The digital world is all around us and over the last few years it’s had an immense impact on how we live our lives and how we manage our business. The world or wedding photography has virtually been torn apart and put back together, sometimes haphazardly over these last few years.
Ten years ago the model for wedding photography might have been to pay a base fee for the coverage, receive proof prints, and then order final prints and an album. Chances are they had a package price offering giving you a slight discount if you committed to so many items up front. But the client was totally dependent on prints from the photographer, after all they had the negatives. Some studios might sell the couple the negatives after a set period of time, and you always had wanna be photographers charging budget brides a few hundred dollars to shoot the wedding and turn over the rolls of film – exposed with images of questionable quality.
Now in the digital age it’s about the image file and the majority of the clients want some type of option on a disc of images. Either for their own personal backup to ensure they’ll have access to the images down the road, or so they can print their own proof images, or even for scrap-booking. Heck with the things you can do with iPhoto these days and screen savers on your HDTV there’s a multitude or reasons to want the images on disc.
But the question is, what are you really getting on that disc of images?
Most photographers pricing models either allow for the images on disc to be purchased as an add-on or are included with the wedding coverage. But besides the images there is also some variety in the size and “finish” of images.
With some camera’s shooting well over 20 megapixels just keep in mind that I obtained wonderful 8×10 prints from my first Canon digital SLR, with was 3.2 megapixels. We tend to think that 300dpi is the magic number for printing, meaning that a 8×10 image would need to be 2400×3000 pixels, but many labs can print at 200dpi without noticeable differences and some from even smaller files. As long as your images are at least 2000 pixels on the longest edge you will likely be able to get a reasonable quality print up to 8×10 in size.
Now the edit or “finish” of the files varies a lot from photographer to photographer. Most commonly what I see are SOOC, Base edit, and full edits.
SOOC, straight out of the camera. These are the digital equivalents of film negatives. The image is there but lacks the fine tuning to get a top of the line print. The difference is 10 years ago that fine tuning was done by the photo lab, now it’s done by someone before having the file printed.
Base Edits. The image file has been adjusted for exposure and contrast. This file should produce a good quality print on par with simple lab prints from yesteryear.
Full edits. You’ve got the files edited fully and ready for fine prints.
Now despite what how it might appear full edits are not always better than base edits or even unedited SOOC files. Much depends on the skill of the photographer and the quality of their equipment.
One of the problems is that too many fledgling photographers have a “I’ll fix it in photoshop” mindset. They think they don’t need to get the exposure or even composition right, because they can fix it in photoshop. Then often they proceed to butcher the files with poorly done glamour edits and cheap special effects. Get the wrong photographer and your “fully edited files” might leave you with images looking like the entire wedding party had plastic skin.
On the other hand I’ve seen highly skilled photographers nail the shot so well that an unedited SOOC file of theres was far superior to the fully edited file of someone who “fixes it in photoshop.”
So which is better? Neither. This article isn’t about which is better or worse for the client to receive, it’s about making sure the client knows that not all digital files are created equal and the quality of your file will largely depend on the quality, skill and experience of your photographer.
In some ways from a clients perspective the no edits or base edits could be the “safest” option. The problem with fully edited files is now they are locked into that style of edit. If you love the job that was done on the edit that might not be too bad, but with a SOOC or base edit you’ve got a lot closer to a negative that still has all it’s potential available to it.
All types of files can be valid depending upon a photographers business model. Some photographers don’t edit anything that isn’t selected for an album or print directly from them. That’s how their business workflow is built and that’s the product they offer.
The client just needs to make sure they fully understand what is and what isn’t on the image disc, and to understand that sometimes the more basic file might be more desirable. Photographers, the best thing you can do is make sure your clients are fully informed during the initial meeting as to the files you may be providing to them.
Like I said, I think all options are valid – as long as everyone is one the same page and understands fully what to expect. Most of the time when I see problems in this area it’s because of a lack of communication between client and photographer, which leads to expectations not being met and bad feelings.
Until next time,