Today’s guest post is by Tony Urban‘s second guest post for this site. He is a high school senior portrait photographer based in Western Pennsylvania. Read his first post here.
If you’re a photographer who is giving your clients their images on a disc, you don’t care about your business or your clients. Sound harsh? I’m sure it does but I believe with every fiber of my being that it’s the truth.
When I started my photography business, I began in wedding photography. At the time, including a disc of images with the digital photos was pretty standard. I was new to the business so I assumed if everyone else was doing it, it must be right. I gave a disc of high res images to every client whose wedding I shot and never looked back. It was nice to not to have to bother with album designs or ordering prints from the lab. Instead of having Aunt Ruth coming to me for a 5×7, I could simply tell her to have the bride and groom email it to her. I was happy, the clients were happy because they got “all the photos” and all was right in the world, right?
Wrong. I stopped shooting weddings a few years ago as my portrait business exploded. In portraiture, at that time, images on a disc was unheard of, so I sold print collections, albums, wall portraits, etc. to my new clients. They loved the high quality products I was giving them from a professional lab and I liked knowing that the images they were showing off were printed well, not by some kid making minimum wage at the local department store.
Over the past few years, the “pics on a disc” business model has invaded portrait photography like a virus. New photographers have latched onto the idea and coupled it with dirt cheap prices. They think it’s is a superb idea. Their clients, who are seeking a “good deal” like it too. After all, they can take their disc to Walmart and print out a plethora of 4x6s for a couple dollars. What could go wrong?
Everything is going wrong. Giving your clients their images on a disc is giving them “half” a product. It would be like going to the car dealership and having them sell you the body and wheels, but no engine. It would be like going in for surgery and paying the doctor for the operation, but having him tell you that you need to stitch yourself up. Why does anyone think this is a good idea?
At one of the last weddings I shot, I happily bumped into former wedding clients. I had photographed their wedding a few years earlier and loved catching up with them. During our conversation, the husband mentioned to me in an off handed way that they had lost their disc in a move. They had never got around to printing their photos even though they loved them. I was happy to burn them a new disc, but what if I would have moved or gone out of business or even died? They would have had nothing left of their wedding but memories.
In a related anecdote, I was recently contacted by another former wedding client asking me if I could have some large wall portraits printed for him and his wife from their wedding photos – a wedding I had shot 8 years prior. He explained that they looked at their pics on their computer all the time, but with kids, jobs, etc. never got around to printing anything. Now that they were ready to get some large photos, they didn’t know where to go to have them printed and, quite frankly, didn’t want to be bothered with it. So, their disc of photos, which they had paid me good money to create, was basically worthless.
Stories like that are bound to happen even more frequently in portraiture. If you hand your clients a disc of images and expect them to do all the work of printing the photos or making collages or designing albums, you’re showing them that you don’t want to take the time and make the effort to give them a true finished product. You’re being lazy and cheap and you’re justifying it by telling yourself, “That’s what they want.” but the customer doesn’t know any better. You’re the pro – you should.
What your clients don’t need is a disc of dozens of files and to be left on their own to figure out crop ratios, to find a good printing lab, to figure out whether the prints they get back are too dark or have a magenta color cast or if the paper is of low quality and will fade in a few years. Why should your clients be forced to go to Shutterfly or Blurb and design their own albums? Why are you telling them that your doing “half” the job is good enough?
If you’re basically a hobbyist who takes photos for fun and a little money, maybe giving “pics on a disc” is the right choice for you. But if you’re professional photographer who is going the disc route, you’re sabotaging your business and cheating your clients out of the professional product they deserve.
Paul Atkins says
Or look at it this way:
Professional digital coverage is just 10 years old.
CD/DVDs, hard drives last 5-15 years.
Your backup may be on the same media and blank too (unless you are doing a 5 year roll over – but who is doing that). So essentially you are giving them nothing. Or at least a problem.
There is nothing as easy as print to ensure the next generation will see the photographs. When digital matures, fine. But that is not insight.
The solution is easy, print is rewarding, professional and long lasting.
Great article on a great blog, thanks!
Ben Morse says
An interesting take. But you’ve glossed some key areas to support your own argument. For instance, what’s the difference, 8 years down the line, with a lost book of photo prints, or a picture disc? if you’re dead and gone, they aren’t going to get either! Similarly, in a digital age, image consumption is increasingly online only. I don’t like it, but that’s the way of it.
As someone who deals primarily with bands, often the printing is out of my hands. I’ll be commissioned to take the pictures, colour them, crop them, until all parties are happy (within reason!) but after that, it’s out of my hands. On the few occasions that I’ve run prints myself, it’s a different art form. If I give my image to printers, and they show me proofs, I’ll get all sorts of variables back. Your analogy to a doctor not stitching you up is interesting – he often passes it over to a specialist to close.
What I’m saying is that I think there’s a middle ground. If I find a print supplier who is helpful, considerate, and has high standards, that’s an art in itself. I’ll use them, and recommend them. But I won’t insist on my clients using them. I love having a final print – it’s the logical conclusion to the process, and as an artist, saying “this is how this image should look” is a great feeling. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to sell photos. And in this economy, with this line of work, I’d urge people to be as flexible as possible.
Callum Smart says
Look guys! We as photographers need both,print and disc. Both have there place in photography!
Printing and setting up a photo is a art (Photoshop ,Frame and Mount). Using a disc is a good way for people to share there photos and discs should be giving by photographers! But with the prints! People love to feel and look at pictures! And not doing that is chep and not giving people the full package.
Tony Urban says
Thanks for the comments, everyone!
Ben – My post was geared toward portraiture. It isn’t really applicable to commercial photography where photographers are expected to deliver the images and then be hands off. I agree that we need to find a “middle ground”. I always provide my clients with low res copies of the images for their facebook, online sharing, etc. and I do offer hi res files for sale (with quality restrictions). My post was more directed at the photographers who shoot and burn, which I feel is cheating their customers.
Callum – Totally agree!
Paul – Paul – Thanks for the post and great feedback!
Ela & Jason says
Love tin types. I whole heartedly agree with prints needing to be a part of packages, why did the wedding industry veer away from that?
It makes me cringe when I see badly designed albums with my images on them.
David Liang says
Why don’t you let photographers decide for themselves what services they want to offer, and likewise allow clients to receive whatever they want to receive, WITHOUT judgement from an unrelated party SUCH AS yourself.
How does what other people do with their business and their clients have anything to do with you? Don’t bring up the “ruining the industry” argument, because assuming they are, then your business practice would stand out and gain wouldn’t it?
Get off your high horse.
Tony Urban says
David – I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment until now – apologies. Photographers are certainly free to offer whatever products or services they choose. I just feel that photographers who are giving a disc only, whether it be out of trying to save time or compete on a purely budget level, are cheating their clients out of a truly finished product. And many clients, eager to save some $$ in this horrid economy, are fine with this as they don’t realize what they’re missing out on. Just my two cents on the issue, as I certainly have no authority over what anyone else does. :)
Jen Imus says
So I’ve read in different places that if you sell digital files you…
1) don’t care about your clients (that’s a new one)
2) you are ruining the industry
3) you will never make a living
4) you’re not a “real” photographer
I am so tired of this. It’s the same argument from the elite saying that the “newbies” are making it impossible to compete, or that the iPhone is ruining the professional DSLR.
Wake up. We are in the digital age. Digital files are the medium in which we are evolving to experience photography. Saying that you must only offer prints is you putting your outdated subjective opinion on how YOU think your clients should experience THEIR photos. It’s elitist, it’s arrogant and its insulting. It’s OLD SCHOOL.
It’s marketing 101. If your clients want prints on their walls, great. Find a way to get them the best possible display and knock their socks off. If they want to have them digitally, lets force them to buy prints anyway? Give me a break.
I pay for professional photography every year in addition to being a professional photographer. I would never hire a professional that hasn’t evolved from the antiquated way of “upsell” that only benefits the photographer’s pocketbook.
It 10 years this argument is going to be so ridiculous… It’s time to evolve.
Tony Urban says
Hi Jen – I actually didn’t say anywhere in the article that we shouldn’t sell digital files. I said that if all you offer are digital files, you’re doing a disservice to your clients. I sell digital files and I include a very nice print of every digital file they purchase so they have something tangible and so they know what the images should really look like.
Face it, 95% of the clients that only want “digital files” are saying that because they think it’s cheaper and then they can take their disc to walmart and have their prints made. I’ve had snapshots printed at walmart ina pinch and 9 times out of 10 they look hideous. Our clients deserve better.