The answer to the big question… “why don’t I sell my images?” | Oregon Photographer


negatives blog post 1-14


“Can I get our pictures on a CD? I was hoping I could use them for scrapbooking and also to send some prints to our family. You don’t even have to edit them, Costco does a great job. Trust me….. I print there all the time!”


I get requests like this almost every day.  It’s usually the first question from potential clients who are “shopping around” for a photographer.  It’s to the point that even current and long time clients are posing the question, “Why aren’t you selling images on CD, when so many other photographers are offering to sell their digital files?”  This is actually a huge issue in the world of professional photography.  My take on it is, at what cost to myself and to the images would I sell edited, high-resolution images?  To be clear, I’m not talking about how much money I might potentially earn by selling images on CD.  Believe me, it’s not that I’m trying to be difficult or make your session any less valuable to you.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Here are several reasons I have chosen NOT to sell digital images over the years…

First, I think it’s best asked plainly: those images that you love and that we had so much fun shooting?  The final product takes hours to create…our session was just the beginning.  I know that we may be together at a session for only an hour or two but the shooting time is possibly the shortest investment of time that any professional photographer makes. There is time and money that goes into your session well before it actually starts.  Scouting locations takes time and research.  Buying or even borrowing added unique touches for your session in the way of props (yes, props…I said it! As much as I dislike that term, it is what it is) is costly.  I have spent countless hours and many hundreds of dollars stocking up on things like antique chairs, stools and benches, toys, wagons, teepees, blankets and often even special treats purchased for your kids.   I suppose I shouldn’t leave out the large gas expense, something that I rarely ask my clients to be responsible for regardless of the distance I travel, or the extensive amount of miles I have put on my car accommodating clients all throughout the state of Oregon and beyond.  I’m not complaining…just explaining.  Stay with me.

I’m pretty sure that most people are unaware of the amount of time that goes into editing the raw images that I shoot at a session.  For every 2 hour shoot  I’d estimate that I can spend 8, 10, or even up to 12 hours throughout the entire process of editing, starting with the transfer of hundreds of images from my camera to my computer. After narrowing them down, they need to be resized and then uploaded to my site for you to view. Once your have made your print choices, that’s when the editing and processing of each image officially begins.  OK, so I’m going to ask you to humor me for a minute with just a little math: let’s say $200 for 2 hours of shooting equals a salary of $100 an hour.  Sweet!  But wait: $200 for a 2 hour shoot plus 8 hours of editing (I’ll skip the prep time just to keep our numbers simple) means that for 10 hours of work I would earn $20 an hour.  It’s honestly not that much when you take into account the next piece, which is…


I am a professional photographer with talent, expertise, and extensive business costs.   Photography is what I have been lucky enough to spend years working on, honing my craft while learning more and also spending more (and more!) on better equipment that has to be replaced and upgraded on a frighteningly regular basis.  I am committed to providing you with the best possible images by using my years of experience and education in preparation, shooting, and editing so that you will love your images.   I want you to proudly display them in your home for years.  Photos aren’t just static art…they live and breathe and draw others into the moment that was captured in that one instant.  A picture is worth a thousand words and for those of us who take this work seriously it is also worth more than the 33 cents it would cost to print a digital file at your local drugstore or online photo printer!  All of my years of experience, all of that time editing, all of the equipment that I use (and upgrade on a regular basis)?  Well, it costs money.  A lot of money.   Photographers who offer a session fee that includes digital images are, in many cases, giving away their opportunity to make their living not only from the session fee but from the cost of the prints.  I think there is a bit of a perception that anyone who has a $500 Canon can take “good enough” or even “good” photos…but my clients, who often become my friends, come to me because they want more than just a couple “good” shots.  They want timeless images that capture the essence of their wedding, their children, and their family.  I promise that I’m not trying to keep those memories from you but this leads to the next point…


One of the hardest things to educate clients about is that if I sell digital images, I forever lose control of the quality and even composition of those images once they leave my hands.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many people who understand the difference in print quality that comes from a professional-grade lab versus, once again, that 33-cent 5×7 print that you pick up at your local big box store.  I’m fairly certain that every one of you has had candid snapshots of your own printed and thought, “Wow, these colors are really distorted…was the green in their printer off this week or what?”  Remember those hours of editing that I include in my session fee?  I put that time in so that when you order prints from my lab the quality will be stunning, lasting, and exactly what you expected from seeing the images on your screen.  I also admit it: I’m proud of what I do and there is a special kind of pain that photographers feel when they see a photograph that they took, representing their work as an artist, which is then cropped strangely or has distorted lighting or skin tones.  When a photo that isn’t up to my quality standards is displayed, my name becomes attached to something that doesn’t stand up to my creative vision.  It would be similar to writing and publishing a book, then having someone change your words while leaving your name on it!  The same is true for my photographs…I love them, I want you to love them, and I want to stand behind every aspect of the final product.  If a local or national nonprofessional lab printer has an especially lousy day it’s difficult for me to think of your family and friends seeing that subpar quality and then forever equating my work with a poor printing job.


Finally, it has to be said: photographers, me included, have to make a living.  If I don’t sell printed images then I won’t have the opportunity to keep my session fees low.  If I can’t keep my session fees low then I may lose business and if I’m not selling any prints, then my work no longer becomes work but is just a hobby.  People, I’m just like you: I’ve got a house, car payments, and groceries to buy for our family.  I’m not trying to knock photographers who offer digital images as part of their packages; I’m just hoping that you will understand that I am a professional who has a lot of time, money and artistic pride invested into this business.  It’s a rewarding career and art but I also have to be sure that I retain the right amount of creative control and blend that with good business sense.  I haven’t raised my session fees in ages, and my per-print costs are more than reasonable. Trust me, I would “make” more money and save so much time if I just would sell you that CD you have been asking for.  I know (really, I know!) that many existing and prospective clients wish wholeheartedly to have discs of their images, which is why at this time I do offer a low- resolution CD option for a small fee.  This gives you the ability to view your photos as much as you like, store them on your computer or even in a safety deposit box for safe keeping.

I hope that you can understand my point of view. But, as strongly as I feel this subject, I also still want my clients to be “happy.” So,  I am currently working on new package options that will be able please us both. Bottom line is, I love my job, I care about your images, and I care enough to want to protect the memories that we capture so that you will enjoy them fully for years to come!


Thanks for listening ♥



Anonymous - February 3, 2014 - 5:39 pm

Do people really think they look that good without your help? People have to realize that without your eye and editing ability that their family portraits would look average or plain. It is your ability that makes their family look so good, not that they were inherently blessed and would look just as amazing with that new app they have on their iPhone.

But you will always get this it is inherent in human nature. Some people want to drive a Range Rover and some are destined for the Kia Sol.

Not all clients are good clients!

Bruce Berg - April 8, 2014 - 3:31 pm

Very well said Jolyn. Photographers are quitting by the hour because they can’t make a living-they aren’t quantifying their true expenses like you are wisely doing.

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