So I have been musing about an idea for a years now, and I would like to talk about it with you. Ever since I started learning the trade of portrait photography, my mentors taught me that a true professional will never give away his negatives (negatives at that time, now digital files). The industry of professional image making has changed more since I became a professional than perhaps at any other time the profession has existed. Many people wonder why we don't like giving out the digital files. To be blunt, it is because we can't make a living if we do. The session fee we charge would not cover the cost of the hours involved in a portrait session. There are also artistic reasons, for instance, our prints look much better than prints you would make at Wal Mart from the same digital file. No artist wants their work portrayed in a way that would bring harm to their reputation.
These reasons put me in a difficult spot because I see people choose other photographers whose work (in my opinion) is not as good as mine, just because that photographer provides digital files. These photographers are not getting rich, but they are getting work. Many of them do not depend on photography to make a living either. This also makes it easier for them to give away their digital files. While I don't like this, it is reality. So, I either need to leave the industry, or figure out a way to deal with it. Because I love my work, and I know I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love, I want to continue making images professionally.
I have wondered if there was some way to make a compromise. I could charge several hundred dollars for a session and give out the digital files (this is what I do for commercial clients), but that would still only provide my client with half of a product. Without my expertise in making beautiful prints, my client still does not have what I consider to be a worthy product to hang on their wall.
When meeting with my customers, one thing I have a good feel for is what portrait(s) a customer should have in their home and how much they would have to spend to have what I recommend. It is never cheap for them to get what I say, but when they do, they love it. So, for these customers, why not give them the digital files? I have been able to make a sale that preserves my income and my reputation of making professional prints. At this point, I have only minor barriers to giving away the digital files. The possibility of future sales is one of those minor barriers. I have found that once customers place their order, they rarely come back to order more. They already have what they need. I get more requests for obituary portraits from a past session than reorders from a past session. Another minor barrier would be that my customer will take the digital files and make non-professional prints with them. When they do this, they will at least have the original professional prints to compare it to, and they will likely either put it in a scrap book or come to me to have a professional print made.
It's official then. As of August 2012, I am offering digital files for FREE with a qualifying portrait purchase. Please see studio for details.