Professional vs Drugstore

February 25, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

I'm off my usual Monday blog post today.  I have started going to classes to get my butt into shape and had a class this Monday.  By the time I was finished dying, the day was over.  Haha! 

I wanted to break quick from blogging about sessions and talk about prints.  

I have had people complain in the past about prints made from digital downloads that just aren't coming out great.  When I ask where they're printing, it's always CVS or Walgreens or Walmart.  

Every lab is set up and calibrated completely different.  Some are set up to auto correct color, with no option otherwise, on images that have already been color corrected.  Obviously, I cannot set my computer up to color correct and calibrate to EVERY print lab out there.  So I focus on my print lab.  Where my professional prints go.  I know that what I see on my computer screen will be exactly what I see on my prints.  When I first signed up with this company, I was allowed a few free prints to make sure what I was seeing is what was printing.  If not, at least I would be able to adjust accordingly.  

Not just every print lab, but every computer is different!  I, in the past, have been in a quick bind with my own computer, so I have borrowed my daughter's.  I edited an image on there for a sneak peek.  When I got back to my own computer, the colors were MUCH duller than I thought they actually were.  If I edit an image on my computer, and post it as a sneak peek, that image will look MUCH different on my cell phone.  And not usually in a good way.  But I know the color quality is there because my laptop is what my true colors are on.  

So I did a quick experiment this week.  First, I tried uploading a couple of images to Walmart.  I couldn't even do it.  The size of my images (what I give you are ALWAYS extremely high res files) kept crashing the site.  So how you guys are even loading them to Walmart, I'll never know.  

So I tried CVS and Walgreens.  I have had numerous complaints about CVS in the past and I was actually surprised by the quality there.  I have to say several things could've factored into my better prints.  

1. It's a brand new CVS that just opened up within the last year.  Therefore, probably a better quality printer.  Or at least one that's not already run into the ground.
2. None of these quick pharmacy labs are set up for consistency.  What could be fine this week is terrible next.  

I will admit, not ALL of my own personal prints go through my professional lab.  Sometimes my husband will comment he wants some updated pictures for his locker.  I'll print through Walgreens which is right down the street and convenient.  Sometimes my daughter will need a quick picture for a school project, and over to Walgreens we go.  But their images that are going to hang on our walls, that are visible to guests, that will be passed down to THEIR children some day, those 100% go through my lab.  

The CVS prints I noticed, the colors were much more vibrant.  Which sounds like a good thing, but I'm already someone that likes images that are vibrant and true to color.  So these made them almost too much.  

So CVS is on the left, if you compare, you can see how vibrant the reds are.  And this is definitely not the sharpest picture, as I took it quick as an example, but the area around her face is a little pixelated and not sharp as well.  

This is a second set of pictures.  CVS, again on the left, you can see the difference in the almost electric greens in this image.  If electric green is not your thing, this print isn't going to be either.  LOL. 

When I picked up my CVS prints originally, I thought this wasn't going to be too bad.  I was shocked when I got home to see the vast difference in the greens. 

Now Walgreens, on the right, not only printed much much lighter than the other two labs, but this particular print also gave her skin a very yellow-y hue.  There was a slight yellow cast to her right arm that I brushed off in post processing for the original print, but it was almost like Walgreens didn't care about that.  It does not show as vibrant yellow here as it did in the print, again, because of my quick snap.  Her face was sharper in this print than the CVS version, but her skin, already a pale color, was ghostly white where it wasn't yellow.  

The same in this set of prints.  You can see how drastically lighter the right side is to the left.    

These pictures were almost perfect right out of my camera, which I think attests to how closely these three prints actually are.  That does not always happen.  Sometimes I forget to adjust a setting when shooting, only to realize when I get home and look through how underexposed it is.  I am working on getting better about checking these things ON LOCATION.  Thankfully, I can usually save these things in post processing.  When I do this however, this drastically affects the prints at local pharmacy labs, but does not effect my professional lab prints.  

Sometimes I will sharpen an image slightly in post processing.  I notice this almost always effects a pharmacy print as well.  Is there anything WRONG with the image?  No.  These are things many, many photographers do post processing.  Pharmacy labs are not properly equipped to print these types of files though.  They're great for quick prints.  And if you're going to run and make a quick 4x6 for grandma, go ahead!  I'm guilty of it too, at times.  

However, please please please print your larger images at a high quality lab, if not through me.  I cannot guarantee print quality that is not printed directly through me.  I notice the larger the print size at the pharmacies, the worse the quality.  They get so pixelated and the colors are so far off.  If you would like some recommendations of places that are better quality than CVS, Walgreens or Walmart, I am happy to provide some online places to you.  Mpix is a great one.  I had very little issues ever with Mpix when I was printing all my professional images through them.  They also have great pricing and quick turn around times.  Nations Photo Lab is another one I went through a few times and was always very pleased with the quality.  

I take the time to correct and edit each image individually.  Depending on how close I got it in camera, or what effect I'm looking for, this can be anywhere from 4 or 5 minutes up to 2-3 hours.  Yes.  Per image.   

You've spent the time and money to have your images professionally taken, so make sure you preserve those images for future generations and print with them! It may seem like a little thing, but it can end up being a big thing in the end. 


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