Selling Digital Files - Senior Photography

Selling Digital Files - Senior Photography

It’s a rather controversial subject in the photography industry; should I sell my digital files? There isn't a right or wrong answer; it depends on your business model.  If you are in the high school senior market, digital files are like gold and highly sought after by the senior.

The first thing to realize in this market is that you are appealing to two separate audiences. You want to appeal to the parent, as they are paying the bills, but you also want to appeal to the senior as they are likely the ones who will make the final choice in hiring their photographer. Also, realize that this generation has been born and raised in a digital age. Their cell phones have always had a camera and they most likely don’t have a box of printed  images or a scrapbook from their school days. They socialize and entertain themselves on social media. The value of a printed image to a teenager is far less than what it is to their parents.

If you aren't selling digital images to this market, I believe you are missing the boat and potential income. I am not suggesting to give your files away, I am suggesting you offer the option to sell your files. The price to sell files should be determined by your business and your associated overhead and costs to produce the session. Seniors value the experience of their session, and the images they will have to share with their friends on varies social networks. The bonus for you, your work will be spread all over their social media (free marketing) and you made more money in the process.

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There are a couple different ways to sell your files. In my studio, we have packages that include printed images and a certain number of digital files. Thus, making both parties happy with our product offerings. There are also other solutions that create apps for smart phones and tablets like Sticky Albums and WebPics. Another option, is a social media package, which allows the client to choose and pay for which files will go online for them to share. I am a firm believer that this age group is one of the most viral groups of clients out there. I may photograph 5-10 other friends just from photographing one senior. Getting images to a senior's phone or online to share is one of the most powerful advertising tools that I have in my marketing plan. Who says you have to give high res files? Sell web sized files or files that only print up to a certain size. This ensures they will purchase their nice printed products from your studio.

One of the most common mistakes I have made, and I am sure several others have experienced, is giving too much before the sale. Do not give digital files or access to web files before they purchase prints! This will hurt your bottom dollar as the senior is already satisfied. Even if it is just web sized files. Another rule of thumb is to blog the session after they order and pay for their package. I haven't had any negative ramifications from sharing one image or a "sneak peek" on social media prior to their ordering session. This seems to build excitement to come into the studio to see the rest of the images. Remember what is important to the senior, digital files, and you will on your way to building profitable packages for your clients.

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Lindsey Pantaleo is a wedding and high school senior photographer based in Central Missouri.

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Great article! As a young photographer in this market I definitely appreciate the insight!

Can you post your info & pricing for interest sake please.

I think a lot of people would find that info helpful.

What is the typical pricing breakdown on selling the digital files? Do you sell them individually, as a collective? Pricing examples?

I had a photographer as a business consulting client who was not charging any sort of sitting fee but instead charging about $650 for the images on CD. I didn't think that was a very smart move for several reasons and she ultimately changed it.

I think it depends on your ability to sell your work. More confident and thriving business could charge more upfront (because they can and have a waiting list) and less experienced/confident/busy ones might charge for the files/print as incentive to "sit for free and then see if i like it"...

But usually, they do both (upfront and per files) but the ratio might change depending on what I wrote before and the demographics of the client base.

"Sell web sized files or files that only print up to a certain size." Please quantify what "web sized files" and "certain size" mean. With some images, I can enlarge a 640 by X file to a 10-inch print at 360 dpi with what I consider reasonably acceptable results.

I can't speak for the author, but when I license web size digital files I base it on how big I want it to be on their screen. Do I want it to be viewable full screen, half screen, etc. I also consider, when setting pricing, "what will they pay vs. what do I need to make?" Unfortunately, it doesn't matter to most end users if they can make a decent print or not, they'll try to print thumbnails as 8x10s and not think twice. It's a matter of pricing so it makes sense for your business, communicating the limitations of the web license, and demonstrating the value of your print products.

Hey Everyone, thanks for the positive feedback. I am glad to hear this is a topic of interest. I may do a more in-depth article in the near future about my pricing structure. In my collections "packages", I include prints and digital images. The collections start with 5 digital images and an assortment of gift/wall prints. They go up in price and the amount of files and product. I also sell digital files individually on my a'la carte menu. They are priced higher, but some people like to have that option for a year book photo or some other use. To date, I haven't had anyone purchase files individually, they always buy into a package when they realize it is a better deal. @jrconner:disqus I personally don't sell web sized files, but I know other photogs who do. My web-sized files are only available through Sticky Albums.The files in my collections are high res.

This is an audacious and powerful article to read! Lindsey Pantaleo you
show us how today’s philanthropists, innovators, and passionate
entrepreneurs are more empowered than ever before to solve humanity’s
grand challenges.

Thank you @dadiehost:disqus! Change is inevitable and technology has changed our industry. My goal is to keep up and adapt to the changing market.

In Brazil nobody gives a damn to prints. A photographer who does not sell the digital files in max resolution would never get any job.
Even in weddings the clients usually rather have just the digitals and no prints at all.
I'm a portraiture/comercial photographer and the last time i have printed anything was nearly 4 years ago.

@gabrielsap:disqus it is like that here in our wedding market. In my wedding packages, I always include print and digital. I did a print credit this year that everyone loved. It allowed brides to choose wall art for their home or an album. There are several in my area who only do a session and disc for portraits. Its frustrating, but since my collections include both print and digital, I feel like I am really servicing my client. They are so excited when they get their prints and always recommend me to friends/family. My goal is to adapt to the rising tide, I want to give my clients what they want but charge accordingly. My in studio sales last year were almost 1/3 of my profits.

In here we almost have ZERO extra sales. The clientes really wants just the digitals. When I'm lucky they come at me to print like on or two images, since as a professional I have special prices on prints, but it's rare.
I try to get around this charging the digitals around 400% the price of a print.

Out of curiosity, what is the added value for one of your customer to have theur large print done by your studio?

Wouldn't you be better off relying on a "pro lab" (not diminishing your printing skills here, just referring to a place where they ONLY print..) and saving on the equipment?

Then you could sell high res. picture and direct them to a good local lab that can most probably print this for less. Everybody wins no? Sell digital file for more obviously!

Example: 30$ for web jpg, 100 for prints if done in house
70$ for high res files, and the customer could get the same prints for 30$ at a pro lab.

(example taken from my past experience with a school photog. Now it's not EXACTLY the same business model, but close enough for comparison, no?).

Thanks for the article! Short, filled with content. More like those!

Hey @disqus_JspqcOMi7A:disqus, I may have been misleading. I outsource all my printing. I don't do anything in house. If someone buys a high res file from me then I direct them to a decent place to print. Win win, you are correct :) But, yes you have to charge for these files, not give them away with your session fee, etc.

Common sens business. All too rare these days!

It depends a lot on which photography business you're in. My core business is commercial, I only sell digital files to my clients, all without copyright! Clients hire me for my work and don't want to struggle with the fact the picture "isn't 100% from them". I can't name any photographer who only sells prints to clients.

When I shoot families and kids in the studio, I offer them the ability to buy prints as digital files as well. Works great for me.