ARE THE DIGITAL FILES INCLUDED?
I’ve been asked this periodically, or variations of this question. Sometimes people tell me they want “just the files” because they assume it’s cheaper that way. I understand the misconception, but hopefully this will clear it up for you. I found that the reasons behind these questions usually involve one or more of these three issues: bargain shopping, the digital vs. film myth, and image ownership.
Most people who ask me for the digital files do so because they assume it’s the cheapest way to get my work. They love the artistry they see in it, they see the difference in quality compared to what others produce, but then they want to acquire it for less than what I charge, because it’s more than what others charge. Or they’ve been told by some budget guru that they can get custom portraiture at bargain basement prices by just buying the digital files.
As a custom photographer, it’s my job and my passion to provide you with the best portraits I possibly can…my art. I have no desire to offer anything less. To offer you the best quality, and to also offer you the best assurance that I’ll still be here next year to do the same, I need to charge sustainable prices.
That’s a hard concept to grasp from a consumer’s point of view, especially if you’re just looking for normal, average portraits. Yes, there is an abundance of photographers who do that, and for cheap. So price shopping IS possible if that’s what you’re looking for. But if you’re interested in having a photographer create art for you, shopping for photographers by price won’t get you the best. It doesn’t even get you a somewhat decent value. You’ve heard it before…you get what you pay for.
You may, occasionally, find someone who’s good at photography and charges very little. But cheap and free are deceptions. They’re not sustainable for any business that consistently delivers high quality. Paying sustainable prices and giving up this expectation to get everything free or cheap is vital to our economy, and vital to ensuring we have businesses like mine to choose from. It’s best to choose a fine portrait artist based on the artistry, not the prices.
The digital vs. film myth.
Some objections to price come from the belief that digital photography is cheaper than film. For your snapshots, it seems like it’s cheaper. You save on film, and you save on prints too. But only because you no longer get whole rolls of film printed. You only have your favorites printed, if that.
Professionals, however, are expected to produce professional-quality printed portraits, and need professional equipment to do so. Equipment costs overall for professionally shooting digital are many times that of film. The cameras alone, to ensure the quality needed, range from $2300 to tens of thousands. More than one is required for many jobs. And they don’t last as long as film cameras did. They need to be replaced every 1-2 years. The memory cards are bigger and faster and way more expensive than the paper-thin cards consumers use. Established photographers with busy client schedules need to have a large supply of memory cards, and replace them often.
The cost of digital also includes the workflow. Processing images on the computer is more time-consuming than developing film and making darkroom prints combined. Computers are a much bigger equipment expense than darkrooms. Not just in the purchase price, and necessary upgrades and replacements, but in the maintenance and troubleshooting. The software necessary is expensive and needs to be updated every year or two, just to maintain compatibility with camera replacements. New skills need to be learned with every update and replacement, requiring time and money spent on classes, workshops, and practice. Digital photography is simply not less expensive than film photography.
Nor are digital images worth any less than printed images. Most of the work that goes into creating portraits goes into that digital file before it’s ever printed. Even most of the work associated with the actual printing, like color management. That’s all done to the files. Digital files, whether in an unfinished digital negative form, or a finished image file, are the artistic creations of the photographer. They contain the work and artistry that prompted you to choose that photographer. They need to be purchased at a price that values the work, and the additional customer service requirements of selling digital files, which are numerous.
Occasionally people mistakenly believe that the images I create belong to the client, and that I have no right to charge for them. Some of the shoot-n-burn photographers even go as far as saying that photographers like me, who charge for our artwork, are holding the client’s images “hostage.”
Any photographs you create yourself do belong to you. And likewise, photographs created by me belong to me, and if you like them enough to buy them, you may. Otherwise, there’s no reason for me to do the work. Federal copyright law is very clear about this. The images are the property of the photographer, and the photographer has the sole right to make prints and copies of the images, and to sell them. This comes as a surprise to some people, because their wedding photographers “gave” them a CD of all the wedding images. You need to know that doesn’t give clients the copyright, and it doesn’t mean the clients own the images. It only gives them a limited license to make prints for personal use.
There’s also a big difference between weddings and portrait sessions, and the way they’re priced. Wedding photographers make a substantial commitment and take on a huge liability when accepting a wedding job. Therefore, they require full payment ahead of time…a flat fee based on the amount they want to make from the hours you’re booking, the size of the wedding, plus maybe an album. They don’t really want the hassle of added print orders afterward. So they include the CD of images with every wedding package. But make no mistake, it’s not free. It’s built into the wedding package price. Brides and grooms are willing to pay thousands of dollars up front because it’s a special day.
Portrait clients aren’t willing to spend thousands up front. They’ll pay a couple hundred dollars for a session fee, but they don’t want to pay for prints or files until they see the proofs. Session fees cover some basic costs incurred the day of the session. Portrait photographers rely solely on the sale of prints to cover the rest of their costs and make a profit. Giving away the digital files so clients can make their own prints would be financially devastating, and create a situation where there’s no reason to be offering the services in the first place.
There are photographers out there who perpetuate the misconceptions discussed above, by giving their work away, but they can’t survive long doing it at least not while producing quality work. If you want to work with a photographer on a long-term basis, and have her photograph your family as it grows, choose one who knows the value of her work and won’t compromise on quality. And be willing to pay a fair price for it.
My digital files are for sale, as are prints. See prices under the client resources tab for further details.
Copyright ©2009 Lauri Baker, Baby Photographer. Reproduced with permission.