Package Deal: Balancing Customer Demands with Quality Control

January 18th, 2013

Sunee is a professional family portrait photographer living in the San Francisco Bay area. She started photographing children and families when she worked as a nanny and honed her craft while studying fine art photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her preferred photography style is unique and candid, with a modern twist. In addition to running her increasingly successful part-time photography business, she has worked in Customer Support at Zenfolio over the last two years.

The following article poses some important questions about what services photographers offer to their clients. The answer to that question will vary depending upon your own situation, and what you are comfortable with. Sunee also shares a few reasons on why you should consider printing your photos through a trusted lab.

Package Deal: Balancing Customer Demands with Quality Control by Sunee P.

As a professional photographer, I have often contemplated the question “What do I include with each photography session?” Working as a senior support specialist at Zenfolio, this is also a question that has come up frequently in discussions with our user base, especially photographers who are just starting their business. With this in mind, I felt inspired to write this blog post and reach out to our lovely professional community to ask:

“What do you include with your sessions? What (if anything) do you allow your clients to do with digital files? How do you enforce your policies?”

To begin with, there really is no right or wrong answer to this question. The only real answer is the one that you are most comfortable with and works best for you and your business. My personal findings are based on years of trial and error in my own business, through research with other professional photographers, reading photography marketing books (please also see resources below), and attending trade shows and workshops. The results vary on what is being offered or included with client sessions, and how much freedom is offered to the clients’ use of their digital files. Overall, it seems to be a very personal choice of what makes the most sense for your business.

Speaking in general terms, there seem to be a few schools of thought on this matter. Most photographers want their clients to be able to have access to their digital files for family archival purposes. That way in case of a fire or other catastrophe they won’t lose their prints. However, what if the client takes those files to print at a big box store lab (yikes) or corner drug store lab (eek!)? The results of the quality of print would reflect badly on your business. There are a few options that I have seen for how to handle this.

Option 1

NEVER allow your clients to access the original high-resolution files. They hired a professional, so they need to make the most of it by purchasing prints and photo products directly from a professional photographer. That is why they hired you.

Option 2 

Charge a lower session fee and do not include digital files with the session. However, you offer the digital files for sale after the minimum print order requirement is reached.

Option 3

Charge a session fee that includes what you expect to make in profit and then include a specific number of digital files with the session. Then let them do whatever they want with the files. With this option you can offer incentives to make it worth their while to purchase prints from you, instead of taking the files to a big box store.

I personally do something that comes closest to Option 3, with the exception that I limit printing use with the digital files to a 4×6. I also require all enlargements over this size be purchased and printed through my site, using the professional photo lab of my choice.

My reason for this is that after being in business for over four years, it is my expertise and professionalism that is on the line. My clients come to me because of this. They trust me to know my industry and to use my know-how and artistic vision to deliver the best quality images. I strive to remain confident in what I allow and do not allow my clients to do with the work that I produce, therefore my clients need to place their trust in me and what I will deliver to them.

Now I strictly enforce the policy of only including a small number of digital files after my minimum print order requirement has been met. Before we even seal the deal and sign the contract, I clearly state that all enlargements over a 4×6 must be purchased and printed through my website. I explain to my clients that I use a professional lab that I have worked with for years and trust the quality of the final product. My reputation is on the line and I want to make sure that my clients are thrilled with the product that they receive from me and that my reputation stays intact. I also utilize the copyright license which states this rule before they are even allowed to download the digital files from the website.

To support this decision I did an experiment to physically see and show my clients why they should be ordering their prints through my website. This helps those clients who are still unclear as to why they can’t have all of their digital files, rights released, to print anywhere they wish. My experiment went like this; I printed one 8×10 image each from a big box store, a drugstore, an online consumer lab, and my professional lab of choice, Mpix Pro (please note that I am not suggesting that Mpix Pro must be used, only that a professional grade lab should be used). This gave me and my clients a tangible visual example of why I restrict printing outside of my choice pro-lab.

The results of this experiment really helped to reassure my clients that they could trust me. It made it clear that I am the professional and to take my advice when it comes to their family photos and print products, from start to finish. They also appreciate working with someone who knows their trade and can help them get products they didn’t even know they were looking for. (If all a client has ever seen are prints from big box store, just wait until they get a nice canvas gallery wrap from one of your choice vendors.)

Now extend this example to a print framed on a clients’ wall. If their friends come to visit you want to make sure that they are WOWED by the print, as they could become future clients. Plus, you want your existing client to feel that they made the right decision in hiring you. By doing your job right, your future client will say “Oh my goodness! Who is your photographer? I totally want to hire them!” instead of “Oh my, who is your photographer? While thinking to themselves “Let me be sure to never hire them”.

To sum things up; believe in yourself and your choices when running your business. After all, it’s your business and you are the expert. Your clients depend on you to take charge so that they will get the best possible quality experience, from start to finish. By setting clear and concise boundaries that work not just for your client, but for your business as well, you are sure to have repeat clients as well as word of mouth referrals.

Before I end this I would like to share some of the blogs and resources that I use and find helpful.

For a good explanation of custom pricing see Professional Child Photographer.

Here’s a good overview of whether or not to include digital files in a photography session.

Served Up Fresh has lots of great info about business tools for photographers.

A fun all-around resource is Reverie, which describes itself as “For musings and other delightful things”.

For Photoshop actions, tutorials and more I use Florabella Collection.

Finally, if you’d like to share your thoughts on how and what you offer to clients, feel free to post them in the comments section below.