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This week, I received a question from Ruby, who lives in New Jersey.


Thanks for that, Ruby. So, selling digital files, and getting printed products to your customers.
Starting out
I will take a guess that 99.9% of photographers started out selling digital files.

That is, you give the customer the full-size JPEG images, not RAW files.

A couple of years ago, I was asked how the customer views the RAW files. If you capture RAW files, you need to edit them and then save them as JPEGs. You never give the RAW files away.

If you are still shooting JPEGs, you need to start capturing in RAW.

Restricting use
Okay, so Ruby mentioned customers sending copies to relatives and making photo books using the files.

You could restrict how they can use the images by putting all the rules in the contract. The problem is you have no way of policing it.

They could sign the contract and agree not to use them for a book, but what is to stop them? You would never know.

I think you should just accept that when you hand over the files, you are giving them total control. Now, if you are shooting commercially, you do need to put restrictions on uses. But that is a totally different issue, and
Ruby was asking about files from a family shoot.

I checked out the website of a top Canadian wedding photographer who only offers digital files. He uses the term “Personal Use License” in his price list. So, he knows that people will use his images and is giving them a license to do so.

Pricing Digital files
When you price your work and only offer the files, you really don’t have a product. In fact, you are the product. Because of that, you end up pricing by the hour.

Look at photographer’s websites that only offer digital files. You will see maybe three options, all based on hourly rates. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping your business simple.

If your work is incredible, you can charge lots of money. For a photographer just starting out, you need to offer value for money. To get an idea of how much to charge, you can compare yourself to other photographers.

Remember, this is just a starting point. Most photographers probably don’t know how much they need to charge. Just use this as a way to get into the marketplace.

Files or Prints
So, which is best, selling the digital files or selling printed products?

Well, that depends on how many hours you are willing to put into your business. If you just want to do one or two sessions a month, edit the images, and hand them over with the minimum of effort, then offering just the files might be perfect for you.

If you want to increase your profits and expand your business, then selling prints is the way to go.

When you sell prints, you have changed from offering your services by the hour to selling products.

Changing from over is like stepping into the abyss. In episode 155, I had a chat with Kim Jongen. She is a dog photographer from Holland and wants to start selling prints, but she is worried about taking the step.

Her work is incredible, and I know she would still be very busy even if she only offered prints. It’s just a case of taking that first step.

When you do take that step, you can’t offer the files as a cheap option. Because everyone will take the files if they can.

You need to value the files. If you want to make over $1000 per session, price the files at $1000 and drop it down to $250 if they spend over $900 on printed products.

I used $1000 as an example. If you are just starting out, you could lower the amount to whatever you want.

If you value the files, so will your customers.
In-person sales
The technique photographers use to sell prints is called IPS, or “In-Person Sales.”

It’s a system in which you meet with a customer, show them the images from their session, and try to get them to spend as much money as possible.

Just thinking about trying to push people into buying my work makes me feel uncomfortable.

So, I prefer what I call “IPS Lite.”

It takes away the pressure sales part of IPS.

You start with your website. Every image of your work should be a photo of your work on a wall in a home. Doing this shows the customers that this is your product.

I use WallPicture 2, but there are many other apps and websites that offer the same thing.

You also need to show some kind of pricing structure on the website. For each type of product you sell, show a range of sizes, like 11×14 to 30×40, and prices starting at $400. Then they know an 11×14 framed print will cost $400.

You have shown the customer what you sell and given them an idea of the cost before they book you.

At some point, you could show the customer examples of your products. If you have an office at home, a rented space, or visit the customer’s home.

You could also do it at the photo session, for which the customer has paid you a session fee, and you can discuss options. If you carry a few examples of your products with you, you can show the customer. As I mentioned last week, look after them. You don’t want to show your work off if it’s showing signs of wear.

You should always have an example of your most expensive large print to show them, which might not be possible if you drive a small car.

If you want every customer to spend a minimum amount, don’t offer low-priced items individually. Instead, put them into packages, like four 8×10 canvases.

Getting prints to your customers
So Ruby asked about the best way to get your work to the customer.

Lots of people use SmugMug or Pixieset-type sites. These are made for photographers, and you can link directly to the big photo labs, which will send the finished prints directly to the customer.

This is a great way to go, but I always worry about not being able to check that the work is good enough. As good as the photo labs are, they do make mistakes.

I would prefer to have the labs send me the prints, and I would then deliver them to the customer.

Bad quality control can ruin your reputation.

Delivering your work in person and seeing the customer’s reaction is priceless. Especially if you shoot weddings. Seeing the bride and the bride’s mother cry shows you did a great job.

Okay, thanks to Ruby for the questions.

If you have a question for me to answer, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I need help coming up with ideas.

Right, that’s it for this episode. I’ll be back next week with a nifty fifty full of waffle.

Talk to you soon, bye.