Last week while at Image Explorations, I found myself in a conversation about “the power of print”. We got into a heated debate about prints versus digital files and the state of the industry…a debate I’ve heard a number of times. The long-time established pros were really trashing the idea of selling digital files and blaming the emerging pros for the public’s perception. Now for the record, this was the beginning of the week and we eventually moved into more productive conversations. At one point, I asked to share an essay I wrote from the Pixel Cents book. The response from the group was wonderful, so I thought I should share it with you too.
Prints Vs. Files
Some folks will argue that a digital file isn’t a finished product, and they question
our integrity as artists if we are willing to release an unfinished piece of work from
our studio. The thing is, when you really think about it, a digital file can be a finished
piece. You can do all of your touch-ups and artwork and license that file to a client for
their big screen tv or tablet and it can look absolutely fabulous.
So what’s all the fuss about?
Well, a digital file is fleeting. It comes and goes. It’s not always there, you have to go
find it. It is not seen by your friends and family when they walk in the front door. It is
not passed by your children in the hallway every night when they go to bed.
A printed photograph can find its place in a home for an entire generation. It has a
physical presence that can be compared to a rocking chair or a painting. As life gets
busy and speeds up, a photograph of loved ones in a room can be a source of strength
in the tough times, it can be a source of nostalgia. It can also be a source of laughter
and entertainment as families grow. It is alway there. For this reason, a printed photograph
can easily become one of a family’s most prized possessions.
I think we have been asking the wrong question regarding prints versus files. It’s not
about whether one or the other is right or wrong. It’s about which of these is the most
suitable product for such an important possession. I strongly believe in the continued
practice of selling wall portraits, albums and prints and then using your digital
files as an add-on sale.
I believe this practice is not only more sustainable for the photographer,
it also has the most long-term value for the client.
Now back to the files…
In order for the public’s perception to change, we first must change the conversation from within the industry. We need to accept that digital files are here to stay. We need to stop blaming each other for the state of the industry. We need to adopt an industry standard for selling files. We need to educate photographers so that THEY understand the value their work.
Then, and only then, will professional photography reclaim respect from the public and continue to be a rewarding and viable way to make a living.