Epcot Sunset in France

Should You Sell Photos As Files Or Prints?

If you sell your photos as a business or ever have an opportunity to sell photos as an unexpected bonus, you need to think about what happens to your work after the sale.

How Should You Sell Photos?

There are plenty of ways to sell your photos, even if it isn't a full time job.

  • Stock photos
  • Wedding photos
  • Trade for access to photograph cars, planes, horses or something that interests you
  • Work for hire
  • Events sold on wire services
  • Fine Art

The kind of business deal may dictate whether you're selling prints or files. In some cases, you may end up providing both. Wedding photographers are one of the examples where both files and prints could be part of the bargain. You make your money selling print packages, but you also realize that the couple will want to share their new photos online.

You can see pros and cons to each side.

Selling a printed item has an additional cost to create it, but you're selling a physical product that is going to a specific customer. If a client wants another print, you get paid again.

When you release a digital file of the photo, you lose control once you give it up. The benefit is that a happy client will show off their photos and it may lead to more work.

On the other hand, a file with sufficient resolution lets anyone create prints and eliminates your future earnings, unless you have a contract that negotiates usage and royalties.

Sending Photos Into The Wild

I have a lot of photos online, both on this site and on social media. Once I post those photos, anyone with a modicum of computer savvy can take them and use them without my permission. So why would I send my photos into the wild without any control?

It's because I stand to gain more than I lose.

A couple of weeks ago, a potential customer found some of my photos of the U.S. Capitol and contacted me for a purchase of either prints or a file so they could print their own.

That isn't an uncommon scenario at all. There are some photographers who would let the file go for much less than a print. Their logic is that they don't face additional cost of printing, so the file should be cheaper.

I don't see it that way at all.

If I release a file at high resolution capable of printing, I have no control over where it may go or how it may be used. The potential lost of income for releasing a high resolution file is pretty serious.

Depending upon the image, my starting price for a high resolution file is $5,000 and it goes up from there.

Most clients balk at that price, but they understand the logic. Their objective isn't really to have the file, anyway. They want a print and are looking for the easiest and most cost-effective way to buy a piece of art.

The photos I release on the Internet have a low resolution and aren't suitable for printing.  If someone wants a copy for their personal collection, it's no sweat to me. I've earned thousands of backlinks for my Creative Commons photos and occasionally a prospective buyer will see an image, leading to a new sale.

There is nothing wrong with releasing files, either for free or for sale. Just make sure that they're working for you even after the sale.

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