and there sit. Digitally. I'm also confident that among your best photos, you have some particularly meaningful and special photographs that stand out to you in some way. Photos that you are proud of making, or that mean something to you.

You should do something to better enjoy and appreciate these special photos, and one of the best to do this is by printing them. Whether it's a small, framed print on your shelf or a large statement piece on the wall of your living room, a physical print of your favorite images is not only a great way to liven up your living space but also an excellent way to appreciate your craft, your creativity, or relive special moments from your life. 

And that's exactly what we here at IR just did. We browsed through our photo libraries and found some of our favorite photos and got them printed!

Preserving the memory of one of my favorite travel moments with a print

William Brawley, Imaging Resource Managing Editor

Besides my personal photography, which is pretty much just a hobby these days, the majority of my photography work is done in connection with my what I do here at IR. Most of my photography is done as part of a review, whether it's a camera or a lens, and as such, I have amassed a huge collection of images. Images are published in that product's Gallery, and then that's pretty much it. The image files are stored in a folder on a couple of hard drives and a server and away they sit. It's sad, but I rarely look back at these kinds of images that I've taken -- and having them live on a hard drive somewhere isn't an ideal way to enjoy them, either.

Over the years, I've shot thousands upon thousands of photos as part of all the camera and lens reviews I've worked on. Of course, not every image I've shot is what I would personally consider great or "print-worthy." That being said, I've taken a handful of memorable photos as part of a review that I'm proud of and enjoy looking at. I have actually had prints made of a couple of photos I shot while on a press trip for Canon years ago (though they weren't used as part of a review). Still, a good photo is a good photo, and if you like and want to print it, you should go for it!

I'm in the process of organizing all of my digital photo archives (they are a mess right now!). I was once again thinking about some of my favorite photos, and how I can better enjoy and appreciate these photos. Having them live in a folder on a hard drive, or on an Instagram post, just isn't the best way.

However, it's so difficult to pick just one favorite photo. That said, there was one particular image, shown below, that I've always wanted to see printed. It is a photo that I used in a review, and from a fairly unique camera -- at least for IR: the Google Pixel 2 smartphone.

A calm morning scene at a ryokan in Akita, Japan - shot with a Google Pixel 2

We don't usually review smartphone cameras here at IR, but I've done so occasionally, and usually only if I get one of the new iPhones around the launch period. The few times I've reviewed a new iPhone camera, they were simply my personal phones that I purchased for myself. But in this particular case, I was fortunate to have Google send me a Pixel 2 to review. Having the Pixel 2 with me also coincided with one of my visits to Japan for the CP+ tradeshow, followed by a tour of Nikon's Hikari Glass Factory in Akita, Japan.

Now, of course, I brought along several cameras for this trip -- between myself and Dave Etchells, we had cameras from all the major brands, especially a couple of Nikon cameras for the factory tour. However, I was still snapping away with the Pixel 2 when I got the chance. The journey up to Akita was an overnight trip, and Nikon put us up in a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, for the night.


Having never stayed in a Japanese inn before, I was excited about the entire experience. The ryokan building itself was fairly simple on the exterior, but the location was beautiful. There were snow-covered trees and mountains all around (this was still February after all), and the building overlooked a river down below. My room, too, was amazing. I was quite surprised by how large the room seemed, but it was very much like what I'd seen in photos before. It was simple and clean, with tatami mats covering the floor throughout, along with a low table and some floor-level seating in the center of the main room. There was also another small seating area beside a large window with the classic, translucent "shoji" paper (or paper-like) lattice window shades. It was evening when we arrived, so I couldn't fully appreciate the room's ambiance just yet...

The sitting area next to the window in my ryokan room.

But the next morning, on the other hand... it was so peaceful. I remember how calm and quiet everything was when I awoke the following day. I just took a few moments to enjoy the stillness and enjoy the relaxing morning.

The other shot, a horizontal composition of the window view.

Sliding back the shoji paper window shades revealed this massive pile of snow and snow-tipped trees around the grounds of the ryokan. The soft light from the overcast sky brightened up the room. I stepped back for a bit and quickly noticed this quaint, calming scene in front of me, with the large window framing this pretty, wintery scene outside, paper window blinds on either side, and a minimal table with a decorative bowl right in the center. No clutter, no busyness. A nice visual representation of this relaxing morning moment.


Well, guess what camera I used to snap these photos? The Google Pixel 2. I'd also been using the phone for cellular service in Japan, and it was one of those situations where it was the camera I had on me and available at the time. Plus, I wanted to see just how well the camera performed here; this indoor scene with a pretty dramatic difference in dynamic range. I framed it up as precisely and as symmetrically as I could, but the final image here has been tweaked a bit with Photoshop for framing and geometric adjustments, as well as a bit of warmth added to the white balance. But otherwise, there was little additional editing done.

I've always loved this photograph and was also impressed by the quality of the Pixel 2 camera. While I still prefer taking pictures with standalone cameras -- both from a physical experience standpoint and the better image quality -- I've always been interested in seeing just how much you can get out of these super tiny cameras. And for this particular shot, I was always curious to see what it would look like printed, and how large of a print I could make.

Traveling is one of my favorite things, so I really should print more photos from the various trips and travels I've been on over the years. So that's what I did. Not only as a little personal experiment but also as a way to have a lovely, high-quality printed photograph to remember this pleasant moment I experienced in Japan years ago.

I turned to Saal Digital once again to look at my options for some nice wall-mountable photo prints, and in the end, I opted for one of their Wall Decor products: the Photo Print in a Changeable Frame. I wanted to get as large of a print as possible. I also didn't have any empty frames or other mounting materials on hand to do this on my own, so I let Saal Digital handle "the heavy lifting" in that area, too.

I started by selecting their largest (non-square) Changeable Frame format, a 23.6 x 15.7 inch framed print. Next, I chose their matte photo paper (Fujifilm Crystal Archive DP II), the most affordable option. However, there are several other higher-quality paper options for an additional fee. Then you have options for frame color and two frame thickness choices. I chose a simple, classic black ("anthracite") frame color and the thinner 14mm frame thickness, making the frame sit flatter against the wall.

When I first uploaded the full-res image file into the online design tool, it put the image into the frame without any matte or border within the picture frame. And while that seemingly looked really nice, the image quality alert in the designer tool only gave me a "Good" rating for this approximately 12MP Pixel 2 image (the final image had a little cropping, so it was slightly less than 12MP). I, therefore, adjusted the design layout to add a matte border within the frame and reduced the size of the photo print a bit, and the image quality rating increased to "Very Good." The resulting printed photo inside the matte border measured approximately 12.75 x 16.75 inches.

It's always difficult to show the quality and detail of a printed photo through a digital photo, and especially one already behind glass. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the detail and quality of this print, and the print looks great both up close and from a farther, comfortable viewing distance.

The end result is a very nice print, mounted in a high-quality frame. I'm impressed by the quality of the print. There's excellent detail, and the colors and tonality appear accurate to what I see on my screen. And nothing about this image stands out to me as it being a "smartphone photo." For lack of a better phrase, it looks like a "normal photo." Looking at this print, you couldn't tell this photo was taken with a smartphone. The quality is plenty good for a nicely-sized print.

In the end, I'm very happy with the result. I was able to preserve this happy moment from Japan, one of my favorite photos, into a beautiful physical print that I can hang on my wall and enjoy.

• • •

Printing a pair of my favorite photos

Jeremy Gray, Imaging Resource Reviews Editor

The best part about printing is seeing your favorite photographs come to life. In the age of digital photography, printing is the only way to bring your digital files into physical, tangible existence. Many photographers exclusively see their photos on screens. That misses out on an important part of the photographic process. Most critically, it also misses out on an extremely fun part.

Indulge me for a moment and consider the days of film photography. You couldn't look at your photos on the back of the camera. You needed to print them. Whether a stack of 4x6 photos from a one-hour photo place or careful printing with an enlarger in an at-home darkroom, a photographer's first interaction with their photograph was physical. It existed. You could touch it.

Photo prints are a great way to add a splash of color to your living space while also bringing your images from the digital realm into the real world

So much of digital photography, at least beyond the initial click of the shutter, is relatively detached. The moment you carefully photographed, and all that work, is instantaneously transformed into 1s and 0s, often never to be physically realized.

Digital cameras are undoubtedly incredible photographic tools, and there's nothing inherently wrong with only interacting with your images in a digital space. However, that doesn't mean that there's not something to be gained by printing your work. On the contrary, there's much to be gained.

Printing brings your precious photographic memories to life

I want to focus on one of my all-time favorite photographs. It's one of my favorite images, not just because I'm proud of the final image but because it encapsulates much of what I enjoy about photography.

It's one of my favorite images because it combines my love of nature, my attachment to my native state of Maine, and my passion for carefully planning landscape images and seeing that planning and work realized in a single image. It's also an image I fondly remember capturing, even though it was quite a few years ago.


Even years removed from the night, I distinctly remember it. I recall it being a crisp June evening – the Maine coast is rarely warm, especially at night. I remember bringing a rope and tying my tripod off to a tree because I was set up on the very edge of a precipitous cliff. I had hand warmers in my pockets, a blanket to sit on, and a headlamp to help frame the scene.

It's funny now to think back to me deciding it was a good idea to tie my camera gear off to a tree but not have any safety apparatus for myself in the unlikely, but surely catastrophic, event something went wrong. In the darkness, only possible after midnight on a moonless night, things can go very wrong very fast. I was shooting with my dad, and I'm guessing he was more concerned about the location I chose to set up than I was. I was singularly focused on the shot, which is a bit scarier to me now than it was then.

Here's a photo I found stashed away on an old iPhone that shows my MacGyver-esque setup

The photo itself was months in the making. I planned the specific image around the lunar cycle and the location of the Milky Way core at specific times. I scouted the location during the day and night on numerous occasions despite it being a three-hour round trip. After careful planning, test shots, and visualization, I still required luck with the weather conditions. There were a couple of nights I had circled on the calendar as good candidates, and fortunately, one of them was clear, at least for a few hours.

As far as my nightscape images go, this one was particularly intensive in the field, too. I captured very long exposure at low ISO of the foreground and middle ground, knowing that I would later stack them on my computer to create a photo with a depth of field not possible with a single image at F2.8. I then captured many short, high-ISO exposures of the beautiful night sky, which I later stacked into a lower-noise final composite sky image. I combined all these shots to create the final image.

Here's one of the many original raw files I used to create the final night sky composite. Yes, it's too dark. I shot it at ISO 6400 but could've pushed it to ISO 12,800 given that I ultimately stacked many images, thereby reducing the visible noise in the sky.

The details of the process are a bit boring and not especially relevant to printing, but you can read a bit about stacking night sky images here.

What's certainly relevant to printing is that when I see this image brought to life in a large, vibrant print, all the memories from that night come flooding back. Is it a perfect photo? Absolutely not. There are things I'd do differently if given the chance. That's always going to be the case.

Another behind-the-scenes shot shows that I clearly valued the final image more than my camera equipment. Before setting up the rope seen above, I thought that wrapping my monopod strap around the tripod head and jamming the monopod leg underneath a tree root was sufficient...I'm glad I had rope. 

Of course, while many night skies can look similar to one another, they are each wholly unique. The sky will never again look precisely like it did then. The fleeting nature of moments is part of what makes capturing them so special. Nonetheless, whenever I look at this photo, I feel happy. I remember a great experience in the field, taking night sky photos with my dad.

Frankly, I think it's impossible to experience that flood of memories and emotions when looking at a photo on a computer. This may sound reductive, but it's just not the same.

This print from Saal Digital makes my night sky shot pop.

Turning my attention toward the specific print I ordered from Saal Digital, I went with a 15.7 x 23.6-inch HD metal print on aluminum. I selected this product because Saal's metal prints are vibrant, which helps highlight the stark contrast between the Milky Way and the night sky. The stars pop off metal.

Metal prints also have enough dynamic range to preserve the details in the shadowy foreground. Night sky images are notoriously difficult to print, so I followed a good workflow on a calibrated monitor to ensure that the final results looked like I expected.

Prints add a splash of color to your living space

Another great reason to print your photos is that they add visual flair to your living space. Not only does looking at your prints make you feel good, but they also add interest to walls and shelves.

This image is yet another night sky photo, albeit a very different, much brighter, and more colorful one. While the Milky Way print above is subdued, this star trail photo is more vibrant.

I think it's important to consider how you want an image displayed when selecting the print medium. For this image, I wanted something relatively small and immediately ready to hang. I also wanted a print that would be easy to swap out during different seasons. Saal Digital's photo in a changeable frame achieves just that with a design that lets you swap out the print as often as you'd like. It's a practical way to print your favorite photos, ensuring that you don't need to buy new frames constantly but can instead change out the print.

I opted for an 11.8 x 17.7-inch print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper inside a 38mm-thick silver aluminum frame. It's a timeless frame that works well with practically any image. I chose Hahnemühle's Photo Rag paper because it's versatile with a wide dynamic range and good color saturation.

The Saal Digital photo in a changeable frame comes with a frame that's easy to disassemble, allowing customers to quickly swap out prints later. I went for a silver frame, which I think goes nicely with this colorful night sky photo. I often go with black frames -- and that is an option for this Saal Digital product -- but I figured I'd mix things up a bit this time.

I like this image because, like my other night sky photo, it required a lot of effort, and I enjoyed capturing it. The photo was taken at Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park, and the star trails show the sky in a vibrant, mesmerizing way.

I arrived on location in the late afternoon to scout the area for an interesting foreground, settling on this scene with a snow-covered rock and a bit of exposed ice. I captured my foreground images shortly after sunset, with a relatively bright moon throwing a bit of light across the scene.

I then captured image after image using a remote cable release for hours. I combined the images into a single night sky shot with long star trails. Being out during a clear winter night was wonderful. It was a very calm night, so it was comfortable to stay outside and enjoy the night sky while my camera worked. 

Here's the prepared digital file I used to order the print.

It was only my second star trails image ever, so I honestly wasn't sure how it would turn out when I got home and began editing and stacking the photos.

It's always special when an image that took literally hours to capture turns out well. Having invested about three hours of driving, a couple hours of scouting, and more than eight hours of shooting, a bad result would've been disappointing, to say the least. Having previously botched a star trail shot, and during a beautiful auroral display, no less, describing myself as a bit nervous while Photoshop did its thing would be an understatement.

That said, while I love the photo, I don't necessarily want to see a stark reminder of winter all year, so that's why an easy-to-disassemble frame is often a smart, practical choice.

You should print your favorite photos

Ultimately, it doesn't matter why your favorite photos are special to you. It only matters that they are special. Whether you have a warm memory, an interesting story, or simply like how a photo looks, you should print it. You should turn all that digital data, those seemingly invisible bits of code, into something physical you can hold, touch, enjoy, and share with others.

I've printed hundreds of images in all sizes and across all types of paper over the years. Some of them are in large, beautiful frames. Others are on expertly crafted canvas. I've printed many myself at home and ordered others through local and online printing services.

No matter how they're printed or displayed, seeing one of my favorite shots come to life never gets old. Prints are the gift that keeps on giving, and they ensure that your favorite photos do more than sit on a hard drive or are viewed only as small rectangles on a computer. Your photos deserve more than that, and so do you.

For more information about Saal Digital's print product, please visit their website.

This is a sponsored article paid for by Saal Digital.