You’ve discovered the perfect commercial photographer to shoot your current product range, you love their portfolio and are convinced they can supply a set of photos that best reflect and enhance your brand. The estimate arrives in your inbox and all seems fair except for one thing, what’s this digital production fee then?

Customers often seem resistant to pay for digital production costs. They either don’t fully recognize the costs to the commercial 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.
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In the past working out the costs of a shoot basically involved adding up 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 arrive at. I almost never got involved with scanning and retouching, that was a different job and an extra cost for the client which was normally done by a designer or post-production agency, but on the scarce occasions I did, scanning fees would be added to these costs also. Now things are very different.

I no longer shoot film and true the merits both to myself and the client in shooting digitally are sizable. I believe that the most major merits are the new level of creative control the photographer and customer has over the final images plus the time saved by the whole digital process. But there are now many less apparent and hidden costs involved in getting to this final image file:

Digital cameras. Just to be able to capture digital files the professional photographer must now continually invest in particularly expensive digital cameras, far more pricey than their film counterparts. Also an old film camera would give the photographer many generations of useful service whereas a digital cameras life span is somewhat less. They also appear to go wrong a lot more!

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. But rather than dodging or burning with an enlarger the commercial photographer will now do this fundamental retouching work in image adjustment software like Adobe Photoshop. Finally these finished files will either be printed by a calibrated desktop printer, transferred to the client via some sort of digital media or sent via email/ftp. High end computer equipmentgear doesn’t come cheap, or the image manipulation software that commercial photographers must learn to professionally use. Such pricey items also have the unpleasant habit of devaluing very quickly too, plus intensive training is often necessary to enable the photographer to use adeptly.

Time. These ‘unseen’ activities and skills all require the professional photographer to spend appreciable time in processing the perfect shot before the files are handed over to the client. The client may well receive the completed work quicker than with traditional film based media but in many ways the work load and skill set of the photographer has actually increased. Separate scanning and retouching costs could be a thing of the past for clients but the photographer still needs remunerating for his, now significant, part in this digital production process.

To conclude, todays digital workflow now needs considerable and ongoing capitol investment by the professional photographer and an increased time consuming work load. Digital production fees are basically meant as a way to reflect and recover this.

By Haadi