Have you ever printed a photo and looked at it and thought what is this? The color is just wrong. I like it far better on my computer screen? Maybe a photo you edited or possibly one of your wedding photos? I've had a few questions about prints and colors and I thought I would try to shed some light on the subject.
There are literally so many options for printing an image these days that it hard to sort through everything, but where you print matters. Generally speaking a photo lab is going to create far better prints than a photo department in a chain. Could (insert local pharmacy chain) create a good print? Of course! But what if it doesn't! Why?!? Generally speaking all printers have programs that enhance a photo after you send it in, but this can have very bad results with certain certain lighting and color situations. A good lab will know not to apply this.
I sent off a random selection of photos to one of my preferred printers and to a chain store (I would like to note here that local printers are amazing when they specialize in prints and almost every town has a good one, and for that matter sometimes a talented individual will work at a chain and change things up at that specific location. But for the most part their work flow is just automated.) I sent photos that I knew would be challenging. All of these photos were taken of the prints side by side in the same frame under the same light.
I sent the pics with no special instructions. Lets take a look (Print shop on left/top & Chain store on right/bottom):
In the end this is all preference, but I like the one on the left. It looks how it looks on my screen. The one on the right is too dark and over-saturated with color. I'd like to note here that none of my photos are perfect nor do I pretend that they are, but I'm doing my best to learn and improve all the time.
You can see here that the chain store turned the water purple, darkened the midtones, and took the color out of the people.
There was this really warm light that already gave everything an orange glow, but over-saturate that and darken the people, and I don't want to look like that in a photo nor do I want people to think I edited a photo to look like that. The chain store really just takes their own "edit" and runs far away from what my original photo was.
Here the red color just jumped into the portrait making the bride to be look very red. It is really the automated color correction that is too blame here (although the photo lab did not make the same mistake). Once again I sent the exact same files to each printer.
And here the colors just become overwhelming and not pleasing in the chain store result.
I could post lots more examples, but a solution is better that continuing to look at a problem. So the good news is this doesn't happen to every photo and many will look fine, although not as good. A quick fix is to turn their automatic color correction off and try again. Sometimes this can greatly improve the result. But the bad news is these off colors aren't the only problem. The inks are a higher quality when you find photo lab to work with, and their service is more orientated around making great prints. I've had a photo lab call me and about the specifics of a print and what I was going for to make sure they printed it correctly. Made me feel good to know they care. A good print will remain vibrant and beautiful for years to come.
So put simply the biggest step to getting realistic and beautiful prints is finding a good printer in your hometown or using one of the respected printers out there. But if you are interested in being a bigger part of the process then getting your monitor calibrated is a must. I calibrate mine every month and made sure that I purchased a screen that could show a realistic spectrum of colors.
If you are going to make a print to show off your work or another's don't you want it to look its best? I know some photographers that refuse to share the digital files for the fear that people will print these off cast results. A few printers that I like more than others are Bay Photo and MPIX pro, but that doesn't mean there aren't others.
So to wrap up. Using a high quality lab will yield the most beautiful and long lasting prints. I find that when I use them I get the same result whether I turn color correction on or off. Also, if you want to edit yourself then color calibrating your screen will be incredibly helpful to the whole process! Also, if you aren't sure. Test print. Lastly if you decide to wing it then turning off color correction (that is what most photo labs call it) is a very wise choice.