“It doesn’t cost much to put some files on a CD, and the files could even be transferred via dropbox (or some other cloud sharing service) straight to my desktop on my computer at no cost to the photographer, so why the added cost compared to an actual print?”
Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, while you are correct that the physical overhead might be smaller when it comes to the delivery of a digital file, without even getting into the amount of time and care that goes into post processing and carefully crafting each one of your photos to picture perfect perfection, what you receive with that original file is, in reality, far more valuable to you, the client, than any particular physical print.
Essentially, what needs to be understood is that when the photographer transfers one of their digital files to you, in effect, they are transferring the modern day version of “the negative” to you.
Not only is a digital file the equivalent of a photographic negative, it’s the equivalent of a photographic negative that the photographer has spent a considerable amount of additional time refining and enhancing to bring out its best qualities.
In the past, when digital photography had yet to be invented and photographers shot purely with film, the same principles explained in this post still rang true.
If a client wanted to purchase the negatives, and along with them, the reproductive rights to the image, the costs associated with this transfer would normally be significantly higher than the cost of a normal sized, single printed image.
Just like with the transfer of a negative, the transfer of the original file also provides you with the ability to print and make as many additional prints as you desire, at any size you’d like, and always at the same full quality as the very first time, for the rest of your life..
This is not the case with a physical print, which will inevitably degrade in quality over longer periods of time, and which you could scan and reproduce, but if you were to, you’ll always be degrading the image quality to some degree through this process.
This is especially even more the case if you plan to make a big, expensive print from the scan from a smaller printed image.. We HIGHLY recommend against do this! The quality of the final print will inevitably wind up being awful!
This then brings up another reason that digital prints are often found to be more expensive than ordinary sized physical prints..
While those cute little 5×7’s
As a photographer, I can choose a print lab to work with that I know will deliver an uncompromised, high quality end product to my client with full and precise color fidelity and print quality that’s high enough to represent my brand as a professional photographer.
By establishing a working relationship with a high quality print lab that I know I can trust, I have the ability to protect my brand and its associated product quality. When a photographer delivers a digital file to a client, we not only lose a lot of money if the client then decides to create a large print, we also relinquish and lose complete control over the quality of the end product, and therefor we risk decreasing the perceived value of our work when you get to the point of hanging it on your wall.
Regardless of your particular desire for physical or digital prints, what’s most important is that you reach a clear understanding with your photographer about what your hopes and expectations will be prior to the shoot and what options they might offer you that will fulfill those hopes and expectations and at what price.. Due to the increased demand for digital images in this day and age, some photographers have addressed the digital image issue by increasing their initial session costs, so that they can afford to include the transfer of the entire collection of the client’s digital images as part of their initial session price. If you’re really set on digital prints, and feel that the cost for a full res digital file is too expensive, another potential option is to ask your photographer for low res files that can only be put online or, if printed, can only be printed at smaller sizes..