Thursday, April 28, 2011

How Many Files Do YOU Have to Sell to Equal a Good Paycheck?

There are constantly discussions being opened in online groups in which I participate that revolved around the nagging question of pricing for actual photographs vs. "should I sell my files?"

A local colleague (who is an amazing artist!) commented "I still think it is better for the client to have US do the artwork and printing, but (purchasing files) is an option available for when someone needs the file. I had an image to be published in a book . . . because I did his (the subject's) wedding and the publisher bought usage of 1 jpg. What I charge per jpg is $450 for just 1. 3 jpgs are $1000, 10 jpgs are $2000 and 30 jpgs are priced at $3000. So, with a (minimum) order of $1500 or more the jpgs are $100 each, but only IF you are purchasing 30 of them. In this instance it would be at least a $4500 (sale)."

I'm pretty sure that there are too many photographers giving away their work because "that's how my friend does it" or "my client complained I wasn't including files".

You can certainly sell your files (although my personal preference and business model is to do the artwork and printing myself) AS LONG AS you're still making your session averages! Too many newer photographers think "Wow . . . I just made $100 shooting that portrait session and giving away a CD of printable images. All it cost me was a 50 cent disk - this is gonna be awesome!"

Do you remember the cereal commercial? "You'd have to eat TEN bowls of their cereal to equal the vitamins/fiber/whatever else that's in just ONE bowl of our cereal!" What we do is actually very similar.

Since there are only 24 hours in a day, do you really want to work 20 of them? There are just 5 days in a typical work week (bet your spouse/partner/kids are already thrilled to see you working nights and weekends). With 52 weeks in a year, you probably had paid vacation at your other job and enjoyed the benefits of that.

Suddenly, it's not so awesome if/when you figure out that you're actually making less than minimum wage. You're probably not even making enough to pay for the gear you own (not to mention the "wish list" of toys you want to buy!) The goal here is to make a living while creating awesome images for our clients. They, in turn, will compensate us appropriately for the portrait and lasting enjoyment they will receive!

My artistic colleague has the right approach and mindset. This is not about selling 80 square inches of photographic paper or a digital file, it's about the time and talent we put into the creation of each portrait. It's about the image, the emotion, the art.

This isn't about giving family, friends or frugal clients a cheap way out. It's about taking positive steps to insure we can make a living doing something we love.

While a great deal of my time is invested in this industry, photography is NOT my life. Photography is what I do so I can actually HAVE a life!

Take a look at what you are doing. What do you need to change to have a great life?

- David Grupa


  1. This article really hits it! I have a new structure in my studio where if they meet a certain purchase requirement they can receive their digital files. This price point is above my "average sale" so I am completely comfortable giving the files at this point because I know there is pretty much nothing else they will need from me, I have designed and printed most everything already. Now whether they need a few 4x6 images for their scrapbook, or if they just want the files for safekeeping, they now have a way to get them, I no longer have to say "NO" and turn people away!

  2. LOVE THIS. I'm so glad I took your advice awhile back and restructured my pricing. I feel totally confident in it and never have to "guess" if I am making enough money. Giving away files is my biggest pet peeve and I just hope every photographer can come to terms with their value and start charging accordingly!