Maybe you DO want digital files. But keep reading because there’s a lot to explain. By the end of this post, you may not have changed your mind, but you’re guaranteed to be a lot more of an informed consumer, even if you do still decide to go for the digitals.
If you Google “photography” and “digital files” there are a lot of articles out there about:
• Why doesn’t the photographer give me digital files?
• Why does the photographer charge so much for digital files?
• What size digital files should I get?
• Why you, as a photographer shouldn’t sell digital files.
• Why you, as a photographer ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO sell digital files and how to price them.
Out of all of the front page articles on this subject, do you know what percent are written from the perspective of wanting to ensure the client gets the best possible service, product, and overall experience?
They are all written with the photographer in mind. Even the ones supposedly written for “consumer education” are full of excuses for pricing and justifications of why some photographers do sell them and some don’t.
Seems no one is thinking about the poor consumer, who has been told by some photographers “Oh, you should always get the digital files,” and by other photographers, “Oh you should never ask for the digital files.”
And then there’s the younger generation, who doesn’t even know what digital files are. They just call them “photos” because they rarely see an actual printed photo.
So here we go. Grab your favorite beverage and let me attempt to cover at least a tiny bit of what all the other blog posts have left out.
1. The first thing to cover is that digital files are not an actual product.
What if I wrote a bunch of ones and zeroes on a page? Like this:
Okay, you get the idea.
How much will you pay me for that?
Am I crazy? No. Because when you get a digital file, that’s what you’re paying for: an arrangement of binary information that, when you are able to read it — given that the storage media is working and you have the correct software — resolves itself into a portrait of your baby, or a crucial moment from your wedding.
That’s a strange thing to pay for, don’t you think? But wait! There’s more!
2. There you have it … and then you don’t.
One little glitch, and the whole thing is gone. Photographers who have been at this for a while have dissolved into tears as we tried in desperation to retrieve files from a disc gone bad, or realized that the best photo from our shoot had a flaw that meant that only half the information was readable.
As a new, baby photographer, coming of age when digital was also just a baby medium, I thought digital was EVERYTHING. I was warned that files could go bad, that storage systems would change through the years, that computers crashed and that backups should be made. You won’t even believe what year that was: 1997. Yes, I was in the forefront of the digital revolution in photography, and I had faith in digital. I grumbled because I had to get my best photos into a printed, analog medium in order to submit portfolios to potential employers.
Today, the only photos of mine that still exist from that era are the ones I printed, or had transferred onto slides that could be printed.
“But things have changed since then,” you want to say. Not really, no. Nothing has really changed since then. Digital will always be a fragile media; it’s the nature of the beast.
3. You’ve been misled by people who either don’t know, or don’t care.
Some photographers are like the new, baby-photographer me. They don’t know digital isn’t a stable media, and they are all starry-eyed about this new technology, and it’s SO FUN to just shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and never have to worry about all that boring stuff like printing, and selling, and delivering a product to clients. So why not just give them the digital files and go have some more FUN! Why not?
Beside the reasons stated above, which are more than adequate, it’s a pretty photographer-centric business model. It was adopted by a lot of photographers because they LOVE photography.
Know what I love? I love my clients. That’s why I stay away from that model.
Oh, yeah, I did that at first. I was a shoot and burn, nothing but a disc. I didn’t know, and maybe also didn’t care a bit. I was really timid, too, and didn’t want to meet with people or spend much time with them. I wanted to hide behind my camera and send people a link to the photos or mail them a disc, and be done with dealing with people.
Something crazy happened, though. I started to love people more and more. And the more I loved them, the less I wanted to just send them off into the wild blue yonder with only a disc that would likely lie unused in a drawer.
Which brings me to …
4. So What Do I Do With This Disc?
Well … I could tell you what most people do. They just leave it in a drawer.
It reminds me of one of my favorite passage from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“Ratchet screwdrivers are a peculiar fruit which grow in a forest somewhere and are often used as primitive tools. Their life cycle is quite interesting. Once picked a ratchet screwdriver needs a dark dusty drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin which crumbles into dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a sort of hole for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows what it is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, is presumably working on it.”
Much like the ratchet screwdriver, the disc (USB, CF card) finds it’s natural habitat in the dusty recesses of a drawer. Even I, a person in possession of an entire filing cabinet of double backed-up and meticulously labeled discs, pull the occasional shiny little frisbee-shaped thing out of a drawer and think, “What’s on here? When was this? Did I ever back it up?”
Cue the horrible whirring sound of a computer trying to read a disc that has been rendered unreadable by nothing more than time.
You know what you ought to do? Print them! Choose your favorites, the ones that tell your story the best that give you the most joy, and print them. Display them. Photos are not for sitting in a drawer, they are for reminders. And the best kind of reminders, about the best things, are reminders you see every day. So on to the best reason of all:
5. This looks silly. And ineffective.
The best way to enjoy your photos is to put them on the wall. That way they are a daily reminder of what’s most important in your life.
In fact, this post is 100 percent backwards, for me. I like to start with the assumption that we are photographing what you love most, that you are asking me to capture something because it’s one of the most amazing things in your life!
At that point, when we capture what’s valuable to you, why would you not want to see it every day? You would, of course.
There are a lot of things that keep people from being comfortable putting photos on their wall, but that’s a different post. But if you just said “Of course” when I said you would want those photos on your wall, then think about this:
• You want to be sure you are putting something on the wall you can be proud of.
• You want to be confident in your choice of photos.
• You want to look your best, and you want all of your loved ones in the photo to look their best.
• You want it to be the correct size and finish for the space where you will be displaying it.
• You want it to last, and be beautiful, not to look faded or tacky or shabby in only a couple of years.
To that end, wouldn’t you be happier if your photographer:
• Designed with you in mind, and preferably with you present and giving feedback;
• Helped you with a professional eye to choose the best photos, and the ones that were most flattering;
• Could explain confidently how lighting, cropping and other editorial choices could be used to create a flattering photo;
• Edited the photo to perfection so that any flaws that still remained were eliminated or minimized;
• Helped you choose a size and finish that was appropriate for your decor, style, and personal preferences;
• Took time and effort to research and source the best available products in terms of construction, finish, and longevity.
Folks … THAT is a professional photographer!
So maybe you’ve been to the photographer who meets you in the park, uploads your photos to Dropbox, and calls it a day. Maybe you’ve been to the photographer who goes a little further and sends you a link to an online gallery where you’re more or less on your own to order products, sight unseen until they arrive at your door.
But when you’re ready for the real deal, to be pampered and spoiled, to be heard and get to tell your story to someone who cares, to create with confidence something that will be a treasured heirloom, just know it’s here! I’m waiting on your call!