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the good, the bad & the downright ugly | tina vega photography

Ever since my favorite non-pro photo lab closed, I have been at a loss for another recommendation.  I’d been using scrapbookpictures.com for years and not only loved the competitive pricing, but their color had always been spot on.  I trusted them enough to send clients their way – in fact, it was the only non-pro lab I would recommend.

I had always heard stories from photographers about “other labs” and would once in a while see an image, card, or announcement a client had printed somewhere else and think, “that is not what that picture is supposed to look like!”  That’s when I started making the big push for “no auto color correct” thinking that would solve the problem.  But alas, I continued to see my images in a whole slew of unnatural colors.  It got me thinking that perhaps those photographers had been right all along.

Which lead to The Great Photo Experiment.

great photo experiment

I decided to take several of the same images and send them out for printing at five popular DIY places: Shutterfly, Snapfish, Costco, Target & Walgreens. I specifically wanted to see how the color compared to images printed by my professional photo lab while gaining practical experience and advice for clients interested in purchasing one of my digital collections (with the intention of making prints on their own).

Let me preface what I am about to share with this:

The result of the experiment is based on my images. It is not a universal result (I will explain why at the end of this post).

While the information contained here will be most beneficial to clients receiving discs of my images, I will be sharing a great deal of information that will hopefully help EVERYONE create better prints.

For the experiment, I chose a variety of images, different colors and styles (including black and white) to get a good feel for each place. The results varied GREATLY as you can see from the image below.

horrible close

I placed every order online and requested matte photos with NO AUTO COLOR CORRECT. No speedy uploaders and no quick processing – I wanted to give each place a real chance. Here’s what I discovered, with my least favorite listed first:

1. Snapfish. I had trouble locating a “NO AUTO COLOR CORRECT” option on this site which probably explains the fact the images were WAAAAY overly saturated (second one down in the image above). Very unnatural colors, especially skin tones. Clear orange cast on every image across the board.
2. Walgreens. These images were also visibly tinted orange, expecially noticeable in skin tones and in subjects wearing white.
3. Costco. These images were very dull in color and almost even appeared unfocused. They stood out like a sore thumb next to the overly saturated images above (third one down in the image above).
4. Shutterfly.  There was a yellow tint to the images, making skin tones appear slightly jaundiced.
5. Target Kodak Gallery. Overall, these images were closest in color to the professionally printed images. A few appeared to be slightly overexposed, a very minor concern for me.  Here’s an example of how the smaller Target Kodak Gallery print compared to the larger professional print.  [UPDATE AS OF 8/20/2012:  Target Kodak Gallery has closed!!!  I do not recommend the in-store glossy prints as an option.  I’ll look into a second recommendation and post ASAP!]

hailey

Keep in mind, this was a one-time experiment. I am clueless as to whether or not quality is consistently offered (or not offered) at any of these DIY places. Which is precisely why I am partial to using a professional photo lab over a DIY place.   And the fact that the prints from my pro lab look EXACTLY like the images I spent hours fussing over in my editing program. Granted they cost a bit more, but I have never been disappointed with an order.

Here are some basic tips to help make the most out of your own images:

1. NEVER, EVER use the “quick upload” tool offered on a DIY print ordering website. Your images will be compressed (to make the upload time go faster) and image quality will be diminished.
2. Be sure to always choose “NO AUTO COLOR CORRECT” if images have been edited.  Sometimes you need to really hunt to find this option.  Be warned, this is not foolproof.  My son ended up with a neon orange shirt in a batch of Christmas cards from a high-end DIY place and when I made a complaint, I was told that was simply how their printers were adjusted (apparently to make neon colors).
3. Calibrate your monitor. This is a MUST if you edit your own pictures otherwise you might be tweeking pictures based on a monitor that is out of whack and who knows what your prints will end up looking like! (Click HERE to learn more.)
4. Do not use 1-hour photo services. Plan ahead for the best-looking prints.
5. Run your own photo experiment to find the best match for your images. While I can tell you what is best for my images, factors that will affect the quality of your images include: monitor calibration, your camera, and whether or not you edit the images.

I know it is a pain. And a lot of work. That’s why I spend a great deal of time weeding through crud to find the best products and services to offer my clients.  Because I want you to LOOOOOVE your pictures as much as I do!

Kelli - February 9, 2012 - 10:28 am

Thanks for the very interesting post Tina! I was surprised at your findings. Based on your reccomendation, I am going to conduct my own experiment as well. Just curious, who is your pro lab?

I’ve always used Shutterfly, Costco, or Nations Photo Lab for my prints. In a pinch I once had images printed at the DIY kiosk at Walmart and Shopko, HORRIBLE decision. The pictures were awful.

Also, there wasn’t a link to find out more info on calibrating your monitor when I tried clicking on it. I’m very interested to learn more! 🙂

Tina - February 9, 2012 - 1:50 pm

I totally forgot to post the link… oops! Thanks for letting me know, Kelli 🙂

Tina - February 9, 2012 - 5:18 pm

Too, in response to your question about my pro lab… I’ve decided to keep my list of vendors under wraps for a number of reasons [to remain competitive in a tight market, to create a “unique” face for my business & because of the time/money involved in finding them]. I hope you understand.

I am anxious to hear about your results as well!

Cary - February 9, 2012 - 10:50 pm

Great read Tina. I have another tip: don’t print them out at all…they always look great on the screen! Hehe. But seriously, I will have to shop around (read reviews) before ever having my very beginner-level photos printed.

Tina Jean Berg - February 10, 2012 - 12:03 am

Tina … Thanks for all the great information. It was well worth the read. Its the first of your blog entries that I have read, I will be coming back. Very interesting results.

Tina - February 10, 2012 - 1:26 am

Thanks for stopping by, Tina 🙂

Tina - February 10, 2012 - 1:27 am

Thanks for the tip, Cary 😉 I hope you’re printing up at least some of the pics of your sweet little girls!!!

Kelli - February 11, 2012 - 1:02 pm

Totally understand! 🙂 I have a few trade secrets for my biz that I keep under wraps too. HA!

Tina - August 20, 2012 - 6:33 pm

One viable alternative might be MPIX (http://www.mpix.com/) – I’m quite sure you don’t need to be a pro to use their services. Just be sure to select “no auto color correct” so it’s not applied over the colorizing I’ve already done & you should be fine. The lustre finish is a mix between glossy & matte which is the BEST of both worlds. 🙂

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navigating your way around this site | tina vega photography

In case you have only been viewing this site via a mobile device and perhaps missed some of the details not featured in that format, I thought I would share them in a blog post.  So you could have a visual.  First off, there are a ton of options for finding information.  In addition to several buttons at the top of the screen (Home, Portfolio, Links, Subscribe, Contact), there are many helpful links at the bottom as well.

search by category

Such as the ability to search by category.

monthly archives

Or sift through older posts.

monthly archives

You also have the option of searching for specific information with this button.

general search button

You will also find links to my five most recent blog posts and to my camera and other equipment that I use.

5 most recent posts

my main equipment

The icons featured at the top of this [bottom] section will take you to some of my favorite places to visit on the web.

other fun places to visit

Midway down, you will find links to help you find me Facebook and Pinterest. (You will also find a “slide-out tab” on the upper left side of the page with a tab marked “MORE INFO” – that’s how to find me on Twitter.)

social networking sites

You will find general information about photography sessions and pricing here.

other links mid page

You can even click on the link pictured below to subscribe to my blog feed, so you don’t miss out on any fun promotions or other news.

subscribe to receive updates

And if you are new to this blog and want to learn a little more about me and what I share here, click on the link pictured below.

first time visitor

Lastly, I am very excited about this latest feature…

printing recipe

Whenever I post recipes now, you can simply click on the “Print” button to get a properly formatted recipe to slide into your E-Mealz binder. How’s that for slick?

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love is in the air

recipe

In the form of yummy treats and Valentine’s Day decorations.

valentine

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, here are some gift ideas for your honey:

1. This sweet pair of mugs from Barnes & Noble:

love mugs

2. Valentine’s Day Barbie.

valentine

Did you even know there was such a thing?

3.  How about this heart-shaped tea cup and saucer set?

tea cups

4.  This Rhinestone Heart Journal caught my eye as well.

rhinestone journal

5.  This book entitled, “10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage.”

great dates book

Looking back through the list, I guess it’s really more what your honey could get you because pretty much only women read this blog.  And I’m quite sure your man will not want a Valentine’s Day Barbie.  In that case, you could make cookies.

COOOOOKIES

Jam Rings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • JAM FILLING (ingredients & recipe below)

Instructions

  1. Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until combined. Halve the dough, shape into balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and roll out between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Cut out cookies with 2-1/4-inch cutter and place half of them on baking sheet, spaced well apart. Using a 1-1/2-inch round cutter, cut out the centers of the remaining cookies and remove, then place the cookie rings on the other baking sheet, spaced well apart.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 7 minutes, then brush the cookie rings with beaten egg white and sprinkle with superfine sugar. Bake for an additional 5-8 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. To make the jam filling, place 4 Tbsp. of softened butter and 1 cup confectioners' sugar in a large bowl and beat together until smooth. Spread the filling over the whole cookies and top with a small amount of warmed jam (you'll need about 5 Tbsp. of seedless raspberry jam to have enough for every cookie). Place the cookie rings on top and press gently together.
http://tinavegaphotography.com/blog/2012/02/love-is-in-the-air/

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sometimes getting things in order can look a little… disorderly

bin

I finally tackled the Christmas stuff yesterday. (Yes, our tree was still up!) I took my time sorting and organizing as I packed things up.

wizard of oz

And it made me wonder what life will look like next time I pull this stuff out.

tree skirt from grandma

Will grandma still be here? Will our son be driving? Will life be calm or crazy?

Then it struck me.

big mess

Sometimes when God has His hand in our lives – cleaning things up, perfecting His will, making me more like Him – it can look a little… messy. It doesn’t mean He’s not there, it doesn’t mean He’s not listening. The mess can actually be a sign He is busy working out the kinks. And before you know it…

no mess

Everything is cleaned up.

selfie

And you are left with a new appreciation and awareness of things usually taken for granted.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.
– Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Crystal Satnik - January 31, 2012 - 10:12 pm

Thanks for this post Tina. I feel like my life is kind of messy right now…trying to play a lot of roles every day. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though.

PS. We still have random Christmas decor around the house that didn’t make it into the storage area. 🙂 It will get there, eventually.

Annette Nagel - January 31, 2012 - 10:42 pm

Tina,
Thanks!! I really needed to be reminded of that particular bible verse in my life presently. Hope all is well with you.
Annette

Alice - February 1, 2012 - 8:23 am

Your new site is beautiful. You are so talented my dear Tina!

Tina - February 1, 2012 - 1:50 pm

Happy Belated Birthday, Annette!!!

Tina - February 1, 2012 - 1:50 pm

Thank you Alice!

Tina - February 1, 2012 - 1:56 pm

Life is CRAZY messy with a baby, Crystal, and it is a beautiful thing!!! (Or as blogger/designer Elsie Larson calls… a beautiful mess.)

Rene' - February 1, 2012 - 8:52 pm

Thanks for your words of wisdom my friend. Beautiful new website!

Tina - February 1, 2012 - 11:26 pm

Thank you, Rene’!

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