As a society, we now produce more photographs than ever before. With a population of 7 billion + humans, many of which have smart phones, it is likely the world as a whole will take over 1 trillion pictures this year. Think about it. How often do you have your phone on you? If you’re like me, you never leave without it. So think for a moment, how many times in a single day do you stop to take a picture?
Many of these images will be shared on social media. We make a post with our pictures, sit on the end of our seats waiting to see how many likes or comments we can get. Then as time passes, they’ll be forgotten. The reasons for wanting digital files is rational. I’m not here to point fingers, place blame, or tell you that you’re wrong for wanting them, but I also don’t want to encourage you to negate the value of a print.
As an environmentalist, I won’t be encouraging you to print every photo you take. After all, printing images takes paper, and paper requires taking the life of trees, and you don’t want to get me started on how I feel about deforestation. Every time I drive by a lot that contains an overwhelm of tree stumps, it’s often accompanied by mountains of logs leaving my eyes swelling up with tears. We need trees to survive, and wasting them is not something I’m about.
I want to acknowledge the mere fact that we no longer print every single image is a good thing. Not only are we saving trees, but we think more before we print, and we value quality over quantity. As a professional photographer, quality over quantity is my love language and I firmly believe the images we do choose to print should have the best treatment.
WE LIVE IN A DIGITAL AGE - WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO PAY SO MUCH FOR SOMEONE TO CLICK A BUTTON AND GIVE ME THE FILES?
I hear it time and time again, “Can I just get the digital files?” I have to tell you, that question makes my heart ache. In a world of convenience, efficiency, and saving, there are countless reasons why I’m sure this question is so popular. The first thing I’d like to know before answering that question is what are you going to do with them, do you know? After you answer that question, I’d like you to ask yourself an even bigger question: is how you’re using them respectful to the image and its artist?
Here’s the thing. When you hire a professional photographer, you’re hiring an artist to use their skill and unique vision to document this milestone of your life. Without their vision, you don’t have the images in front of you. As artists, photographers put a lot of time and effort into taking images for you and crafting them into a masterpiece. The final results matter to us. You matter to us. I can’t speak for every photographer out there, but I hope that you’re working with an identified professional, they believe with every ounce of their being that you deserve the very best, and I hope that you reciprocate those feelings.
You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with wanting the digital files?”
It all comes down to one thing.
WHERE YOU PRINT MATTERS.
As a visual person, the best way for me to answer that question is by showing you. Below, you’ll find an image of three prints. These prints contain the exact same image. They were submitted at the same time, in the same format, and as you can see, the end result is not the same. These prints are one year old. They were printed at three different stores on the exact same day - stores that many people use to print images on a regular basis, and none of them serve as an accurate representation of my work.
As an artist, seeing my image age like this after just a year makes me sick to my stomach. Can you image creating something beautiful and then walking into your friends home to see it misrepresented? It’s not a good feeling - at all. None of these prints are representative of my quality, my business, or the service I provide, nor are they an accurate representation of the original image (shown below.) Why does this matter? It matters because if someone walks into your house, sees these pictures, and asks who took them, you’re going to say me - or your photographer - and that’s the quality people are going to assume we deliver. Is it actually representative of our work? No. See where I’m going with this?
As an artist, I understand that it’s cheaper to go to Walgreens, Shutterfly, or any other cost-effective establishment. I am not here to tell you that printing through a professional photographer is cheap. It’s not suppose to be.
When you hire a professional photographer, you are investing in their vision. That vision is the core of their profession, the lifeline of their income, and they depend on it not only to provide you with gorgeous images of your family, but to put food on their table for their families and survive. As an artist myself, I believe that you deserve the best quality. As a professional, I want to take care of you, but I also want to make sure that you are taking care of your images, after all, they’re associated with someone’s name, reputation, and their work as a whole. So I want to ask you, do you think it’s fair for someone to put their heart, soul, and talent into something to have it be misrepresented? I know that in this digital age it’s hard not to think first about your bank account, or the convenience to you, but please consider the affect that printing anywhere outside of your photographer may have on their work. It could be detrimental.
WHY ARE DIGITALS SO EXPENSIVE FOR SOME PHOTOGRAPHERS, AND OTHERS NOT? THEY DON’T COST ANYTHING TO MAKE, RIGHT?
Imagine putting your heart and soul into your work, and having your boss ask you to work for free for a week. How would you feel about that? I’m not a genius, but my guess is you wouldn’t be too thrilled about it. Now imagine being asked to work for the entire year for $15,000. Would you stick around? I wouldn’t.
When you ask your photographer for the digital files, you’re asking them for the recipe to their creation. Out of all of the time they put in from each session, behind the scenes, they put the most time into those files. Countless hours are spent culling (removing unflattering images: poor angles, eyes closed, blurry, etc.), adjusting the images to be consistent with their brand, repairing skin blemishes, and preparing each and every image for print. I’m not a dummy, I know that typically when someone wants their digital images, they want to take them somewhere else to print them for cheaper.
What I need you to understand is this: when a photographer hands those files to you, they’re handing over everything. Their reputation, opportunities for future income, and the very real potential that their images will be poorly represented by a drug store or print company that isn’t properly calibrated to their work. It’s also essential to understand that one single photographer can only take on so many sessions and events per year. Regardless of that number, their expenses, and their need to pay themselves remains the same. If a photographer has calculated their cost of doing business, they know exactly how much money they need to make each year (and per session) to break even. Digitals are not free, even if some people portray them as so.
To put this in perspective, I want to ask you this. When you go out to eat, do you ask your waiter to tell the chef to bring you the recipe to the steak you just ate so you can make it at home? I hope not. I hope you relish in the moment, enjoy your meal, and tip your server well because you value good food and quality service.
The same principle applies to the photography world. The digital file is the recipe, it can easily be changed, altered, or created elsewhere, even if the quality is compromised. The final art piece is the meal, it’s delivered to you ready to enjoy. You don’t have to spend hours trying to cook something and then wait with uncertainty of how the final product will arrive, what it will look like, or how it will age. When you invest in an art piece from your photographer, it’s representative of the artist, because they created it. They invested time, and delicate care in you and your images to create a quality piece for you to enjoy. (NOTE: Adding filters or changing photographs in any way is against Copyright law, please don’t ever do that to your photographer.)
PRINTING IS SAFER THAN STORING DIGITAL FILES.
I understand that in this digital age, it seems so much more convenient to just store images on your computer. I get it, and I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t forget to print my images time and time again. I want you to stop for a moment and think of your life right now. Hold old are you? Where do you live? Do you have children? Grandchildren? Do they know about the images you have on your hard drive? Have they seen them? If your answer is yes, how often?
You may not realize it now, but printing and displaying photographs of the people you love most on the walls of your home gives them a sense of place. I have a son, he’s 2.5 now, and we have metal prints and canvas on our walls, framed prints on shelves, and every single day he points out the people in those images. He’s two-and-a-half years old and I know without a doubt, he knows that he’s loved, and he belongs here. If for no other reason, than seeing those images of us in our home. He giggles, and says, “Mama, Daddy, Kitty, Ellis.” He knows who he is, who we are, and where we belong, and in this day and age there’s nothing more valuable than that.
So even if you’re running low on wall space or absolutely adamant about having the digital files, I’d like to you consider this: how much has technology changed over the last ten years? Have you been able to keep up?
Remember VHS? Cassette? Floppy Disks? Do you still have a way to play those things? No? Me neither.
You may be thinking, “Well, we just purchased the digital version (amazing streaming, etc.) or we bought the next format.” That’s great, I do that too, but there’s something very important for you to know about photographs. The physics of how light bounces off a piece of paper and into your eyes has not changed, but the way a computer reads an image file has changed, time and time again.
JPEG, the longest standard of compressed images, is beginning to give way to a new format (I forgot the name of it though - oops.) Discs like DVDs used to be the standard of photo backup, but now they’ve vanished. External hard-drives have gone through several types of physical connection, from USB, FireWire, etc. (along with several generations of each format.)
In short, there is no guarantee that the computer of tomorrow will be able to read the photos you take today. Cloud services can certainly help with this, but the companies that run them aren’t guaranteed to be around forever, either.
At the end of the day, it’s about respecting your artist and giving yourself the best quality and experience.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading this and for taking the time out of your day to hear me out. If I leave you with nothing else, I hope that you remember that when you hire a professional photographer, you’re hiring an artist to use their skill and unique vision to document this milestone of your life, and I urge to please consider that it took them a long time to learn the things they know now. It’s taken them years of repetition, failure, and challenges to do the things they do. Please acknowledge that everyone deserves to be respected in their profession. Please agree that everyone deserves to earn a livable wage. Please know that there’s a photographer out there for everyone, and if you disagree with everything in this article, that’s okay. As long as you understand that this life that you’ve created is art, and you should absolutely show it off. Our profession is here to serve you with the best experience and quality products, so that your legacy can live on far beyond the digital world.
Thanks for listening,