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To CD or Not to CD, That is the Burning Question!

I’m considering changing my mind…and for anyone who knows me, that’s a big deal! See, photographers have complained for some time about clients who want their pictures delivered as hi-res files on CD. In theory, the customer would take these hi-res files to a quality photo finisher to get their prints made. The main argument against this practice has been financial. For a hundred years or more, photography studios have operated on the model of attracting customers with cheap sitting fees, and then charging higher prices for prints.

I typically price my photo sessions so I break even on the sitting fee, and hope for some profit on the backend when my customers love their pictures and order lots of prints. However, in certain cases, I have given in to customers who want their final product on CD. I charge for this service based on the average print order that I am forfeiting, and extract a promise from the customer to use a quality photo lab. 

Recently though, I’ve realized that when a customer’s prints aren’t top notch, it can still cost the photographer plenty. One of my clients lives in my neighborhood — if they didn’t, I probably never would have seen their final print. The framed print on their wall was a disappointment to them and to me, and we talked about that. Their print (A) to the right was too dark AND too light (overly contrasty) and lacked the color vibrancy of the original.

When my customers picked up their print, they were told that the color in the original file was too subtle, and that the look on their computer screen wasn’t reproducible on paper. The tech explained that the photo was underexposed, and that the photographer should have used a neutral density filter on the sky portion of the photo. He blamed the bad print on me!

To satisfy myself, and to show my customer what they were missing, I had a print made from the same file using one of my trusted professional photo labs. The print (left) looked great!

So what is the real cost of allowing customers to make their own prints from CD? When the customer shows their photo to friends, and tells them “we had our portrait done by Jackson Scott Studios,” their friends may not see my best work. My customer may not be getting the high-quality that I strive to deliver, and that ultimately hurts my reputation. I may be losing not only that customer’s future business, but potential referrals from their friends who should have seen the high quality professional prints that I would have been proud to put my name on. I may stop delivering photos on CD even in special cases, because in the end the only thing on which I have to build my business is my reputation. And I don’t want to put that in the hands of an unknown photo lab technician!

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