Thursday, 14 February 2013

As a Photographer Shall I Share Digital Files With My Clients?

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To share or not to share? In our modern technological age it might seem strange to a customer when they are refused to be given digital files of their photos. However, many photographers still provide their customers with prints only. Why? What can possibly go wrong if a photographer does give the digital files to their customers? What is the right thing to do?
Let's first consider the legal side of the question. Photos are a result of a photographer's work, thus they are copyrighted to the photographer. A customer pays for a final product, which in this case are prints. So, it is a decision to make for every photographer what to do with digital files of the photos. But what is the right decision?
Before trying to answer this question, let's analyse what stops photographers from providing their customers with digital images. Any customer wants the best quality images for the money they paid. Even if polished to a high standard as a digital image, a photo can look far from perfect if printed in a wrong way. As a professional, a photographer knows what is the best paper for his/her photos to be printed on, what the best printing settings to be used etc. If a customer has digital files of their photos, they might want to reprint them. Then they might go to a printing lab where they might come across less experienced stuff, or simply go for cheaper printing options, and, therefore, might get poor quality prints. Those poor quality prints, however, might be associated with the photographer's work and damaged his/her reputation.
Therefore, many photographers simply don't take chances and give only prints and albums to their customers or give prints and low resolution files with no printing rights.
With the development of social networks and digital technology customers' requirements are changing too. Nowadays, customers might not need printed images at all, as they find it more convenient to store digital images and photo albums on their hard drives or web than having a pile of printed photos or a bulky photo album on their shelf. Also, social networks made sharing of one's photos with their family and friends really convenient by uploading digital photos on one's profile. Thus, digital images are what many customers are after now, and for them prints are no longer a main product that they pay for, they are rather an add-hock extra. So, it appears that offering prints only is no longer satisfactory, and moreover, might leave many customers unhappy or even lose them.
Now, taking into consideration the above, let's answer the question posed in the beginning of the article: as a photographer shall I share digital files with my clients? And the answer is... that there is no perfect answer or advice. It seems that every photographer has to weigh his/her risks of losing their customers vs. risks of damaging their reputation. Also, if a photographer gives low resolution files to their customers, they might print them in even worse quality.
Myself, I believe that the best strategy would be to give your customers high resolution files with the right to reprint and focus on good communication with them. My experience shows, if you explain them possible issues which might occur if they choose to print the photos somewhere else, there is a big chance they will perfectly get it. You can advise your customer on printing options as well. Also, if you don't build in a high margin into your own printing price and are open about suppliers and prices, then your customers are most likely to come back to you for reprints.
Modern technology comes to the rescue too. Nowadays monitors have a good resolution and a great quality of image, much better than it used to be in the past. So, even if your customer gets a poor print, they most possibly will see how different it is from the perfect picture they can see from a modern monitor.

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