- Rely on the tried-and-true method of the film era: State in your contract that the client will receive printed proofs from which he or she can choose the specific images they want.
- Clients receive a disc when they spend a minimum amount for your services. For example, a wedding photographer would give the bride and groom all the digital photos on a disc as part of a specific album package.
- Distribute low-resolution images on a “proof” disc. Clients are able to see all the images (as they would with printed proofs), but won’t be able to have high-quality prints made to complete their projects. They could only order prints from you.
- Create a password-protected gallery for each client on your Web site, where he or she can view the images you shot. You eliminate the cost of printed proofs, and even a disc. Plus, you can add an ordering system to the gallery, so a client can order any prints whenever they need them—but again, only from you.
- Another traditional solution is to add a watermark to each digital photo and/or proof print. This is common practice on most online stock photo sites. Photos can be viewed before purchase, but they can’t be used with the watermark.
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This is not an article about your financial assets, but your photographic assets, which are the digital photos you shoot for a fee. During the film photography era, a photographer would shoot an assignment, provide the client with proofs from which to select the pictures and then make prints of just those images—and charge a price for each one. Typically, the negatives would remain the property of the photographer; and he or she could sell additional prints to the client in the future.
The digital photography era has changed all that. Now, you can shoot many more images during an assignment than a film photographer would ever think of shooting. Plus, you can put all of them on a single disc (in most cases). That’s the issue, however. If you give the client, or he or she asks, for that disc of all the images, then you may be leaving your assets unprotected. For, once the client has all the images, he or she isn’t necessarily obligated to order any prints from you, thus eliminating a time-honored revenue stream for photographers. It’s what known as “shoot and burn.”
The downside is not just a loss of income, but also relinquishing quality control of any prints. Plus, as soon as you release all those images on a disc to your clients, they will expect a disc of all future jobs.
Retaining your photographic assets, however, means you have control of how any prints are made and displayed. Clients must buy prints from you, which keeps your business relationships active; and, thus, your value as a photographer is elevated in the minds of your clients. More importantly, you can be sure that your reputation and skills are not mistakenly (or purposely) misrepresented.
Controlling print quality is particularly important because there is such a variation in paper and printers. You can’t necessarily rely on your clients to use a high-end, professional print service. In fact, they are more likely to be concerned with convenience and speed before print quality. As soon as mediocre prints of your digital photos start circulating, potential clients may undervalue your work and avoid your sales and marketing efforts.
This situation is obviously ripe with possible client conflicts because they’ll insist that you provide a disc with all the digital photos you took or don’t expect any future assignments.
There are solutions, however, that many professional photographers have been able to use both to satisfy their clients and protect the photographers’ digital assets.
Whatever solution(s) works best for you, make sure it is clearly stated in your contract and that you explain your system to your clients in advance of accepting an assignment. Only then can your photographic assets maximize your financial assets.
Also check out: 11 PHOTOGRAPHS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD