Sunday, July 04, 2010

Digital Photographers for the Millennial Generation

In the past couple of weeks I have realized how much the photography industry must be hurting. Cameras are getting cheaper and through easy editing and the ability to take hundreds of pictures without consequence, people are starting to question the need for photographers. I think this should cause photographers to rethink their business but it doesn't seem to be actually happening. I think as my generation becomes a higher percentage of the buyers that photographers will be forced to change or become like travel agents, a very niche profession which is tough to make a living off of.

When I was born, my family was having photos captured as slides and slowly moved to prints. About five years ago, my father embarked on an adventure to scan all the important family photos when he realized that digital photos were what he needed to pass down to his children. While we and many others have prints around the house, its the digital photos which are the real high value items that we want to keep around. So, how does a photographer that hopes to make his/her money off prints and doesn't sell digital photos hope to make money when myself and my friends put their long term value in digital photos and not prints?

I was confronted with this recently when my wife won a family photo session from a local photographer. Afterwards, we asked simply how much it would cost for some of the photos as digital prints and they stated that they were not for sale as digital prints. To put it bluntly, this was preposterous to me. The only thing that has real long term value to me is the digital photos and, if they don't share my strong convictions about copyright protection, all their customers will scan the photos they sell them to digitize them. Prints have little to no value to me and in the end they received a lot less money then I would have been willing to spend because of this absurd position.

Having thought about this a bit, I did some research into what other photographers are doing. Here is a good blog about a new pricing model for digital photos where the photographer charges per photo he sells, relying on his skills to make attractive photos that his audience will want to purchase. He also points out in the comments that another variant of this which relies less on choosing the right clientele is to charge an up front fee and include some number of digital photos in that up front fee. That up front fee would then guarantee that the photographer is compensated for their time.

I think this latter model, paying for the photo session but receiving all digital photos, is a reasonable model and it is what I will demand out of any photographer I pay in the future. I see no reason to pay extraordinary amounts for prints which I view as having a limited lifetime. Based on conversation with many friends, I feel that many people in my generation feel the same way. If I understand my generation at all, photographers may need to change how they make their money and assume they will be selling the digital rights to photos rather than prints.

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