Professional Photographers Digital Processing Fees Explained

Published: 19th April 2010
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You've instructed the photographer, attended the shoot, seen the outcome on their laptop and are now looking forward to obtaining your disk full of wonderful new imagery. The DVD arrives and as predicted the photographs are stunning, more than you could have asked for, however there seems to be a problem with the invoice, what's this digital production fee all about?



Customers often seem unwilling to pay for digital production costs. They either don't fully grasp the costs to the professional photographer in capturing and presenting digital imagery or simply believe that the 'virtual' nature of digital photo files somehow deems them free or of less worth than a file that has been shot on film, printed and then scanned.



Ten years ago billing a client for a shoot was a simple matter of costing out the price of the film used, the 'wet' developing costs and the presentation of the final prints or transparencies, whether completed by the lab or by myself. Add on a few percent for the time in handling the whole process and the costs involved with the shoot was a simple figure to equate. Scanning and retouching was normally done and settled by the client but if I was needed to do it myself then this time would be billed for separately. With the advance of digital capture, things have changed substantially.



Well I haven't even seen a roll or sheet of film, breathed the foul odor of darkroom chemistry or spent hours laboriously removing flecks of dust from a transparency before scanning for over 3 years now. To be honest I rarely miss it. Digital photography has many distinct benefits over the traditional film capture process, most noticeably in the new level of creative command the commercial photographer and customer has and also the time saved in finishing the whole process. But there are now many less obvious and unseen 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 comparably simple mechanical instruments that would last a mindful photographer for many years whereas digital cameras are full of technology that soon becomes defunct so therefore need constant upgrading. Digital cameras also appear to break more often, let alone the regular sensor cleaning required!



RAW file processing and retouching. Professional digital cameras capture files that are RAW, visualize them as negatives which need to be developed, printed and then finally scanned and retouched to the clients specifications. Rather than wet chemicals and lab machines the digital photographer now uses computers and RAW processing software. Instead of dodging, burning and spotting prints in a traditional darkroom, the digital photographer must now use potent computers and image adjustment software like Photoshop to retouch the files including getting rid of spots of sensor dust, colour correction etc. Finally these finished files are either printed off on a ink jet printer, burnt to disk or digitally transmitted via an ftp service. High end computer equipmentgear doesn't come cheap, or the image manipulation software that commercial photographers must learn to competently use. Such expensive items also have the unpleasant habit of devaluing very quickly too, plus in depth training is often needed to enable the photographer to use expertly.



Time. All of these new and often unapparent skills neccessitate time, although the customer may get the completed shots much quicker than with traditional prints, transparencies and scans, the work load and set of skills of the commercial photographer has actually increased. Remember the scanning and retouching costs you used to have to pay the repro house? Well now the photographer saves you many of these costs by executing it themselves, but this process still necessitates time which must be paid for by the client.



To conclude, todays digital workflow now involves substantial and ongoing capitol investment by the commercial photographer and an increased time consuming work load. Digital processing fees are basically meant as a way to reflect and recoup this.



This article has been supplied courtesy of Andy Nickerson. Andy is a Professional Photographer Northampton with over 14 years experience in working for design and advertising professionals. Andy also creates personalised art in Northamptonshire from his studio Space Candy.

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