Studio Photography: Another Industry Ripe For Makeover

by Randy Murray on June 23, 2010

There are many discussions about failure of the music industry, the TV and movie studios, even the newspapers, and how they’ve all missed the opportunities to transform themselves as part of the digital revolution. Another dinosaur is studio photography, typically a smaller and more local business, but probably one that you’d be more likely to have direct contact with in some way.

I just had one daughter graduate from college and the younger one is ready to have her senior photos taken for high school. I know the local photographer and he’s a very nice man. I support the local business he’s a part of. But every time I do business with a photographer, not just this one, I am reminded about how stuck they are in the 19th century.

Why do studio photographers insist that the only way you can have prints is to purchase them, at highly inflated prices, from the studio? I suppose it’s because they fear the loss of profits. When you’re given proofs, they have large, disfiguring watermarks across them. They scream, “I don’t trust you” to their customer. And then they present you with packages that provide a handful of prints for hundreds of dollars.  And why do their materials threaten to sue you, their customer, if you make copies on your home computer or put the images online to share with your friends and family?

It’s frustrating and sad. I love to engage talented photographers, but they have got to figure out a way to price their offerings differently. I’d happily pay for their time and talent in taking photos, processing them, and for fairly priced prints. I’d also pay a reasonable amount for digital copies that I can freely use.

A few years ago I hired several commercial photographers to work on a corporate project. I finally had to fire one, not because he wasn’t doing a good job, but because he kept insisting that he had to own the images he produced and would only sell me limited rights to them. I insisted on fully owning the images. I didn’t want the pictures I had commissioned and paid for to end up on some other company’s materials. Firing him was a useful lesson for the other photographers on the job and I had no further issues on that matter.

Studio photographers, the ones who take family photos, need to embrace the digital age and make it simple and pleasant to engage them. They’d get more opportunities if you could hire them and never purchase a physical, paper print. As it is now, I tend to hire talented amateurs and hobbyists, ones who love taking pictures, have great gear, and have no qualms about turning over all of the digital images. I’d rather hire a professional, but I hate being mistrusted, insulted, and taken advantage of.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hal Brown June 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm

As a once working pro photographer, I have to take issue with you on this one. Photos are automatically copyrighted and owned by the photographer. And rightly so.
This is no different than a book, a song or other artistic endeavors. A professional photographer works long and hard to learn his art, just as a painter does.
I believe this is one of the most misunderstood arts in the world. Unless someone wants to pay me a hefty price, I would not sell all rights to a photo. Would you sell all rights to a written work for a pittance? What would you think if someone insisted that you sell?
Sorry Randy, I’ve been down this road a few times. Its a dead end.


2 Randy Murray June 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I look at studio photography just like work I’d do for a client: work for hire. That means that when it’s done, the client owns it. Let the market and one’s skills determine the rate, but the work is the clients

This is different from work I create on my own, say writing a play or a novel. Or for a photographer to take photos on their own for artistic or commercial purposes.

This is why I think it’s time for studio photography to make the change and join 21st century. And now that all of us can duplicate and distribute at will and few want or need physical prints, why not admit the reality of the digital world and charge for the work of photography, offer fair prices on prints, but let the finished product go to the customer to do what they will?

Thanks for offer an opposing view!



3 Hal Brown June 23, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I will not belabor the point, but to say that a good pro can charge enormous fees. He can sell you the finished product if he chooses, in its entirety. Just because the medium has changed doesn’t mean the finished product, a print(s) or digital image is somehow less valuable.
A good bit of my work was stolen, and because of the digital era, I don’t doubt some is now. When I had a studio, people would come to me with proofs from another photographer wanting me to make prints cheaper. Of course my work went to other photogs the same way.
Thanks for the opportunity to rant about something that has irked me for years.


4 Randy Murray June 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Any time, Hal!


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