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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Selling Uncut Gems

I want to discuss a photographers' issue that is likely to bring on as many opinions, teeth-gnashings, and assertions of dominance as any (insert rival sports teams names here) face-off: selling digital files. I go back and forth between "Never!" and "Why Not?" every other day. When I re-invented my business this fall, this was the number one issue I had to resolve with myself before everything else could be addressed.

Why is this issue such a big deal for photographers? Well, back in the day, when we photographed with film, we made our income off one of two things: selling negatives, or selling prints. Most commercial photographers were accustomed to including negatives in their negotiations with their clients, because the designers and editors needed to have all the images so they could cover all their bases for different uses, formats, layouts, etc. However, portrait photographers have traditionally built their business models around selling prints because most people only wanted a handful of prints to put on their wall and/or albums and didn't need all the out-takes with Uncle Bob blinking, or baby George screaming. Also, it wasn't practical for the average client to retouch and print their own negatives. There were far fewer options and resources for getting professional quality products, that it was just not convenient for the average person to accomplish.

Enter the digital revolution. Suddenly it was really easy and cheap to take a whole boat-load of images, and so it got really hard to limit ourselves to just keeping a handful. Suddenly it was affordable for people to have the exact same gear the pros had. Suddenly it was super convenient to upload an image to one of hundreds of online labs and get a stretched canvas shipped right to your house. Suddenly there was Photoshop and Instagram and Facebook, and who the heck even prints photos anymore? It is a crazy process that has left professional portrait photographers either struggling and morphing to keep up with the demands of today's client, or shutting their doors permanently. That's why it's such a big deal to photographers.

It's an issue every person has to address in his/her own way, and I decided when I re-launched my business that I would be offering both digital files and prints to my clients. In some ways it's a relief to finally be able to answer "yes" to that question, but I still struggle with the fact that a finished product isn't always the desired outcome of a session. I am a big fat cheater when it comes to photography, and my style over the years has been molded mostly out of the need to fix something dumb I did. Every image that I post on my blog or Facebook has been meticulously evaluated and enhanced with not just retouching, but color and contrast correction, flaw removal, and cropping for best composition. I consider the images that come out of my camera uncut gems that are all in need of a good cut and polish before they are ready to be mounted and displayed. This detailing takes a LOT of time, and it is just not realistic to collect the amount I'd have to charge for this service on every single image of a session.

I have come to realize that it's ok to sell the uncut gems, though, as they still have quite a bit of value to those who love the subjects I'm photographing. And sometimes we don't need the crown jewels for every occasion. Anyway, that is where I stand on the issue now - that both prints and files are important, and if you have anything to say on the matter, I'd love to hear what you think below in the comments.  photo IMG_9468before.jpg

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