Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Digital Negatives (oxymoron?)

Disclaimer: Skip to the end if the length of this entry is scaring you off. I will add a photo to distract you from the text.

I've been reworking my website and branding a little bit lately which is both really amazing and really frustrating, because I want everything to be perfect immediately. And it's not, of course. I'm impatient and I think that can be a strength, especially since I deal with wedding clients all the time and thus I can empathize with their impatience!

Anywho, I'm in the middle of reworking pricing and offerings for next year, and after some recent client meetings I'm figuring out that (duh), prospective clients aren't in the photography industry and they have no idea why we do the things we do. Or why different people offer different things. And so, I want to hear your opinion, and I want to say my two cents here.

Having a photography blog and a wedding/personal blog makes it difficult for me to share anything really personal on the business one, I feel like it'll turn people off to hear a photographer complain (not that that is my intention) about the industry when they are just seeking out someone to hire. So feel free to comment on that as well.

(Christmas gift idea, a photo session, comes with this lovely gift certificate!)

So, as far as "digital negatives" go... Here are the various thoughts on the matter:

• In days of yore, photographers used film. They had the film developed, and then they made proof sheets from the negatives. You selected your favorites, the photographer made enlargements, and the photographer kept the negatives so that if you wanted to order more later, you could.

You could sometimes buy the negatives, but it would be very expensive, because the photographer would no longer be able to make prints of their images.

• In days of yore, photographers made most of their money off of prints.

• Along came digital. Photographers slowly made the transition into digital for wedding photography because it offered more flexibility, it was cheaper than rolls of film, you could be sure you got "the shot", and you could back up your images in a way that you couldn't with film.

• The same photographers that were shooting film created the setup for Digital Wedding Photography. So, the emphasis was still on prints, and giving the clients the "negatives" felt problematic.

• Now, in 2010, clients know that most photography is digital, and in the age of the internet and facebook, and shutterfly, clients want to take control of the photography. They want to own the images and broadcast them to their friends and family. They are in the images, they feel like they own them (and I don't disagree).

• Another dilemma with digital photography is that when you feel like you, the client, own your images, you don't think it should cost extra, you want to order the prints yourself from whomever is cheapest, and if you post your images, you don't think to credit your photographer, because, they are your images.

Enough with the bullet points, I think. I believe I feel the weight of this issue more than most clients and photographers just because last year I was both a client and a photographer. The photography world is competitive and full of peer pressure.

I've been criticized by a fellow photographer for posting images of an engagement (of one of my friends even) on facebook, I was told it was "unprofessional", and I have heard horror stories passed around about clients who take an image and add some creative color techniques and words, post on facebook, and say "look at the wonderful image by Blank Photography!" I've heard that argument not to give clients their images, and then I have heard people like Matt Sloan (via his formspring/facebook) say he doesn't watermark because he doesn't care what happens to the images afterwards. I applaud that attitude. I also have a huge problem making the decision about digital negatives for myself.

I'm still fairly new to the business side of wedding photography, and a recession is not a great time to figure out pricing for a new business. I currently charge an additional fee for a disc of high resolution images but include it for free with album purchases. The philosophy behind that decision for me is that I want clients to have a physical product. Partly because I want my work displayed from the mountaintops, but mostly because I tend to think everyone is at least somewhat like me, and that without the obligation to order something physical, you may never get around to ordering prints or an album and feel shorthanded a year later when you remember that your images only exist on a computer somewhere.

I myself am a very bad bride, and have yet to order my own album. Our wedding was complicated with the multiple parts, and while I LOVE my images, I was pretty burnt out post-wedding. I'm hoping to kick it into gear and order for Christmas.

I am not good at staying on task with my essays. I should've probably failed my college classes. So, for those of you who can't follow 10 trains of thought, here is a summary:

• Photographers charge a lot for high resolution digital images because giving them to you ensures you will most likely not order images from them, and the way wedding photography pricing is set up across the board, they don't want to scare you off by just raising their package price to accommodate for that loss of money.

• Some photographers will not give you the digital images at all because they are afraid you will use them in a way that negatively reflects their brand. Plus, they know that if you love their photography enough you'll probably make do with that fact and just order prints instead.

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