Photographers! Should You Sell Digital Files? Part 1: The Risks

Should you sell digital files?

More and more photographers are selling digital files, either in addition to prints, or instead of them.  I’m not sure what happened first in this chicken-and-egg scenario – whether photographers began promoting digital files to gain market share; or customer demand forced photographers to begin to provide digital files.  Either way, it is now a common aspect of the industry. Here is a quick survey on the MCP Actions Facebook page asking if photographers sell their files on CD or DVD. Make sure to add in your responses too.

To the emerging photographer in their portfolio-building phase, the provision of digital files to their clients seems like a necessary and sensible thing to do; and in this digital age, members of the public embrace it.  From my observations, it’s apparent that many of these images are being sold too cheaply for the market to sustain.  Much has already been written elsewhere about the importance of photographers placing a true value on their work (for skill, time, expenses, etc), so I won’t repeat that here.

Instead I will discuss the technical risks and strategies for selling digital images.  The truth is, releasing your photos in digital form is fraught with danger.

A digital photo isn’t just a bunch of pixels.  It’s your creation, your vision, your art.  You plan it, you capture it, and you edit it, until it looks exactly the way you want it.  You’d be reluctant to show an unfinished proof to a customer, just as a chef would be loathe to serve a half-cooked meal to a diner.

But when you release your digital files to a member of the public, you relinquish control of your work.  Even if you provide a firmly-worded “Guide to usage” (and you definitely should), a whole lot of quality factors are suddenly beyond your reach:

1. Printing.  Where will your client get prints made?  A good lab, or a horrible cheap one?  A good home printer, or an even more horrible cheap one?

2. Size.  Will they choose a print size that’s appropriate to the file size and quality?

3. Cropping.  If their chosen print size requires cropping (eg 8×10) will they honor your composition?  Will they even bother to check the cropping before pressing “print”?  Or will unexpected limb chops be the order of the day?

4. Sharpening.  Will the sharpening you applied to the file be appropriate to their chosen print method and size?

5. Uncle Frank.  This is the worst one.  It mightn’t be Uncle Frank, of course, it might be cousin Frank, or buddy Frank, or Aunt Frances.  Somebody with an uncalibrated screen, a dodgy copy of Photoshop, and an enthusiasm to “fix” your images for your customer before they print them.  Be very afraid of Uncle Frank.

Any of the above factors could result in your photo hanging on your customer’s wall looking ghastly.  If you believe that word of mouth is your most powerful marketing tool, consider this conversation:

“Two sugars and just a dash of milk, thanks.  Oh, I see you’ve got your family photo printed!  I must have a closer loo… oh dear, why do you all look yellow?  And why is little Jimmy half chopped off?

“Yes, we’re a bit disappointed about that too.”

“Who took it for you?”

“It was a photographer down the road called [insert your name here].”

“Oh my.  I shan’t be calling them.”

Obviously I’m describing a worst-case scenario here.  In most cases, your lovely photos will engender positive word of mouth, and expand your clientele.  But the risk is ever-present.  The only way to build a bulletproof reputation is to maintain 100% control of your prints; and the only way to do that is to keep the digital files to yourself.

Despite all that, I know I can’t stop the tide.  Sale of digital files is an established practice now, and many photographers feel obliged to do it, even if they don’t really want to.

In part 2 tomorrow, I’ll discuss the best possible practice when preparing digital files for your customer, to minimize your risk.

Damien is a retoucher, restorer and Photoshop tutor from Australia, who is establishing a wide reputation as an “image troubleshooter,” for those hard-to-edit photos.  You can see his work, and a big range of articles and tutorials, on his blog.

 Photographers! Should You Sell Digital Files?  Part 1: The Risks
 Photographers! Should You Sell Digital Files?  Part 1: The Risks

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53 Comments and 13 Replies



  1. 1
    StacyN says:

    This is an excellent read for anyone considering turning over their files. While I am asked about this constantly, I’ve strongly refrained from doing so – for the very reasons you have described.

  2. 2
    jeni says:

    “Sale of digital files is an established practice now, and many photographers feel obliged to do it, even if they don’t really want to.”
    So how do I step out of the rest and halt the flow of files being sold?

    • Troy says:

      I am a specialized photographer (automotive events) and I don’t want to sell my prints, but is there a resolution size that looks great as wallpaper on your computer but really bad if they try to print them?

      What is a good price for these files?

  3. 3
    Amanda Capps says:

    hi – I am one of THOSE photographers that sells her images. I didn’t for hte longest time, and finally gave in to the client pressure! I do give them instructions on where and how to print, as well as where not to print. However, I must confess I never thought of Uncle Frank, and he gives me chills.

  4. 4
    Albert Rayl says:

    Sure Sell your images and include a flier that Al will make them their Digital Video, Digital Memory Book, Wall portraits and more so he can increase his sales by may a couple thousand dollars.

    This is the mentality of many photographers today. Any person that is giving or selling their images on a CD or DVD is not a professional – period…. Some are in it for the “quick buck”. This is not being a professional. Reasonable pricing, repeat customers throughout their life will make you rich.

    It is absolutely CRAZY – STUPID and more to give or sell the images.

    The only time and place the images should handled that way would be a commercial product shot, and of course the price has all of that taken into consideration.

  5. 5
    Christine says:

    These are all valid points and certainly issues to think about when offering digital files. However, as a consumer, I want digital negatives, and I would hesitate to use a photographer that didn’t offer me the option.

    This discussion reminds me of the music industry and its reaction to digital music files. The reality is the world is moving towards digital everything, and if we as photographers don’t figure out a way to work with the technology rather than clinging to an outdated delivery model, we’re going to find ourselves struggling to catch up down the road.

    I think the discussion needs to center on how to best protect ourselves and our art when offering digital files, since I don’t think anyone but the Anne Geddes of the world will be able to not offer digital files in five years or so. One idea I like is giving 5 x 7 reference prints with the files, so clients can see what the print should look like.

    It’s part of the photographer’s job to educate the client on printing, cropping, etc. A lot of this comes down to client relations.

  6. 6
    angie says:

    Thank you and amen. I have not and will likely never sell full res files to my (non-photographer, non-commercial) clients. Portraits printed on copy paper stuck to Granny’s fridge? It happens. Please educate your client to the value and quality of your art. ;)

  7. 7
    Lori Orr says:

    I’ve been a professional photographer for about 5 years now. After finishing school, I worked for an amazing child photographer, then was an assistant wedding photographer before opening my own child/family photography business. I have since let that business go, greatly missing the photography, but saying, “I am just not a business person.” Honestly, this issue is one of the top reasons for that. I cherish my photos. I spend so much time perfecting them to exactly how I want them, and absolutely adore my lab, that it makes me a little sick to my stomach to think of these being printing on an awful printer and displayed as “my work”. However, when people ask if I sell my digital images and hear that I don’t, I feel like I am quickly overlooked. Whether they think I’m greedy, or snooty, or whatever comes to mind. I feel so guilty and that breaks my heart. How do we help our clients to understand and not feel pressured into sacrificing our work?

  8. 8
    Tammy says:

    I completely agree with Christine. It’s a digital world and instead of running from the change, we need to embrace it, and figure out how to protect ourselves by offering suggestions just like Christine did in her post. Thanks for the article. Great discussion and when you have great discussions, it can only lead to great solutions! :)

  9. 9
    Meagan says:

    Fantastic article. Looking forward to part 2.

  10. 10
    Monica says:

    Great points!! I only sell CD’s when my clients by a print package other than that I dont sell I also only sell the CD with edited files. I ♥ reading your articles!

  11. 11
    Shena Luna says:

    Very true Christine!

  12. 12
    Diane M says:

    timely! I’ve just been redoing my pricing/collections based off of this issue. I saw an article this weekend about the vast majority of clients actually never print anything off their cd. So I thought “what’s the purpose?” well cause they all think they want it…it is the digital age after all…so how can I get ahead of this curve of “to cd or not cd?”

    So, i decided i would make a few “physical” things part of the package such as one nice canvas or art print for their wall, and a few other press goodies – but i’m also including some fun stuff multimedia stuff they can put on their iPhone or website…figured I might as well go with the flow but take it further and embrace it. This way the client gets enough digital they probably won’t touch that cd other than for fb shared pics, and I know they have some physical items in hand to get that “old fashioned” thrill of holding a beautiful photo art product in their hand and hanging one on the wall. Win win as far as I’m concerned and I’ve had two clients since Sunday buy into the concept that “shoot’n’burn” is no longer an offering but look at what a cool package you’re going to get!

  13. 13
    Michelle says:

    Great points, Christine, and well-said!

    As both a photographer and a consumer, I can see the value (for both the photographer and the consumer) of offering 5×7 prints to show what the quality and the images SHOULD look like if they are printed as per the photographer’s specifications, via a professional lab.

    Having a physical print (of any size) that the consumer can see is a great educational tool to help the photographer teach their clients how professional images should look.

  14. 14
    Barb says:

    Has me thinking about this, eagerly waiting for tomorrow’s post :-)

  15. 15
    Jen S says:

    I had my print pricing guide all set up on my website, I was ready to go. NOT ONE PERSON even expressed interest in 3 months. So I asked around to find out what people want, and it was digital images. Most of them only print a few but want the rest for their blogs, FB, etc. As soon as I changed my packaging to include the CD with images, all of a sudden I was busy. It’s so frustrating because I feel like my demographic decided what my packages and pricing should be.

  16. 16
    Damien says:

    Thanks, everyone. I didn’t expect to get quite such a vehement response, but I’m glad I’ve evoked some debate.

    As I’m not a photographer myself, I have no real “investment” in this issue, so I hope I’ve presented a balanced discussion.

    Christine, I hope Part 2 will satisfy you :)

  17. 17
    Selena says:

    I would ask that photographers consider something from the customer’s perspective. The customer has no idea where you will be in 5 years. What if they want another print, down the road, and you are no longer in business? The prints they bought cannot be printed anywhere without the copyright release. That would be very upsetting to me, as a customer, which is why I only hire photographers who sell their digital images. I expect to pay a premium price for them, of course, but I feel that I must have them. I cannot predict (nor most likely afford) all the prints I will ever need from that session, for the rest of my life. Hmm, maybe that’s an idea, perhaps you can restrict printing for a certain period of time, but after 2 years, release the copyrights to the purchaser.

    I do understand the points made in the article, though, because I wouldn’t want my images altered by Uncle Frank, and passed off as my work. :O

  18. 18
    Anita says:

    Another angle: when a professional photographer joins a professional outsourcing lab, that lab offers: prints in various sizes, plethora of products, sharing between social networks, file hosting / for many years to come, so no worries about misplacing the disc/, on line slide shows, why Clients need to HAVE the disc after all? I am for protecting the quality of our work as visual artists, retaining the original composition, image tonality and overall quality. And btw,some analogy to another visual art: have you ever seen a commissioned painting being re sized, re painted, re touched by the client after the piece was brought home from a painter’s studio?

  19. 19
    Lori says:

    Timely!! I do not like offerin them at all but recently felt pressured to give low res files for scrapbook use. The client was not happy and demanded high res files- for a shoot she pent $80 on. I have not given them. Considering refunding remaining sessions and giving med res files. We are not a match! And one of my photos ended up on her blog- without permission or photo credit.

  20. 20
    Tarryn says:

    We hired a professional photographer to take our boys’ pictures a few months ago. She did a beautiful job, and we bought several prints. Part of the print package was digital files, and she gave detailed instructions about how and where to print them. I probably won’t end up printing them, to tell the truth. But it was so hard to choose which prints we wanted to purchase, and being able to also select 25 digital files made it much easier. As a customer, it is really hard to choose your pics, and especially hard to choose the pictures of your loved ones that will be discarded.

    On another note, I am guessing the people who are printing out professional work at Walmart or Costco would be illegally scanning them and printing them if they didn’t have the digital file anyway. If they have no courtesy and appreciation for your work w/r/t a digital file, they won’t have the same respect with a hard copy that can be scanned.

  21. 21
    Lareina says:

    Long ago before I was a photographer, I was a newly wed with a brand new baby. I felt my only option was going to Sears for photos. We were poor and could only afford a few pictures of our baby. Naively I though that one day I would have enough money and come back for the rest of my beautiful babies pictures. Ten years went by and I looked at that little 8×10 on the wall and realized that I now had the money to go back for all the prints I had to turn down. I called Sears…… they no longer had my negatives. Devastated, I promised my self I would put my heart and soul into photography and I would never feel that way again. I don’t want any other young (or old) mother to have to feel that way either. Our clients seek us out to help them capture a moment in time that will last forever. However canvas, prints, and photo books do not and they rarely survive house fires. Digital files kept in a few locations may…. Are you going to be responsible for keeping a clients digital files for 50 years in case of such an emergency?
    If I were a painter and a family paid me to paint their picture, they would be horrified if I charged them an additional fee and then handed them a copy of my painting. If someone paid me to sew a ball gown and a year later she cut the dress into a mini dress…. She may do so, she has already paid for my service and product.
    I truly do see the other side to this. I spend just as much time on my work as anyone else. I’m not wanting anyone to give their work away for free, but do try and think back on what brought you to photography in the first place.

  22. 22
    Not impressed says:

    I have an Uncle Frank. In this case, it was another professional photographer. She was a bridesmaid and obviously could not be the photog for the day, so I was given the job. I made the mistake of selling them the digital files and after that, one of my photos appeared as the bride’s facebook profile pic. I say it was only my photo, because it certainly wasn’t the image I gave them. Someone (I’m assuming it was the bridesmaid/photographer) re-edited the image and I think it looks disgusting now. REALLY unimpressed at the lack of professionalism displayed by the photog.

  23. 23
    Andrea whitaker says:

    I am not a photographer, but I am a “client” who wants to have family photos done every year. I would NEVER book a photographer who does not sell digital images for a reasonable price no matter how fabulous your images are. It’s a standard I expect now.

  24. 24
    Kaycee Lee says:

    Thank you for this info! I find this very helpful, as I was planning on letting somebody have a digital copy of a photo!

    ~Kaycee Lee~
    Check out the giveaway on my blog:
    http://kcleephotography.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-first-giveaway-3-prizes.html

  25. 25
    Lisa says:

    My problem is I am a very giving person so I tend to give the whole package and then some. Shame on me I know but truth be told I would feel very bad about keeping the digitals all to myself. Uncle Frank does scare me though, but not bad enough to lock up the digitals and never give them to anyone :) Nice article Damien!

  26. 26
    Damien says:

    Andrea, I think you are in the majority. I feel exactly the same way. Digital image sales are here to stay. That’s why I wrote Part 2 of this article.

  27. 27
    Jennifer B says:

    this was so encouraging to read, as I have felt the same way! But there is so much pressure to hand over the digital files, I was starting to feel like the bad guy in not giving in. Thank you!

  28. 28
    Lisa says:

    For those photographers who refuse to sell the digital files: Your clients are “digitizing” the images themselves whether you sell them or not. Scanning and/or taking point-n-shoot or cell phone pictures of the hard copy portraits themselves in order to post them on blogs, facebook or just to show them off. No one carries around pictures in their wallets anymore–they carry them on their phones! You are fooling yourself if you think you are controlling the finished product by not selling the files.

  29. 29
    Katharine says:

    Where is part two of this article? I can’t find it!

  30. 30
    Terry says:

    I think most of you are missing the point including the writer. If this is truely artistic like a landscape or a rare capture like a hummingbird in mid flight, I can see the justification not to give up the digital version. But, a wedding or childrens pictuture. What is the point? You essentially are being paid for a service to provide and you are using digital cameras because you know the benefits of digital. Why not offer those to your customer. Many people are using digital picture frames, emailing and posting on facebook etc. If my photographer does not offer a digital format I will wind up scanning a print and making it less than how the photographer intended any ways.

    All I am saying is your art will be better shared if you are willing to adopt current trends.

    • Judy says:

      Terry- “If my photographer does not offer a digital format I will wind up scanning a print and making it less than how the photographer intended any ways. ” this is copyright infringement & you could be sued as can any Walgreens, target, Walmart that you scan it in. I can appreciate wanting digital files, but they do come at a cost. We don’t work for free. If I were to do a session & then basically give the files away cheap, I will have no opportunity to make a profit from the session.

  31. 31
    Steve Landar says:

    I’m a client. In today’s media rich environment I share pictures of my life and family only in digital formats. Your points satisfy only to justify a pricing model. I could in theory purchase printed copies and draw all over them or cut them reducing them in all ways that you have mentioned.

    Photographers who do not sell the digital image are a merely trying to stop the tide for their own financial gain. Please do not use reasons of satisfaction to the end client as the satsfaction comes from effectively sharing photos with loved ones.

    If I buy flour from a miller he does not insist on a single fixed method of usage. ‘If not this will impair the enjoyment of my flour!!’. Please. He does not. He knows that when you purchase something it is yours to do with as you wish, for better or for worse.

  32. 32
    Ron S. says:

    I don’t sell a commodity like flour. I sell my art, my creativity, and my technical skill. and a finished product. If buy a book, I don’t have any right to reproduce it and give it away to my friends and family. You don’t have the right to all the artists paint if you commission them to create a painting. The “Napster” generation have no respect for the concept of copyright, be it on music or photographs created by a professional photographer. The music industry had enough power, and money, to find a way to make sure that the artist who own the copyright would be compensated. As an independent studio owner for over thirty years, I have never sold a negative, or digital file, to a portrait client for many of the reasons in the above posts. I have positioned myself in the marketplace as to attract clients who respect my artistry and skill and are willing to invest, both emotionally and monetarily, in what I create for them. This keeps those who’s only concern is how “cheap” can I get it for and why isn’t it “cheaper”. I’m not saying that they are bad people, I’m just saying that I prefer not to work with people who have this mindset.

    • Molly says:

      Napster didn’t make art out of people’s faces. That is my kid’s face your art is made from. You have no right to tell people that your art trumps their ownership of their own image. Charge what you think your art is worth but let people own their faces they paid you to capture. If you can’t stand the idea that the subject of a photo has as much ownership of it as the photographer, then go make photographic art out of landscapes or nature etc and sell that.

      Besides, the point is that paper photos are useless. Nobody uses them anymore. Nobody. I will never hire a photographer that doesn’t sell digital – and I pay thousands a year for photo shoots. I’m not cheap, I’m just not from 1960.

  33. 33
    Robert Huttinger says:

    “1. Printing. Where will your client get prints made? A good lab, or a horrible cheap one? A good home printer, or an even more horrible cheap one?”

    If I buy a car, I can spray paint it yellow. It is my terrible choice, but it is my choice. If I want a pring I can hand to the kids so they can enjoy it, it will not be a $300 portait.

    2. Size. Will they choose a print size that’s appropriate to the file size and quality?

    Does it matter? it is personal use. I as a citizen have the right to many copyrighted works, which, through interpretation (also called artistic license), I am able to bastardize and completely wreck. Thereby creating a ‘new’ work

    5. Uncle Frank. This is the worst one. It mightn’t be Uncle Frank, of course, it might be cousin Frank, or buddy Frank, or Aunt Frances. Somebody with an uncalibrated screen, a dodgy copy of Photoshop, and an enthusiasm to “fix” your images for your customer before they print them. Be very afraid of Uncle Frank.

    Again, fair use. I can go online, get an image of anything, and do what I want with it, and put it on my fridge. Who is harmed? What copyright is violated? As long as I do not claim ownership of the original and refrain from distributing or otherwise monetizing.

    There is NO HARM done.

    If the point of the exercise is to hone your skills at photography, you do not need me to pay you to use me or my family as your subjects. I expect something in return.

    I believe the client has a right to digital un-watermarked copies. It is up to the client to follow the law with regards to usage. The laws are binding, and enforceable.

    If somebody misappropriates your image, sue them. It is your right. If this is too much hassle, get out of the business.

    Further I submit that there are photographers putting their images online via Flickr, G+, 500px, etc… if they are good, they will do well, period. If the market is flooded, you chose the wrong profession.

    Sitting in your basement miserly hoarding your pictures and barking madly at anyone who comes near is not only bad business practice, but just rude.

    “I don’t sell a commodity like flour. I sell my art, my creativity, and my technical skill. and a finished product. If buy a book, I don’t have any right to reproduce it and give it away to my friends and family”

    and if I rip out a page on put it on my refrigerator? If i buy the mona lisa, I am entitled to put a mustache on it. You as the photographer cannot control taste. Clearly, reproduction and distribution are protected by law already. This IS NOT a point.

    I cannot put this more bluntly, the photographer is an instrument, a skilled instrument nonetheless. A means to an end. What end? to produce something beautiful. I want that ‘something beautiful’ Thats what I payed you for!

    If you must, join a site where you get commission on the prints etc, but the digital files, I deserve a copy, at LEAST of the raw images

    I will never again sign a contract that dos not include digital copies.

    All that said, I will always respect the photographers work, treat it with care, give credit where credit is due, and shout their work to all that will listen.

    Stop hoarding, share the work, let people see your skill! Stop worrying about what some dope in a basement is oing with ‘your’ images, he is free to do that. Their actions will not stop you from succeeding, being obstructive, secretive, miserly, and rude will.

    Rob

    • RVK says:

      In my area, which it a rather small “city” there are probably 400+ people calling themselves “photographers”. The studios that have been around for years do not sell digital images. The new “photographers” not only give away images, but also do groupons w/ image giveaway. So for a $30 payout, they are spending about 6 hours on the shoot and the processing. The client does not deserve the image. Painters would not give you print rights on their art work. The true photographer puts in thousands of dollars for equipment, thousands of hours to perfect their art, and equal amount of hours processing photos. For those “clients” who want images, other that the watermarked low res, please do go find the photographer wanna be’s. You should get your image as they will not be in business for long. As for the photographer not being around, I personally would contact each client to ask if they want images should I decide to leave the business. That is only right. Until then, I do not want my work edited, printed at Costco, or misused in any other way. If you bought my fine art at a gallery, would you think you could reproduce that too? It is true that the thousands out there calling themselves photographers are hurting those true professionals. This is a business people. Those who think they are “owed” images, have no respect for the business. I give clients watermarked low res images to use on facebook, a gallery to show their friends, and I have even uploaded one of my images (for a price) on their Christmas Card template. I would rather have less clients who are willing to pay me for my work, then a bunch who want to pay nothing and refer their friend’s who feel the same.

  34. 34
    Brian says:

    Hi all,
    There are 3 main issues
    1. Photographers are running a business that needs to be make a profit. If we sell digital files, we need to be able to sell them for enough money to make all the work up to that point along with the overhead of running the studio. Unfortunately this amount is more than people are probably willing to pay for digital files (as they have a low perceived value) The solution is to do a lot more shoots and sell less $ to each client, but then you cant give good service if you are trying to rush too many clients through. (which is where the supermarket studios cover the market).

    2. The digital file if done well is retouched to be printed on professional grade calibrated printers which most homes, most supermarkets dont have. So the print wont look as good as the photographer intended. This means they have put all this work into create something stunning, but it now looks only average and therefore represents their studios work poorly. The sad thing is that the client has still paid a lot of money to buy the digital files but there really havent got a good quality finished product.

    3. WHen a client has a cd of images, most of them wont actually ever print them! Life gets busy, the disk gets lost and they never quite get round to it…… afterall how many amazing recipe books have you bought and never actually made the recipies in them! It is easier to just go back to the restaurant and have it expertly made and enjoy the total experience.

    We are happy to give small files for facebooking, emailing, sharing with family, just not for printing, because we want anything printed to look exceptional and the only way we can ensure that is to print it on the best possible equipment and professional grade papers (that are guaranteed to last 100+ years)I do know that all of our clients are very happy to have a finished portrait on their walls. They realise it is a profession and that we know what we are doing (after 20 years) so they leave it to us and get a great result.

    • Judy says:

      well said Brian!

    • Can you please give me an idea of your pricing on digital negs?
      After 30 years in pro photo business, we have great customers that really don’t care for anything but great prints and wall portraits. Yes, they do facebook and once they order, I always upload a few of the best retouched ones (that they chose) click on them and show them off to everyone :0) Sometimes they request one for Christmas Cards, or a couple for the Senior page in the back of their year books. I’ll sell a 150 res 4×6 with a package or portrait purchase for $15.00 if requested. I want to come up with a digital package price just like our regular print package price. Three sheets for $150.00 or three digital 8×10 files for…..? HELP! Something fair since they will printing 8×10 and smaller….or a set of 8 for ….? What would be a good price??? This is driving me NUTS.
      The problem for us lies in the NEW customer that calls. The one we have never met…what do they expect, how much are they willing to spend, do they care or know the difference in a pro print or just the files??? Do we even want their business??? We do of course…but when the economy did the downswing seven years ago in Upstate SC it cut us back to 1/2.
      Classical portraits (not stuffy ones…but NICE portraits) are still a hit with our existing clientele – but what does this new change in guard want in this economy that will not ruin the professional? What is fair? They are the customer and we know there is a solution out there somewhere to end this madness.
      I feel like we are all living in an age similar to what happened when electricity came out and gas lanterns went out! lol

  35. 35
    Daddy says:

    Simple ….NO DIGITAL COPIES, NO DEAL!

    As a customer, I will want digital copies esp those of my family. I mean why the heck you photographers want my son’s photos for? Protecting your work is just a lame excuse. If so, how long will you have this high memory files be stored? 10 years, 20 years so that I (or my descendants) can still go back for prints? What if you die??

    I design buildings. I get paid for every building I design which I take pride for the personal touches I make. But it would be very very ridiculous for me to say to you, since I designed your home, I forbid you to paint any other colour or do any renovations for life?? These days, I even need to include (digital)softcopies of drawings and technical data to clients as with hardcopies of building design. Why softcopies? Yes, so that if building owners make any renovations, they can update drawings instead of drawing from scratch. Well after all, the personal touches I made may be superb to me but may be crap to another. Wake up guys, this is the 21st century.

    So who’s to say whatever you done digitally is the best?? It might be crap to another. As an artist, if you feel threatened by customers misusing your digital files, well….be an artist. If you think your work is so delicate, then DO NOT even get involve in any business transaction or anyone’s lives. In this day and age, digital media or not, I can easily scan in high res and print them, well is it still your work?? As an artist, be an artist if you want to be selfish.

    But if you are in photography business then you are an entrepreneur. Then learn from those who are successful. Why have they been successful? Because they listen. Listen to us customers and you will prosper while still retaining your artistic integrity. Use your skills to help, not to satisfy your own ego and money will come in naturally.

    Have a heart for the families, Mums and Dads, and you will be looked after.

    • Melissa says:

      Um,you’re rude. This is a great *discussion* to have without people like you lashing out with hateful language. Be selfish and cheap and find a crap photographer who can make your boring portraits for cheap. You’ll find a million people who can make your boring photos for nothing. If you hire an artist to create a finished product-it is for them to say what that finished product is. You don’t hire a photographer to take out your appendix. There is an easy solution —if you ONLY want digital files and demand them, you can have low resolution files that you can share as you like. Then that digital file is a finished product and that is what you bought. You won’t be able to print it or edit it and thus ruin it. If you are buying print-quality photos the photographic artist is responsible to see the print through creation, not half-way and then turn it over to an amateur to complete without supervision? That’s ridiculous and that happens in NO profession. If you want to use photos for your crappy notecards, calendars, coffee mugs and other tacky products use your own crappy photos.

  36. 36

    I always offer a CD or digital version of their sessions available after at least ONE printed copy. Have many times heard them say right in front of me “we can just buy one print and scan it” They don’t care if they are stealing from you or destroying “your artwork”. They just want to save money…so it saves me money by not printing out all the copies, and gives them the legal right to print my edited photos, and then I am not getting ripped off. After all, the scanned version is going to look way worse than what an Uncle Frank person would probably do to your photos! And people these days don’t want a ton of prints to hang on their walls..they want to post on Facebook and share via emails with friends and family. Wallet photos?? Right…I don’t carry or share them anymore, why would I think most other people would? Better to provide them an edited digital copy than let them walk out and scan any day!

  37. 37
    Tony says:

    Artists do have that right to control the ownership of the image, it’s actually copyright law. You just don’t agree with it, but that’s the case. Nothing is stopping you from making photos yourself. If you were on the street and I took your photo, it’s mine, not yours. However, I can’t profit from your image without your permission (your rights). If you hire someone for a service, you abide by their business policies. You actually have no right to tell people how to run their business. Do you go into a vegan shop and ask for a burger? You can say you’d run it differently or look for people who do, but so many of the top photographers even today don’t sell digital. If they even do,they’re at high prices almost out of reach, even for family portraits. It’s up to the photographer to be different, just like any small business. If you are doing something that others aren’t, they’ll follow your policies and pay what you’re worth. There are all sorts of markets out there and all sorts of businesses to fill them.

    It’s funny to hear people say they think paper photos are useless, but my business has done nothing but grow with people looking for canvas, various papers, and albums each year. Why? My clients could care less about digital and are burned out by the Facebook era. Many have actually deleted their online accounts. They want art that’s guaranteed to last on their walls for years, not be on some scratched disc in a drawer. Their families don’t come over and say, oh, any DVDs you want to show me of your family? Can I sit at your computer and look at photos? No, they come in, see their walls, and say, wow, that looks awesome.

    To be fair, I do provide a small emailable photo of each image they ordered as it’s edited, and I don’t let unedited photos go out there to represent me. That’s my policy, I don’t mind if someone else does provide it all since I can’t tell them to change their business model. Most don’t even ask for the small digital copies because they find it pointless.

    Just because you may personally value digital more, does not mean so many others agree or are from a dead era. My clients are actually mostly young families who just happen to value their walls more than their screens. If someone comes to me who doesn’t fit my business model, I kindly send them elsewhere, not change what I do. Guess what? I’ve gotten more respect and leads for the fine art work from doing it the way.

    Now the problem I have is with photographers who destroy those digital negatives afterward. I myself back them up in multiple places and remotely in order to guarantee any replacements due to damage down the line. That’s a whole different conversation.

  38. 38
    susan edward says:

    How do I find Part 2?

  39. 39
    Michael says:

    I’ve been a professional photographer for the last 31 years. I operate two studios….Here is a suggestion for studios that have customers requesting digital files. Think of digital files like they are movies being rented or purchased. When you rent it’s cheaper but only viewed for say 24 hours. When you buy a movie, you can enjoy it over and over but it cost a lot more. Our studio sells the right to print from a digital file but the file remains in the protection of my lab….we will call this a rental agreement. The customer pays for the right to print anything from the purchased file for a specified amount of time…we offer a one month, two month and three month printing window…..If they want to purchase the file and have physical possession of it on a disk they have that option but at a premium price so high, that they choose the limited printing offer. When u keep the original file protected by your lab , your customers can’t alter the image and the quality is at a caliber you can feel good about. We choose a local lab that we have worked with and does consumer/ pro printing and is close to our client base. Our set up allows the customer to pick up a phone and place their order over the phone without leaving their home. Important note: if you plan on opening a brick and mortar business with employees…..and selling only files….well, good luck, you might want to keep your day job !

  40. 40
    Jake says:

    Even if you do not provide the digital file what is to stop someone from taking a high resolution scan of the image?

  41. 41
    Steve says:

    Congratulations on a great article and a very relevant topic. This is definately an emotive issue that comes up a lot with my wife’s photography business.

    I do see both sides of the argument having been both a customer who has felt the stress of having to choose which of my children’s precious images I can afford to purchase. I am also the husband of a newly established photographer whose clients frequently request a full set of high res images from each shoot. We are faced with the ever increasing challenges of balnacing customer expectation with the need to maintain business viability and the highest quality in all that gets delivered.

    Our current approach is to offer a one-hour package that covers the sitting costs, creative talent and also provides a generous credit towards the purchase of pro-lab prints, web quality images or full resolution JPEGs (not raw).

    The biggest wow factor definately comes from handing over a set of largish professional prints. For this reason we encourage this by offering free web quality digital images for all prints purchased and do allow web quality prints to be purchased separately if that is all that is required. The higher resolution JPEGS are available for purchase at a higher price point (at a same price as an 8×10 print).

    Yes, I am very scared of Uncle Fred and all the random factors that can result in negative feedback. Word of mouth repuation is everything so it is vital that nothing is compromised by uncle Fred, a Kmart minilab or someone who doesnt understand the principles of good composition.

    Another thing that seems to have been overlooked in this discussion is the importance of maintaining a monetary value on each image purchased.
    Some photographers structure their business on a fairly simpe shoot and burn model where they are effectively just charging for the time that they take the photos and burn the results straight to DVD and hand it over.

    There is a market for this, but I see this trend as a bad for both the business and the customer. Let me explain… In this model photographers are incented to deliver a Quantity of photographs as opposed to the very best Quality artwork they can achieve. They are not being financially compensated for the time they take in post-processing, so success in this model comes down to how many one hour shoots can I book each week and how fast the CDs can be handed over to the client.

    If you think about the basic economics, a photographer accepts a fee for a service to deliver a product and will take a set amount of time to do it in order to make a small profit.

    A photographer who snaps three hundered photos in an hour and burns all of these to a DVD will only be able to spend about a minute or less per photo in post processing (evaluating creative options, colour balancing, cropping, editing, photoshopping, filtering, blemish removal etc).

    The customer gets exactly what they asked for but there is nothing very special. Perhaps just a bit better than uncle Fred would have taken.

    Puting a price on each image does mean the customer gets less images for the same prices (e.g. perhaps 25 instead of 300). But they will be the very best 25 images, and a professional will have done full creative post processing and if prints were ordered they will be produced at a pro lab that is calibrated to the editors software. I personally would prefer to have 25 spectacular pieces of art than 300 unedited memories.

    At the end of the day your friends will be bored by the quantity, and tend to form an impression of the collection based on the average to worst images. Most people have an effective attention span of 20-30 photos anyway – they might as well be the best ones.

    Anyone who takes pride in their work will want a business model that ensures they can take the time it takes to produce something amazing rather than just a job that produces a digital comodity by the hour. Putting a value on each image also ensures the artist is compensated a little for each piece of artwork they deliver. This has an incredibly motivating and satisfying effect for both the photographer and the client when they see the spectacular results.

    Regards – Steve
    http://adoriaphotography.com.au/wp1/blog
    http://facebook.com/adoriaphotography

  42. 42
    Bart says:

    I would never hire a photographer that won’t sell me digital copies. The whole idea of paying someone to cover my wedding and then not even have control over the photos of MY wedding goes beyond me.
    Thinking that not selling digital copies protects you from stories as described in the article, is naive. Everybody has a scanner, my misses has just been scanning all our old photos so she would have a digital copy of them, if you want to keep your ‘art’ in the best quality, forcing people to do this is the last thing you would want… but that’s just my opinion.

  43. 43
    Lena says:

    I am currently frustrated with a photographer who took great pictures, but who isn’t so talented with Photo Shop. He really messed up some great shots with mistakes in Photo Shop. I know he spent a lot of time “editing” these pictures, but frankly, I am experienced in Photo Shop and would’ve done a much better job and I didn’t want all his “special effects” in the first place. He is a nice guy, but won’t sell me unedited versions of these once in a lifetime pictures of my kid. He wants control over “his” art, but it is my child’s image, shouldn’t I have a say too.

    A friend of mine had her daughter’s senior portraits done by another photographer, she liked the proofs, but hated the final product. She wanted pictures of her daughter; the photographer edited the photos, making them “more dramatic, more artistic”. In the final product her daughter no longer looked like herself, but more like soft porn star. Again the photographer would only sell her his edited version. (She ended up have me, a good amateur photographer, retake them. The professional photographer was only paid the basic fee.)

    I recognize photographers are artists, but photographers need to ask themselves do they want to “create art” and be a poor starving artist or does they want to give their customers a product they want and make a living? Photographs have become functional art, they no longer just hang on the wall, people want to use them in many different formats, and sometimes usable art gets dinged up. Photographers who won’t sell digital files are going to find themselves in the same situation as musicians who didn’t want to sell the musical downloads people wanted. People would download, often an inferior quality song without paying for it. If photographers won’t sell digital files, customers will buy a 5×7 or 8×10 scan it into their computer creating an inferior digital file. And the photographer will be out a lot of money.

    Personally I will never again do business with a photographer who won’t sell me the unedited digital files. Sure there is a market for the well done edited printed portrait to hang proudly on the wall, but the smart photographer who wants to stay in business will put their ego aside and sell both.

  44. 44
    John says:

    I’ve been selling my full resolution, custom retouched and copyright released JPEGs on DVDs for over 10 years. I’ve always been able to sell my work at a higher price generally over other photographers who do not provide the JPEGs. I don’t see any issue. Stock photographers have been doing this for decades. (Originally as slides, transparencies, film negatives, etc). Why would anyone think it is not a good business model only for wedding photographers? Today, everyone knows images may be manipulated and copied and on and on. So I’m not concerned about other people manipulating my images in some way that I don’t agree with. People merely have to visit my website to see the work as I actually produce and provide it – then they can be creative all they want with what I sell them.

  45. 45

    This is becoming a bigger problem everyday for professional photographers. I have been a pro photographer for 32 years, owning a large studio and print lab for the first 30 of those years. In this digital age, we as photographers had better face the reality of what is happening out there. We are witnessing the demise of printed books and newspapers. That should give us a clue as to what is happening to our precious prints. Please note that I am a portrait photographer, not a commercial photographer. Today, many of my clients tell me they want images to share on their social network sites and electronic devices…ie tablets and smart phones. Prints are just not that important anymore. You have 2 choices as this is becoming more and more the norm…hold your line and never give up your digital files and watch them find someone who will or give them what they want. My approach is simple. It has evolved from giving 2-3 web ready images to each client with a purchase of a print collection, to now offering complete collections of web ready images. For example I have a Diamond collection with numerous prints priced at $2000 and a Diamond digital collection with only web ready images priced at $1500. The web ready images are just that…low res files not suitable for printing but will look great on any social media site or digital device they may have. I’m still getting paid for my service and they’re getting what they need. I never give a written release for the images for them to get printed elsewhere. I do realize that some will still do that and there is no way to stop it. Even with textured prints they can scan them and make prints if that’s what they want to do. It’s inevitable. For me the choice is clear…embrace the changing times or die with your head in the sand.

  46. 46
    Karen says:

    I’m finding that people prefer to buy digital files over prints. I could get precious about my photo’s but honestly if there is no market for prints then there’s no point having a business aimed at print sales. It’s called supply and demand.
    As for the customers butchering “my” photo’s i think the dressmaker analogy was good, average Joe usually can do whatever they want with a purchase, and have difficulty understanding that photographers revolve in their own little world with it’s own little rules where they can sell something yet still maintain ownership. Perhaps photographers should charge more to cover their emotional pain when a customer alters their work, or shows it off to the world on face book without credit. I mean none of their FB friends interested in the photo would think to ask who the photographer was would they?
    The economy and market forces are always changing. Photographers or any business for that matter who can’t carve a niche doing precisely what they want are going to have to change and adapt to supplying what their market demands. That’s if they want to be in business..

  47. 47
    Ralf says:

    I am not a photographer, but a customer who is trying to find a photographer who will give me digital images (hence how I found this really interesting blog).

    My story is, I want a photo of my family, and these days my photos are displayed on large screen TV’s (screen savers), my 27″ mac, my iPad and my iPhone.

    I work away from home and want nice photos.

    Although I can empathise with some comments above regarding taking a great picture and printing it off on poor quality paper or cropping the photo, I feel that this might be driven by people being fearful of the minority.

    The world is never going to go into reverse, and technology will start to play a bigger part in our lives.

    Having great pictures on iPads, iPhones, smart TV’s is an opportunity to be embraced and those that do, will be the first to market.

    Why would I spend time printing off a picture on poor quality paper, when I can see it on a HD TV or screen saver on my mac?

    Just a thought for some of you to embrace change and not fear it :-)

  48. 48
    Tomas Haran says:

    Fantastic blog post. Really great responses as well. It does take a little time to build confidence in charging what you’re worth. But when you realize that your pricing model is actually hurting your sales its time to at things differently. You don’t sell a cd of jpegs, but a high quality product, full of priceless memories!!

  49. 49

    I have been doing DSLR Photography for Over 5 years. I have not really decided to sell Digital Files.

    How much should I sell these giving the Option to my Clients? Any Ideas would be very Helpful.

    Thanks.

  50. 50

    As far as Selling prints of your work, there is etsy, cafepress, zazzle, and deviantart. Etsy for me is too much of a hassle b/c I need to actually handle the shipping and printing and everything.

    Also, you want to get all of your social media networks on par with one another, make it easy for people to be connected with you.

    Personally I use SMugmug.com as a printer and shipper of my work. they give you a whole gallery option and pricing plans. They have their bare minimum prices, and you keep anything over that amount. Say it costs them $2.30 to print out and ship an 8×10 print. if you price it for $12, you get 10 bucks.

    Hope this helps, and keep up the hard work! If you DO decide to use them, sign up with this link and it will save you 20%.

    http://bit.ly/smug-mcp

    Keep up the hard work everyone!
    Sam

  51. 51
    John Wilson says:

    I’ve been providing the full resolution files on DVDs since around 2004. Business couldn’t be better. No matter what you sell, anything in life, you price it accordingly or what you simply think your work is worth based on how you deliver it. Back in the film day I was even selling the 645 medium format negatives I shot of weddings. Switching to digital was a problem for photographers as digital was coming to age. Even today, there are still some photographers who have the antiquated attitude of operating their studios and wedding photography businesses as though they are still based on the film business model. To be successful in any business you have to find out what the consumers want. You can’t sell people something they don’t want. Anyway, funny, funny, funny some comments here from about 3 years ago and the backward attitudes about selling the digital files. It’s very common today. I know several pros who swore to me they would never sell their digital files even though I always have. You guessed it. They sell their digital files now and couldn’t be happier.

  52. 52
    Melissa says:

    Um, some of you are seriously rude. This is a great *discussion* to have without people lashing out with hateful language.

    In most cases you have not in fact paid me to do the amount of work you think you did. I have turned away every potential client who has asked for a session and expected that I would give them ALL the photos from the session on a disc. Never going to happen. When I first started out I discussed with something an actual number of images I might release something like a set of 20 and they were appalled that for the $50 they were paying that I wasn’t going to just give them everything. That comes out to about $.10/hour for those of you who think you’ve good and paid for everything. That said, you’ll find a million ‘photographers’ aka technicians who can make your boring photos for nothing.

    There is a difference between a photographic technician and a photographic artist. If you are joining this discussion as only a client please spend some time trying to understand the following.

    If you hire an artist to create a finished product-it is for them to say what that finished product is that they create and see it through to completion. . A finished product can be a digital file or a physical print and these should really be viewed as two separate art forms. If you want a digital file to share because that is the only way you do it, there is an easy solution, discuss with your artist that this is the final product you would like. Your artist can then photograph with this in mind and edit appropriately. A properly created digital file goes through a development process just as a film image would. If I am creating a file for digital display, I will edit for that purpose. When I create for printing I edit differently. If I create for magazines or other forms of printing I edit differently. The point is it isn’t an ‘edit once’ and it’s good for everything sort of deal. I will have a prepared image suitable for digital display, a different image for printing. And you DID NOT pay for all of that just by paying for the session. If a customer does not plan to print an image, I do not need to spend the time editing it for print and in fact will start charging an extra fee to do that. I’m beginning a to communicate this approach to my customers. I edit for digital representation first and only, unless we’ve discussed printing. If you purchase digital images-you’ll get them. A low resolution image properly edited for digital display and impossible to print or edit or otherwise ruin.

    If you are buying print-quality photos the photographic artist is responsible to see the print through creation, not half-way and then turn it over to an amateur to complete without supervision? That’s ridiculous and that happens in NO profession.

    If you want to use photos for your notecards, calendars, coffee mugs and other tacky products use your own photos. In the commercial world a person would hire a commercial product photographer to create images specifically for that type of product. Are you hiring a portrait photographer whose skill is in the print portrait making? A digital photographer whose skill is in creating quality eye-catching digital imagery? A product photographer who can make photos that you can use for less dignified display, i.e. your coffee mug? Are you hiring a photographic story-teller; someone to tell a whole story of your event or personal history through imagery? What do YOU want as a final product? This is your responsibility as the client to discuss with the person you hire. Artists aren’t required to give away time and talent AND products because you were confused about what you were buying.

  53. 53
    Melanie says:

    I think the responses/comments to this article beautifully illustrate the ‘great divide’ between photographers and customers. The sad fact is that customers fundamentally view photography services differently than the photographers providing them. As a consumer, they view you as existing to serve them, and they view any work they contract from you the same as they view purchasing any other ordinary product: entirely their property. Consumers of portrait photography will never view your work with the same level of respect as you and other artists do. Heck, thats WHY we’re artists, because we do value the creative process and sanctity of artwork so highly. It takes another artist to recognize the value of art, and our customers are not that. When you provide your creations to a customer, any time you ever see one of them again, you will instinctively identify the portrait as “yours”. However, the client will, at the same time, naturally identify the same piece as “theirs”. Therefore, throughout the life of the product, because of this view on ownership, the client isn’t compelled to demonstrate any level of respect for the artwork. They won’t think twice about altering it on their computer, scanning prints, or any other free usage. They won’t feel compelled to provide a reference to you when posting the photo online…..etc, etc.. ….Photographers take issue with the fact that when customers produce poor quality prints or alterations of their work, it is damaging to the photographer’s appearance and reputation, but the sad reality is that it likely has much less effect than you think because chances are, that client isn’t even referencing you in connection to the work anymore. For a large majority of clients, by the time even a few months have gone by, they probably no longer mentally associate you and your creative services with their images. Think about it…when people share photos on Facebook, and their friends and family admire it, who do they compliment and therefore give responsibility to for the success of the image? Do they leave a comment saying “wow, great work by your photographer”? Not at all, they’ll compliment the person for having taken such a great photo. My point is that the general, widespread way of conceptualizing photography services is the same as any other service or good provided to a consumer. If you want to be a photographer that provides services to the general public, you have to be able to accept and be okay with this fact. If you cannot reconcile this, perhaps you would be happier to pursue your photography from a fine art standpoint instead of a business standpoint. Sure, you can work to develop a selective client base, who are more appreciative of your artwork, and you can do your best to educate clients about the values of your artwork, but in the end you cannot control this fundamental difference in how your work and services are viewed by each party. Refusing to provide any type of digital image is guaranteed to leave you watching an ever-increasing number of potential clients walk right away without looking back.

    It is changing so rapidly that even higher-end, respectful, “ideal” clients are starting to change their views. I recently took on a new client who was seeking a new photographer after a four-year relationship with an established and respected photographer because he was continuing to refuse to supply digital files. She spoke very, very highly of this photographer and displayed a lot of respect for his work and creations, showing off to me many wall hangings and other pieces that he had created for her with genuine appreciation of his style and work. She commented that she had never had any issues at all with him….he even negotiated special rates to accommodate the high frequency of her bookings. Basically, she is a respectful, appreciative, higher-end customer with big print spending patterns, who chose to end a well-established, close, and incredibly productive relationship with a talented, established artist and turn to me, a photographer who is far less established, and unfamiliar to her because her desire to have and share her memories digitally was too great. Don’t mistake me, we collaborated extensively on our respective directions and visions to make sure we were a good match, but the point is that as time proceeds, the spread of digital media is becoming so important to our client’s personal lives that even your most established clients may develop a need for digital products that is strong enough to take priority over their relationship with you and their respect for your artwork.

    In the end, I chose to enter portrait photography because I am passionate about providing something special to others. Yes, the potential consequences of digital products are not comforting or pleasant, and I cringe when I even begin to imagine some of the ways in which my work has probably been used…but the bottom line is that I made the choice to provide my photography as a service to others and this is a real and unavoidable consequence of making that choice.

    • John says:

      Thanks Melanie for contributing some well articulated good points. One thing is for sure. Digital photography is here to stay and with it comes inherent challenges and also opportunities which artists must find the approach or business model which best suits their personalities. For me, it is simply whatever keeps me competitive and making the most money which I feel fairly compensates me for my work.



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