This is a guest post by Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, NYC based architect, interior designer, photographer AND mom! Alethea has her own business, alethea cheng fitzpatrick photography.
I hear photographers talking about digital images all the time.
I've noticed that portrait photographers tend to be the ones bemoaning the fact that their clients “just want the CD”. Mostly it's because those same clients also think that the CD should be really inexpensive, because it “didn't cost the photographer much” to make.
Wedding photographers, on the other hand, often celebrate the fact that their clients don't really want albums any more. They claim that it's hard to make money off albums because they take so long to design and cost so much to make. They are quite happy to wow their brides and grooms by having an iPad pre-loaded with all their photos waiting on their doorstep when they return from their honeymoon.
The different perspectives are interesting, and there's a simple reason for the difference – wedding photographers typically charge up front for a package and include the high resolution files because they are already assured of the sale. Portrait photographers depend on post-session sales and, unless properly priced, high res files undercut their other products.
But regardless of the type of photographer you are, in both cases I strongly believe that you are doing your CLIENT a disservice if you only give them the CD. It is not in their best interest!
Fifty years from now, where is that iPad going to be? Where is that CD going to be?
What about a hundred and fifty years from now? Or longer?
Technology is going to COMPLETELY change, I don't need to tell you that, but have you thought about how your super fancy high resolution digital images of today… might not look so good on technology down the road, or might not be viewable at all? Now, I do not have any expertise in “future proofing” digital files, but then, you probably don't either, and nor do your clients. And a quick Google search seems to show that … no one really knows, and one recommended strategy is to make hard copies of important documents and photos!
Yes, your clients may upwardly convert their files, but do you want to depend on that?
Prints and albums (of archival quality – which of course you are going to provide) are your most future proof medium. They can sit on a shelf for years and still be viewed with no additional effort required by anyone.
But even aside from the future proofing issue, even assuming that the format you pick for your digital images is readable forever, is that really the only way you want your clients to experience your images?
Forget 50 years from now, even tomorrow, does viewing a digital images come anywhere close to the experience of holding viewing an actual physical piece of artwork in person?
Honestly? If you think it does then, seriously, you are not getting your prints made at the right lab!
I love my prints – love love LOVE them, and so do my clients. In fact, some of my clients start out thinking they just want the high resolution files but after they see the artwork products I offer (including museum quality framed and bamboo mounted prints, custom designed heirloom photobooks on presentation stands and beautiful notecards), they “get it”. Often they end up with everything BUT the high resolution files they started out so concerned about and are very happy about it.
Well, first of all, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying DON'T offer digital files. I absolutely understand the importance and value of digital files and I offer them to all my clients. I'm just saying that to ONLY provide digital files is doing your clients a disservice. I follow the recommendations that Alicia Caine makes in Easy As Pie (I highly recommend this resource by the way – well worth the investment). I offer high resolution files but a la carte, they are the most expensive item on my price list, and it's actually less expensive for clients to purchase high resolution files AND a proof box. I also offer low resolution web-sized watermarked files but only after a minimum purchase of other artwork has been made. Basically, my pricing is structured in a such a way that no client ends up with only digital files.
So how do clients end up changing their mind about the high resolution files?
Well, first of all, a big reason people want digital files is so they can share them online and via e-mail, and the low res web files take care of that. It helps that I offer my low res web files in the form of a finished product – an online digital storybook that is a cohesive presentation, designed and paced to tell a story, and set to licensed music. It can also easily be shared in a matter of clicks.
Secondly, they want them for archival purposes, but as we've discussed, hard copies are better for that.
Finally, they want the freedom to make their own prints in the future … and those that are really motivated to have this option available are willing to pay for it (or I am just not the right photographer for them). But most clients, when it comes down to it, and presented with the beautiful artwork options I offer, plus the fact that I sit with them and help them select their images and put together their order, not to mention frame, deliver and install their custom designed wall gallery, know deep or even not so deep down that they will not make such beautiful artwork themselves, and even if they had the resources and knowledge to do so, probably would never get around to it.
Think about it. If you hand your client a CD, they have to put it in their computer, open it up, download them to their desktop, sort through the images, select the ones they want to print, upload them to a printing service, collect or receive their prints, get them framed, buy the hardware to hang them, and then hang them.
Yes, some clients are very motivated and will do this. But most of my clients are busy professionals and they want to spend their spare time hanging out with their kids, not traipsing to a framer or a hardware store.
And how many clients can design an album? How many will?
My high resolution digital files are my highest priced a la carte product, because if they were any less, I would be underselling all my other products. But I feel that my clients get a LOT more value out of ordering artwork and albums from me, and after a certain spend level, I actually throw in the high res files at what works out to be pretty much for free as part of a collection.
Many photographers follow a “shoot and burn” model I know, and if it works for you, great. But if you're doing it because you think that is what clients want, consider whether it really is in their best interest, not to mention yours. You know how I feel about it – please don't just give them the CD!
How do you handle high resolution files for clients? How about low resolution files? What is your take on delivering just the digital images and nothing else to clients? Who wins and why do your clients almost always lose?