On Digital Negatives & Wow That Looks Nice, How Much Is It?

It used to be, back in the day (apparently), that wedding photographers would never ever never sell their 35mm negatives. If you wanted prints you had to buy them from the photographer, plain and simple.

This had two effects - it increased/guarenteed revenue for the photographer, and, perhaps more importantly, assured quality control over the printing process. The photographer used their printer, and knew predictably what the results would be.

In the digital age, Web 2.0 as it may be, people want/expect things faster, they want them yesterday.

I have not had ONE conversation with a client or potential client this year who has not at a minimum inquired about the availability of a disc of their digital negatives.

Let me share an e-mail from one such client when I asked her why she wanted the disk (to make her own prints for $.39 at Wal-Mart) and explained the quailty issue, she responded:

  • "When we were looking at photographers I will flat out tell you that if a CD was not going to be handed over to us with all of the pictures and with rights...I didn't even look into them...My grandmother, family and friends just want pictures to have. Most of them aren't going to put them in a frame. You understand what I'm saying?A bride wants the best pictures (ordering through the photographer) but my friends and family they just want a pictures that look good (ordering from a place like kodak that doesn't cost a lot)... Money is always an issue. "Wow that looks soo nice...how much is it."

I should add that I shot this couple's e-session but will not be shooting their weddings due to my umpiring schedule.

In response to her (valid) questions, I told her that basically that my files are color accurate and corrected, and I can't vouch for the quality from (insert retail printer here). Basically, she didn't care. I care. Poor prints has the potential to severely impact my business. Prints are my largest form of advertising, and that's even more important when it's my name on the door.

At the crux of this issue is, clients don't care, and as photographers, this challenge is not going to go away. We need to find a way to deal with it - it's a liquid, evolving issue, and instead of dragging our feet on it, I challenge other photographers to find ways to work around this issue and to continue to satisfy our clients and provide a high level of service.

What am I doing about this? Currently I'm making discs available to clients that come with images sized both for e-mail and print, with explicit instructions on how to get the best prints. Their cost is comparable to what I expect to receive in print income, and I'm hoping that by pricing the discs as such I can somewhat dissuede that option.