The cost of quality: Why we charge for our portrait discs

Photo discs have value beyond the plastic and the metal!

Anyone who knows me knows I hate being the “bad guy”. And this doesn’t stop when I am speaking to a prospective client. That is why I hate it when I sometimes see the smile drop from their face when I explain to them that our portrait discs costs extra. In an age when it seems everyone expects a free disc with every photo shoot, the possibility of facing this becomes more and more. So, I have decided it is time to put a little value behind that price and shine a little light (as a photographer, I am good at that) on why we charge for our portrait discs.

Last week, I went into some depth about photographers’ pricing and why it is what it is (The cost of professional photography…It’s a lot more than just pressing of buttons!). Toward the end of that blog, I teased that this week’s entry would focus more on the reasoning behind our charging for a photo disc. I could have easily delved into it last week, however, the blog was long enough without it and this is a hot topic which deserves its own section.

Like I said, I have faced the above situation a few times. It is disheartening and, at times, has made me feel as though I am almost forcing the price of a disc out of my mouth for fear of what will come next.

So, why do some clients run away or hang up fast when they hear they are going to have to pay a sitting fee and THEN, another (x) amount of dollars to get the photos on a disc? Well, aside from everyone’s overall desire to get the most bang for their buck (even I’m guilty there sometimes), I can point to a several reasons, one of which goes back nearly 30 years.

First of all, there is the cost of materials argument, which has plagued the compact disc format since its appearance in the music market in the late 1980s. I’m sure many out there can recall their reaction when they first heard how a $20 music CD only costs about 25 cents to make. Well, 25 cents if there wasn’t the pesky costs of paying the musicians, producers and marketing specialists. Or the costs of studio use, mass production machinery, packaging, and shipping necessary to get that CD distributed. Or the costs of running a music store, which is seldom a non-profit run by volunteers. If not for all that, then yeah, $20 would be a rip off for a disc that physically costs 25-cents.

While a professional photographer is not going to have all that behind his or her disc, there are some special touches that make it worth a lot more than the cost of the physical disc. For us, right away, we offer higher quality discs. Instead of running down to Walmart to buy a pack of burnable discs, we have begun more and more using higher-end archival discs for our larger sessions. We want our clients’ images to be around for a long time, so, naturally, we began researching archival methods and found that archival discs are not a huge financial burden!

But that is not all. We also consider the time it takes to create a disc. It is much more than simply uploading images from a camera, copying, pasting, and clicking the “burn” button. If you are looking to hire a photographer who says it is, in fact, that easy, I would advise caution, as they are likely doing their clients a tremendous disservice and you will likely receive what you pay for.

What comes with the purchased disc is quality. It is the time to make sure the portraits are properly arranged, named, have the proper resolution for printing and/or digital trading, the time to actually sit down and burn the disc, the convenience of having all of your images there for your use (some photographers charge by the image. We do not), the care one puts into customizing the packaging, and the photographer’s signing over of copyrights for the client to be allowed to have them printed anywhere they like.

The last one is a biggie for most photographers because, once they hand over the high-resolution version of the portrait, they are essentially placing a fair amount of trust in the client not to discredit their name by unprofessionally or inappropriately altering their portraits. To the photographer, what they do is art. Essentially, when they hand over a disc, they are putting their name and quality on the line so the client can have their local drug store print their professional images on cheap paper or place their professionally touched up images through an Instagram filter.

Think about it. If you were to hire a painter to paint your portrait, would you take that expensive portrait and hang it behind the kitchen sink? Of course not! Make no mistake, you are paying for a lot more than a cheap piece of plastic when you purchase a disc from the photographer.

Also, while on the subject, given you do purchase or otherwise acquire a photo disc, I will advocate the importance of having your portraits printed at a professional portrait lab (local or online). Even if it is not through the lab we use, at least consider your options before heading to the drug store with your disc. Those labs might cost a few dollars more, but you will thank me for it later. Check my future blogs, as I plan to detail why I advocate for the more expensive print services over the convenient big box photo counters. But now, back to the topic at hand:

Another reason for clients’ shift is thinking is the perception that the sitting fee should include a digital copy of all the prints. “Because they are just “air” right? You shouldn’t be able to charge me for air!” Typically, the sitting fee, for any photographer, is more or less a charge for the photographer’s time (both before and after the session) to set up, bring their expertise, shoot the images, and retouch the images in post production. That is what one is paying for in the sitting fee.

Unfortunately, many see the modern digital images as having no tangible presence, and, therefore, no tangible value, so they believe the photographer should just hand them over. Well, today’s portrait “negatives” might not have as much of a physical presence, however, that does not mean they are without value. After all, those songs on those old CDs are just “air” too are they not?

So, with an established image value, and all the care, quality, and consideration put into these discs, why it is that so many balk at the idea of having to pay for them? Well, that brings me to my last reason for the shift in clients’ thinking: The $50 “shoot-and-burn” photographer. I touched upon this some last week and I will use it again. Essentially, this is one who charges a ridiculously low fee to not only take the time to shoot your images, but also to burn them all onto a disc afterward at no extra charge. Now, while I know many understand the phrase “buyer beware”, the problem is the shoot-and-burn photographer has given many the general impression that a disc should be free no matter the quality of the photographer.

I will also once again refer to the blog by the lovely Hayley Juliet Watson of Lovely and Light (“The Truth…”). About a quarter of the way down the page (just below the book picture), she discusses the issue of the shoot-and-burn photographer and I have to agree: A professional photographer cannot realistically live on $50 per shoot and I will add: once one takes into account the time, professionalism, talent, and licensing that goes into professional portraits, they might want to consider paying for quality rather than receive the free disc from the weekend hobby photographer.

And this is not to say we are unreasonable when it comes to our pricing. We offer several packages which include a disc and, like I mentioned above, we offer incentives, such as a free disc with minimal portrait product purchases. Also, we include several free digital portrait downloads with just about every one of our packages.

Hopefully, this will give more of an insight into why some professional photographers like us charge for their discs. And, as yet another of our recent blogs detailed (Not a fan of hidden prices? Neither are we!), I will be up front about our disc pricing. As of this 2014 writing, we charge $100 for a photo disc or a photo disc is free with a minimum $100 purchase of portrait products from our photography storefront. But also know this: When you purchase a disc from Abanathy Photography, LLC you are purchasing quality that will be yours to keep for years to come!

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