Want More Value from Your Photographer? Don't Ask this One Question:
Can I Have JUST the Digitals?
Short answer….? “YES"
But after you read this article, you’ll be wishing you had asked for more.
But first, let’s start with a little story…
A Chef, a Mechanic & an Architect walk into a bar…
Bartender says “What’ll it be?” The chef says “I just made three hundred delicious meals for my patrons. I’ll have a shot of Patron.” The mechanic says “I just tightened three hundred screws on my customers’ cars. I’ll have a screwdriver.” The architect says “I just finished a skyscraper that’s three hundred feet high. I’ll have a Manhattan”. Down at the end, they notice a photographer sitting alone. “Hey friend!” the architect calls out and the photographer looks up, “What about you?”.
The photographer says “An old client called me today to tell me his family portraits we did 10 years ago were lost in a computer crash. If I’d offered him a set of prints, they would have lasted 300 years.
Now, I’m kicking myself, so give me a Moscow Mule”.
Okay, so maybe that’s not the best joke ever written, but the point is the same:
What do these professions have in common?
They are all service-based businesses in which you pay not just for the training and expertise of the professional, but you also walk away with a reasonable expectation of a quality end-product as well. So it’s fair to say that….
You’d be appalled to pay top dollar for a gourmet meal, only to receive a plate full of ingredients to take home and figure it out
You don’t bounce happily out of the mechanic’s shop with tools and wires in hand, excited to work on your car yourself
You don’t pull up to the property to meet the developer building your new home, have him hand you the blueprints and a laser level, and think “Wow what an awesome company, they gave us everything we needed to build our own house!”
Why then, are you letting your Photographer off the hook to not finish the job? A photographer’s job is to make….well….photographs!
9 Points to Support Printed Products in your Package
1) Digital Files are the Means to an End
Because we live in such a digitally-charged world, we sometimes forget that the tangible world still exists. Yes, social media and email and online slideshows are great, but that is not why you created beautiful images. The point of hiring a professional photographer is to have prints you can display in your home, albums you can flip through and recall the memories, and fun photo products that brighten up a room when you walk into it.
Yes, you can and should be able to create those keepsakes yourself from the digital files. I’m not saying you should not have this option as well. But as outlined in the opening lines of this article, your photographer should not leave all the work to you. Use the digital files to create items at your convenience, but make sure they are offering you some sort of printed package or credit toward prints of your choice, that they take care of for you.
2) It’s a Myth that Digital-Only Photographers are “Cheaper”
It's easy to think that "if I'm not getting prints, then the package will be cheaper". Just remember…
The Cost is Not in the Spark Plugs
It's kind of like paying a mechanic to tune up your vehicle, but asking for the tools and instructions, so you can do it yourself.
He can sell you the spark plugs if you reeeaallly want them, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still need to charge for the time he spent finding the problem, the electricity used, and the opportunity cost associated with your car taking up space on the lift for an hour. The $5 spark plug is really irrelevant in that equation...just because you can’t hold those other items in your hand doesn’t mean they don’t have a cost associated with them, which adds up to basically the same as what you'd pay for him to just finish the job.
Similarly, a Photographer’s training, equipment, expertise, creative style, planning of the shoot, and management of the raw files afterwards are all skills that lend to the cost of their services. Those costs don’t go away just because there’s a change in the deliverable, because the cost of the print is irrelevant.
If you’re dealing with a professional studio,
their digital files will not be free.
In my years of experience, seeing others come and go in this industry, the only photographers doing cut-rate digital packages are hobbyists hustling for side money, or creatives who don’t actually know how to run a business. Either way, you have no guarantee of longevity, quality, or experience, and is that who you really want to trust your wedding day memories to?
3) Beautiful Images Exist to be Seen in Real Life
As the "digital revolution" took hold, we have taken our most cherished possessions - our memories - and reduced them to a cold flat soul-less piece of hardware, one that many admit years later, aside for some pictures they posted on social media, they never looked at ever again.
That's sad. I don't want that. We worked hard to get those images. I pulled out all the stops, attached an extra lens for a special shot, we hiked 3 miles by the time it was done, I left with bruised knees, your sides hurt from laughing, and I had sand in my tripod clamps, but we were both beaming from ear to ear!
The photos turned out awesome and you’re so happy with them. But you don’t want to actually look at them? That doesn’t make any sense.
4) You Have Enough to do Already
You got your entire family together and traveled 682 miles to be here. Your brother in law wore a collared shirt for the first time in 10 years, and your moody teenager smiled "for real" running around that beach.
Now you’re home, you’ve got this digital gallery, or this USB drive. Now what?
You have every intention of making a book, but you couldn't figure out whether to go with Canva, SmugMug, or SnapFish. You wanted to put some on the wall but couldn't decide between Fine Art Matte, Fuji Deep Matte, and True Matte. You went to order prints from a local lab, but you’re not tech savvy and got lost in the sea of uploads and file transfers and warnings about bleed lines and trim margins and pixel resolutions.
You get overwhelmed and, being too busy to worry about it right now, you table it for next week…and then next week…and then next month.
Before you knew it, six years went by...oh what's that?...it was ten years. Yikes.
And no, this is not an over-dramatization. I’ve been shooting wedding and portraits since 2001. I’ve photographed so many clients I’ve lost count now, but the overarching theme when I do manage to reconnect years down the road with those who opted for a “digital only package”, they all tell me the same thing….some iteration of “We are embarrassed to admit this, but we still never put our album together,”, or “Wow I can’t believe it’s been 3 years already, I still never got that framed portrait above the fireplace like we talked about”.
It’s the same song over and over.
And the one thing they had in common was “how excited they were to get home and print these!”. Uhhh huh. I’ll believe it when I see it.
5) You Don’t Want to be Part of the Missing Generation
An entire generation of children is growing up without that self esteem that comes from seeing your photo framed lovingly on the side table. Family legacies now have gaping holes in their records. Sitting on grandma's couch flipping through photo albums has become a lost art. When future populations look back on this time, they're going to wonder
"Where did everyone go?"
We (photographers) all took the easy way out. You (consumers) said you were content with an online-only existence. Relieved to be rid of all the work that happens after the shoot, photographers then just shrugged and went “meh, that’s what they want, so here you go”.
So together we have contributed to "the missing generation".
We are now a culture that
when the drives crash
the internet "clouds" dissipate
USB sticks get lost
SD card gets hit with the tiniest bit of static electricity
or CDs (remember those?!) get scratched
has nothing to show for decades of milestones and memories
So, myself along with many other professionals in my field, have re-committed ourselves to not only the art of making good images, but the craftsmanship that comes with delivering a product that will last.
6) Digital Files Cost More as Time Goes On
Back in the day, you could pay a photographer for their services, get your prints, hang them on the wall or set the album on your coffee table, and that was that. Now, you get an online gallery, or a mobile app, or a USB drive, all of which require special devices, internet access, or special software, to view your photos.
If you want to future-proof your photos, you’ll need to stay on top of the new devices that come out as time goes on and technology changes. If you want to have backups of your photos, you’ll need to either buy extra drives, or pay for cloud storage (iCloud, Google Photos, DropBox, etc).
7) There is No Comparison of Quality and Value
Consider the difference when you pick up an album, with thick pages and leather hand-stitched cover, or a canvas print carefully stretched over a frame and hung lovingly on the wall.
There is almost no amount of money that you can put on the happiness, stress-relief, and relationships that are built on positive self-image and visual affirmation.
A digital file on a screen will never give you that same feeling.
8) Printing Your Own Photos Isn’t Really That Much Cheaper
I talk about this in more detail in my article “Does It Make Sense to Print My Own Photos”, but the short version of that article is that in many cases, you’ll end up spending almost the same after the session by printing the photos yourself, by the time you pay the extra licensing to receive only digital files, pay for the printing yourself, and add to that the time that it takes you to deal with it.
So, why would you want to take on the responsibility of dealing with all the time and trouble to print your own images, if it doesn’t really save you much in the long run anyway?
9) Products are a [Solid] Investment. Pixels are a [Risky] Expense.
"Just getting the disc" might sound like a good idea right now, but 30 years from now, when your family can pick up and hold prints, or reach up to the portrait on the wall, or sit and thumb through old prints stored neatly in a box...that is when the value of what you purchased really hits you.
I talk about this in more detail in my article “Is This Really How You Want to Enjoy Your Photos?”, but essentially, when you buy a print or an album, you have something that - barring a major catastrophe like your house burning down - will last forever. The inks are archival, the papers are made to last 100+ years, the covers keep everything safe and well protected. Once that portrait is on your wall, you don’t really move it. Once the album is on your bookshelf, it’s there to pick up whenever you want it.
Digital files, however,
if you’re very diligent with them, cost you money to store in the cloud
if you’re careless with them, cost you a lot in the form of losing images that you paid good money for
And, when the drive corrupts or software and technology change over time making your chosen delivery method obsolete, they cost you in conversion services and recovery software.
Moral of the story?
If the person shooting your wedding or your portraits is not including some sort of printed product, you are not getting what you really paid for.
So I make the case today that if you expect a steak, a spark plug, and a wall stud from the other guys….why would you ever want a photography package with “just the digitals”?
Karrie Porter is a Destination Wedding and Portrait Photographer based in Key West, Florida. Shooting professionally since 2001, she brings nearly 2 decades of shooting and studio management experience to clients and other photographers, serving up creativity and education with her signature style and energetic personality. For More Info, Meet Karrie and Team