The Value of Photography: Portraits Are More Than Paper

Earlier this week, photographer Jeanine Thurston shared a letter that she received from a client that powerfully illustrates the value of photography. Thurston writes,

This letter wasn’t mailed – it was at my doorstep when I got home a couple months ago. I read it, I cried, and read it again – probably a hundred times by now. It wasn’t easy to read – and honestly, as much as it validates what I do for a living – I wasn’t sure I was going to share it either. If you choose to read through the letter, you will know why I’ve finally chosen to share it.

The post quickly went viral and has amassed hundreds of comments from fellow photographers who were impacted by the letter.

Here’s the letter she received:

July 2nd, 2011

Jeanine –

Today I am writing for a couple of reasons. I have some quiet time at the moment and need to get a couple of things off my mind. I will leave this for my husband to deliver to you when he is ready.

You photographed my wedding, you photographed my first pregnancy and my first baby. I contacted you awhile back to photograph my 2nd child and family. After getting prices and realizing I would want all of the pictures as we love your work – I decided against spending $500+ – which is what I normally spend for portraits and prints with you.. Please know it is not because I don’t value your amazing eye, or how much we love the experience.

That week that I decided to NOT do a session with you, this is how I spent some money.

On Sunday I called and cancelled our session. Monday I went out and got my hair cut ($39+tip), and colored ($65), Thursday I had my nails done ($24), my family went out to dinner at a somewhat expensive restaurant for no particular reason costing us $79 + tip. This was just 4 days since canceling our session, already totaling over $200 for unnecessary things. My nails only lasted about 2 weeks, my hair is gone, and seven weeks passed when I got the phone call from our doctor. It was not something I expected and the cancer has spread very quickly. I will be leaving my husband, my 6 year old girl and my now 2 year old – not by choice. It is very hard for me to talk about it which is why I need to write you.

I watch your Facebook page and your posts about the value of a photo and if I could give back all of those things that I purchased this few weeks after I cancelled my session with you, knowing what I know now, and have that session, well… I would do it in a heartbeat.

Now my time is done and there are no more chances for me. The next time someone cancels a session – my wish is that you forward this letter to them. Time is fragile, it is gone before you know you had it. If you charged $200 for one print it wouldn’t be enough for what it is actually worth. I cringe to think that my priorities were a manicure over a memory to pass onto my babies and husband.

My love and thanks for what you have given us from past photos. I am so sorry that I did not see it as more than paper until now.

Karen L.

In case you think this is some kind of sick marketing ploy, Thurston has published a followup post answering some common questions she has received.

(via Fototails Photography via Fstoppers)

Image credit: Treasure by xfile001

  • TEJ

    I actually just welled up. That is truly remarkable. 

  • Melo

    Thank you for posting that.  My mother passed from cancer and even though I have a number of photos of her, you never have enough and I always wish I had captured more.  There is a reason I as a photographer carry a camera everywhere I go.

  • Niggano 1


  • Teresa Borges

    Thank you for posting this, its so true i also love to take pictures they are so important. 

  • K.Dwight

    I so agree! I take pictures of my kids,grandkids, and my family all the time much sometimes to their dismay. Pictures are so important to me and I cherish all the pictures I have from the past and the present! When a part of you family or a close friend is gone, the pictures are the main thing you have to remember them and the times with them. Pictures are so important!

  • Maxaryaman2004

    I value the images I have of my friends and look at them with the same joy, as I do, images of my family. I lost a very close friend to cancer several years ago and decided then and there, that I would make a point of telling those people that mean something to me, just that. I want to do it while they are alive, not at the funeral. Sheila, and Andrew, my family – I love you. Steve, Bas, Mike, Don, and all of my friends – you mean the world to me.

    Thank you for posting your letter and followup.


  • Natasha McGuire

    Wow! They are more than paper! Thank you for sharing!

  • ArcherFish

    My father has cancer. I can wholeheartedly agree with that letter, and it’s probably the main reason I was absolutely gutted when my 500D failed on me. 

    Take all the photos and make all the memories you can, while you still can.

  • Anna Schulze-Wenck

    My husband and I are professional photographers, in our time off we love to do private shoots for friends and neighbors. Sometimes they ask us if they might reimburse us for the favor since the outcome is very professional and the pics look more than just nice. 
    We always tell them how nice it is also for us to not just take pictures for our income but also to give from our heart to theirs and see the happy faces that get these sweet memories!
    Photography touches souls – it still does …
    Thank you for sharing the beautiful story – even though it is sad it reminds us of the importance to enjoy every moment.

  • Alaric Yanos

    Each moment in life is unique. That moment may never happen again. So, let us be grateful for the time we have together and make a photo whenever we can.

  • Ramon


  • kim

    I have been through these feelings with many who have suffered the health and financial burdon . I am a photographer, you have opened my eyes and feelings to this situation that I am wanting to provide an invaluable gift and volunteer my time and resources in a way of just giving.

  • Insensatez

    I always bring my digicam with me. I’m not a photographer, but I believe the value of capturing those precious moment. I just wish there’s always a photographer with me that could capture every moments.