On Selling Digital Portraits

Digital Portraits

I sometimes get asked if I include "digital copies" of the portraits I create for my clients. The simple answer to this is no. I wrote about this several years ago on my old website, so I thought it would be a good time to update the information.

One of the things that hasn't changed, is that I still make my living through photography. This is not a part-time job, nor do I work for a large company as a photographer. I am self-employed and operate a full-time portrait and commercial photography studio in a commercial location, not from my home. In order to stay in business and earn a living, I have to charge for the work I produce.  Notice I said "stay in business" AND "earn a living". These are two totally separate things and I cannot do the latter if I don't take care of the former.

I have been a professional photographer for nearly 30 years, and self-employed for over 20. In that time I've successfully transitioned from film to digital, but also climbed the steep learning curve moving from one technology to the other. I continuously keep myself updated on the latest techniques, trends, hardware and software in the quest to perfect my craft and produce the images my clients have come to expect.

Loss of Income

So, what does all this have to do with digital copies of your portraits. To understand this, you have to think back to pre-digital times when photographers made their living shooting film. 

A professional photographer would never give away or even sell his negatives. Doing so would mean a loss of income. The same applies today with digital 'negatives'. If we provided digital copies of our work, then we lose any potential of print sales and subsequent income. To compensate for the loss of sales, we would have to charge, at minimum, what we would average on a typical print order for each digital negative. But even that isn't enough of a reason. If I received those amounts for digital copies, I still would not sell them. Here's the real reason.

Loss of Control & Quality

Have you ever taken a digital photo of yours to a big-box store for prints? Sometimes they're ok, and other times not so much? You're at the mercy of that part-time clerk that is thinking about closing time more than the job they're being paid to do. So what happens when you take one of my crafted images there for printing and it doesn't come out well? Are people you show it to going to blame the part-timer in the big box store for the poor print job, or blame the photographer because they assume that what they see is the "real product"?

This is why I prefaced this article with my experience. I didn't spend all this time perfecting my skills to have someone else produce a print that I would be ashamed to have my name associated with. That's my reputation at stake. And my reputation is how I stay in business and earn a living. See how that all comes around?

Not only that, but digital copies are viewed on just about every electronic device made these days, from watches to 'big screen' TV's. The colour is not always great, the resolution not nearly the same as a print, and often too dark, or too light, too contrasty or not enough.

There are so many ways a digital image can be altered, manipulated, cropped, colourized, processed and degraded that I would risk my reputation every time a digital image left my studio. I can't afford that.

Those are the reasons why I don't sell digital copies of portraits I've created. 

However, I do understand that the most common form of sharing photographs these days is digitally. To that end, I may provide what I call a web image for customers to share with their family and friends on social media such as Facebook, SmartPhones, etc. This digital copy isn't of sufficient resolution to make prints from, and it has my watermark embedded. The image is prepared and optimized for web viewing and comes with the stipulation that it won't be altered or the watermark removed. All images are Copyright, Mike Guilbault Photography.

Digital copies are available after a minimum order is placed (dependant on the type of portrait session) and only from images that a print, 8x10 or larger, is ordered from. The reason for that is that it provides you with a professionally finished portrait to not only enjoy (without the need to turn something on), but also as a reference on how the real portrait should look.

I hope that explains my position on digital copies. I welcome comments or questions and also hope that you respect my work by not copying prints or other images. 

Thank you.

Mike Guilbault