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10 years and a disk: The day I stopped being a shoot-and-burn wedding photographer

This past blisteringly cold Saturday while I was enjoying the fact that I did not have a wedding, this email came in:

Hey Kim,

You did our pics almost 10 years ago. Wouldn’t you know that I wait until now to use the CDs to create a 10 year anniversary book for hubby that I find the online company sent us the wrong CD. The CD’s are labeled correctly but the pics are definitely someone else. I guess shame on me that I never looked at the pics but I am pretty sure you have no images from that far back now?

Thought I would drop you a note, hoping you or the online company might have them?”

As I stumbled down into my basement to my “archives” thoughts raced through my wedding photographer brain

“10 years.  WTF.  She didn’t even LOOK at the photos for TEN YEARS? ”
“I hope my contract was solid back then…did I have an archiving clause?”
“If I don’t have them, too bad for her…10 motherfreaking years, what does she expect”
“Seriously she didn’t LOOK at them for 10 years, were they that bad?”
But mostly…over and over…

 

“ohmygodohmygodohmygod I hope I have them, I hope I have them, ohmygodohmygodohmygod”

 

 

By the time I reached the Rubbermaid bin that holds The Ghosts of Weddings Past, I was sweating despite the -7 windchill outside.  My heart raced as I flipped through the CD’s of names I barely recalled.

I had them.

After some trial and error with bad naming and having to coerce my computer to read a 10 year old disk of images I had them.  And as I looked through them trying to place the wheres and whens of that wedding and to see if the photos truly sucked, a memory struck me.

This was the very first wedding that I used off camera flash on my formals.  I remember it because it was at a swanky venue in a nearby resort town that I had always wanted to work in. In fact, back in the day it was one of Hugh Hefners infamous Playboy Clubs.  I spent weeks learning how to perfect my lighting, reading online and taking seminars, and was a shaky mess setting up the strobes, lugging the heavy battery packs. I worked alone then, and this was a big endeavor for me.   In fact, truth be told I was a “natural light” photographer because I didn’t really understand strobes.  In my head, learning this one key piece of information that terrified me so (math does that to me) turned me from an amateur to a real live photographer.

I nailed those formals.  Now, we won’t talk about the fact that I had yet to have a great grasp on posing, had an unnatural love for Gaussian blur, tilts and Becker’s Sepia and Blue Split Tone Action, or the fact that my color balance sucked ass…everyone has their dirty secrets and it was one of the first years of digital, a girl gets a little carried away. But those formals…I learned something, and something with math.  It clicked.

But the most surprising revalation was this: How much I’ve invested financially and personally in other peoples memories.  How much it means to me to preserve them.

Yeah yeah, “the photos are the only thing that’s left, the cake gets eaten, blah blah blah”.  I’ve always hated that sentimental wedding bullshit photographers use in marketing, just as much as naming your packages “Gold and Silver” or “Rome and Tuscany”.  WTF does Tuscany have to do with a wedding in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

In my Grinchy heart, I really do believe photos are that important.  This brought me back around to the nagging question:

Ten years.  She didn’t look at them for ten years.  Why?

Maybe because I thought a tilt and a sloppy boarder was “Art” back then?IMG_0212

Maybe because I thought this action would convince someone  that this was shot on Chrome?

 

IMG_0112

 

Or maybe because I actually charged her cash money for this piece of shit:

IMG_0558
So I decided to ask.

Moving. Kids.  House.  Job changes.  She looooved her photos, and cried when she looked at them again, she assured me.  Artist Angst pacified, thank you 10 lb 9oz baby Jesus.

Excuses.  We’ve all got them, right?

And then clear as day it came to me:  I decided that if my clients won’t safeguard their own memories, I am going to do it for them. I’m no longer going to offer only a shoot and burn package where I turn over the disk because despite my rationalization that “no one” would put a 3K disk in a drawer for 10 years, someone did.

Moving forward, all of my packages will include an album, no matter how rudimentary.  They’ll still get their damnable digital files, but they are not walking out of my studio without a tangible printed item to show their children (or their dogs, or strangers on the street…)

Yes, it will increase my pricing.  And I’m okay with that.  You may disagree with me, or tell me “In MY market that would never work because, blah blah blah”.  I’m okay with that too.  Every passionate business model has a “Unique Selling Proposition” and in that moment I knew what mine was.

I feel at the bottom of my soul that my job is to preserve memories and that’s what people really pay me for.

 

 

22 Comments

  1. I LOVE that you shared some of them.. I have similar looking ones from my first weddings too! Oops.. And is it rude to say I’m sticking with a coverage only package in addition to album packages cause I probably don’t really care enough? My pride always swells when clients say they love the photos and I see them sharing them every which way and that.. But once the final payment has cleared my account and I’ve delivered their last product.. I never really think of them again.. Oops x2

    • Mel, believe me I thought twice about it. But all in all, we all start somewhere, right? I’m thankful that her “wedding goggles” help her overlook my tactical technical errors. And I’m even more thankful that the first 6 years of my career I shot on film and gave them the negatives…because I never, ever want to see those see the light of day.
      Thanks for reading!
      ~Kim

  2. I love you. That is all.

  3. This is so true. I had a bride call me in a panic last week because the disk I had provided from her wedding in July (yes, less than six months ago) had already corrupted. She had not even bothered to download the pictures onto her hard drive. I have everything backed up in triplicate so I was able to provide a new disk for her, but I urged her to take the it to the nearest photo lab, even if it had to be Costco or Sam’s, and get a print of every shot and just put them in a box for safekeeping. I’m big on selling albums but I do get the occasional bride who can only do my “disk only” package, and it always bums me out for the reasons already stated! Prints and books are forever!

    • Tamera,
      If nothing else, I am glad this made you think. Everyone has to do what is best for them and their business, but keeping an open mind to things is probably one of the best bits of advice I ever got. Never say never :)
      Thanks for reading!
      ~Kim

  4. YES, Yes, yes!!!!! I do this for all of my portrait clients, and I feel very strongly about it. Thank you for putting this into words!!

    • Angela, I’m embarrassed to say that while I’ve held that stance of on files for portraits I didn’t follow through with it to weddings. It seemed to me that the horse left the gate years ago and there was no way around just handing over the files without losing clients. Lesson learned, old horse, new tricks :)
      ~Kim

  5. Hell yes! Good for you. I think I’m going to ride your coattails with this. I’ve had several clients lose or damage their disks without backing the files, asking me for a new disk. While I’ll keep their files indefinitely, who knows what’s going to happen ten years from now. If those digital photos become lost or corrupt, the generations that follow won’t have that visual legacy of their family (ancestry if you will) during a pivotal moment in their lives.

    If I lost the photos of my parents from their college days, wedding or their first year with me after my adoption, I’d lose a huge piece of our family history. Such a sad thought.

  6. YES! Preach it! I feel strongly about this too and although I do have a couple of S&B coverages I most of the brides book with a small album. I’m thinking of doing away with the disk only as well.

  7. Nailed it. You are amazeballs.

  8. Right on Kim. In our “other business”, photographing horse shows, we sell lots of digital images. I’d say less than 5% ever get printed..In our studio business I have taken on the role of “no, you really need to have an album” kind of guy.

  9. You rock my world! I don’t shoot weddings, but you inspire me to be the best portrait photographer I can be . . . I appreciate the time & talent you so generously share with us mere mortals <3

    I haven't had this happen (yet!), but am very conscious of the fact that not all computers will have CD drives in the very near future . . . clients just don't get the fact that technology changes and those memories they have sitting in the drawer might not be accessible 10 years down the road. All my sessions include a combination of print & digital. Ya know, just in case . . .

  10. This post increased your level of fabulousness by 1000%

  11. Thank you for sharing. I have this discussion often with clients and admire you for writing this . Thank you thank you..

  12. We switched to requiring an album in every package we sell two years ago. We only marked up our packages to cover the COGS + design fees, and then we upsell after the wedding. Some people never upgrade, others spend a few more thousand… but all of them have something non-digital to protect them for years to come.

    There are days I hate it. But in the end, it seemed like I was doing our clients a disservice to not provide them with something besides the digital files. We’ve lost a few clients because we will not remove it, but we’ve gained far more who see it as added value to their package.

    Go rock it, Kim! Hope it’s as successful for you as it has been for us.

  13. Brilliantly written piece with an excellent point very well made. That is exactly the reason I incorporate albums in all my wedding packages. Unfortunately, in this digital age, people don’t really print their photographs anymore and, like your client here, the next thing they know 10 years have passed and they haven’t even looked at them! My basic album is just a good quality photo book but all the clients that have gone for that package so far have loved them which is well worth the extra cost, in my mind.

    So brave posting your old wedding photos too!!

  14. This is AWESOME and should be read by every individual who wants to be a shoot and burn photographer or every couple who thinks that they “just want a disk of images.”

    It’s funny; after over 35 years of photographing weddings, I finally caved and began offering a CD with some of our packages because “that’s what everyone really wants.” So, all our wedding coverages now come with a generous print credit which may be used toward printed product, albums, or if they wish, the files. To date, we have sold ZERO packages with files. A lot of prints, wall prints and albums, but NOT A SINGLE FILE.

    Thanks for sharing this well-written piece with everyone!

  15. This is hilarious. I can’t wait until 10 years from now when I look back at the crap I’m shooting today and am horrified by it all. 😀

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