You may have heard the advice, “Be sure to ask about a print release before you sign on with them!” Unsure what that means? Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one.
Before we were photographers, we actually had never heard of a “print release”. We thought if you met with a photographer and did a session you would at least get keep the digital files. That is how it works, right? Well, it turns out that is not how it works for everyone. And we learned first hand how frustrating that can be on the client side of things.
We should preface this with a word of caution. This topic is controversial, especially among photographers. But we believe there should be a why behind everything we do (such as why we recommend a first look or why we are early on purpose) and there is a why behind our decision to not charge for a print release. Other photographers may require additional fees for the release of their digital files and that is okay! That is one way to run a photography business and as long as that photographer is upfront and honest regarding their fees, then there is nothing wrong with that. But for us, we tried the print release thing and it didn’t feel true to us. Here is why.
It Started With Our Own Photos
Long ago, we purchased a photography session from a fabulous photographer. Not only was this photographer highly recommended, we absolutely love her photographer work and we were extremely excited to have a session done! Shortly after booking, we started preparing. Leidy had her hair and makeup professionally done. Josh purchased a new Banana Republic dress shirt and pants. (In hindsight, we were the perfect clients styled for our own engagement session guide!).
At the session, we had a blast. The photographer had us posing together and laughing the whole time. Walking downtown in the hot July sun, we knew the pictures would turn out great!
And they did! Later that week we got a sneak peek which left us drooling for more! Until finally, after weeks of waiting, we were invited over to the photographer’s house to preview our photos. We eagerly made an appointment and went straight to her house.
We walked into her beautifully decorated home with her photography printed and hung on every wall. “Come on in and take a seat!” she admonished as she excitedly whisked us through her grand entry room and into her kitchen. There we sat down on two high top chairs positioned at the island in the large kitchen. The photographer pulled our her large screen Mac computer and placed it on the white marble countertop. She dimmed the lights in the room and started the soft romantic music. “Let’s just take a moment to take it all in.”, she instructed us as she pulled up the slideshow. The pictures rolled by one by one. We loved them. We couldn’t wait to share them.
It Was Our Own Fault
After the slide show, our photographer pulled out the print catalog and started showing us our options. She showed us the different types of canvas, the wood print, the different paper to have our images on and what the differences were. She explained to us how the quality of her lab was far superior to retail print stores. She was right. The quality was exceptional. The prints would be heirlooms that would last a lifetime. Our pictures would look beautiful on prints.
We wanted our pictures printed but we weren’t at a point in our lives to order prints. (We’ll share more on why you should order prints later.) To be honest, at the time we had just graduated college and were living in Leidy’s parent’s basement. (No shame!)
Now ordering prints wasn’t the issue for us. The issue for us was that the only way to buy the print release and to keep our digital files was to purchase a print package. The print release was not included in the session fee that we already paid for.
We totally dropped the ball on this one. We did not read the catalog our photographer gave us. We glossed over it because we loved her work and we loved her images. We knew that we wanted to hire her. But if we had taken the time to read her catalog we would have learned that ordering a print package was a requirement to getting out digital files.
Knowing Would Have Made All The Difference
At that moment we felt, cheated. It was nobody’s fault but our own. Our photographer didn’t do anything wrong. This was her business model and it is a completely honest one. Had we read the catalog we would have still done the shoot but went in knowing we were going to have to order prints. And knowing would have made all the difference.
That said, we didn’t like not having the option to just buy our photos without ordering high-quality prints. Early in our business we started by charging for a print release, we thought that was they way things were done, but after the first couple session, it didn’t feel true to who we are. When we reflected on our own experience with a print release, we learned that we didn’t want anyone to feel the way we felt. We want to treat people how we like to be treated and at that moment we didn’t want to buy a print release, we wanted our beautiful photos. So the decision to not charge for a print release was an easy one to make!
Again, other Grand Rapids wedding photographers do and that’s okay! There is nothing wrong with that business model. As long as they are upfront and honest about it like our photographer then they are doing honest business.