I can't afford to give everything away

The title might be harsh, but stay with me.

I’d like help breaking a mentality.

Unless factored into the price, people should not feel entitled to receive a CD/DVD of full-res JPEG photos [for free].

But, what do you tell customers asking why? Do you have any analogies to help?

I thought of:

  • It’s like going to a fancy restaurant and asking for (insert awesome main dish here) — along with their recipe.
  • An author giving away his novels in PDF format.

If I’m taking photos and giving them away at my expense, how could I keep going for the next five years? (If you want personal examples, ask me and I’ll leave it in the comments. It’ll hurt, but I’ll open up and tell you.)

Of course, this applies to more than just photography.

Please share your thoughts.

Comment policy: I will moderate anonymous comments with fake email addresses. Use your real information. I won’t spam you or share your information.


You’ll want to read John Harrington‘s series:

Merlin Mann‘s post “Free as in ‘Me’” struck a cord, too.

Additionally, I’ve ordered “The Photographer’s Survival Guide: How to Build and Grow a Successful Business,”[2. I saw it featured in the May 2009 issue of Rangefinder.] because I don’t want to be a starving artist forever. Perhaps I’ll gain a better perspective after reading it.

[amtap amazon:asin=0817476776]

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

5 thoughts on “I can't afford to give everything away”

  1. Tell them the truth. 99.999% of portrait/wedding photographers are working stiffs eking out a middle class living if they are lucky. To do this they rely in part on print sales. This is a standard practice. Giving them a CD of the full res images effectively kills that future revenue stream and thus you should be compensated for it.

    You could always start out with a higher price including the CD, with a sizable discount if they decide against it. You could also tell them that you aren’t just taking pictures, you are making sure the printer does everything right etc. You may also suggest that you don’t want others to judge your work by the copies they have made at the local drug store.


  2. As the photographer, you own the rights to any photo you shoot. This includes the rights to distribution and printing. By giving away a disc with the originals, you are making it effectively impossible to police those rights. And, as Blackstock mentioned, you’ll lose print sales.

    Instead of selling just the disc, sell the disc and the rights to the photos. The pricing on rights-released discs were all over the place when we were shopping for wedding photographers. Sometimes the disc would cost more than the most expensive print package, because the photographer would be giving up the right to sell prints. Sometimes the disc would be the most [inexpensive] package, because the photographer just showed up and burned the photos to a disc with no further effort required on their part.

    We purchased a “digital only” package with rights-released discs from our photographer. I’ll look up the receipt and email you the final cost later tonight.


  3. You have to choose a model and stick with. I know photographers who are successful with either model, but you have to do what is right for you.

    The old print model made sense when film and quality printing limited the average person’s ability to do anything without a professional photographer. There are people who are shooting digital, and still finding success with the old model, but (I don’t think) it makes sense in the digital world.

    One of the photographer’s I work with has a room in his house (his studio is at his house) with a projector and a computer set up. He displays your photos on the screen, larger than life, and you can buy what you want. He NEVER gives out or sells proofs. no proofs, no contact sheets, nothing. For portraits, he charges a small sitting fee, and then you can buy prints from him. You can also buy the digital rights to the photographs.

    For weddings or location work, he includes the CD, but charges a significant fee to show up and shoot. Knowing that the couple can now go and print wherever they want, he gives a discount if they print with him. He still makes money (even at the discount) and since it gives the couple/family the feeling of full service at a great price, they often just order from him anyways.

    How I would do it

    Charge what you want/need/expect to make from a wedding/photo shoot up front. Provide unaltered/cropped/corrected CD day of (maybe lower res of 2 to 3 MP. These are good for great 5×7 and decent 8×10). Give them a brochure, etc… with the details of your “discounted” printing packages for their type of customer. Explain all the extra work that goes into cropping/color correcting that is included when they print through you. Include on that price sheet a high res, full rights, cropped/color corrected DVD priced appropriately to account for the extra time it takes to tweak all the photos and the limit of additional money from print photographs. Offer an additional discount if, after buying the full res disc, they still choose to print with you.

    Example, if I think your wedding is worth $1000 in profit in the old school system, I charge you $1000 up front. If I would have charge $25 per sheet, I charge you $16 (but mark it $25 with a $9 discount). This still provides a decent markup, but since you already made everything you expected to make, it is a bonus. I then charge you an additional $500-$1000 for the full res cropped DVD, and offer you an additional printing discount down to $13 per sheet. Again, still room for profit and since you already color corrected/cropped every photo, it is literally as simple as sending to the printer. To make things even better, and ensure your photos come out well and represent you, make sure that you tell people that you can only [guarantee] the quality of their prints if they print at one of the following labs with the following settings. Make sure those labs have affiliate programs when they link off your site.

    [Fill] in your own numbers, of course, but you just [guaranteed] yourself $1000-2000 and you haven’t printed anything. If they go through your affiliate links, you make more money. If they print through you, you make more money. If they don’t, your site clearly states that you don’t [guarantee] quality for do it yourselfers and maybe you got a gig who would have gone somewhere else if you didn’t offer the unedited CD for free (which equals $1000 for a weekend you would have been [sitting] home not shooting at all).


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