I have been struggling lately with how I manage one key piece of my business; my digital files. Up until very recently I thought of them just as that; files. I did not see my files for what they truly are; my (dare I say this) talent, my time, my loving care and attention to retouching, and ultimately my art. After reading some articles like the one below I could feel my business model start to shift and to be honest it was an uncomfortable feeling. I have always wanted to practice ethical photography and would never want to hold someone’s photographs hostage. On the other hand, I also had to realize that this is a business for me and I need to protect the quality of the services that I am providing. And as much as I don’t want to take clients “to the cleaners” I can’t let them take me there either!
After much reflection I have decided to change my packages somewhat starting in June 2010. I will now be providing clients with a disc of 5 images from their session, with the remainder of their photos held on an online gallery where they can be purchased in varying sizes and materials. The site that I am hosting them on will also have the option for clients to download a high resolution digital file of a photograph they really like. I understand wanting to have “hard copies” of photos and so it was important to me to make this option available. I will also include the affordable option for clients to purchase their entire session on DVD for those who like to make a lot of prints or do fun things like scrapbook and create their own photo projects. 🙂 I will be posting more information in June regarding print pricing and packages… also be on the lookout for more fun products that you can have custom made with photos from your session. Things like canvas prints with various templates, bound coffee table books, drymounted wall hangings and much, much more! Photos of examples are on their way and I can not wait to share!
I didn’t want to do away with giving clients files along with their session completely because I think that every family should be able to access quality custom photography. I will full heartedly admit that I am a teensy bit of a photo snob and I can not stand the idea of families having to go to places like Sears or Walmart to get their photos done. The lighting is terrible, the backgrounds are tacky and the photos are boring (let’s be honest). Everyone should have photos of their family that they can hang proudly all around their house, or hand to friends and family. Everyone should have photos that make friends and family (or even strangers) gasp when they see them.
The article below is from BabyPhotographers.com
Surely you’ve noticed an increase in the number of photographers giving away digital files. As a customer, should you expect them to be for sale? Why don’t all photographers include them in the session fee for free, or at least make them affordable? Don’t the files belong to you anyway?
Federal copyright law is very clear about image ownership. They belong to your photographer, who has the sole right to print, display, and sell them. You should expect the price of files, if available, to compensate your photographer for her work and talent. Baby photographers don’t always sell a large package up front like wedding photographers. Instead, most charge a session fee that just covers some costs of providing the shoot. We rely on print sales as our sole source of income. The digital images are the key to those print sales. This is good for you. It means I have to do a good job for you, or I won’t get paid.
While many baby photographers do offer the files for sale, many custom photographers don’t. It’s a matter of quality control from start to finish. They realize cutting corners on that is a disservice to their clients.
Almost all of the file inquiries I get stem from an attempt to get my work for cheap…to get my vision, but to skip out on buying prints from me. Or from a misconception that digital is cheaper to produce than film. It’s not. The equipment is much more expensive, replacements are necessary more often, and the workflow, maintenance, troubleshooting, and constant education requirements make digital much more expensive.
Even at that, the real value of digital files comes not from the cost, but what the files contain: the work and artistry that prompted you to choose that photographer. If you purchase files, expect to pay a price that values the work, and is sustainable for the photographer. You want her to still be in business when your new baby starts sitting up. Or walking. Or when your family grows.
If you’re just looking for average portraits, you don’t care about prints or a long-term photographer, cheap photography is available in abundance on places like Craigslist and all the mommy boards. You can have a session and all the files for cheap. But for good baby photography, the important things to look for are artistry, print quality, experience with babies, safety, and service. Not the availability or price of digital files.
Copyright ©2010 Lauri Baker, printed with permission.