You know the age-old questions? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Is the glass half full or half empty? Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway? Or my favorite one… Why are digital files so flippin’ expensive?
Ok ok, so the last question is not exactly old as time, but you better believe it gets asked all the time! If you are the least bit curious, I encourage you to read on to find out!
So why do digital files cost more?
As a professional photographer, this is a question I am asked all the time! As a matter of fact, in the past 24 hours, I’ve answered this question at least 3 times from current and potential clients! And to be quite honest, although this a very fair question, I feel like it’s time for a little ‘Photography Clients: 101’ lesson! 🙂
So let’s back up a little and pretend you are booking a professional photo session. It probably goes like this:
- You decide you really WANT (not really, we all know how painful it can be to get kids to cooperate, much less your husband) to have professional photos taken of your kids/family. They are growing so fast after all!
- You start googling photographers in your area, find 483 family photographers to choose from, lose 3 hours online trying to figure out who you love most.
- You spend another 3 hours on Pinterest searching for the sweetest matching outfits that you can all wear and look like a family out of a Vineyard Vines catalog!
- You realize you’ve lost an entire day online, get distracted, overwhelmed and busy, and forgot all about your mission of organizing family photos.
- Months later, you call a friend desperately looking for a photographer referral because you now NEED to get photos taken right away! Your kids are growing fast, Little Emma is going to lose her two front teeth, and now baseball season has started and you only have 1 weekend in the next 6 months that you can squeeze it in.
- You book a last minute session, grab whatever clothes seem the least bit ‘coordinated’ out of the closet, use a little extra hair gel the day of the session (who had time for a haircut), beg and plead your kids to squeeze into their shoes (even though they are 2 sizes too small) because it’s only for a few minutes and you don’t have other shoes for them to wear!
- You get to the session, beg, plead and bribe a little more for cooperation! “FOR THE LOVE OF WINE, PLEASE STOP FIGHTING for a few blasted minutes! I’m not asking that much!!!” (Full disclaimer, I almost had 2 less children after our last family photo session. I totally lost my cool. It was horrifically embarrassing. Anyway…..)
- Two weeks later, your fabulous photographer presents you with some AMAZING images that you aren’t sure are real because you didn’t see any of this cooperation or behavior during your session. But… your photographer is a genius, so of course, the images are beautiful!!!! You decide you want EVERY digital file because clearly, it will be a LONG time before you do this again AND you need the files to post on Facebook and Instagram, upload to Tinyprints to create your holiday cards, make an album for the grandparents, get enlargements for frames at home, of course, extra prints for all the aunts and uncles!! SUCCESS!!!
And then your photographer tells you how much the digital files will cost. Womp, womp, womp!!!!!!!!!! BUT WHY!?!? You didn’t even order prints or an album!
To a consumer who is interested in purchasing digital files, it seems like the files should be cheaper because there is no actual product being delivered, no ‘presumed’ cost for the photographer. It’s just their ‘time,’ after all. Right?
I totally get it, and it seems like it would make sense, but in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Here’s why digital files are so expensive!
When you purchase an image from a photographer, you are not ‘buying’ the piece of paper it is printed on, or the file that was sent to you; you are compensating a professional, one whom you’ve presumably hand-selected to capture your most significant memories and moments. You are compensating a professional for their knowledge, experience, and talent. You are compensating a professional for creating art and preserving moments that you will never experience again, except through their images.
So what do you think it takes to become this knowledgeable, experienced and talented professional? A camera and some luck?
As is the case with most true professional photographers, the expense of being exceptional is well…. quite exceptional. Cameras alone typically run $3,000-$5000. Most of us have 2 or 3, if not more. A professional grade lens is usually $1500 – $2000. We usually have 5-10, all necessary for different situations. Lighting can run anywhere from $1000 – $10,000, depending on how much you have. Education to stay ‘up to date and relevant,’ is easy $2000-$3000 per class. I won’t even continue to list all the other costs of running a business such as computers, websites, studio rent, marketing, samples, insurance, taxes, etc, etc. etc. Suffice it to say, there are many more expenses than just a good camera. 😉
But still… why are digital files so expensive?
Once a photographer has sold a digital file, he or she will no longer make one cent off that file. None. Zilch! Nothing! Once a consumer has that file, they can use it to make 300-holiday cards, prints for every aunt and uncle, a large masterpiece for over the mantle, even custom wallpaper! Once a client has a digital file, a photographer has ended their ability to profit off that product. So… We have to set our prices for the files, these non-tangible files, to make sure we are covering our cost of doing business and making a living. It is really this simple. If you love your images and need holiday cards, prints for your family and wall art for your home, the total sale is going to be very different then if you purchased just a few files. Digital files need to priced appropriately, beyond the cost of one print. Does that make sense?
Yes, you will find photographers who sell digital files for $5 and some who sell them for $500 per file (I’ll address this another time). With 100% certainty, I can assure you there is an enormous difference in the quality of the product you receive and the service you experience, and eventually, that $5 photographer will not be around next time you need him! You always have the option to go cheap or invest in something and ‘someone’ you trust!
If you’ve made this far, I hope it has helped you understand a little bit about why digital files aren’t cheap! I’m not trying to convince you that you need to spend $5000 everytime you want to do a family portrait session! Not at all. But next time you find a photographer whose work you love and business you trust, think about how he or she got to the place they are today. Maybe it’s worth the investment for your family and maybe it’s not, but if you understand why, your decision to purchase files may be easier and your images a little more valuable!
Baltimore Photographer, Robyn Osten, specializes in portraits, weddings and corporate headshots in the DMV. Her studio is located in Baltimore City and she serves all of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington DC and beyond. Robyn has been a professional photographer for over 15 years and has seen the trend in photography move from quality, heirloom products to digital files, back to heirloom products. Robyn offers her clients a variety of beautiful, high-end photography products that will be passed down for generations!