We live in a digital age of instant gratification, we all know it and accept it. Long gone are the days of hiring a portrait photographer and waiting weeks or months to receive prints. Anyone of us today can run down to Target, purchase a point and shoot camera, or more likely use our iPhone, and have a blast with all the digital images captured. Then run back down to Target with our CD or USB drive and have some minimum wage employee crank out 4×6 prints from that big laser printer thingy behind the counter. Or more likely, load those files onto our computers or tablets and send them off into the digital void of Facebook and Instagram for all our friends to instantly appreciate.
If I sound jaded, I’m not really. The ability to do all off that is actually pretty cool, but where does that leave the professional portrait photographer in the digital instant gratification age? You have to ask does everyone just want digital files today and is the print product dead?
When clients inquire if, and for how much, I sell digital files, I first ask what they want to do with them and then explain the many options they have. I hope they understand that to a digital photographer that digital file is akin to requesting the negatives from a film photographer. Unless you happen to have your own darkroom, you probably never would request those negatives nor would that photographer be likely to hand them over without significant cost. To us digital pros, when you request the high resolution files you are essentially asking for our negatives.
They are our babies, the result of hard work and many hours spent both learning and enhancing our skills. They represent boatloads of dollars spent on high-end equipment and continuing education. Countless (really I’ve tired counting them all up) hours spent in front of our computers pushing pixels in Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture. As such they deserve the respect not to be shoved in a metaphorical desk draw (i.e. folder on your hard drive) rarely, if ever, to see the light of day.
Believe me, I understand the desire to have the digital files, but part of my job as the professional you’ve chosen to work with is to educate you on what options you have as well as how and why I arrived at my digital image policies. Part of my role is asking why you think you need the digital files, what purpose do they serve for you and how can I help you see the value of other products, perhaps a beautiful metal print for your desk or an album to share for years to come?
I got married before I became a professional photographer and so had no opinion about the digital files other than they seemed like the thing to get. After all, I could use them forever to do with what I chose. Cool right? And much more preferable to spending money on 8×10’s or something, or so my uneducated self thought. Do you know where those images are now, almost nine years later? If you guessed on my external hard drive in a folder named “wedding” you win the prize (ok, yes the prize is also metaphorical). Do you know how many photos of my wedding I have hanging on my wall? Zero. Even now, as a professional with high quality labs to choose from, those digital files sit collecting dust. I really liked our photographer and she did a great job, but I wish she had educated us on the value of the printed product. No doubt today I’d have a canvas hanging on my wall instead of a blank space.
Imagine for a moment you are one of my digital files. You represent a cherished moment in my client’s life. You’ve been lovingly treated, hand-held through the post-production process, backed up onto a hard drive and even to the cloud for safety and finally presented as a work of art. Now you want to shine in the home of your new family where they can enjoy the moment you represent with friends and family. You don’t want to be shoved away to collect dust in a closet or on that hard drive where you might languish for years only to be lost to a virus. So, please remember that the digital file wants to live in your heart and in your home or office or even grandma’s house.
That file has a purpose to live as a real physical image not just a collection of pixels! So, yes I confess I’m a portrait print pusher.