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Why Would A Digital Image Be More Expensive Than A Print?

Posted on: September 1st, 2015 by jcanaan | No Comments

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You might be asking yourself why professional photographers charge so much for digital images.. Or you might be surprised to find out that the digital download of a professional photographer’s image file costs more than an ordinary sized physical print of the same photo, and you might wonder why this is.. We know what you’re thinking!

“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.


A Digital File Is A Photographic Negative

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.

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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..

A Full Resolution Digital File Can Be Printed At Any Size.. Forever!

While those cute little 5×7’s

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you’re considering ordering for your aunts and uncles might be quite affordable, the cost and value of a true work of art, gracing your wall, or the wall of your grandchildren, at 40”x 60” is another story entirely. When you buy the 5×7, you only get the 5×7 you order.. When you buy the digital file, you have the ability to print that file at full size and with full, uncompromised quality in ANY size you’d like for the rest of your lives!
This brings us to another issue that makes negotiating the sale of digital images with a photographer potentially somewhat more tricky and less straight forward than selling physical prints..

Loss Of Brand & Quality Control For Photographer

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.

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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.

Communication is key!

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..

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As you discuss your options with your photographer, just keep in mind that, although the technology has changed with the digital age, the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining our professional gear and of running a professional photography business are as high or higher than ever. And so if you’re interested in purchasing the full sized, digital files that a professional photographer has artfully created for you, you can expect that at some place along the line you’re going to have to pay a significant amount for them!
Just think about it this way.. If all photographers just started giving our “negatives” and the hard work they represent away, while also cutting ourselves out of the profits that have traditionally been tied to the print process as well, we’d not only be failing to respect and protect our own hard work and brand, we’d ultimately also be putting ourselves out of business.. And then we’d have to stop creating such pretty images for our wonderful clients!

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