Giving Away Negatives

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by William Petruzzo, Jun 22, 2010.

  1. William Petruzzo

    William Petruzzo TPF Noob!

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    When I started my business about four or five years ago, I read in a number of places (like the PPA magazine) that it was bad form, and generally unwise, to give away the negatives along with the cost of a wedding or portrait package.

    Today, I'm seeing more and more photography businesses giving away the negatives. Even the bigger agencies like The Pros or Bella Pictures are doing it as a standard feature in their packages. I'm torn now because it's hard to tell who is really a working professional and who is an amateur with a nice website. I mean, are these people giving away their negatives actually making money? Is it just the trend and I should follow it carefully and wisely, or should I hold my ground?

    I'm pretty stressed about the whole thing. Anyone have some advice?
     
  2. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    A nice glass of wine... put your feet up, and mellow out.

    The industry has changed. In the past, photographers NEVER delivered negatives without a REAL premium price. In truth, it was a bit of injustice to do so, since it would have been a real burden on the customer to have prints made from professional size negatives.

    I pretty much feel the same when it comes to printing digital files. I don't think we're doing any favors leaving it to the customer to print files.

    So, yes..... LOTS of photographers deliver files for printing. I did it once. I won't do it again.

    -Pete
     
  3. jamescell

    jamescell TPF Noob!

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    Right there with you! To be competitive you have to do it though and it sucks. It sucks for the bride and groom because they are going to just take the files to walmart to print them. It sucks for us because it makes our images look bad..... It's really tough because there is almost always a decent photog thats a friend or relative that has similar shots. They might not be as good but there free.

    Ceremony shots never really net me huge $$, they sell but not like the portraits, so iI came up with a solution that is working out well for the client and myself.

    I have been giving clients the ceremony and reception files, mostly just batch processed. You have to give them something, might as well be the pictures that 100 of there friends and relatives have also.


    I do not allow anyone else to photo the portraits. It slows the process down too much and you always end up with everyone looking in 10 directions. I keep all of the portrait files and sell the prints. They have always been my best sellers. I really would like to keep them as long as I can.

    It really stinks, I want to sell every print. I feel though that this hurts me the least for now. I was losing too many clients buy keeping all of the files. If I gave all the files I would never make any $$, but it's up to you. If you can stay busy and keep your files sweet.. If your losing too many clients mabey try something new.

    Good luck!
     
  4. magkelly

    magkelly TPF Noob!

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    I think it's a sign of the times. Photographers are realizing in a digital age that you just can't really stop a client from making excellent prints anymore on their own no matter what you do. The money just isn't in the prints anymore, it's in the taking of the photographs and the first set you sell them.

    After that? They usually want to print their own and that's just how it is and they can given that some scanners are capable of getting an image that will print nearly the same as a professional studio one. If it's digital versions you're giving them on a CD? Well, you just gave them the whole shoot anyway because they'll make as many copies as they want, put them up all over the internet et all and you can count on it.

    I'm not so much worried about negatives for a commercial shoot. If the client wants them and I don't need them for publicity purposes, or for anything else, then fine. Not everyone wants to see their wedding pics in a photography book or in a gallery someday and I am okay with that. It's their shoot, their pics. They can have the negatives. I might make a print or two for my own reference so if something unusual comes out of it, so I will remember how I posed them and got that shot, but otherwise I don't care. They can have them with my blessing.

    On the other hand if I am shooting for less than my usual fee, in agreement that I will get to use those pics professionally, then no they don't get the negatives etc, only a couple of nice prints and they will sign a release and a binding legal contract not to print loads of them or put them online without my permission. That's only fair as at that point I actually own those shots, not the person modeling.

    Realistically though?

    Anyone with time and a scanner can duplicate anything I do for them. It's a losing battle to worry about it really. I prefer watermarks used for online work, but even then you can't stop someone from posting a pic not using one. I don't worry so much about it really. Better a happy client and more business generated, then a pissed off client and nothing to show for that shoot but a pile of negatives.

    If people are going to want to order really good prints, they will. But if they think they can do it for less, they will also. We live in a tough economy, and any business is good business these days. Can't afford to scare of potential business by being too anal about repeat prints. Not when everybody and his mother has a top of the line digital camera and the idea that they can shoot like a pro!
     
  5. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Digital files are different than 'negatives'. With negatives, you typically don't make a copy of them to save and a copy for the client. There is only one set, and the photographer kept them and sold reprints.

    With digital files, you can give the client their own copy while retaining yours. And digital files are much more useful to people these days, than negatives were to people 10 years ago.

    The premise behind keeping the negatives (or files now) is that you retain the 'power'. If the client wants a print or product, they have to come to you. For many photographers, that was the bulk of their income, with the actual up-front fee being less.
    Of course, with newer technology, it has become very easy for people to make their own copies from just the prints, even if it is illegal copyright infringement. They may also just want a digital version of their photo, for any number of purposes.
    For those reasons, among others, it is getting more and more popular to SELL the digital files to the client.

    What I always tell people, is to figure out what you would expect to make by selling prints & reprints, and charge that much for the digital files. Of course, there is the possibility that you would miss out on a huge print sale, but you can also save yourself a lot of time & effort by not having to make the sale for each job.

    Of course, I'm still seeing that many of the most successful photographers are making a lot of money with print sales. But they most likely have (market to) the type of clients who are willing so spend money on prints & quality products, as opposed to the type of clients who are just looking for a deal.

    One of the biggest issues, IMO, of selling the files, is that you give up the final control of the images. A client might take your beautiful file and print it on toilet paper and hang it on their wall looking like crap. That reflects badly on you, without you even knowing about it. That's why I at least try to educate the client if I'm going to sell the files. I tell (or better yet show) them about the difference between printing at 'Wal-mart' and at a good photo lab. I don't bother with small or low rez files, because clients are likely to try to print anything. When I do hand over files, I give them high rez files that are ready for printing.

    I've heard & seen all sorts of pricing structures that do or do not include digital files. Some include small sized files or watermarked files, in an attempt to prevent the client from printing them. Some will include files only after the clients have ordered a certain amount of prints etc. Some will sell the files at a price that equates to the expected print sale or thereabouts. Some will just sell the files, some even straight out of the camera...meaning that there is little or no post processing involved.
     
  6. William Petruzzo

    William Petruzzo TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the feedback.

    I've always had difficulty making really big bucks on prints. It probably has something to do with shooting on location and not having a studio to populate with printed material to wow the customer. Frankly I don't care much for the whole process. And while I use ExposureManager and their okay, I've never been really impressed by the service. It's still a lot of work. Between EM and services like Pictage, which is a lot more expensive but more intensely managed, there's nothing. Nothing in the middle of the road.

    I like the idea of working my pricing structure to simply reflect what I might expect to earn in a print order. The packages would be a little more expensive, but there wouldn't be any confusion and I would be competitive on a point that's becoming increasingly more important to the customer. Many of whom, I wouldn't be surprised if they never printed any of them. They were just stored in their iPhoto or something.

    What do you guys think about this, though. Instead of offering full res files to the customer, give them digital files that are printable up to 5x7 or so. Most people who buy 4x6's don't seem to be hyper critical of quality and aren't going to like the $6.99 price tag on mine. They can print their small files on their own, but for larger prints and canvas work, they would have to come through me.

    Does that sound reasonable? Have you ever heard of photographers doing that?
     
  7. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    The problem I see with that, is that most clients won't know (or care) that the digital files are 'only big enough for a 5x7'...they will still try to print them at whatever size they want. And if they try to print a 16x20 and it looks terrible, they will blame you, not themselves.

    You can try to educate them...sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. :er:
     
  8. William Petruzzo

    William Petruzzo TPF Noob!

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    Hmm, good point. Okay, back to the drawing board. *sigh*. Seriously, I do need a glass of wine or something.
     
  9. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    If you are not making big bucks selling prints, you are doing something wrong. Sorry.

    Now, you are talking about giving/selling negs. Do you actually shoot film or is that just a figure of speech? And if you are shooting film, what format? Most people wouldn't know what to do with a neg these days, especially if it is a MF neg.

    And, if your are shooting negs, I sure hope you are not shooting 35mm. I used to live and shoot in the DC area and, way back then, when I got into weddings, I was told to shoot MF. When I asked why, I was told that most of my clients' friends would have 35mm cameras and I would not work for long shooting that format. So I bought my first Hasselblad :)

    When someone asked about buying the negs, I would show them the films and ask them if they had any idea how to go about having them printed... Of course, they didn't and dropped the subject. It is even truer today with the advent of digital. What would your clients do with MF film negs?

    Now, if you are shooting digital, that is another story. And, I'm sorry, but you are screwed. Photographers left and right are giving everything away to try and be competitive. Great. They're digging themselves a hole so deep they won't recover. Retail photography is the next victim of the digital world.

    Start learning how to do something else.

    Not trying to be mean at all. Just realistic and talking about the results of a marketing study we/I did before opening my studio. Retail photography has been a racket for quite a while and it has now decided to bite back. And it's biting hard.
     
  10. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Your entire post... well said.

    -Pete
     
  11. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    Thanks Pete.

    To be honest, I wish it wasn't well said. I wish I was totally wrong. But everything I have seen recently points to retail photo being the biggest victim of the digital photo world. It is high time for retail photogs to re-invent themselves if they want to keep working and making decent money in this media.
     
  12. William Petruzzo

    William Petruzzo TPF Noob!

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    I respectfully disagree with your bleak outlook. For at least two reasons.

    First, if you spend some time surfing Facebook it won't take long to notice that most people don't know how to take photographs. And the hobbyists who do, don't know how to deal with clients. It's a common story that I hear relatively often. "We tried to have so-and-so do some photos for us, but they just couldn't..."

    And second, a lot of business trends are pointing away from hard-copy material. Why should the photographic industry expect to be exempt from that?

    While I appreciate the input, I think you might have missed what I felt was pretty clearly the purpose of the post. I am looking for ways to reinvent myself in the industry. I want to deliver to clients what they want and need and do it in a way that can turn a profit. There is a market, we just need to figure out how to approach it. This particular question just happens to be one of the elements of that I'm working on right now.

    Do you realize that what you just said is, "You should give up because you can't succeed". As a business person who must've started somewhere (though I have no idea what your business is like or how it runs), you must realize how unhelpful, and frankly discouraging, that kind of sentiment is. And I'll bet there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of very successful business people who could tell you that sentiment belongs almost nowhere.

    If retail photographers are in danger, all photographers are in danger eventually. If the market is changing, the solution isn't defeatist comments, it's constructive brainstorming on how we can evolve to meet the need and turn a profit.

    I have no doubt that things have to change. Nothing is sacred, everything is on the table. Question at hand, how can we make money the money we need, while delivering the customer what they want?
     

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