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How photographers can talk about prints versus digital files with their clients

Bryan Caporicci, Professional wedding photographer and CEO/Founder of Sprout Studio About Bryan

Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two completely different things. Knowledge does not equal change and growth. Application of that knowledge does. That’s why I subscribe to and advocate for what I call the Sustainability Formula.

The Sustainability Formula

Passion gave you life
Knowledge gives you roots
Application will give you growth

What this means is that in order to be successful, sustainable and, ultimately, grow as a photographer, you must be passionate, have knowledge and then apply that knowledge.


In another article on SproutingPhotographer.com, titled “Why you must sell digital files, and how to price them properly”, I showed you how you can price your digital files as a professional photographer.

So … if you’ve read that previous article, then you have the knowledge. And you obviously have the passion, because you're here. The real question is – are you applying the principles yet?

Are you struggling with follow-through?

Perhaps you’re still struggling with the follow-through and how to actually present these ideas to your clients. Maybe you’re like Justice, who sent us this as a part of an email in response to that article:

Question from Justice via Email

Following your method of handling client requests for digital files, how would you then respond to clients who say they want the digital files so that they have the freedom to print them on their own as needed at a later date. Or say they want the digital files so that they can design their own holiday cards using TinyPrints (or any other inexpensive on-line consumer printing service)?

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Or what about when they ask you directly how on earth you can justify charging more for a digital file than an obviously more expensive physical print?

I ask these questions because I’ve experienced them all & worry that without a strategy to address them the method you’ve outlined in your articles leaves us in an awkward position when confronted by clients.

Instead of just outlining my thoughts in a private email to Justice, I asked her for permission to share the email here, and I’ll be using this article as a public response, because if Justice is asking this question, then there must be others, too.

First, let me just say that if you’d like to dig deep into the theory of what I’m going to talk about here, then I’ve got a great in-depth article called “How to always sell prints, even if your clients say they want digital” where I break down the theory behind the digital versus print buying decision.

Justice’s question is a very valid one. Here’s the challenge though – she’s making the mistake that many photographers make by leaving a discussion about print versus digital a little too late.

Most photographers don’t spend enough time educating and setting expectations up front, and so they’re left with objections on the tail-end. I’d suggest that you spend more time educating and setting expectations on the front-end, so that you have to spend less time afterwards with awkward objections.

There is a balance to education vs objection, and most photographers have it completely backwards. Here is a graphic I've created that shows what most do versus what you must do if you want to effectively stand for anything in your photography business.


In short, I want you to be educating up-front so much that what you stand for becomes crystal clear. There should be no question in your clients’ mind about what you're all about, and it really shouldn't even get to the objection stage, and if it does, it's minimal.

Let me be clear, though. I'm not saying that you won't have the objections. I'm just saying that you'll be handling them and taking a stand on them before at the right time. Because if you have to put out fires when your client is sitting in your studio for their ordering appointment (the “most do” situation above), then you've gone too far and you will likely damage the relationship.

How you can educate your clients about the importance of prints

Here is a 5-step-process as to how you can effectively educate and set expectations about where you stand with regards to print versus digital:

  1. Understand the clash of world-views.
  2. Make it obvious that you care about prints.
  3. Use social proof.
  4. Be explicit with each client.
  5. Talk about the emotional benefits.

Understand the clash of world-views

The conversation of digital versus print catches many photographers off-guard, because they’re simply not ready for it. When you expect up-front that there is very likely to be a clash of world-view, you will get your expectations straight.

You must know that every client brings their own set of biases to the table. Their own experiences. Their own opinions about how things should and shouldn’t be. Add in your biases, your experiences and your opinions, layered with your business policies and the need to make a living from photography, there will undoubtedly be a clash.

You can soften that clash by expecting it, and approaching the topic with care and respect. I’ll defer to Stephen Covey, who says in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that you must “Seek first to understand”, and that’s very applicable here. You must know that your clients will have a pre-defined worldview on the topic of prints versus digital (and everything else for that matter). Understand where they’re coming from, seek to see their point-of-view, and then use education as a means of expressing your point-of-view.

Make it obvious that you care about prints

You must make it obvious that you care about prints, because if you don’t care, then why should your clients? Believing in prints, and showing them, is a big part of spreading that passion.

What do I mean by this, practically speaking? Well, here are a few examples of how you can make it obvious to your clients that you care deeply about prints:

  • Talk about prints often on social media.
  • Show prints as they arrive to the studio on social media and on your blog.
  • Show photos of personal prints you make and show them hanging in your own home.
  • Blog about prints and the importance of them.
  • Show sample wall portraits on your website instead of just a portrait gallery.
  • Show sample album spreads on your website instead of just wedding galleries.
  • Talk about prints and albums on your website, and how they’ll impact your client’s lives.
  • Talk often about how physical prints and albums are heirlooms to pass down for generations.
  • Have sample prints and albums in your studio.

Want even more practical examples? Here is a video that I made one afternoon for fun that really enforces my belief in prints versus digital. I send this to every client and every inquiry:

What’s that … you want even more!? Ok! Here’s another video I show to every client when I am setting their expectations about what it’s like to work with our studio, and how much we deeply believe in the process of printing our photographs.

Enforce social proof

The concept behind social proof is simple – people will always want what they see other people doing. It’s why we trust online reviews for a hotel we’ve never gone to, it’s why we will buy the Amazon.com item with more 5-star reviews, it’s why bars and clubs have waiting lines outside, and it’s why big online media companies show the number of social shares at the top of every blog post.

If you can show our prospective clients that your other clients get prints from you, then it makes prints that much more desirable. If you can show them that it’s the “norm” to order prints from you, then they’ll just assume that’s what they’ll do, too, when they hire you as their photographer.

Something that I personally employ in our photography studio is that I always ask my clients to send me a picture of their wall portraits hanging in their home after they hang them up. Then, I make a point of sharing that with new clients as “samples”, but also as social proof to show that that’s what my clients do.

Want to kick this up a notch? Offer to hang your clients prints for them! For free.

What a great value-added service, a little bit of surprise and delight, and something to remark about. It also will help them justify the price of wall portraiture, and ultimately it ensures the prints are hung properly in their home. As a bonus, you can take photos of the portraits hanging up afterwards to get some really great samples of your work displayed in your clients homes.

Here’s another practical social-proof technique – after every viewing appointment, post one of the images that your client ordered as a wall portrait on social media and say something like “Here is a favourite image that the Johnston family chose for their wall. Can’t wait to see it in print!”. It’s again enforcing that that’s what people do – hang photos on their walls.

Be explicit with each client

A lot of the techniques I’ve discussed already are broadcast-style messages, and while you must be doing this to establish and maintain your belief system, I also think it’s just as important to be very explicit with each and every client. You can use the same techniques above, but on a more one-to-one basis. Kind of like how I talked about sending the videos explicitly to every client. Or showing a sample wall display from a client’s home during the pre-planning session. Or talking about the importance of print during the first phone call.

You must be intentional and have the conversation about prints up front with every client. Multiple times. In fact, talk about it in every conversation. This ensures that the expectations are crystal clear so there are no misunderstanding.

Talk about the emotional benefits

Let’s be honest … no one really wants a digital file. What would anyone actually want it for? There’s nothing sexy about it. Seriously. There’s nothing exciting about having a beautiful image living on your iPad. Your iPad is for email. Your iPad is for games. Your iPad is full of distractions. Your iPad is for fast-paced movement. Your iPad is for split-second mini-moments.

Your iPad is boring as far as I’m concerned.

You know what’s exciting? Enjoying a beautiful 30×40 custom-framed wall portrait above the fireplace in your family room that you’ll walk by every day. It’s a reminder of the love and appreciation you have for your family. It’s a breath of fresh air and a reason to stop for even just a moment, and smile, when everything around you is buzzing by at lightning speed. It’s a reminder that even in the busiest of times, all the work is worth it, because you do it for your family.

That’s sexy.

That’s what portraiture is all about. That’s what prints are all about. That’s what you’re selling.

You aren’t selling a piece of paper or a chunk of wood cut into a frame. If you can talk about the emotional side of what you do and what it means to enjoy a printed photograph, then you bring the conversation into the deeper meaning of what you do as a photographer.

That’s something to get clients excited about. That’s a way to build value. That’s a way to sell wall art.

No one will ever get excited about having a beautiful USB key sitting in their drawer. Or a DVD disc that won’t even go into most modern-day laptops. Imagine hanging a CD on the wall? Not happening.

Room 2

How you can overcome objections about digital files

If you’ve been intentional about educating your clients up-front, then you should very rarely be questioned about your position on digital versus print. But, you still need to be prepared for it.

I’d suggest writing down all of the questions and objections you may get on the topic, and coming up with your own answers for them. I don’t recommend this so you can use it as a script, but instead so that you’ve been deliberate in thinking about your position and answers to those questions, so that when you do get an objection on it, you can effectively and concisely respond.

You must know your policies

First, you must know where you stand. You must have policies to follow, because if you don’t know your policies, then your clients won’t either.

So … if you haven’t already, define them.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Where you stand on digital files?
  • Do you ever include them?
  • Do you charge for them? If so, how much?
  • Do you include them with gated products like I talked about in the follow-up to last week's article?

You must be fair

I really want you to think about the fact that we are in a different market today than we were 15 years ago. We can’t necessarily be the “gatekeepers” anymore. As much as I’d like to tell you to never give away digital files, I am afraid that if you listened to that advice, you may go out of business.

… And you wouldn’t be the first. Many photographers have had to hang up their cameras because they refused to change with the times.

I’m not suggesting that you transition to the shoot-and-burn model. I believe in prints more than anyone, and I think this series about digital files shows that, but what I’m suggesting is that you be fair about your pricing.

Be fair with your policies. Really think about why clients are asking for digital.

Perhaps they’re asking for digitals because they don’t want to pay $70 for every 8×10 when they want to order 6 of them as gifts. Well … do you really need to be charging $70 for every 8×10, even if there are 6 duplicates? I don’t think so. Be fair. Can you offer the first for full-price and the duplicates for a lower price? I think so, because your costs are significantly lower for the duplicates.

Why else are your clients asking for digital? Perhaps because they want to get a bunch of Christmas cards done for their family and friends, and don’t want to break the bank. Well … do you really need to be making a huge profit margin on Christmas cards from a session, when you just made a great print order from that same client with the wall portraits and smaller gift prints? Again … be fair. Can you offer Christmas cards with print orders over a certain amount for around your cost, so you can at least you cover your expenses? I think so, and it’s a gesture that would go a long way.

You must show them the difference

The best way to explain why it’s better for you to print their images instead of them is to show them! Show them the difference between a consumer print and a professional print. Put your money where your mouth is!

A technique that we’ve used in our studio for years is to have a print comparison to show off. We’d take one unretouched digital file (just like what the client would get) to a bunch of different local consumer printers, such as Walmart, Zehrs, Blacks and COSTCO, and then take that same file, retouched, and have it printed properly at my professional lab.

When you do something like this, and show your clients the difference side-by-side, they’ll unquestionably agree that having you print their images will get them the better quality.

Still have more questions about digital files?

Does this answer your questions? Does this help you with the positioning of prints and digital files in your studio? I know that I didn’t answer Justice’s questions above with a word-for-word response, but I avoided that for a reason. First, because I don’t believe in scripts and canned responses. But more importantly, because I believe that if show you the techniques and psychology behind how I would avoid (and answer) those questions, it allows you to answer them in a way that is more effective and specific to you. It’s like teaching a man to fish versus giving him a fish.


So … happy fishing! And if you have more questions about how to deal with digital versus print in your studio, do me a favour and leave them in the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you. Maybe your question will spark my article next week!

#Customer Experience #Sales


  • Pam Jacobson
    That was an awesome article!!!! Thank you for taking the time to talk about this subject in such great detail. I am wondering if I may ask you a question regarding your printing services? What professional lab do you work with? I have tried Miller's because people have commented so highly about this particular lab. However, I sent them 4 portraits as test prints and the ones they printed were very washed out and over saturated. My originals looked better and the color was much more natural. I have taken these samples and shown them to so many people and they all say the Miller prints look over saturated in the skin tones. I asked Miller's if I can submit them and request no editing, but they said that their editing is much better and I will be disappointed. I shot the portraits with a Canon 7D and I didn't do any editing to the raw file or the jpeg before sending it. Do you have any suggestions on what I should do next? I am not feeling real comfortable using Miller's based on this one situation. That is why I am requesting information on what lab you use. Thank you so much for your expertise :)
    • Pam you need to possible look at monitor calibration issues ie. you say Millers doesnt look like your originals do you mean your monitor?. We shoot with Canon 7D as well as Nikon Cameras in our studio and Millers does a great job on our portraits. Every image we order is retouch to perfection before we order that means color balance and exposure as well as other needs. Best Wishes! Dir
  • Bryan , Your article addresses your viewpoint quite well, and has some validity. However, It seems you are out of the loop as far as studio operations go. Telling photographers how much to charge for an 8x10 tells me you disregard your clients business model and seems without forethought. Most of the studios who have sustained and weathered the economic storms of the past several decades are charging way more than the $70 which you believe to be too much money for a 8x10 portrait. Your commentary needs to be re-evaluated when it comes to saying what an appropriate value which an artist should charge for their work should be...Not everyone is an inexperienced new-be or is that your only intended market for this program? Regards DD
  • Jim
    Really like the article and by chance or more like intentionally our business model is much like the one you describe. We are new to the area that we service(6 months) and struggling to relaunch in a community with few connections. We also chose to use this a an opertunity to move to the print base model. Really like what you have said and hope that other photographers climb onboard to bring the industry to the quality and customer satisfaction side of the business instead of the mass production type. Quality vs quantity. Cheers to you!!!
  • Thanks for the writeup! And those videos are absolutely gorgeous! :)
  • When you say you print unretouched files at Walmart and retouched files at your lab, what do you mean by unretouched - SOOC? Is that a fair comparison?
    • Bryan Caporicci
      Yes - if clients get digital proofs (unretouched), then what they would be able to produce is that image (unretouched) printed at Walmart. If they print through me, then I'll fine-tune it and retouch it, and print it at my pro lab. That's showing the direct difference between what they could get vs what I could get.
      • I suppose the difficulty I'm having here is the idea of showing unretouched digital images and telling them it'll look better if they get it printed by me. The main difference isn't the quality of the lab, but the fact that I'll actually process the image to look better first. So when you show them the unprocessed files for proofing, would you advise doing literally no work on them between downloading from the camera, selecting the picks, and uploading those to a proofing gallery for them to choose from? Or do you adjust exposure, white balance etc? Where do you draw the line in order to maintain a qualitative difference that can't be gained by them unless they print via you? What about for a wedding - do you upload unretouched images to the wedding gallery for everyone to view and order from? And if you give digitals with your wedding packages are all of those unretouched too? If it's just portraits this model applies to it seems like you're saying that making the images look good - i.e. retouching them - is being held back unless they order the print from you. Because in my experience a retouched image printed at Walmart (or the UK equivalent) versus the same retouched image ordered from a professional lab, will not look or feel nearly different enough to warrant the markup I charge or need to charge. I mean I can tell the difference - from a professional lab the photo paper feels slightly better quality, and the colour reproduction is more accurate. But the client is generally going to be hard pushed to see and justify that difference for the price. It just feels like witholding the processed image unless they order the print from me, and saying "you won't get that good a quality from walmart" when they'd be printing a wholly different image file, is slightly disingenuous. The fact that their Walmart print from an unprocessed file doesn't look as good as my lab print from a fully processed file isn't so much down to Walmart's quality as it is my witholding the processed file. So rather than tell them they won't get as good a print from Walmart, I'd rather tell them "You may be perfectly satisfied with a print from Walmart from the fully retouched file, even though their paper is a bit thin and their colours aren't quite right, but the price you'd pay at Walmart doesn't include the time and skill that went into producing the image. So I can sell you the digitals to order your own, but there's still a premium to pay for the time and skill I invest in making those images look amazing." Sorry, this waffled on a bit!
        • Stumbled across this article. I totally agree with Owen on this one.
      • Incidentally, does this really just apply to portraiture photography? I shoot weddings and family events and they expect processed digitals as part of the deal. No way I could include just unprocessed digitals and sell them prints from processed files - they'd genuinely just take the unprocessed digitals and go make their own prints with those. Which would look terrible... And in my opinion photographs from weddings and family events deserve to be printed just as much as portraits, and I wonder about how to apply much of the theory in this interesting article to my family event and wedding clients, who very often do just take the digitals and never print them, sadly.

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