A constant topic of discussion with photographers, clients, and everyone in this day and age is the Digital Negative. For those unaware, Digital Negatives are the final photograph files that prints are created from. Each photographer I speak to has different thoughts on if clients should receive them, value vs cost, etc.
We’ve always held the opinion that we do not sell these files. There are many reasons for that…both financial and philosophical.
We’ll address financial 1st, even though the philosophical is the biggest reason for us.
The truth is that these files are extremely valuable and are the end result of more work than most people realize. While the final images can be burned onto a $0.10 disc and handed over, their actual value is nearly immeasurable. That final product is responsible for not only a photographers living, but must also account for all the time spent on client communication, travel, time spent shooting, time spent editing, etc. Most people understand that portion, however there are things like equipment maintenance, ongoing education, memberships, insurance (business and health), etc.
A client who orders prints will generally continue to make future orders, thus creating ongoing income. This allows for us to keep our “sitting fees” lower and in turn capture images for clients to order. Clients who receive the Digital Negatives for portraits rarely purchase prints through us and quite honestly rarely book shoots in the future.
While we have moved to delivering Digital Negatives to our wedding clients, we have done so in a way that it’s financially feasible for ourselves and the clients. Our couples tend to still order their prints through us, as well as many timeless products like wedding albums, canvas wraps, etc. The reason that is important to us isn’t as financially driven as you might think.
Our main reason for not wanting to hand over Digital Negatives is the ability to control how our product is perceived.
Our work is art.
I know that sounds somewhat pretentious, but that attitude is what pushes us from snapshots to timeless imagery.
We use professional cameras and lenses to create our work. I tend to assume the only people walking around with more money invested into their “neck ware” are rappers and NBA players. The average camera body and lens setup I use equates to a new car for some people.
It doesn’t stop there however.
We not only use top of the line computers and monitors, but we have devices that we use to calibrate the color and run tests with our print houses in order to make sure that the prints our clients receive are exactly as they were on our screen.
All printers are not created equal.
I have used many professional labs and I’ve found several I wasn’t pleased with. This is because printing is as much an art as capturing the photograph itself. It takes people that are not only knowledgeable, but dedicated to delivering quality prints. I hope most people would understand that you just won’t get that kind of passion at Wal-Mart or Walgreen’s. While they do have quality equipment, it’s operated in a manor to bang out as many images as possible. While I’m sure these places are fine places to work, I can’t imagine a passionate printer seeking out a career as a Costco print specialist. With the amount of turnover, lack of training, and a completely different business model based around quantity the quality is totally lost.
If that doesn’t really sink in, below I have a scanned image that I have borrowed from another photographer who’s blog spawned this one. The “original print” comes from a print lab that I too use and the image below it is the exact same file printed at Wal-Mart. To say there is a difference is an understatement. However, to say that the quality displayed in the Wal-Mart photo would be the same at each company or even from each Wal-Mart store would be misleading as well. My point is that we have a number of processes in place to deliver quality. It’s not a lottery system, we deliver every time.
It would break my heart to see any photograph of mine distorted in such a way. While it would bother me tremendously for a client of ours to print their photos in this way and put them on their walls, even more so it is when their friends and family see them. I surely don’t want my work judged by what the lower printer would deliver.
Thank you to Jim Sheilds Photography for starting up a tremendous conversation.