The Life Changing Magic of Printing Photos

Recently, my husband was away for the week, so I decided to spend my evenings crossing off a few of the tasks that I had shelved because… well, we are in the thick of the terrible twos, and after bedtime I just need to sit down. I was determined to be productive in the evenings, even if it meant committing to just getting one or two things finished.

One of these tasks was printing off photos to fill up some frames I’d bought for the hallway outside my son’s room. I bought the frames a few months ago, but just never got around to choosing photos and having them printed off. Thanks to my insistence that, as a family, we have at least two sessions with a professional photographer per year; I had a good selection of high quality pictures to choose from. One evening while I sorted through outgrown toddler clothing, I uploaded the files to the CVS website, selected the sizes I needed, and went to collect them the following morning with my prescription refill. Lots of multitasking! 

All told, it probably took about 15 minutes to frame the photos, measure up the wall, and hang them. It was a quick and easy task, but one that delivered a lot of bang for its buck. I’d often felt guilty that the hallway looked empty and drab, and that we hadn’t done much to make it “ours” since we moved in a few years ago. Adding the photos made an empty, transient space feel more homely and lived in, put a smile on my face, and made my son happy, too. Whenever he runs down the hallway he shouts “mummy put pictures up” – which surely made it all worthwhile.

When I was growing up, my parents were both very interested in photography. They took lots of photos on our family vacations, and even developed some of the photos themselves in our half-bath. They are both still keen photographers, and my sister became a professional photographer. Taking, sending, and receiving photos is an important way of sharing our lives with one another over a huge geographical distance. They offer a glimpse into the everyday: the exciting, the mundane, the worrying. Huge milestones – first days, first steps, first teeth, haircuts, new outfits – we share it all. Though not every photo is a framer, it is really easy for those photos to just stay on your phone and never be seen (or thought of) again.

My grandparents always had a lot of photos in their home, and growing up around that means I’ve always associated their display – whether in tabletop frames, or on the wall – with a happy and warm home. I love gifting nice frames at Christmas, and I love finding the perfect photo to fit a frame. Life often gets in the way, though, and I find that I don’t print off photos (especially now we are out of the “baby book” years) for myself very often.

The feeling of accomplishment and sense of joy I found in putting up our family photos has definitely encouraged me to check in and make sure I’m printing off pictures regularly. Whether that means buying new frames, rotating pictures in the ones I already have, or just buying some old school photo albums, I want to make sure that the memories we make – whether they are milestone moments, or just the magic of everyday – are displayed, cherished, and preserved off-screen.

Choosing Photos

I like to have a mixture of photos on display in our home: pictures from professional shoots, old photos my husband and I have been given of our younger years, photos of all of us, and our favorite day-to-day moments captured by my iPhone camera. I tend to group tabletop frames together in a variety of sizes, and try to choose photos that echo the color of the mount or frame if possible. Small frames with round or arched apertures are great for photos with details you want to focus on; large heavy frames work well for portraits or photos of a large group.

I am definitely a “start small add more” kind of person, rather than envisioning a whole wall display. If that’s your thing, you may want to choose frames that are similar in appearance (if not size) to help it hang together. Similarly, you want to choose photos with similar tones – perhaps taken from the same photo session, but with different groupings, kids, or details included. This kind of display is easy to “update” annually if you want to.

Places to Print Photos

For my recent framing task, I used the CVS photo service as I wanted to be able to collect them quickly. They offer a same day service which is ideal for gifts, too. Professional snaps sent to you by a photographer will always be high quality and print well, and generally speaking photos from your smartphone will too – even in sizes 8×10 inches upwards. Walgreens offers pretty much the same service, depending on what is close and convenient for you.

If you don’t need a same-day photo, an online printing service that mails direct might work best for you. Nations Photo Lab offers a comprehensive, high quality (but affordable) option with photos varying from wallet size to a huge 30×45 inches. Their packaging is sturdy but thoughtful, and you can create presentation boxes to store photos that you want to print but not frame. Other online options include, MPix and Bay Photo (which is pretty much exclusively for smartphone photos and offers small size options), as well as the ever-popular Shutterfly and Snapfish.

Lastly, you’ll often find that photographers offer a print service if you ask – this might be the easiest way to create a feature wall of photos from a specific session, and the only way to have certain types of photo (including heirloom portraits, which are typically displayed in a certain type of frame and use a special type of printing to achieve a watercolor style).

Framing Services

The majority of my frames are from stores like Pottery Barn, West Elm and Target. I think silver frames make for the best gifts and are an ideal “neutral” that works with pretty much every type of frame. I try to mix metal and wood frames in tabletop displays (specially on my mantel) and have amassed an eclectic collection of traditional and modern. For wall displays I don’t think you can go wrong with black, white, or neutral wood tones with a deep white mount – they tend to be around $20-25 at Target in 8×10 size, which look great in groups of 3,5,9 or more.

For kids rooms, poster hangers are a clean-looking and sophisticated way to hang larger posters, prints, and their own artwork. They are affordable on Amazon and are really easy to use: magnetic bands of wood snap together around the top and bottom of the paper, and they can be hung using a command hook or picture hook.

My next project will involve framing some more complex items and I’ve decided to delegate to Framebridge. They create affordable but bespoke frames for items of all kinds – jerseys, clothing items, fabric, keys, match boxes, artworks and more. I have a few pieces of baby clothing that I’d like to frame up and display – you simply choose the frame, give them the size of your item, and send it away in an envelope or box. The frame is made up and sent to you within a couple of weeks at most; this is a great gift option and one I’ll probably use as we contemplate the holidays.

Photo albums don’t seem to be as widely available anymore so I’m hoping to buy a few nice boxes that will store prints (6×4 and 7×5) to thumb through. I’ve always loved looking through photos from my childhood, and of my extended family, and I want my son to be able to experience those same feelings of fun, warmth, and nostalgia.

When was the last time you printed off some photos? And how do you display them?

Natalie is a proud Brit, but moved to Texas at the end of 2017 to be with her husband, a native San Antonian. Their son was born in late October 2020, so her entire experience of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum has been under the cloud of Covid-19. She spent the frivolous years of her early 20s pursuing a PhD in Renaissance history, living in Venice, Italy, and teaching students. She pivoted into editing when she moved to the US, but currently has her academic pursuits on hold while she focuses on her son. Despite being in San Antonio for a few years now, she still considers herself a newbie. She loves to find out more about the history and culture of the city, explore new places, and find local businesses to support. A fastidious researcher and lover of lists, she’s always excited to share her finds and experiences with others. Favorite Restaurant: Dough Favorite Landmark: World’s Largest Cowboy Boots Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Riverwalk Christmas Lights


  1. I agree that taking or having family photos done yearly, or twice a year, is important. I think we get stuck in the age of iPhones and the staggering number of photos that we all keep on them, yet we never print them. We share them, via text or email, but it’s not the same. Whereas having family photos done makes you make the effort to print and frame or gift them.

    • I totally agree! Sometimes it feels like a big effort to mobilize and plan for photos but I find I’m always glad after the fact.

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