Please Don’t Just Give Your Clients The CD or DVD!

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, AvatarThis is a guest post by Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, NYC based architect, interior designer, photographer AND mom! Alethea has her own business, alethea cheng fitzpatrick photography.

I hear photographers talking about digital images all the time.

I’ve noticed that portrait photographers tend to be the ones bemoaning the fact that their clients “just want the CD”. Mostly it’s because those same clients also think that the CD should be really inexpensive, because it “didn’t cost the photographer much” to make.

Alethea Cheng Photography

Wedding photographers, on the other hand, often celebrate the fact that their clients don’t really want albums any more. They claim that it’s hard to make money off albums because they take so long to design and cost so much to make. They are quite happy to wow their brides and grooms by having an iPad pre-loaded with all their photos waiting on their doorstep when they return from their honeymoon.

The different perspectives are interesting, and there’s a simple reason for the difference – wedding photographers typically charge up front for a package and include the high resolution files because they are already assured of the sale. Portrait photographers depend on post-session sales and, unless properly priced, high res files undercut their other products.

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But regardless of the type of photographer you are, in both cases I strongly believe that you are doing your CLIENT a disservice if you only give them the CD. It is not in their best interest!

Here’s why.

Fifty years from now, where is that iPad going to be? Where is that CD going to be?

What about a hundred and fifty years from now? Or longer?

Technology is going to COMPLETELY change, I don’t need to tell you that, but have you thought about how your super fancy high resolution digital images of today… might not look so good on technology down the road, or might not be viewable at all? Now, I do not have any expertise in “future proofing” digital files, but then, you probably don’t either, and nor do your clients. And a quick Google search seems to show that … no one really knows, and one recommended strategy is to make hard copies of important documents and photos!

Yes, your clients may upwardly convert their files, but do you want to depend on that?

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Prints and albums (of archival quality – which of course you are going to provide) are your most future proof medium. They can sit on a shelf for years and still be viewed with no additional effort required by anyone.

But even aside from the future proofing issue, even assuming that the format you pick for your digital images is readable forever, is that really the only way you want your clients to experience your images?

Forget 50 years from now, even tomorrow, does viewing a digital images come anywhere close to the experience of holding viewing an actual physical piece of artwork in person?

Honestly? If you think it does then, seriously, you are not getting your prints made at the right lab!

Alethea Cheng Photography

I love my prints – love love LOVE them, and so do my clients. In fact, some of my clients start out thinking they just want the high resolution files but after they see the artwork products I offer (including museum quality framed and bamboo mounted prints, custom designed heirloom photobooks on presentation stands and beautiful notecards), they “get it”. Often they end up with everything BUT the high resolution files they started out so concerned about and are very happy about it.


Well, first of all, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying DON’T offer digital files. I absolutely understand the importance and value of digital files and I offer them to all my clients. I’m just saying that to ONLY provide digital files is doing your clients a disservice. I follow the recommendations that Alicia Caine makes in Easy As Pie (I highly recommend this resource by the way – well worth the investment). I offer high resolution files but a la carte, they are the most expensive item on my price list, and it’s actually less expensive for clients to purchase high resolution files AND a proof box. I also offer low resolution web-sized watermarked files but only after a minimum purchase of other artwork has been made. Basically, my pricing is structured in a such a way that no client ends up with only digital files.

So how do clients end up changing their mind about the high resolution files?

Well, first of all, a big reason people want digital files is so they can share them online and via e-mail, and the low res web files take care of that. It helps that I offer my low res web files in the form of a finished product – an online digital storybook that is a cohesive presentation, designed and paced to tell a story, and set to licensed music. It can also easily be shared in a matter of clicks.

Secondly, they want them for archival purposes, but as we’ve discussed, hard copies are better for that.

Finally, they want the freedom to make their own prints in the future … and those that are really motivated to have this option available are willing to pay for it (or I am just not the right photographer for them). But most clients, when it comes down to it, and presented with the beautiful artwork options I offer, plus the fact that I sit with them and help them select their images and put together their order, not to mention frame, deliver and install their custom designed wall gallery, know deep or even not so deep down that they will not make such beautiful artwork themselves, and even if they had the resources and knowledge to do so, probably would never get around to it.

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Think about it. If you hand your client a CD, they have to put it in their computer, open it up, download them to their desktop, sort through the images, select the ones they want to print, upload them to a printing service, collect or receive their prints, get them framed, buy the hardware to hang them, and then hang them.

Yes, some clients are very motivated and will do this. But most of my clients are busy professionals and they want to spend their spare time hanging out with their kids, not traipsing to a framer or a hardware store.

And how many clients can design an album? How many will?

Alethea Cheng Photography

My high resolution digital files are my highest priced a la carte product, because if they were any less, I would be underselling all my other products. But I feel that my clients get a LOT more value out of ordering artwork and albums from me, and after a certain spend level, I actually throw in the high res files at what works out to be pretty much for free as part of a collection.

Many photographers follow a “shoot and burn” model I know, and if it works for you, great. But if you’re doing it because you think that is what clients want, consider whether it really is in their best interest, not to mention yours. You know how I feel about it – please don’t just give them the CD!

How do you handle high resolution files for clients? How about low resolution files? What is your take on delivering just the digital images and nothing else to clients? Who wins and why do your clients almost always lose?




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  • Jessica Barker

    Thanks for your words and willingness to go out on a limb that not many photogs are willing to go on. I appreciate it and have shared this link with my clients and friends. :)

  • Andrew Gronow

    You make great points. I had a family portrait session a few years back and opted for a cd. The shots were great but apart from one 8×10 I printed they’ve never seen the light of day.

  • Alethea Fitzpatrick

    Thanks Jessica!

  • Alethea Fitzpatrick

    Thanks Andrew. If I weren’t a photographer myself I would be the same way… in fact, I’m almost the same way and I AM a photographer!

  • Jenn Trunk

    I didn’t understand why my newborn’s photographer charged so much for the CD of images, but being on the other side now, I totally get it! And now I feel a bit ashamed of myself for those earlier thoughts. I go back and look through those photos all of the time, but I haven’t printed any. I offer the digital images as part of a package, but then only 10 of the images. I currently don’t have an offering for all of the images, but I’ve found that it’s difficult to convince people that the per-image cost is worth it.

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  • David Mielcarek

    Amen to this post! I’ve been trying to fight the good battle for a few years now. I get a lot of clients asking me during consultation “but the other photographer we saw includes the DVD with files in his basic package” and my answer is always the same “then go ahead and book them!” (ok, not so direct but it conveys the message). I have no idea why so many photogs completely devalue the original files and give away the DVD/CD for free… so I am double happy to see this post! Thanks for taking the time and effort to write it!

  • Seeingstraight

    Some great points. However, I’m not buying all or most of your customers are too busy to make a print. Give me a break. It take minutes to get a high quality print made. For photographers who are a one man or woman show, it makes sense to simplify the post production process. Come Christmas time, I just don’t have the time to order prints for 50 customers who all decide they want orders on December first. Think of it like a cafe, not everybody wants the prime rib, some would rather go with a cheeseburger to go.

  • Trevor Rideout

    Great post! It’s great to see someone advocating this concept so eloquently and offering some really great advice to other photographers. If you’re a photographer reading this article… read between the lines. Alethea has given you some amazing sales points and tactics that can implemented into your sales strategy right NOW. If you’re passionate about what photography represents, you will have no problem portraying that passion to your clients. If they decide you are not the right fit, than they were not the right fit for you either. Thanks again for the post Alethea!

  • Charizma54904

    What lab has the bamboo mounts? Those are really neato! :)

  • Rick Navarro

    Really great insite to your way of doing things. Thanks for presenting the options to the rest of us!

  • Walgreens lab tech

    I agree with your comment about disagreeing that most customers are too busy to make prints. I work at Walgreens in the photo lab and I am CONSTANTLY seeing people bring in discs (if not sending them over the ‘net), which means I am CONSTANTLY riding my coworkers to get copyright releases and how important they are. We MUST have them, but it’s also not my fault if my coworker fails to get the release… it’s so hard to make a person do things! So coming from a drug store, I know people are printing their photos – they aren’t too busy.

  • Colleen

    Great article, thanks for posting! Glad you addressed the point about the importance of having hard copies for archiving family history. This is also true of all those family snapshots hidden away on people’s hard drives. I fear for the photographic history that may soon be lost. I’m sure many of us have sat down to peruse our family’s old albums – black and white photos held in place by photo corners on paper pages of a bound book. What a treasure to have those, and what a shame if future generations don’t!

  • Anonymous

    What is that doing to the PROFESSIONAL photography industry as a whole? Your clients are making a” high quality” print, they are using the local drugstore or big box. She is advocating to provide your clients with a professional product from start to finish and she is correct, the photographers that stay in business over a long period of time in our area are selling prints, that way the photographer is in control of the finished work. Honestly to leave your reputation in the hands of non professionals is crazy.

  • John

    Photos I took of my neighbors in my garage were not allowed to be printed at Walgreens. Said they need a copyright release. You guys need to clue in – a copyright release is not necessary unless there is a copyright or name on the print. As it is, I have my own family photos I take in the garage. Sure, they look like they are from a studio, and they are (my garage studio) but so what? I do not copyright stamp for this reason. What is my defense at Walgreens when I say I took these myself? I completely appreciate the fact Walgreens requires the owners signature for copyright-marked photos. But to require it for non-copyrighted images that an individual employee thinks must be copyrighted anyway is absolutely wrong.

  • Androli

    This is great! I am glad someone else is like me but i am one at fault to… I feel like that now days that is all customers want is CD/DVDs… they think paying to have photographer print them is to expensive so they want to go to walmart etc… but if you think about it, you pay for CD and print them somewhere else when you could have it all at a professional lab with professional quality at a lower price! I wish people would see it that way.

  • Tim

    the law states: ‘when its created, its copyright’… images do not have to be marked with a copyright. it helps in the matter if you want to pursue protection of your images, but it is not required. it is better to be cautious and not print something that is determined to be copyright against the major financial loss or gain through litigation. it could be that one photographer that will enforce their copyright. it is not that difficult to give your client a cd with the images and use a label on the cd that discloses the release or the statement that the images are not copyright. so be kind to your ‘friends’ and just help them out and you out by just putting the release on your CD.

  • Walgreens lab tech

    Tim is right and unfortunately so many people fall under this assumption, as well as the fact that, “I bought that 5×7″, or ,”I hired (paid) that photographer,” so they automatically assumed THEY own the pictures. Not true. Images do not have to contain any watermark or notice of copyright. Copyright law automatically grants any “author” these rights. If a photo looks like it might be professional, we must assume that it is and we are required BY LAW to question it and ask for copyright. If you were the photographer, you can provide other images from the same photo shoot, a business card, etc. and will need to sign a declaration form stating that YOU are the photographer. Otherwise, if you did not take the picture but you knew it was okay for you to print it and an employee says, “It’s copyrighted,” then all we ask is to please go back to the person who took the photo and write a simple release stating they took the photo and they are given you the (printing) rights to the photos and it is okay for you to print them. Again, you will be required to still sign the same declaration form but stating that you have received authorization to make the prints and a copy of your written release is required. I’m sorry if it sounds like a hassle, but there are too many crooks out there they like to cheat photographers and get things cheap (unless you’re the shoot and burn photographer and just don’t care about profit). Many photographers have people sign contracts and in them is where they put that they have the copyrights to the photos, etc. and that any unauthorized duplication, copying, etc., is a breach of contract. It’s much easier to sue someone over a breach of contract than it is over copyright, which is by the way a federal court issue compared to the latter (small claims).

  • Marylees

    There are some clients that will pay the higher fee that I charge for the full resolution files. Especially if it’s their first session of their first child. Once they understand that I give up all rights to the photos, they comprehend the higher fee. And I always supply a waiver on letterhead for printing at the location of their choice.

  • CD Printing

    The author has a point in this article. I suggest that photographers should keep the photos in CD and not to give to their clients to prevent them being lost just in case that client wants to recopy the photo.

  • nicolem

    Just wondering, what type of service do you use to make albums or where do you print them?

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  • melisa

    50 years from now the prints can be destroyed too. None of them last forever.

  • Joseph Kilgus

    Why would you give up all rights??

  • Joseph Kilgus

    I REALLY appreciate this article and the tips you give professional photographers. I’ve found that giving digital images away is an unsustainable way to do business.

  • Joseph Kilgus

    I’m a professional photographer and most of my family photographs are still sitting on my hard drives and not in print. It happens. MOST people do not print the majority of their photos and they sit on hard drives, waiting to go corrupt.

  • amanda

    maybe I’m a different kind of client…I’ve printed my wedding photos (the digital files were part of the package I bought) years after the wedding. Just because a milestone happens doesn’t mean I know exactly what I want to do with the pictures, therefore I want the high res files to print at my leisure. For example, my wedding photo package included 3 prints. I chose traditional shots for all three. I quickly got bored with them and later printed another photo from the cd to replace one (though I did learn to never use shutterfly for enlargements). Later, when we weren’t poor college students and could afford to print photos and frame them I was able to print more photos from our wedding. AND one photo I chose to print I didn’t initially like. Had I chosen a photographer who refused to give me digital copies that photo would have been lost forever (except for the 4×6 proof) because even film photographers don’t keep negatives of shots the client didn’t choose. Instead, a photo that I originally didn’t like is the main photo in the arrangement on my wall. And I LOVE it. Even if I liked it originally, I wouldn’t have known what size to print it or even that I wanted it in sepia.

    In contrast, for my first born’s newborn photos I went to Sears. No digital copies and when arranging them on the wall I am extremely limited by the print sizes and colors we chose. I had no idea how I was going to arrange them; art (for me) takes time. Also, when my child was one year old, I went to a professional. I only bought one 5×7 because I couldn’t afford more (I had won a drawing for free sitting fee) and he didn’t sell digital files at all. He only kept the digital files for two weeks. Years later I can remember specific shots that I wanted to buy but couldn’t. Now I can afford to purchase them, but they are completely gone! Neither the photographer or the client won there!

    As a client, I lose when I have no access to photos I may want in the future. I will remember the photo and want it on my wall, but can’t have it because I wasn’t allowed to purchase a digital copy. And how does that make the photographer win? I’m not going back to the photographer that won’t even offer digital copies. My senior portraits were done on film. After a few years the photographer cleaned out his negatives and called to ask if my mother was interested in buying the negative. If not, he was throwing it away. She bought all of them!

    Your clients want the option to print photos of themselves whenever they please. You give them the option for digital files and they will come back to you because your giving them freedom. Who likes to be told they can’t have something?

    And as for clients that will never print them, maybe they don’t want prints, maybe they want a screen saver.

    Though I do agree with you that photographers shouldn’t just hand over the cd and call it a done deal. I wish I had been advised to not print enlargements at shutterfly. Educate your clients, but give them what they want: freedom to use photos of themselves when and how they see fit. It’s not a new concept, models and photographers work it out all the time and have for years. I don’t care how good a photographer is, if digital copies aren’t offered I find someone who will.

  • Valerie Bey

    This is a great post, thank you for presenting this point of view. I have a question. When a client orders a print, do you always have your copyright on the front of the print? I had someone ask me recently if she could get prints without my copyright on the front of the print.

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  • Phil Shifley

    Film photographers of the past didn’t hand over the negatives, the digital files of today are the same thing.

  • Phil Shifley

    This is a late response, but not very many people would go back and spend more money as you did. The people that are handing disc full of images are ruining the possibility to make good money or a living at photography. If every other person had the same job or skill set you have that pays so well to give you disposable money and would start working for a third of your pay, how long do you think you would have a job? Making a living at any job is a privilege. Most people don’t think of everything that goes into the client getting their images. Here is something you may be interested in.

  • Anne

    I recently bid on a photos shoot for my holiday cards at a silent auction and won. I did it to save money and went through with the shoot only to find we will not get the photos digitally unless we spend a minim of $1500 on prints and then we can buy single medium sized images at $50 a piece, for only the ones we ordered. They are such beautiful pictures but we can not afford this.
    The photographer keeps touting how she only has a high end clientele and this is the work they expect and appreciate, but we are not high end and I’m not sure why she’d donate a photography package (that we bid $150 for) at a little league fundraiser in a modest town if her clientele was so high, or that given the circumstance she wouldn’t make an exception since this is a donated service…. It’s only a partial donation and now I’m getting the short end of the stick as the high bidder. I saw bidding on this item as an opportunity to be able to afford something nice while supporting my local community, and like I said, I just feel completely taken advantage of… And my photos held hostage. I will add that we have agreed to purchase $850 worth of metal prints for our walls, I’m not even a fan of the ONE single family picture she offered us, but she still won’t release files other then thumbnails of ONLY the ones we are ordering.
    Any suggestions? Is this ethical?
    I’m so sad. My family struggles financially, and his was a creative investment that was supposed to help us and our community and I’ve told her that and she offered me a payment plan to buy a $600 album with ALL the 23 prints laid out how she deems artistic. She is giving me 25 Christmas cards free but designing the card as she sees fit. I don’t get a choice on cards even. I’m so sad.
    Any suggestions are very appreciated.

  • Seshu

    Anne – I have more questions than answers for you. You bid and won a photo shoot. Did the auction certificate indicate exactly what you will be receiving? I often donate my services through similar silent auctions. I am upfront about what my clients are getting just so that I avoid these misunderstandings. I feel the photographer may not have been explicit about what she is offering you. If the certificate does say “photo shoot” though, then that’s pretty much all that you should expect. A photographer’s time and creative skills are also valuable. So, please keep that in mind. You may have won the auction paying a lot less than what the photographer actually charges for clients to book her services. As far as her policy to have you spend a minimum of $1500, each photographer has a studio policy that she or he adheres to. I cannot say one is right or wrong about the way someone else conducts their business. I know as a working photographer a great amount of time, creative skill and effort goes into creating fine art prints for my client’s walls or gift prints that they can then present to their loved ones. You did support your local organization by donating what you could to win this auction item. So that’s a win right there. To assume the photographer will include either digital files or physical prints may not be fair to the photographer, especially if she mentions that all that you did win was the experience of having your family photographed by her. So, do tell me what the certificate actually says.

  • Guest

    This is the biggest load of BS I have ever read. This whole movement towards not giving the disc has nothing to do with being a “disservice to clients.” It’s about photographers making more money. Some people may want to print pictures down the road. Some clients may want to make holiday cards or announcements. They also may want to make their own photo books, not of just one session, but of entire year of capturing the memories of their family. The fact is that there are online companies that will print pictures, cards, photo books and announcements for cheap, and you photographers are trying to steal this business away from them.

  • Meredith Horne

    six months from now the disc can not work. And the prints you get from wally-world aren’t archival quality so they’ll start to fade in 3-5 years.

  • Jason

    I have to disagree with you here. When a client pays for a shoot, the photographer is charging to cover for his/her time, plus meeting overheads like replacing/repairing/servicing expensive gear, insurance, etc etc, plus profit (it is a business after all). This photographer then goes away and goes through every image, with a fine tooth comb (often hundreds of images per shoot). The photographer then goes through and edits them (most shoot in RAW format, which is basically a digital negative that needs to be processed). This process takes hours. If he/she then just gave you a disk for free, they do not get paid for those hours of their time. They only get paid when you buy a photobook, or a print, or a canvas, or whatever. Us photographers are not trying to steal business from anyone, nor are we trying to rip you off and make more money, because I can tell you now, this is NOT a lucrative gig. We are simply trying to get paid for our time/effort/training/etc. If we give you a disk and nothing else, we have given away our hard work for free. Would you do that in your work? Especially if it cost you a lot to keep doing it? Also, if my hard work is hanging somewhere and you say who took it to your friend I want to make damn sure that it is printed well, not just at a budget print place that doesn’t recalibrate their machines, uses the wrong colour space etc. I personally also sharpen and process my images differently depending on the type and size of the print to make sure it looks like it should. I use an archive quality printer that is guaranteed not to fade for 75 years. 75 years! That CD/DVD will not last that long, they corrupt in 5-6 years. The crappy cheap print will also fade in that long. Just some food for thought from one of US photographers…

  • kcro

    Why does everyone expect something for free? THAT is the problem. If you want free pictures, then have your neighbor take them and hope for the best. You will get what you pay for.

  • Jamal Jackson

    Yeesh, what a brain-dead article. Anyhow, who really wants hardcopies anymore? Maybe one or two hardcopies for framing, but photos are nowadays enjoyed on digital displays (our albums have all been neatly stored away and rarely every brought out). I wouldn’t do business with a photographer who won’t give me digital copies. Charge me a fair price, but I want the digital copy.

  • Jamal Jackson

    sure, with digital photography I can take a hundred shots and pick 3 that came out well. Professional photographers are going the way of the typewriter.

  • Jamal Jackson

    Ok, charge me for your time. What do you do after 75 years? You lost the picture for good. Digital images can be archived for 1000s of years. (A CD/DVD doesn’t ‘corrupt’ anymore after 5-6 years – welcome to the 21st century)

  • Jamal Jackson

    Because we didn’t have digital media in the past. Now photographs are shared and enjoyed in digital medium.

  • bee

    Yeah, but if you upload your disc to the computer you can burn a new one, put them on a flash drive, etc. If you only have the prints and those get destroyed, you’re SOL. Esp if you aren’t able to order anymore from your photographer.

  • Tori Dee

    Huh? I’ve been giving them CDs for years now. I pick which photos will be the finals, take hours to edit them, and send anywhere between 10-30 photos depending on the amount of time they purchased for our session. I’m not going to keep their images hostage and ask them to pay extra for prints. I have never liked that way of doing business. I’m also making more money by letting them make their own prints. All of the images I send are highest quality so they can print small or poster sized.

  • Tori Dee

    I also don’t want to be responsible for keeping gigantic amounts of photos on external HD’s. Everyone uses digital now. I’m sorry but this article is ridiculous. All photos look outdated after 20 or so years. Don’t fool yourself if you think yours will be the exception. It’s the reason I create clean, simple photos and use minimal retouching and don’t like filters. The people who slap filters all over their photos and airbrush the crap out of their client’s will be the ones whose photos look silly in the future.

  • Yo

    Once you spent your money, there is no suggestion anymore… I am a photographer running a studio. I am giving customers choices to purchase digital files. Reason is simple, supply for demand. My experience: not many customers will turn their heads back for extra orders after leaving the session. Photography is to leave people memory and capture people’s beauties. DO NOT PLAY THIS GAME to make people hate you! Give them what they really want. What are they going to do with the images later is not your business any more! Be a nice photographer! Be a nice person!

  • Yo

    I am a photographer running a studio. I am giving customers choices to purchase digital files. Reason is simple, supply for demand. My experience: not many customers will turn their heads back for extra orders after leaving the session. Photography is to leave people memory and capture people’s beauties. DO NOT PLAY THIS GAME to make people hate you! Give them what they really want. What are they going to do with the images later is not your business any more! Be a nice photographer! Be a nice person!

  • Jeb Jones

    I hire a photographer for their services. If I want you spend hours editing a digital file making it perfect, I will pay you for that. If I hire you for a shoot and you spend an our setting up and hour shooting, an hour cleaning up and an hour traveling, I will pay you for that. I will pay for the cost of making the digital files available to me. I’m not asking you to give me something for free. But I am asking to get what I pay for. Don’t hold the digital file hostage so you can mark up the cost of prints to make your living. Instead, charge appropriately for your services and your prints. If your services are good, you will make a good living without pissing people off. If your prints are high quality, they are worth more than the ones you get at Walmart.

    I would never hire a photographer who refuses to provide full resolution digital prints.

    If your business model is to charge for a photo shoot and then to spend a lot of unbilled time editing digital images with the hopes of selling a few prints at marked up prices to cover the cost in time you spent editing, you’re doing it wrong. If you want a sustainable business as a photographer, then charge for what you do. If you’re good you will be sustainable, if not you’re in the wrong line of work. If you spend all your time doing work that you are not being paid for in the hopes of selling your work later for enough money to cover your time – you’re either an artist (good luck with that), a scammer (no thanks), or just have poor business sense.


    I usually ask my clients if they want my watermarks or not. Some do because they say it looks more professionally done. So, it really depends on your clients.

    I put my watermarks on all the photos I put on the web for advertisement.