Why DO some photographers sell the digital image files? and why are they so expensive?!

To many people, "just getting the digitals" seems like it should be the least expensive option; it is the easiest thing for a photographer to give, no extra work, right? No EXTRA work may be accurate, but unfortunately, it's becoming harder and harder for photographers to charge their worth and make a living. Professional photographers like myself are just that, PROFESSIONALS. That means this is our job and lively hood. It's true when it comes time to give the product, not as much goes into uploading images to a client portal or creating a thumb drive of photos, but guess what!? The hard work is OVER by this point, but that doesn't mean a lot of time, energy, talent, and money didn't go into giving you the best possible photography experience. It has been my experience that my clients, the ones that love me and my work, and return to me year after year, appreciate the opportunity to see the images and purchase them in a customizable way rather than pay a high fee for the session, without guarantee they will love the outcome (although I do guarantee you'll get images you love! ❤️ )

So why do digital files cost more?

This is the most asked question from potential clients, so I hope with this I can give a little lesson in being a professional photography client!

Let's start at the beginning. Didn't someone once say, "that's a perfect place to start"!? And I promise not to sing! Okay, so It probably goes like this:

  • You decide what you want and your vision for your portraits.  You understand that it's time to have professional photos taken of your kids/family. Let's be honest; they grow so fast, and as soon as you're done getting portraits taken, it's time for the next.
  • You don't have your "go-to" photographer yet, so you start googling photographers in your area; there are probably at least a million, and you have no idea where to start.
  • Next, you spend hours on Pinterest looking for the perfect matching outfits, and of course, there are five different stores you have to go to.
  • By now, your head hurts, and you lost an entire day online; something or someone distracts you; you are overwhelmed, life is busy, and you have forgotten your mission of organizing family photos.
  • Fast forward to months later, you now NEED to get photos taken right away, so you call a friend or post on a mommy page looking for referrals! Your kids are growing fast, and activities and school take up so much time you feel like it's now or never!
  • You do what you must book last minute and wear whatever you have lying around; as long as the kids have bathed within the previous week, it is what it is, and it'll be fine. Throw a hairbrush in your purse and head out.
  • At your session, there is no lack of bribery and total begging! I have four kids; I get it! My family sessions are always crazy and hectic, but that's what lollipops are for! Smile, and you get a sucker! You leave wondering how there is any way possible you got a "good one"! But hopefully, you have faith in your photographer, cause let's be honest, our job can be 60% child wrangling and 40% photographer, and that's on a good day!
  • Two weeks later, your amazingly fabulous photographer sits down with you and shows you a slideshow with some AMAZING images that you question are even real because you know or thought you knew your kids. They don't smile; they don't cooperate!? But… your photographer is a genius (well, maybe not, but we're experienced! and PATIENT!), still in disbelief you're looking through, and the images are stunning!!!! Thinking to yourself, "this perfection will never happen again" You want, no NEED, EVERY digital file. Everyone you know MUST see these! You have to post on Facebook and Instagram, oh don't forget the holiday cards... maybe you'll make an album, don't forget the mini albums for the grandparents because they aren't on Facebook, you'll perhaps get enlargement of that perfect one that you will frame for over the mantle. I know what everyone is calling for the Holidays! The possibilities are endless.

So, then your photographer tells you how much the digital files will cost. And your immediate reaction is... "BUT WHY!?!? I didn’t even order prints or an album!"

You are not alone. To me, it seems the thought process of the average consumer when you think of digital files; the thought is that they should be cheaper because there is no tangible product; if nothing is physically being delivered, it's presumed there is no cost to the photographer, just their time. Am I close? I completely understand, and it seems that should make sense, but in reality, it's the opposite!

So here is why digital files are so expensive!

You have to think about what you are buying. When purchasing an image from a professional photographer, the paper it's printed on or the simple "digital file" is not what you're paying for. I consider myself an Artist and most professional photographers do too., So you've hired this Artist, one whom, presumably, you’ve hand-selected to capture your most significant memories and moments. And the end of the day, you are compensating a professional for their knowledge, experience, time, and talent. You are paying an Artist that has created an original and unique memory of a moment in time that you can NEVER go back to, except through the images.

Now that you understand a little better about what a talented Professional Photographer IS, here is what it takes to become a talented Professional Photographer. It's more than just a fancy camera and some luck! I will use my journey as an example. Becoming a professional and proficient photographer was a long road, and the expense was remarkable. My cameras alone cost 3-5,000 dollars without the lenses. Those are generally $1500 or $2000; for my more extensive, more versatile lenses, that is the cost for a used lens. I use about seven lenses regularly and at least two camera bodies on me at all times. Lighting can run anywhere from $1000 to way over $10,000. My degree is in Photography, so that was $68k right there. I know I'm not alone in doing continuing education courses as well as safety training because I work with newborns, and that all together is usually anywhere from $2k to $5k or more, per year, depending on how many conferences I attend. This blog would always continue if I listed all the other expenses I incur yearly, in equipment, to stay insured and be an official legal business in the State of Maryland, but I assure you, it's a lot! I am not saying that being a self-taught Professional Photographer is impossible, far from it. But trial and error is not a quick and cheap way to the end either.

Are you still with me? Am I starting to make sense? Some may still beg the question… get to the point, why are digital files so expensive?

Once a photographer has sold a digital file, the likelihood that they will make any more money off that file is ZERO. None. Zilch! Nothing! If you as a consumer have that file, why would you go to your photographer for Wall Art, albums, or prints, when you can use it to make 300 holiday cards, photos for every aunt and uncle, a large masterpiece for over the mantle, and even custom wallpaper?

That makes the digital file the most VALUABLE product a professional photographer can offer.

That is why digital files are expensive; it's the VALUE more than the physical cost because they are worth more than just one print. Do you see what I mean? There will always be photographers out there that will "include all digital files" for a session fee of $200, and then those that charge a session fee of $1,000 with no physical or digital product included, and everywhere in between. But I have been in this business for almost 20 years, and I can say with 100% confidence there will be an ENORMOUS difference in quality, service, and experience you get; what is it they say? "You get what you pay for"? I can't tell you how often I've heard, " well, so and so photography only charged this," to which I always ask, "why aren't you using them"? And the answer is always one of two things, they are unhappy with the images and experiences they got from that photographer, or more often than that, that photographer is no longer in business. And that truly breaks my heart.

You, as the consumer, have the option, as with anything you purchase, you can price shop or invest in something important to you. Most of my clients come to me because of my work, my referrals, and their experiences with me. To them, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right!

I hope this all made sense, and my genuine hope to help you understand was obvious. There is a photographer for everyone, and as photographers, there is an "ideal" client. What route you choose to take is your choice! When you think of a photographer you trust and whose work you love, you remember to think about what they did and continue to do to be where they are today.

I hope this helps you! What amount you choose to spend on photography is a personal decision, but maybe understanding the "why" will help make that decision more manageable, and you can appreciate the value a little more!