Shoot & Burn Vs Printing

Shoot & Burn Vs Printing


Things you need to consider carefully before you give away your images on disc

Images and words By Gemma Carr

 Shoot & Burn Vs Printing 1Not so long ago to be a photographer meant that you had to invest in an expensive camera AND load that camera with film. Nowadays, with digital format, a photographer can do away with the expense of film and shoot to his or her heart’s content without the worry about the cost of film.

Whilst there are countless benefits to shooting digital – hence why we are all here now in this digital environment – there are also some new “pickles” to deal with.

The main “pickle” (I like that word) that I want to address today is that of releasing your digital negatives on disc Vs supply your clients with prints.

Giving your images away on disc is what’s known in the industry as “Shoot & Burn”, effectively reducing the handling of print orders and giving the client access to all the images contained on the disc. This can seem like a great idea to save you time and it’s always very appealing to the client, lets face it, who wouldn’t want their images on disc? However, if not negotiated right, passing along a disc of images can lead to passing along of print profits, print quality control and the potential misrepresentation of you as a photographer.

For example, have you noticed the variation of print and paper qualities between the labs you use? Chances are your clients, with disc in hand will find the most convenient and cost effective method of printing, rather than sourcing the best quality print option. By giving away images only on a disc, you never know if or how they will be printed and presented. Is this something you are comfortable with?

After all, it’s your reputation and future business that’s at stake if the print option they choose isn’t up to your won exact standards.

 Shoot & Burn Vs Printing 2

And what’s significant about a high quality printed photograph is also what sets is apart form an electronic image. As a photographer, the images you create are shared in many forms via email, facebook, slideshows etc. With so many electronic photo sharing options available, it’s easy to over look the importance of the printed image. Looking at an image on a screen is fantastic, but there’s nothing quite like the personal, tactile feeling of holding a print in your hand, turning the pages of an album, bringing a print closer to see the details. Even the scent of the photo paper can transport you. This is the power of the printed photograph and it would be so sad to overlook this significance.

The main risks of only supplying digital negatives on disc:

  • Loss of quality control
  • Loss of potential income (in print sales)
  • People will come to expect it of you

The benefits of retaining the digital negatives:

  • 100% quality control of prints, you know how your prints are being displayed (which should lead to more work).
  • Clients return back to you time and again for prints, keeping you fresh in their minds.
  • Ensures clients spend a set amount for your services.
  • Maintains your value as a photographer and your skills.

The reality is that nowadays, clients will demand a disc or take their business elsewhere. There surely must be a compromise?

The good news, yes there is!

 Shoot & Burn Vs Printing 3

Here are some methods many professional photographers use:

Printed Proofs – provide your clients with a physical set of proofs to select their favorites from.

Minimum Spend – Release images on disc ONLY when clients meet a certain spend threshold. This could be bundles with a print or album package. This is a very effective way to bundle your print/disc combo. (I use this sales tool)

Low Resolution Disc – Provide proofs on a disc in LOW RESOLUTION only, this way the selected shots will still be printed by you, to your quality standards.

Online Gallery – this will allow your clients to view and share their photos on a computer, which is always handy. Yet to actually obtain any prints, clients will need to order via the online gallery. This also alleviates the expense of printing proofs.

Watermark – protect your digital files with a copyright watermark, again clients will need to come back to you for prints.

So as we all try to find our best practices for this digital life, I hope that along with the gazillion files on your hard drives, you also have some favorite shots printed out and framed, stuck to the fridge and lining your office walls.

I hope your clients have your images proudly displayed on their walls, printed and presented to your exact quality standards, with some watermarked images on their facebook as well.

Let’s leave the pickles for tasty sandwiches.

How about you? Have you got any suggestions or ideas to share on this topic?

Gemma Carr is a Freelance Photographer from Melbourne. See more from her at her site Follow her on Twitter at @GemTweetAlot. This post was previously published in the members area of ACMP.

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Some Older Comments

  • Shelley July 28, 2012 06:27 pm

    In the above comment I meant to say provided images on disk, not prints.

  • Shelley July 28, 2012 06:24 pm

    For our wedding we paid in the mid 3000s for our wedding photographer. She provided prints in high res on dvd, plus smaller, watermarked versions for online. After the reception that was our largest wedding related expense. A large album would have added nearly $2000 to the cost. Photographers, what do you want? our life savings? I think what you are asking is unreasonable: a $3500 charge for the days' work and photo editing, and then hundreds more for prints. You can't charge for a service and then charge more to translate that into a useable product.

    I wanted to add as well that her potential for profit from us has not ended. If we decide to order prints from her in the future we always can, and also probably a couple of hundred of my family and friends have seen her work and now know that she is a brilliant photographer. Word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool and we would not hesitate to recommend her.

  • Karen May 16, 2012 09:34 am

    I include a CD of all high res JPEG files with all my photo sessions and weddings with a print release, as well as upload all their images onto an online album at SmugMug where they can order prints and other items online prices at SmugMug are pretty reasonable, and I would love it if more of my clients would order online, mainly because I know that the prints will be better in terms of quality and color...can anyone suggest any wording I could use to persuade clients to order online (even though they have the CD), or even order an album through me.....I don't think many of my clients are even printing their images at all, most seem to be just posting a few to facebook and that's it, it just seems like an awful shame.....

  • Pam March 1, 2011 02:10 am

    This is my first year IN business... I do provide digital files and on my "model release" it states that the images may not be altered or edited in any way - honestly though how would I know... On that same thought even if a photographer provided low res images rather than full resolution, thats not going to stop someone from printing them - and then they would look awful! Another point is almost everyone owns a scanner, its VERY easy to scan photos...

    My outlook on this is I do offer the digital files, at a reduced rate right now simply because I want to get my name known in the area. However I am now offering prints, canvas, float wraps and standouts - from reputable professional printers! My tag is "your life as art" thats what I want to promote, so I am also going to push the pro prints especially for images above 4x6... simply for the quality!

  • marta February 2, 2011 09:27 am

    Let me just tell you that this is the best post I have read in the longest time. I have too been wrecking my head over digital/no digital. I didn't like a particular post about old fashioned approach and ripping clients off, but I must agree that printing is just not the same. However I have had my photos stolen, made into paintings and drawings and sold for a lot of money without me even knowing it. No more high res, I don't care if your aunt lives in Australia and first cousin in the states. Getting photographs taken is a one-time or a rare experience, and you are right, you are bending backwards to make it so special every single time, unless you're not, so go with the shoot&burn solution but please make this industry a little more respectful.

  • Joe October 27, 2010 06:42 am

    I am coming from a different angle, I started photography as part of my small web design business and my model has always been that my cusotmer pays for my time and owns the right to the product. As an extension of this, a recent shoot I did for a clients clients was a simple package. I spent 30 minutes with each client and prepared a CD with 5 touched up high res shots with multiple crops to the most popular print sizes and low res jpgs as contact photos and the raw files from my camera (negatives). I then offered to 'develop' and balance any of the contact photos for $10 each. Several clients wanted other photos developed and paid the additional fee.

    The truth is even most tech savvy people don't know what to do with a RAW file. Especially considering they are not all standard but by giving my clients the 'negatives' they have peace of mind and I don't have to worry about archiving it all. This was a fun event type of shooting. When I am doing work for my design clients I do archive the work but I still give them a copy of the RAW files.

    I guess it all comes down to your business model. I do not rely of photography as my main income source. It is a part of the total package. That being said, I paid a lot for high res pictures on DVD of my wedding photos and didn't mind paying but if the photographer didn't even offer the option, I would have found another. A copy of that disk is in a bank vault in case my house with the prints ever burns to the ground. Negatives or high res photos are important. Where would all of your clients be if you had a car crash tomorrow or your archive burnt up. Accidents do happen.

  • Lars October 23, 2010 07:37 pm

    A lot of comments on this topic is about 'losing control' over the quality of the prints. That's the same as a car manufacturer who forbids its customer to paint their cars pink because it would hurt their image. If you have an assignment, you can agree with the customer if 'post processing' is part of the assignment, but the results of the assignment is property of the customer, and not of the photographer.
    If you really think you are so good that you won't need assignments, you can do a wedding without asking a fee and sell per photo afterwards. (and have the risk that the customers buys nothing because he doesn't like your work).
    Basic choice, if you are a professional craftsman, your labour represents value, which is what the customer pays for and then he 'owns' the products of your labour (including rejects and when agreed upon time for post-processing). The alternative, you are an artist, and sell the end-product, remaining owner of the 'copyright' of your photo's. Make a choice, stand by it, but don't rip your customer by making him pay double.

  • A Paul October 22, 2010 03:40 pm

    If you are shooting landscapes or artistic pieces then keep the digital negatives for yourself and make money on the prints. If a client has hired you to attend their event and take photos of them, then provide an option for them to buy the digital negatives.

    Holding the digital negatives hostage and fleecing your customers out of money by forcing them to buy prints is nothing short of disrespectful. In this day and age, a print to hang on the wall is only a small fraction of what your clients desire ... If at all.

    If you don't feel that your images are worth enough to make your living and have to depend on ripping customers off with printing fees, then maybe you should give up photography and start a printing company.

  • LaKaye Mbah October 12, 2010 01:12 am

    I like the idea of having a minimum print order or offering a lo-res cd instead of hi res images. But I'm also very guilty of not having images printed out and displayed in my home. A client fussed at me about that recently, so I'm going to do something about it his week. I plan to have my fridge covered in photos really soon!

  • Jodi October 2, 2010 12:52 pm

    Good points to take into consideration. I "shoot and burn" and for the price of the sitting fee (which I am finding I need to raise to make it worth my time) they get their edited photos on a storage device. What prompted me to go this route was having experience as a "client" (a mom w/three children) and taking my kids to get their photos taken and walk out with one framed print for over $300. Now, I know, if you take a print into a framing shop, you will pay for matting and framing...about as much as listed above, but it frustrated me that I always HAD to choose my favorites...if they are all good, why wouldn't I want them all? So, as a photographer, I decided to not be the middle man and not send images off for printing....why not save myself the hassle and charge a little more and give them their photos? They all have given me the credit if they post them on facebook, etc. Most agree to let me use them on my website/facebook page. However, the other day, I had a client who took the photos and then "re-touched" them through a website like picnic. Then, she posted them on facebook and now those images mis-represent my work!! So, the points in this article are valid. The client has the right to do that I suppose, but if I want my work to be represented in a valid manner, then there have to be stipulations or even a contract when a client is given their photos in a "shoot and burn" method.

  • Paul October 2, 2010 04:27 am

    "The customer doesn’t know the difference between low and high res files" ... sorry, but that's really ridiculous, assuming your customers are under the age of 75 years old.

    Guys, who needs prints rather than digitals anymore? Those mentally stuck in the last century?
    Why would you restrict your client using your images anyway. Your client PAID you for taking them for him. If your price model is based on squeezing the money out of your client by selling prints, I think you should reconsider it as being a yesterday-ish concept. And exclusively keeping the files+copyrights on a picture which shows the clients face.... I don't see the point in that other than prioritizing the photographer's financial interests over providing an outstanding service.

  • jackie October 2, 2010 02:55 am

    As a headshot photographer, my business model is quite different. I have leveraged my industry's model to my own advantage, however, and feel that I provide a great product at a great price.

    Industry standard for (actor) headshots in the US is approx. $200-$500 (make up & prints not included) for shoot session and all images on a disc (normally still only about 35-40 shots).

    I have modified this schedule as well as created my own copyright agreement. It has worked well for me thus far. I shoot a lot of RAW images (on continuous to make sure I get just the right expression), provide 2-4 images (retouched as well) for personal/agent use, and provide all the other images in low quality with watermark. Thus, I charge a little less than industry standard. I do not allow commercial usage....I let my clients know that they may purchase licensing if they wish, but my copyright policy is very lenient. I operate this way b/c I am also an actor and know how the system works and what is necessary for the actor.

    Since (actor) headshots are a different animal, prints are not necessary for me to provide....but retaining full copyright is massively important.

  • Aleeya October 1, 2010 09:42 pm

    If you hand over low res files customers will still take those to any place that can make prints and get prints made. You not only lose control over the quality of your work being presented but you're volunteering to have bad quality prints made. It's like saying to the customer "I am a professional and took wonderful pictures of your family but I'm going to give you the absolute minimum file res so you can take that and do whatever you like with it." The customer doesn't know the difference between low and high res files just like they usually don't know the difference between one lab or another. The only labs most consumers know about are drug stores or department stores. Even if you explain the whole high res/low res file issue to them all they're thinking is "I have the disk, I can do whatever I want with it." And they do.

  • Taryn October 1, 2010 06:14 pm

    I totally agree with both JM & Katrina. I am changing my packages as of today actually, and will no longer be giving out the CD of high-res images. I have come to realise a few important factors, which I will share with you:
    I originally had a Shoot & Burn option, primarily because, although I charge for my photography, I also have a full time job (in marketing), and therefore didn't have the time to run around doing prints for 3 or 4 clients a month. It didn't seem like economic sense. The irony is that my shoot and print package was slightly cheaper (so I made less money on it), but it was often the more popular package. So I started to wonder why I should offer the other more expensive option when people liked the prints.
    Most of my clients have been my friends (hey, we all need to start somewhere), and I have seen their walls at home: they're not printing stacks and stacks of pictures and posting them on their walls. So the friends who have taken the disc option are sitting with a great piece of artwork, er, in the drawer! Not great advertising for me... actually, it's no advertising at all for me.
    As I have improved as both a photographer and artist, and I have really sat down and thought about the time it's taken for me to edit each photograph... I have realised that what I am charging for is not the time "to take the picture". The post editing is AS important. If not MORE important. I'm not talking fixing bad pictures- I'm talking making good pictures great. THAT'S what I am selling my clients. And I want them to want ME, not the camera I bring. Let's face it, every guy can be a "photographer" nowadays, given the digital age we live in.... but there are the photographers, and then there are the pros. And I want to be a pro.
    I get that clients want their pictures on disc. They want to see all their pictures. I had a client the other day who loved his pictures so much that he wants to buy all the additional prints. THOSE are the clients I want.
    I believe that if I believe in myself, and what I offer, I will begin to attract a clientele that believes in me and what I offer. I am not adverse to giving out the disc with high res images (I would NEVER give out uneditted or RAW files- this is my reputation we're talking about), but then the clients must pay for it. Artists (read: painters) charge a fortune for their ORIGINAL artwork. The disc is ORIGINAL artwork, and it should have a price tage attached to it.
    I do love giving out low res images, which are (strategically) watermarked. Clients love posting them on FB- and they don't mind the watermark. I tell them upfront that this is what they're getting. It's advertising for me. Free, nogal. But I see friends of mine who post their gorgeous pictures that they've had taken by a photographer on FB, with no mention of the photographer, and no watermarking to show. I think that's poor business practice- or certainly poor marketing on the part of the photographer.
    Unfortunately the disc has become popular to clients, because WE, THE PHOTOGRAPHERS, have created this notion that that's acceptable (I'm guilty as charged), normal practice.
    I have decided to no longer undermine my time and my ability as a photographer. And if clients aren't prepared to pay for my services because they want the disc, well, then they just want photos- and there are lots of photographers who can give them that.... more importantly, they don't value my work, and then I am happy to not have them as clients. Some people may view that as looking a gift horse in the mouth. I view this as valuing who I am as an artist, a designer, a photographer, and a business owner.
    I will add, that those clients that fuss over the small things- they're the clients who you will spend hours and hours doing this and that for, because they're difficult... read D-I-F-F-I-C-U-L-T. I'd rather not attract those kind of clients.
    Remember, you always get what you pay for, and great photographers should get paid accordingly.
    I offer packages that include prints, plus bigger ones with canvasses and photobooks. They also get to view all their pictures (all the editted ones- I offer no more than around 25-35 of my best) on line, in a private gallery. I will give all those images in low res watermarked quality on disk, and then the print number depends on their package.
    I am prepared to wait for the right client, because I believe the right client will be prepared to wait for me, and pay for my services. Just my thought on the matter :-)

  • Mark October 1, 2010 03:33 pm

    One other thought on this issue is that if the client knows anything about image editing software, they can take a 72dpi JPEG and up sample it in Gimp, Paintshop Pro, or Photo Shop into a 300dpi image that will print as a poster in most kiosk settings!!! If you give them any digital image, you have lost control.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 03:29 pm

    @Texas Mama

    In the print industry you will usually find that Low Res is defined as 72dpi, Medium Res is 150dpi and High Res is 300dpi or more. So if you want to give them Medium Res 4x6 prints you would need to size the image to 600 pixels by 900 pixels. However, I have seen this quality of image printed at a kiosk like Walmart or Walgreens as large as 8x10. I was not clear and sharp, but it was printed!!! Realistically, it could be printed as a 5x7 and still have decent quality, better than many would demand. Hope this helps.

  • Michelle A October 1, 2010 10:34 am

    Oops above should be File> Scripts > Image processor

  • Barb October 1, 2010 10:23 am

    I've been shooting weddings for the past 4 years and have recently started portraits and event photography, too. I charge less than a $1000 still (it's been increasing each year) for 12 hours of my time and talent and provide a completely retouched set of high-res files (min. 800 images) delivered within 6 weeks of the wedding. I know that I'm worth more, but I rather get more referrals based on quality and great price than work hard at marketing myself. I'm a stay-at-home Mom to two young children and don't need the hassle of print orders. When my kids are more self-sufficient, I will adjust my methods to reflect the current expectations and offer flexibility within my packages to suit my clients needs. I can only guarantee it won't come at $1000!!

  • Michelle A October 1, 2010 10:02 am

    Lots said above pros and cons - another thing to consider is that at some weddings I have so many other amateur photographers snapping away, some so close I hit their camera when I bring my arm down...that the selling of prints becomes difficult because most consumers and some photographers do not understand what makes a good image. Emotion rules as well and images can be meaningful to relatives without being good images. I charge up front and give the disc fully worked in Lightroom (very little in CS5 unless really special or requested liquify) I also offer albums and putting together a good layout is enough to get them to buy even if they could do it all themselves. I also offer metallic prints and other specialist papers which give print orders even when I give them a full res disc.

    I have begun recently to only give discs with images to print to A4, anything bigger and I ask they come to me for that quality control. An unanswered question above re size of (or resolution) images on disc, if you have photoshop it is easy to use the image processor File > Image Processor, then use the menu that comes up to choose your options, I always err on the side of too much res and decide how many inches x 300 dpi to work out what res to give. So if you were willing to give them files to print to 6" x 8" (approx A5) the longest edge would be 8 x 300 so 2400 pixels. Set 2400 on both width and height and PS will convert them all to the lower res with that number as the longest edge if there are both Portrait and Lnadscape orientation images. I don't really know any other image manipulation software if you don't have Photoshop, sorry!

  • Katrina October 1, 2010 07:02 am

    I understand the convenience of the client having digital images, and I understand the time efficiency for the photographer not having to spend time in album design and such, but if you're a serious photographer, serious about your work, and serious about the quality of your work, I don't see how you can be comfortable with the option of shoot & burn or images on a CD. If a person uses a budget lab or their own printer to make prints, frames it and puts it on their desk at work, this is not good advertising for the photographer unless everything is spot-on. Once that CD is out of the photographer's hands, the photographer has no control over this. And telling them they are not allowed to edit their images? Yeah, good luck with that - it's like putting a cookie jar in front of a child and telling them not to take a cookie. So, does a bride go to her caterer, ask her to cater her engagement party or bridesmaids' luncheon and then tell her, "Oh, by the way, I want all your recipes, all of your chafing dishes, your punch bowl and your serving dishes at no extra charge because I'm just going to have my aunts do the reception since they're good cooks ... "? How many caterers would sign on for that. If we as photographers are giving hi-res shoot & burn CD's, that is essentially what we are doing. And the only reason this practice has become acceptable is because the photographers themselves are letting it happen, for whatever reason - it's easier, it's simpler, I don't have the time, my customer wants it, etc. If the photographers would decide, "Hey, we are worth more than this!" and decide to provide a consistent, quality level of service without having this option available across the board, you might see it being less of an issue. People in general today have such a sense of "entitlement", and we are encouraging and enabling this. I like the idea above of a slideshow - we use Emotionmedia. We also tag lo-res images on Facebook for people to use as their profile pics but they are tastefully watermarked in such a way that it's not easy to remove or crop out. Also, the prints we order are done from a professional lab with a linen-weave finish that discourages scanning, and we mark them with a copyright on the back as well. Do you go to your doctor, pay for his services, and then not expect to have to pay for the prescription, too? Does the plumber come to your house, leave his tools and equipment, tell you what you need to do and then leave after charging you? I think we need to reevaluate our businesses, our priorities, our goals, our quality standards and our motives.

  • Jason Grear October 1, 2010 06:29 am

    When I got married a year ago, I was only interested in a CD because I wanted to design my own flush mount wedding album and not leave it to a stranger who doesn't know my tastes. In my market, we paid $3000 for two shooters and received 900 high res images. The book I made cost $325 for a 12x12 book of about 20 pages (40 sides)

    As I start to get paid for my own photography, I follow that model. The client prepays me for my skill and editing, and then they get the lot on CD. I shot a 3 hour kids party and gave the client 70 images, mostly color corrected, but a few I spent some time on (up to 5 minutes).

    One exception is that I am going to paid by the owner of a dance company to shoot for 4 hours. On the back end, I am going to use an online storefront ( to sell to the parents. The event hasn't happened yet, but I expect to make a lot even only charging $5.00 per 4x6 and $10 per 5x7. There are 60 kids in the company.

  • jm October 1, 2010 06:15 am

    As your experience and talent increases, the demand for your negatives or high-res files decreases.

    We offer a disc of low-res images (so they can share on facebook [good publicity for us] or their wedding website, or just for their personal fulfillment) for a fairly substantial additional charge. There is no option for a disc of high-res images. The few times the client thought it was an issue, we dispelled it rather quickly. Let's get down to some reasoning here:

    Why would any client want your negatives (or raw files)? Because they don't trust or like your final product. If your final product is worth their money, then there is no need for negatives. (let's note that I am not talking about commercial work here). If a client refuses to do business with you because you won't hand over negatives, then you probably didn't actually earn that business.

    Why would any client want to edit your images? Because they don't trust or like your editing style. Again, if this is the case, you haven't earned this business. Move on to another client. If clients want to edit your work, they don't like your work. Find clients that love your work. Find clients that trust you. Clients that don't trust you are worthless for referrals, and nobody should get into the art of photography with the hopes of churning out widgets.

    Why would any final client want your high-res jpegs? Because they don't trust or like your printed product. When you meet with clients, show them a print done at Walmart vs a print of the exact same image done through your studio or fulfillment process. You will be able to see a clear difference (in many aspects) and part of your job is to educate your clients and show them the differences. Make them hate Walmart printing and love your printing. If you are selling high quality art, there is no sense in the client printing at Walmart, they should see this as defeating the whole point in hiring you as an artist. If you respect your own work, you need to clearly explain this.

    With respect to someone's comment that the client has already paid for our time, so we shouldn't charge for our product, I completely disagree. They didn't pay for your time. You left the corporate world because you didn't want to be an hourly worker. They paid you for your expertise, knowledge, experience, and consulting on their photographic event. If you don't see this, then you don't value this in yourself.

    It all boils down to how you value yourself and your product/service. I can't even count how many clients have asked us if they could edit our images in a "lomography style", or apply their own vignettes or vintage effects. That is to be expected; clients can ask for anything they want (doesn't mean they can have it). But I am not exaggerating when I say we have never lost a single assignment because we wouldn't allow further editing. It's as simple as this: if you want to change my work, why are you paying me for my work?

    Bottom line, don't just be a body behind the camera. Be a photographer. Respect yourself and your art. Don't devalue yourself so you can make an extra $200 on one job. While you are shooting that assignment and bending over backwards for that client, you just lost two different $200 jobs that would have been more enjoyable and fulfilling and provided you more referrals in the end.

  • Scott October 1, 2010 02:17 am

    The one paid wedding I did for a flat fee and provided a disc of non watermarked images for printing at 6x4 and uploading to facebook.

    These images were only cheched for colour correction and white balance.

    I then provided the client with a username and passworrd to be able to order these images at larger sizes along with some select creative edits which I spent quite a bit of time on and in my opinion these were well worth the asking price and would have looked amazing on the clients walls or in an album.

    The wedding wa in July and as of today not a single addition image has been purchased :-(

  • Anna Patrick September 30, 2010 12:53 am

    I don't actually see the shoot&burn version as a negative one. We're not in the 80's, when you would only have some prints from your wedding, and if you lost it, too bad. The client has the right to own a CD and it's the good world-of-mouth advertising side, when their friends and relatives see the pictures. If you want to be save, maybe posting the edited photos on your website or blog would be great against the eventually horrible re-edited photos posted by the client on Facebook.

  • JAG September 29, 2010 10:00 pm

    I have been asked to do a few small weddings and family sessions and have tried a few variations on the above. I do see the quandry where you don't want to release your work enabling it to be at the mercy of someone's editing and distribution but as many say above, you then risk losing the client. I now quote a "package" price for the session and a disk of photos that I watermark and offer to assist with any prints for the cost of the print and a small fee. Weddings, I supply a disk, a photobook and a slideshow DVD which all clients have been delighted with as albums are becoming outdated and the online world it taking over. My only bug bear is when people upload the photos and try to pass them off as their own (I obviously want credit where due!) so now I just add a more visable watermark and ask politely that I am credited!

  • Chris September 28, 2010 11:26 pm

    I have done one shoot for money. (Everything else I have done was been a hobby and for the love of it..) For this paid shoot I was guilty of "Shoot and Burn" maybe because at the time I did there was no articles like this.

    Thanks for sharing. Great points to ponder.

  • Greg September 28, 2010 01:12 pm

    I wouldn't go to a photographer that didn't give me the results of their work as digital images. I pay for their time and expertise and get irked if they think we will happily buy it all from them a second time in a format I don't want.

    I don't look at all the old prints in our cupboards, only have limited wall space, and love being able to have digital slideshows on the wall, the computer, the mobile phone, my web page... you name it.

    Professional photographers can not expect to do a cheap photo shoot expectinging to be compensated by selling prints. They should give realistic quotes for their time and materials and provide the customer with what they want.

  • Texan Mama September 28, 2010 10:23 am

    I'm wondering if anyone knows the answer to this question:
    I do a package that I call "Snapshot package" - I take the snapshots and only do minor corrections, and burn a CD of images for the client. The price is fairly low (less than $50 - I'm still just starting out) but also not labor-intensive at all.

    Here's my question: is it possible to produce medium-res files on the cd? So, they are great for printing, say, 4x6 photos but larger than that would get pixelated quite a bit? Because I also offer the client who buys this package to pay an additional fee if they'd like more involved editing.

    If I could offer the med-res photos, it would give them the opportunity to print at a local print shop or upload to facebook, etc. But if they wanted really good larger shots, then I would (hopefully) get their business to edit the photo with a high-res output.

    Anyone know the answer? THANKs!

  • Richard Davis September 28, 2010 04:49 am

    I've thought about charging more for a non-water-marked digital image than for a water-marked digital image, in part becuase of that loss of control of the 'after market'. With many images now being posted on-line I rarely provide high-res images. One of the challenges I constantly face with digital galleries and proofing is that I have no control over the color settings of the viewer's monitor. It's rare that my customers will have a color managed monitor on which to view the images which is another reason for proofing by print where you can.

    My wife runs and Interior Design business and her clients are continually frustrated when they ignore her advice and shop on-line, only for the item when delivered to be far from the color displayed in the on-line catalog so it no longer fits with the design of the space.

  • Anita September 28, 2010 04:32 am

    I mainly do event photography, and have been burned by this when I started out. Gave a couple of clients all the best shots on a CD. Lovely, high-resolution images that I spent hours and hours editing. next thing you know, my clients post a selection of the photos on facebook and their web sites... re-edited by themselves, and re-edited horribly. One particular photo had been turned bright red and pixelated beyond all sense, making the woman in it (who was also, incidentally, the re-editor) look like the devil. Beyond the obvious outrage at the fact that they felt they needed to redo my work, I was deeply puzzled as to why someone would intentionally make themselves look like the worst version of themselves.

    So now my packages include a CD of low-res, watermarked photos which can be posted online or distributed electronically only in their original form. No processing and no printing allowed.

    Generally I don't get asked for prints, but I do get asked for high-res, non-watermarked photos. Again, I rarely give full rights for these; I prefer to edit them to my clients' liking myself. It creates more work, but I'd rather be sure I'm happy with the way my photos represent me than spare myself the effort.

  • April September 28, 2010 04:05 am

    The two weddings I shot this summer, I gave them a CD of images because I didn't have a quality, reliable printer to work with. I regret that I didn't take the time to find one, because I did miss out on a lot of $$ through print sales. At first I was lured in by Pictage's pitch, but internet research and my difficulty getting pricing info from them dissuaded me. Now I use Zenfolio. I am extremely happy with their print quality and the site is easy for me and for customers to use. Plus, I don' t have to handle anything except uploading files!! On my first engagement shoot (done for free for friends), they made a $97 order and I made $65! I definitely recommend Zenfolio and I don't get any kind of kickback for saying that, I swear. Just a satisfied customer.

  • fromBrandon September 27, 2010 11:54 pm

    This has been an issue for me that I am slowly having to figure out. I've noticed that if you supply digital proofs that the client controls (on a disc vs. an online album) there is much less incentive for them to purchase many prints because they'll always have those less favorite ones to glance at on the computer. But, it also seems a little like backward-thinking to spend hours proofing a certain amount of photos, but then holding them all hostage simply because the client didn't want them all.

    The method I'm getting ready to try with my next two clients is to print them out a small 4x6 photobook that has all the proofs they may choose from, and they get to keep that book. That way they'll always have all the proofs to look back on, even if they don't want to order them all for other purposes. Then, they'll get a small, web-sized file to share online of each print they actually order, giving them more incentive to actually buy the prints.

    We're in such a new world here in the age of digital photography, and there has to be a happy medium found because the old way before digital is not accepted in the minds of our clients but the new, give-em-everything-you've-got is really messing with the quality of the business.

  • Karen Stuebing September 27, 2010 08:39 pm

    This article brings up some interesting points. And so do the comments.

    I think the decision to release the images would depend on the circumstances. If it were for a wedding, for example, why not allow the couple to have the originals? It's not like they're going to take your photos and sell them to someone else. And if they use the cheapest printer and get horrible prints, I suppose that's their choice.

    Btw, speaking of cheap printers, the local drug store has a Kodak kiosk. I am not advertising Kodak as superior to anyone else. It's just what it has.

    I can take a Tif file, saved in Adobe RGB, and get outstanding prints there.

    I do think the photographer should do the retouching first before releasing the originals. Except for people like Mark who have the necessary skills and want the RAW file. Most people don't have those skills.

    In other words, it depends on each customer and what they ultimately will use the file for. JMHO.

  • Lorenzo Reffo September 27, 2010 06:11 pm

    I think it really depends on what you expect and who you're giving your photos. You should main focus on what you're going to do with your passion - might be my job one day or it'll remain an hobby?

    In the end, I think a combination of both might be the solution: share with friends the pictures of last Friday party together, but don't throw away your work just sharing with all people on facebook/flickr/twitter/etc any picture you take. You spent time, patience, maybe money to get that photo and it's your own - no matter how many people already shooted that scene.

  • Texan Mama September 27, 2010 05:43 pm

    I am just starting out, but I've set up my business to include two packages: a "snapshot package" where I shoot photos at an event - so the host can enjoy himself & not worry about taking photos - and do very little retouching. I give all the photos on disk to the customer. This is my idea of "work smarter not harder". I will not order professional prints from unretouched snapshots (they can order from Shutterfly or wherever). This is basically "I take the snapshots so you don't have to." Secondly I do traditional "Portrait package" where customer pays for my time, and they get retouched images on a disk (watermarked) to choose from. THey may then choose prints (various prices) or images on a disk ($10 per image). Or both! And, if the snapshot client would like me to retouch just a few of the snapshots from their event, I also offer that for $10 per image (since they already own all the images).

    I have no idea if this is going to work, but I'm hoping it does!

  • Scoro September 27, 2010 03:37 pm

    I'm getting married in a few months. We had a favourite photographer who we both liked, and thankfully, he offers full-res photos on a disc. Note that it is at a pretty decent charge, which we are more than prepared to pay.

    Now, the crux of the issue. We both loved the photographer and his work, but if he hadn't offered full res files, it would have been a deal-breaker for us. Interpret that how you wish, but he would have missed out on our custom, had he not offered the full res images.

    Just my 2c as a buyer.

  • crumanjm September 27, 2010 02:34 pm

    Your "compromise" is, in reality, no compromise at all. It still leaves all control of the digital negatives and prints under the control of the photographer. This is fine if you assume that the results of a shoot are simply a short term solution and that no one will be interested in or want more prints in the far future.
    The same thing happened when a film photographer did a portrait or a wedding job and kept possession of the negatives. Try getting hold of those negatives twenty or thirty years later when the prints have deteriorated or have been scratched and damaged beyond repair. It's impossible! By then the photographer has gone out of business or moved or died. His negatives have been destroyed or discarded (or erased from a hard drive). The solution I always recommend is to turn over the negatives or original digital files to the customer upon fair compensation.
    I have many damaged family photographs for which I have no negatives. It's extremely frustrating to try to fix one after another on my computer when the print is so damaged that it's impossible to get a good result. I would always prefer to have a negative to scan and make new prints from. When I do have negatives they are almost always in better condition than the prints. They have been put into envelopes and not handled for forty or eighty years.

  • Mike September 27, 2010 02:20 pm

    I agree with Lars...

    If you're charging for your time, then don't charge for the work product (the digital, RAW files). That doesn't mean you can't charge for prints too - getting high quality prints (and selecting which ones to print) is a time consuming process, and as a client I have no problem paying someone for their time.

    Or, you can say "I'll be at your event from start to finish if you promise to buy a minimum of $500 worth of prints. I own the rights to the originals." OK, that makes sense too. If its a longer event, the client will have to buy more prints.

    If someone is hired to work, its fair for the employer to expect to own any thing produced while under their employ. If that's not acceptable to you, you have to say that before accepting employment, and it needs to be well understood and agreed upon by both parties.

  • Gemma Carr (Author) September 27, 2010 01:40 pm

    Hello all,
    some really great feedback from each of you, and suggestions! I think these kinds of discussions all help in us as individuals and as a community, to figure out what our position is on such topics.
    I like to inlcude the disc, once a certain investment has been met (usually structured as a package). This way clients get what they want and I get to keep my doors open for business!
    For commercial work, it's a case by case basis.

    Keep sharing your interesting ideas :)

  • Rich D. September 27, 2010 07:27 am

    My print sales have rebounded, and my album sales never fell -- they have only increased.

    In my market, wedding clients will only hire a photographer who includes a CD. That's fine. We create a fee for the CD and add it to our package rates.

    Clients continue to order prints after they see the quality of my post-produced photographs during their consultations. They have always ordered albums, because the albums I offer are incredibly unique and unavailable to the general public.

    I do not provide CDs for any other type of lifestyle work for consumers.

  • Agnese September 27, 2010 06:56 am

    I have studio for newborns, babies and children (and of course their parents). I have tired several options but the best for my customers (read - busy mums of tiny babies) is package and priced as package as well - sitting + cd with retouched files + best photos printed + my lab's business card. There has been times when they print somewhere else but many of them has called and asked - you told us about your lab - where is it, because they tried somewhere else and compared to original print-outs. Our customers are not stupid - if they pay for professional photographer they will want to have professional printouts. But I don't want to deal with reprints for every grandmother - I better shoot somebody else at that time. That is my experience... Thanks for post and for discussion,

  • Annie September 27, 2010 06:31 am

    When I was building my portfolio I did discs and of course got referrals from those sessions. Well, it became expected that I give discs even though my skill level improved. Overall, I do not mind giving a disc since digital images is what people want. I was once that mom that used to leave an expensive studio with not much to show for how much I spent. It was sad to know that I would never get to see all those other great pictures ever again because I couldn't pay $800+ for a disc. I just don't want to limit my clients that way. I left feeling crappy about it. Given my large client base, I know what most moms can and can't afford and I would rather know that they are happy because I am looking out for what's best for them and they appreciate it and come back to me over and over.
    I agree with telling clients where to go for prints. All of my clients go where I say to go so I know the quality was not compromised dramatically. And I don't really care if they go to Target to print a 4x6 for a scrapbook page. I also recommend that they have me print any large size prints. Nobody seems to have a problem with that either because overall they trust me.

  • Jason Mosher September 27, 2010 06:14 am

    I haven't done many weddings yet, but have been dabbling for a few years, and have thought much about this dilemma. My solution for now is to (1)provide a proof book of all the "non-rejects"; pretty much anything with both eyes open, and minimal work done on the photos, then (2) take their print order and really tweak their selected photos for printing, and (3) give them a CD with all the proofs and the tweaked print files in a separate folder. That way at least they can get the ones they ordered re-printed at a better quality, and I don't think it likely they would print anything else. Seems to work so far.

  • cheryl September 27, 2010 05:57 am

    just did a wedding, client wanted 100 4x6 prints in an album and CD, we agreed on a price and she loved them and was going to get more prints at walmart. I was fine with that but I see all the points above especially the point of clients will EXPECT the CD .. so you just have to come to an agreement and each client will be different.

  • Jim Miller September 27, 2010 05:39 am

    Most of my work is nature and outdoors and those clients (birds and dragonflies) hardly ever ask for the digital images. But in the rare instances when I do work for people, and before a single exposure is made, I sit down with my clients and explain that
    - Their sitting fee (paid in advance) is to reserve my time and pay for small resolution digital proofs
    - I own the original digital files
    - My small profit on my time is made on the sale of prints
    - If they spend a pre-defined amount, I will give them the digital files of the images they bought prints of
    - Otherwise I will provide them with low-resolution (no greater than 500 pixels on longest side) and watermarked proofs for their memories and/or their blog

  • Matt Needham September 27, 2010 05:02 am

    People have a lot of options for copying prints too, and the copy quality is often worse than files printed at a lousy lab. The reason I decided to include the files in my wedding and personal portrait packages is because I dealt with people attempting to copy professional photos on a daily basis when I worked at a full service photo lab in the 90s, and it's only become easier since then. If they can't find a lab that will do it for them there are a myriad of self-serve options. One solution for the quality reprints problem is to recommend labs, and point out the benefits of using a good lab. There are a lot of good online services, such as, that have top quality product at big-box/pharmacy prices. People like their photos to look good. They will use good labs if they know about them.

  • Anthony Firmin September 27, 2010 03:28 am

    I agree with Mark to an extent - the business model is definitely changing. Take this scenario...

    Client walks into a photographers (or calls him up) and says I like some family portraits done but I want them on disk. Photographer says no. Client goes away.


    Client walks into a photographers (or calls him up) and says I like some family portraits done but I want them on disk. Photographer says "whats your budget?", client says £200, photographer says fine, spends an hour doing the shots, bit of post-processing, burned to disk with a nice label and put in a nice box. Client happy and photographer has £200 in the bank.

    I'd rather have a handful of sessions like that every month than bugger all!!


  • Lea September 27, 2010 02:49 am

    I offer a select number of digital images with all my sessions. If the client would like more images, they can purchase those digital negatives as well. I don't do prints at all because I've yet to have a single client who wanted them. I will however, be updating my fees come 2011 and will be offering more digital packages to better suit a wide range of budgets and needs. Great article, thanks!

  • Lars September 27, 2010 02:48 am

    A strange set of rules, common to a lot of your peers. As an artist, you can sell your prints, the more you sell, the higher your income. If you're really good, you can raise your prices.
    But most photographers ask a fee for an assignment, and thus selling the results of their labour. Depending on the number of hours an assignment takes, the price gets higher.
    That's fine, but make a choice. You can't do it both, first the customer pays for the hours, and next they need to pay for the results. Like buying a new house, and when you're finished the builder wants to have rent too.

  • Mark September 27, 2010 02:30 am

    Not sure I agree. My background is advertising, I run a Studio which includes a retouch department, so I am not your "average punter", but I am a customer of photographers and I appreciate the craft what they bring to a job.

    I've paid for three photo sessions, and my first I agreed with the photographer they would give me the RAW so I could retouch. The photographer 'forgot' to shoot RAW and could only supply JPGs. The pics were great, but this was a really silly mistake.

    Each customer you get will be different. Some, like me, will want all the RAW to use for retouch. Some, like my parents will want a number of prints. Some, like my brother will want JPGs to post to Facebook.

    Clients are like photographers; all different. Have a contract, get your money for booking the studio upfront, then agree in the contract what the client wants; beautiful prints of selects, or the results of an hour with someone who knows how to use a camera and lights and get the best picture of you and your family.

    Agree in advance, manage expectations and everyone is happy.

    I'm sorry, but the days of photographer owning rights to all photos and thinking they can make money out of prints is running out. The photographer has a valuable craft to offer, but the old business model is wrong.

  • RawShooter September 27, 2010 02:23 am

    I do most of our family photography, but we do use a professional photographer a couple of times per year just because it is fun for us to go out and me not have to worry with camera gear. As far as the digital images are concerned, I expect to get high quality digital images on a disk with at least printing and internet posting rights. I do not necessarily want to print the images to save money. Having the digital prints makes it a lot easier for us to get prints done for family members who are in other parts of the country. Trying to get physical proofs to them and get an order is next to impossible. The other reason is because we do a photo book for each year and I want to include the pictures in the photo book. With high quality images and printing rights I can do this. Otherwise I cannot.

    Not having high quality digital images available would be a deal killer for me.

  • Becci Ames September 27, 2010 01:55 am

    I used to give out low-res files, until I went to a clients home and found that they had been printing from them. They looked like pixelated *^&$. It horrified me that these prints were hanging on their walls, just because they didn't want to pay the $10 for a print...I now give out slideshows.

  • Cat September 27, 2010 01:53 am

    It seems once you get a camera, everyone thinks you are a photographer. I don't mind taking pictures of family and friends and the article is correct because I have been asked how much do you charge to take pictures and not wanting to deal with the hassle of printing I have sold the disc with what I think are the best shots on it. Also because it is family and friends it is usually nowhere near what I should have charged now that I have seen what the usual prices are. My shots are and have been every bit as good as a pro's would have been and require little or no post processing. But I have always felt that I was "giving away" my work by doing what I was doing and so I have stopped doing that until I have the time to set up a website and market myself professionally. I agree with what is said above and it's good idea to not just give away all your work on a disk because as the article says people start to expect it and it does devalue you and your talents.

  • Grant D. Taylor September 27, 2010 01:47 am

    As an amateur photographer wanting to go into professional photography this has been a big consideration for me. I have spent several months trying to figure out how I want to do business and this has been one of the main issues I have worried about. I completely understand that giving away a disk can be a bad thing but I also see the problems with not doing it. Two friends of mine recently got married and they hired a photographer who did not give digital copies. Now the brides facebook page has plenty of images from the wedding that other people took. The hired photographer got a few prints that are kept in a box while everyone else sees the pictures the mother of the bride took. I know lots of people who do not even get prints anymore. Pictures are stored on computers and that is it.

    I want to shoot and have people order the images from me but I am worried if I will have success with that model. I think the idea of having watermarked images for the digital use is a good idea and I might use that. But even I would be unhappy if I had a watermark on all of my digital images because I never get prints of anything now. I recently read an article that mentioned trying to create digital packages and I think it might be a good way to go. I will probably spend several months more debating on this now. Thank you for the great article and insight.

  • IHSAN September 27, 2010 01:40 am

    I do photography for fun and as a hobby. there are times when people liked my photos and request a digital copy for them to keep. i always provide them with a free bundle of low-res images with my copyright watermark and my details in the IPTC metadata.