My wife is a wedding and fashion photographer (as well as some family and maternity). We've been traditionally giving our High Res images as a part of the package price to our customers. Now that we've started using SmugMug for our client gallery, we're thinking about offering prints as well.

The problem here is that because we've been giving the digital copies for free, and because a client could take those digital copies to the cheap spot to get them printed... we're unsure where to "start" when it comes to print costs.

One thing we are considering doing is taking one of our images and getting it printed at SmugMug in "Gloss" "Luster" and "Metallic" and then also get it printed at Wal*Mart, Costco, London Drugs, Blacks, etc. This way we'll be able to show the client the difference in quality.

My question is, how can we go about pricing our images accurately and competitively? We want to be competitive, but we don't want to deter our clients from using a professional print lab over Wal*Mart.


Though all of the answers and comments thus far are very helpful, I feel the focus is on the fact that the digitals are free. I'm wondering a little more about how to price the prints.

  • \$\begingroup\$ May help to explain what type of photography business you are in, private portraits, weddings, etc? Also why you give the original digital files away, most pros will not do this as they own the copyright on those images and hence the customer must come to them for printing? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the question to show that we are primarily wedding/fashion photographers. She gives the digital files (not RAW) as part of the package in order to increase business. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ "... most pros will not do this as they own the copyright on those images ..." -- not in Canada, they don't, unless the contract is written in a way to skirt out copyright laws. (I essentially "hired" my customers as models for a token fee and allowed them to purchase, and eventually license, the work result.) CAPIC and PPoC are working hard to get this changed, but the commissioning customer owns the work by natural right here. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Jul 20, 2011 at 6:40
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It is usually either-or. You give out full-res files or sell prints. If you clients have the files, you cannot compete with labs on prints alone. What you can do is sell derivative products like custom designed albums done by a graphics artist. As a client and a photographer, I understand the need to obtain the high-res files and I would not have photos taken any other way. My albums are digital with backups in multiple location. I cannot ensure this with prints. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Jul 20, 2011 at 15:21

3 Answers 3


The market is changing. Many people can make their own prints - as it is now nearly trivial to do so with inexpensive-but-excellent 7+ ink home printers - and will look for this option when hiring a photographer. More people know how to operate computers. Photographers, usually the older ones, hate this.

The photographer is tasked with taking the photos. You may wish to choose another person to create the prints. Of course, this goes against the current wedding photography motto (which goes something like "extract as much from your client as you can by instilling in them a fear that this most important day will be ruined if they don't spend enough").

You can find yourself enough clients that will take highres jpegs and do with them as they please. The idea of managing licensing options for wedding photos is too complicated. Commercial photography is one thing, wedding another. A couple wants to make another print for their parents - they should not have to contact the photographer.

The most sincere and transparent way to approach pricing is to ask yourself - would I pay this much for a print? If you say 'no', then reconsider your market and your approach to your clients.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a realistic perspective on the other side of the fence. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21, 2011 at 4:16

Unfortunately, with the current copyright laws in Canada (as of this writing), the full-res images are part of the package, whether you like it or not, since your customers hold copyright in the images. That's not likely to change without a lot of political wrangling (we came so-o-o close to getting a bill before Parliament to enact changes a couple of sessions ago, but the session was prorogued before the bill was introduced -- back to the lobbying). You might want to help that cause along by becoming associates (and, perhaps, eventually, full members) of either CAPIC or PPoC (through PPoC-Ontario, since you're in Cochrane). Not wanting to get overtly political, but the fact that you don't own your work unless you're just doing it for the lulz is manifestly unfair.

You are going to have to differentiate on quality. The customer may own the work, but they don't have the know-how to prepare it for print, how to select the best medium/printer for the job, how to artfully put together albums and so forth. And for the sake of anything you hold sacred, get a real lawyer to help you draft a contract that can salvage a workable business model from the work. I think you'll find that any substantive alterations you do to the original work (remember, the customer owns that) to add value with the customer's permission and knowledge becomes a derivative work in which you do hold copyright. PPoC has great resources and a great community (and pretty darned good legal counsel); use their knowledge base to come up with a plan -- I don't know how the digital world has affected editing/retouching and so on (I haven't worked as a pro for quite a long time). If the original files are meh and the colour-corrected, contrast-enhanced, sharpened, etc., version knocks their eyes out, then they have to go to you for the value-added stuff.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Geez that's a sucky system :/ And complicated too. If you always shoot in RAW the customers will own those... but what about any RAW adjustment files created when editing for print? And the client won't necessarily be able to open RAW formats. Any jpgs or tiffs created from those files are yours, even if it was a straight conversion? Or there's too? Tricky ground \$\endgroup\$
    – Dreamager
    Jul 20, 2011 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ We're in Cochrane Alberta, not Cochrane Ontario. My wife is almost finished getting her stuff together for PPoC. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 14:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, you know us -- we Ontarians think we're at the center of the universe (even when you people are running the show -- for now). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Jul 20, 2011 at 14:08
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ haha. Thanks so much for your input @Stan. I've been reading your other answers, and you really are a value add to this community! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dreamager I believe this is the system in the US too, unless you specify otherwise with a contract. It's called "work for hire", and it's why I don't own the copyright on the code I write for work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Evan Krall
    Jul 21, 2011 at 7:08

While I can understand the need to stay competitive in the modern market, giving away full hi-res images as part of the package is generally not a good idea. Providing smaller digital images that people could use to publish on web is the most that should be done, otherwise you will never get repeat business for prints, if any business for prints at all. I may be wrong in the not giving images away, maybe I am too old school ... but it does seems crazy to give away the very item that you depend upon for repeat business from reprints etc.

As for the cost of prints, this does tend to change from region to region as is very dependent on the cost of printing in your region (although internet services are bringing the costs more in to line across countries). The best suggestion is to call competitors and ask what they charge for prints so you can set your costs with confidence that you are competitive.

It is VERY important that customers know and understand they are NOT paying just for the cost of the prints but for your knowledge, experience, expertise and time in preparing images to be printed.

Your idea of getting competitive images is a good one, especially when a lot of the cheaper labs are using inkjet printing machines that do not print some colours well, especially the depth and contrast of shades of red, which are critical when dealing with portrait work. Make sure you find an image that shows the difference between the cheap and the pro printing and mount both types equally well so people can see you have treated both the good and the bad with equal care.

So in short ... market research to understand the market you are working in and customer education to ensure they understand the quality they are purchasing and where the cost comes from.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with not giving the images for free, I can't convince my wife otherwise. She's frustrated that our market is so saturated with photog's that getting business is getting harder. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 3:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Completely understand that bit!! With very decent hardware available at fairly low cost, these days anyone with a camera has become a "professional photographer". The only way to survive and excel is to differentiate ... make your service exceptionally different to anyone else, whether that is in quality, different methodology providing special results ... anything except price. If you compromise on price then you are taking a compromise on the perceivable quality/value of your work and the first steps to not being in business via bankruptcy :( Good luck!! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 4:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe convincing your wife that giving away the thing that is the main source of income for free isn't a good idea is sadly the answer you need rather than the one she's looking for. I'm all for giving a small copy to them so they can facebook or whatever, but giving the fullsize file to them means they don't need to come to you for anything more than taking the photos \$\endgroup\$
    – Dreamager
    Jul 20, 2011 at 4:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ As an amateur photographer and soon-to-be-married person, I would say that giving away the high-res (either free or at a plus) is a must for me, and maybe that's why your wife's service may be different to anyone else and why clients would choose her. I know I would. For my wedding I will hire a photographer that gives me high res pictures (jpg are fine), I don't care about the extra cost. BTW I'm from Spain if that makes any difference. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think "Market Research" is a major plus in this. Often however, other protographers (spelling intentional) won't divulge this information. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 14:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.