When Did Selling Prints Become a Bad Thing?


“Do you like selling?”

I saw this question in a recent video for a Photo Cloud system and thought it was a brilliantly clever line. The company asking the question uses a communal Woodstock approach in the hopes of obtaining new clients. (And by Woodstock, I mean the 1969 Free Love Fest in Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY, filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll, not the little yellow best friend of Snoopy. Although that could probably work, too.)


The company is betting that the vast majority of listeners will respond to that oh-so-clever question with not just a “no,” but with a “Hell, no!” And I would be betting that they are right. On the List of Things Most People Enjoy, selling ranks right up there with having a tooth pulled and watching C-Span.

The video goes on to talk about other perks of using this particular system, like “not having to defend your prices,” and “sharing.” A lot about “sharing.” In fact, they say they aren’t about “marking up photos and making as much money off each print as you can.” Yeah, what a nightmare. Sheesh. Making money? Who needs it? And the best part of it all is they claim that this is the best way for the photography industry to go.

Like most informercials, it sounds wonderful — this promise of streets paved with rose petals in a world where no one needs money to live and we all join hands and sing Kumbaya. But the last time I checked, the electric company would not allow me to pay with rainbows or unicorns and the only “sharing” the mortgage company wanted was from my checking account. And yet, this Photo Cloud has many devotees proudly evangelizing for its leader who brings them, and their money, into the fold with a very simple question: “Do you like selling?”

See, a lot of what portrait and wedding photographers do is fun. You certainly don’t need me to tell you that. You get to buy equipment and gadgets, props and software. You go to workshops; you swap war stories with other photographers; you get to meet really great people; you take pictures. And all of it’s good…until you get to that moment, that dreaded moment, when the session is over and you’re faced with a portrait/wedding client who wants to see their images..and here’s the truth of it that has many a great photographer running to a Photo Cloud or a CD: you don’t like selling.

So, you allow yourself to be convinced that prints are dead and nobody wants them. And to make yourself feel better, you come up with excuses…and I’ve heard them all:

A.  “I’m a photographer, not a salesperson.”

B.  “I don’t have time to sell.”

C.  “I feel like I’m exploiting my clients when I sell them prints.”

D.  “I don’t want to hold my clients’ images hostage by selling prints.”

E.   “I get all my money up front so I don’t have to upsell.”


But what I suspect is the real reason never seems to make it to the surface:

“I don’t know HOW to sell.”

Now this is a curious thing. When a photographer tells me they’ve booked weddings and portraits sessions, but don’t “sell,” I wonder how they achieved that booking in the first place. Were you just walking through Costco and somebody grabbed your arm and said, “PLEASE, for the love of God, we implore you to photograph us! You just have a kind face.”

I’m going with a “no” on that one.

Is marketing not selling? Is a client consultation not selling? We do it every day in our businesses, we just don’t realize it. We do it in every phone call, every email, every interaction with our client. We are always selling. But somehow, we’ve been made to feel bad about that by some in today’s industry.

Allow me to digress for just a moment to wade ever so gently into the “digital file vs. print” waters. It’s a scary place in here; a lot of choppy waters and no lifeguard on duty, but I ate more than 30 minutes ago, I won’t be in here long, and just to be safe, I’ve blown up my floaties.


I’m in these perilous waters because of something I read on the Internet — a philosophy that is beginning to permeate the inner fibers of the portrait and wedding photography industry. It is the logic given behind NOT selling prints and giving the client everything digitally.

“Marking up prints to sell to clients is selfish. They know an 8×10 doesn’t cost us what we charge them. We should charge one upfront price and then “share” them online with everyone.”

What the what? If you had to read that statement twice to make sure you were reading it correctly and hadn’t just slipped into some alternate universe, don’t worry, I did, too. Thought I had hopped the banana boat into crazy town where everyone is wearing long robes, referring to each other as Brother and Sister and drinking Kool Aid.


Since when did taking great pains to create beautiful photographs for your clients and then charging a fair price for them become “selfish?” Show me one thing that does NOT get marked up in this world? People, it’s called running a business. Why would anyone try to make you feel guilty for that?

But the statement got me thinking: are other businesses selfish? Are restaurants selfish when they charge you for your food? I wondered that when I visited my favorite Italian restaurant recently. They make a wicked Lasagna Bolognese. I mean, this plate is a thing of beauty: gooey cheese and sweet Italian sausage between velvety ribbons of pasta all covered in a homemade bolognese sauce, all for $17.99. I’m getting pretty excited just typing about it.

When the server brought it to our table at our last visit, I thought to myself, “I hope I don’t drip the sauce on my shirt like I usually do,” and then I thought, “I wonder how much it costs to make this?” It’s a 5×5 square of pasta, some red sauce, maybe a 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese and a little sausage. I could make this for next to nothing at home. I pointed this out to the server, who gave me a wink and said, “And yet, you’re eating it here.”

Touche, Italian restaurant. Touche.


But photography is different, they say. People want digital files, they say. We’re just giving the people what they want. But are you? Really? When you give them an intangible item that they will post on Facebook and not do much else with, is that giving them what they want?

Didn’t they come to you to create something great they would love for always? Isn’t it more selfish to take their money, slap their images on a Photo Cloud, and be on your way? Shoot it and remove yourself form the equation rather than working with them to create something the will love every time they walk by it in their home?

Think about it: how many images do you have hanging out on your iPhone that you’ve never printed? Are you going to be able to go to those pixels 50 years from now? 100? Will there even be a “Cloud” then?

Yes, yes, I know…those Photo Cloud people don’t want you to think about that. They are busy sharing, and by sharing, I mean running to the bank to deposit the money they are making by inferring that charging for and selling prints is outdated. Selfish, even. But I encourage you to remember three things:

1. There is value in a print, but it requires you to sell it. If you aren’t comfortable selling, there are many, many people out there who can help you on your way. One of my favorites is Jeffrey Gitomer. Check him out. I don’t want to say he’s my Sales Superhero, but he kind of is. Jeffrey, if you’re reading this (and why would you, I mean, come on — you’re Jeffery Freakin’ Gitomer) please know that I am available for anything you need: errand girl, footstool, writing slave.

2. There is nothing selfish about charging a fair price and making money from print sales. Sure, sell digital files when needed, but not at the expense of prints.

3. People will pay you to create beautiful prints for them, even though, technically, they could do it themselves. Provided, that is, that you make those prints exceptionally well. Don’t believe me? Well, why not go think about it at Starbucks as you sip that $4 coffee you could have made at home?


Image credits: Cone of Shame by Aidras,  Woodstock by Kimbertvs, Excuse Board P9180013 by Scott Fairchild, Waterbaby2 by peasap, Lasagna by David K, koolaidwall by stallio, starbucks by Marco Paköeningrat

  • Christian Herb

    Holy crap that was a great article! I especially liked the ‘work with your clients to create something beautiful’ part. I think that is something that clients can’t experience in that many other industries, and after all, it’s always a social interaction that makes us humans feel worthy right?

  • Spongegob Nopants

    From what I read it looks like this capitalist company wants us to be more socialist in order to make better profits off of us.
    Nope. That doesn’t sound cynical at all.

  • Chris

    Speaking as a customer, I like the “Option Selling” way the best. When I use a pro, I like to get the digital files and printing rights. I am well aware of the difference between a Walgreens lab and a pro lab and I actually enjoy using different pro labs to find which one I like best (currently WHCC). But then I think of my parents, who of given the digital files, they would run to Walgreens (at least they would have before seeing how much different a pro lab’s quality is), so they would actually prefer to get actual prints since that is how they look at pictures anyway. The key to selling is knowing what your customer truly wants to buy instead of just assuming one way is better than another. It would literally take one conversation at the beginning of the relationship with the client to figure it out. Then base your prices on what they want (i.e. front load your cost if they only want digital files).

  • Gord

    Mansgame pretty much thrives on being negative because he’s a terrible person. So your two cents is well spent on him and others like him.

  • Gord

    Yet you consistently do the same.

  • Michael Howard

    Amen! We live in a society where things are often seen as ‘either/or’, but that’s not reality. Digital files have value, but physical prints still have value. Photographers should be making money off both. I’ve started a software company that hopes to improve the photography industry and our first system is an online proofing system designed to help photographers sell prints and digital files. Prints aren’t dying unless photographers simply give up and don’t communicate the value of prints. We consume images online and in-person, so we need systems that allow photographers to make a sustainable living off both.

  • bseaman112

    I think in large part this ‘shift’ to a shoot & share (only) style is largely rooted in the massive influx of new photographers entering the market. The main difference is that many of these new photographers don’t necessarily have a lot/much business experience, and tend to opt for the easiest route, which tends to be to ‘shoot & share’. Clients and the industry are suffering from this trend, as ‘the industry’ is essentially telling clients that they ‘don’t need’ prints/physical products anymore.

    I’m a firm believer (& practitioner) of both methods, providing my clients with high-res digital images (at a fee) along with the sale of prints, canvases, & storybook albums. It’s a complete package and my clients love it!

  • Eugene Chok

    he sound like $999 all raw files kind of guy to me, markets himself as less then a thousand dollars lol

  • Michael Howard

    I agree. Hopefully my company can help in the industry because it believes in the craft of photography and in sustainable businesses practices. Even if the industry becomes really split into two camps, I still believe physical products will be relevant for a long time.

  • Jobe Hoy

    Great post!

  • Jobe Hoy

    actually they are. Simply because the dodging and burning etc etc… doesn’t occur in the print lab, doesnt mean that it is not part of what was formerly known as, ‘making a print.’ By your analogy, the customer should receive unedited raws and be left to fend for themselves. Reason the markup for a print occurs, is because the image was worked on to optimize it for printing…

  • JodiK

    The author of this article is Cheri Frost, aka Missy MWAC. Someone who spends their days complaining about the industry and the “rockstar” photographers in particular on Facebook & YouTube. David Jay is a favorite of hers to make cutting remarks about. I’d have more respect for her opinions if I didn’t know she spends her time tearing the state of the industry down instead of trying to build it up.

  • CurrentCo

    great article, you’ve encouraged me to take another look at selling prints again. but I’m that guy you mentioned in the article that says “I don’t know how to sell”.

    So, any good resources out there to get me started? like, price-per-print ideas? how many $’s for a single 8×10? percentages?


  • John MacLean Photography

    Here’s a joke I heard I think in the 1990s.

    How many photographers does it take to change a lightbulb?
    1 to change it, and 9 to say they could’ve done it better.

    So you see it’s nothing new!

  • jane


  • Bob Eveleth

    I subscribe to the theory that you sell what your clients want. I have been in the business for over 25 years, and in my experience the digital file has taken the place of the smaller size prints. However there is still a NEED for wall portraits. Most clients will never tell you they want a wall portrait, it is up to us to put on our salesperson hat and educate the client about this piece of art that will be in their family forever. The following post gives three simple tips that will increase sales for any photographer: