The great negative debate
November 5, 2014
The great negative debate is a debate many photographers find themselves lulled into and unable to get themselves out of.
This debate is one of epic proportions such as the Nikon vs Canon or Apple vs PC, Samsung vs Apple. If you are unaware of the debate, thank your God’s you’ve been spared, although I’m going to tell you now: Customers requesting the digital RAW files. If you’re older than I, or recently in a high school photography class, you will know film cameras used negatives. These negatives contained the photo and you could get a negative scanner or print them at your local pro lab or Walgreens. During the 35mm or 120mm era, your negative was usually the only ones you got, unless you paid for duplicate negatives. So hanging on to your negatives were vital to your career as if people wanted reprints, you sent these off to the lab to get reproduced. Today, with digital cameras, there isn’t any cost involved with reproducing the negative since we most likely have it on a drive or backed up somewhere. Back in the day, a negative scanner or store willing to reproduce the film negative wasn’t available.
Today, with pro-grade DSLR’s being under 900.00, the everyday average customer knows that digital negatives
are part of the camera and they expect it. They have cameras the same as, and in some cases, BETTER than ours and know what to expect. Hell, most of the customers are becoming weekend professionals and charging the taxes you and I pay for one session! These people not only have pro grade DSLR’s, but they have Adobe Photoshop Elements or some other photo editing program and learning every day how to use it better. That brings us back to the beginning:
The great negative debate.
Lots of photographers on Facebook groups and forums have people groaning about potential clients requesting the digital negatives from the session. These photographers are up in arms about this and feel they are wronged to even be asked. I sit here reading their posts with one thing running through my mind: “If priced accordingly, why is it wrong to sell the negs?” I never say it cause I dislike drama, but yesterday I asked. The answer I got back? Totally ignored with about 10 “Likes”. I have a theory and I’ve yet to have someone reply, maybe you will? I have an ego, anyone in the arts world will agree. However, my ego is way in check and is usually based off the beautiful faces that want to work with me, vs the quality of work I do. My ego is also…challenged by money. I am a photographer not only because I love it, but because it’s a good profession for me. That being said, I realize that photographers aren’t as valued as the catering at a wedding for example. The question I propose to people who complain about customers wanting negatives is: “Why is it bad if you price negatives out at a price you’re comfortable with?” It gets ignored but if someone were ever able to answer the question, I would retort with: “Two things: One, they are purchasing the rights to print. I would still keep ownership. Two: how many repeat customers do you get from one session?” I shoot families, weddings, high school seniors, babies and models. I am more known for my glamour work than anything. That being said, NONE of the clients I’ve shot, have come back for additional prints. Ever. They’ve always come back to get updated sessions, but never once has anyone said they’ve wanted to order prints from a shoot completed. Why is it a bad thing to price out in a way that makes you feel comfortable with handing over the cd, yet allowing you to still use them for your marketing?
No one has answered that.
For me, the pricing is simple: session price + X per outfit = profit.
I had a client who contacted me. She said her husband used to be married to a Playboy Playmate and she wanted to surprise him by doing a Playboy themed shoot. We shot and she delivered the photos. He was not impressed! The email I received from him called his new wife a “whore” for doing it and he demanded I delete the photos. I offered him the chance to purchase the negatives as well as own the rights to the image. The price I negotiated I can’t say due to contractual obligations, but this is a gross under estimate:
(Session booked and paid for already)
1,000.00 per outfit (x4)
500.00 for two locations
2,000.00 to own the rights, I delete
Total $6,500.00 (+350.00 original session fee) for 3 hours worth of work. My most favorite photography quote ever is by Philippe Halsman:
I drifted into photography like one drifts into prostitution. First I did it to please myself, then I did it to please my friends, and eventually I did it for the money.