You’ve commissioned the photographer, attended the shoot, seen the outcome on their laptop and are now looking forward to obtaining your disk full of amazing new imagery. The disk arrives and as predicted the photographs are stunning, more than you could have asked for, however there seems to be a problem with the sales invoice, what’s this digital processing fee all about?
From past experience numerous customers either simply don’t comprehend the costs involved in shooting digitally or they appear resistant to pay for something that they believe should be free due to the ‘virtual’ nature of digital files. Indeed there are no pricey Polaroids, film, wet processing, printing and courier charges with digital capture.
In the past working out the price of a shoot merely involved adding up the price of the film shot, photo lab developing plus printing costs and then adding on a modest supplement to cover the managing of the whole process. Scanning and retouching was generally done and paid for by the client but if I was asked to do it myself then this time would be billed for separately. With the advance of digital capture, things have changed considerably.
I don’t now shoot film and true, the pros both to myself and the client in shooting digitally are significant. I think that the most sizeable pros are the new degree of creative control the photographer and customer has over the final shots plus the time saved by the whole digital process. But there are now several less apparent and hidden costs involved in getting to this final image file:
Digital Camera Equipment. Just to be able to capture digital files the professional photographer must now continually invest in extremely pricey digital cameras, far more expensive than their film counterparts. Film cameras are fairly simple mechanical instruments that would last a prudent photographer for many years whereas digital cameras are full of technology that soon becomes yesterdays news so therefore need frequent upgrading. Digital cameras also appear to break more often, let alone the regular sensor cleaning needed!
RAW file processing and retouching. Professional digital capture often creates a RAW image file, a kind of negative that unlike jpeg files will need fine tuning to get the proper level of exposure, colour correction and sharpening. These RAW files can best be equated to a traditional film based negative that needs to be lab processed, printed, scanned and finally retouched to the customers specifications. But rather than dodging or burning with an enlarger the photographer must now do this basic retouching work in image manipulation software like Adobe Photoshop. Last these completely edited and retouched files will either be printed by a calibrated desktop printer, transferred to the client via some sort of digital media or sent via email/ftp. Top end computer gear doesn’t come cheap, or the image manipulation software that commercial photographers must learn to efficiently use. Such high priced items also have the nasty habit of devaluing very quickly too, plus comprehensive training is often essential to enable the photographer to use expertly.
Time. These ‘unseen’ tasks and skills all need the photographer to spend substantial time in processing the perfect shot before the files are handed back to the customer. The client could well receive the completed work sooner than with traditional film based media but in many ways the work load and knowledge base of the photographer has actually increased. Separate scanning and retouching costs may perhaps be a thing of the past for clients but the photographer still needs remunerating for his, now substantial, part in this digital production process.
Overall, Commercial photographers digital production fees merely reflect the ongoing financial investments in appropriate professional hardware, skills essential to pursue such tasks and the labour time incurred in delivering the customer with finished digitally captured, edited and presented image files.