I Declare War on David Jay (And His Self-Serving PASS System)


Hopefully, you know me for my level-headed and impartial analysis of the photography business. Forget that. Today I’m going to go off on someone who is not only doing a disservice to the industry that he purports to serve, he’s actively working to destroy it. In the words of The Dude (from The Big Lebowski): “This aggression will not stand!”

I’ve written about David Jay before. Over a year ago, he released “The System” where he attempted to teach new photographers how to enter the world of wedding photography. Though it had a few useful points, for the most part, it was a dismal failure insofar as being a worthwhile tool for the newcomer.

Sure, many photographers thought that it brought the industry down by virtue of encouraging new photographers to “spray and pray.” While I won’t argue the point, I personally viewed The System as more of an nonsensical annoyance from someone pandering to make a buck.

Despite – or perhaps because of – The System, David Jay remains a popular figure within the photography world, and as such, his voice continues to hold influence upon many working photographers. Maybe because he was once a photographer himself, he’s viewed differently than your average CEO trying to make a buck marketing to photographers. David Jay still has that “man of the people” aura about him – which I suppose helps him to attract photographers as customers.

None of that however has anything to do with why I declare war on David Jay. The reasons for that lie in his PASS System. For those unfamiliar with the PASS System, it’s a web viewing platform for event photography whereby the photographer uploads the photos to the system and then the images are immediately available to the client for using as they wish, including sharing on Facebook and other social media site. It’s all part of his Shoot and Share method that is supposedly the new way for photographers.

But it’s not just the basic PASS System and this Shoot and Share ethos that’s got me convinced that David Jay needs to be put out of business. It’s his latest venture, PASS Prints, as well as his accompanying philosophy that is just plain bad for photographers. David Jay has gone from being a nuisance to actively working to destroy the industry that spawned him.

With PASS Prints, clients can now order prints from images uploaded to the PASS System much like they can any other service. The catch lies in that prices are set by PASS at $1 for a 4×6, $2 for a 5×7 and $4 for an 8×12. In the FAQ section of the PASS Prints website, the question is posed, “Can I make money off of the prints?” The answer is “Yes” since the photographer makes 50% of the sale.

I’m sorry but receiving 50 cents per print is not “making money” as a photographer. I think the technical term for this is “chump change.” The website goes on to emphasize that “PASS takes no commission on the total sale.” Well, duh, they don’t need to since they’re marking up the prints already. They buy the prints for 19 cents then charge the photographer 50 cents. I’m not sure whether to sarcastically thank David Jay for not charging us twice or to be insulted by the fact that he thinks we’re too dumb to realize his little game.

And while this is bad enough, it’s the ethos behind his message that I believe is truly corrosive to the industry. In his introductory video to the PASS Prints system, David Jay states, that “PASS is not a way to mark up your prints and make as much money as you can off of them.” He goes on to add “That’s just a different business model.”

And what is this “different business model” that he’s referring? Oh yeah, it’s called Earning a Profit! So if Pass is not for photographers interested in maximizing their return on their business efforts, who is it for? Those interested in working for free? Not making money is not a business model; it’s a hobby at best and recipe for failure at worst.

To be fair, Pass is all about those photographers who “don’t like to sell” and just want to “shoot and share” (as though they are part of some free loving hippy commune). Now if you’re a photographer who just likes to shoot the wedding and then wash your hands of it, that’s your prerogative and I respect that. It’s just important to know that you’re leaving a significant amount of money on the table. The difference between a sustainable living and one where you’re constantly working to get ahead but never quite do is in all the stuff you deliver after the wedding.

My problem isn’t with those who choose to operate their businesses as they see fit, it’s with someone, specifically David Jay, who promotes a product and a philosophy which works against his customer’s business interests just so he can make a buck. I don’t know if the term “con man” is the term to use for someone who smiles as he takes your money but stabs you in the back – but it’s the best description that I can come up with.

And it gets worse. Not only is David Jay promoting a product and ethos that is harmful to the profession, he also takes the time to personally browbeat someone who choses to leave his service. I’d heard about a Facebook message that he sent to a former user where he did just that. I took the time to track down the recipient and, fortunately for us, she’s a fan of the Business Coach so she forwarded to me the message in its entirety. (A screen capture is posted below.)

David Jay sends a Facebook message to a former user of his service

David Jay sends a Facebook message to a former user of his service

From the above: “Shoot and Share photographers are making it really difficult for sales driven photographers to continue marking up prints to high heaven so I’d suggest making the switch to a service based business quickly even if you don’t use PASS. The days of massively marked up prints are over.”

Wow. First, I have to wonder if David Jay is that desperate for customers that he feels compelled to take time to essentially guilt this former customer into staying. Perhaps the PASS system isn’t the cash cow that David Jay had hoped for. Instead he finds himself clinging to every last customer like a desperate lover wailing “Please don’t leave me!”

Regardless, I take exception with his claim that “The days of massively marked up prints are over.” This idea that photographers “massively mark up prints” is absolutely ludicrous. It’s an insult to every photographer out there who’s ever worked hard to create a product that the client will love for years to come. Yes, many photographers may charge $25 or more for an 8×10 with a physical cost of $2. To the uninitiated, that may appear to be a substantial markup.

But that markup does not include the time and often times years of expertise that it takes to prepare the files for printing nor does it include the overall profitability from the wedding. I’ve yet to meet a wedding photographer who was just rolling in cash from his or her “massively marked up prints.” Photographers charge the rates they do because that’s the bare minimum required to operate sustainably.

The subtext to this message is that David Jay is essentially telling us, “I am enabling the race to the bottom among photographers by significantly undercutting the market. If you don’t undercut your fellow photographers, you will be left on the chopping block.” Unless you feel that what this industry needs is more undercutting and lower prices, you can understand why this whole attitude leaves me livid and with nothing but contempt for David Jay.

Fortunately, the days of photographers charging profitable prices for their work are definitely not over. There’s no question that times are tough, however I meet with plenty of photographers who charge healthy rates and incorporate profitable pricing throughout all aspects of their businesses. Good business practices are certainly not dead.

Though I can’t say that I don’t wish the same about David Jay’s business. My recommendation to all photographers is that they avoid using PASS and spread the word that others do the same. If you’re a PASS user, I suggest switching to a service that is not working to destroy the very industry that you’re a part of. Though we can’t do anything about the fact that digital cameras are everywhere and the economy continues to remain a challenge, we can do something about who we choose to support with our hard-earned dollars.

My suggestion is don’t use those dollars to pay David Jay or his misguided PASS system. Like a bad virus, let’s stamp it out before it spreads.

About the author: John Mireles shares his insights from 23 years of advertising, wedding and portrait photography experience on his The Photographer’s Business Coach blog. He also offers knowledge based tools for photographers through his Photographer’s Toolkit website. This article originally appeared here.

  • Jeffrey Shaw

    I have had numerous ‘conversations’ with David Jay via facebook regarding his philosophies. He apparently seemed to not like what I had to say so he deleted all my posts and blocked me from his PASS facebook group. So much for free speech. I am not interested in an all out war against David Jay as a person. I am however very concerned that he is so convinced that his way is the only way to be in business as a photographer that he goes to the extreme of deleting posts and blocking people for expressing opposing views.

    I’ve been highly successful as a portrait photographer for 30 years and am an extensively trained business coach. It’s fair to say I know a thing or two about business. The industry seems to have split into two very different business models- the product based photographer and the shoot and share photographer. I believe the answer lies somewhere in between but I’ll explain that later. Let’s first look at the differences. The product based photographer is SERVICE based. Meaning they are offering true service to their clients by executing and creating portraits, wedding albums, etc. And yes they are marked up. How ‘massively’ they are marked up depends on the photographers reputation, the quality of the product and level of service provided. (note to David Jay- the Diesel jeans you wear are also massively marked up and that’s just paying for a brand). The shoot and share photographer, while they believe it is providing service because it’s “providing what people want” is actually pandering to the lowest end client possible. Those that want the cheapest way out. I’m amazed at how excited a photographer is on the PASS facebook page when they made a $30 sale. The only exception to this is there are some clients who are very creative and want the files to create their own works of art. I have a couple clients who are art directors who fall in this category. Those clients should still support YOUR artistry and pay equal to your average sale for the rights to use those images.

    Let me clarify the distinction. Product based photographers have a priority for SERVICE and shoot and share photographers have a priority for PRICE. There’s a market for both but I absolutely believe PASS is degrading the integrity of the industry. Talk about a break down in integrity! Last I knew the lab that is providing the prints for PASS is one of the largest professional labs in the country! I don’t want to get into name calling here. But think about it. One of the largest labs in the country providing prints for product based photographers to resell and who sponsors the majority of speakers on the circuit is also selling direct to consumer through PASS. This appalls me. Product based photographers should be up in arms about this. It’s complete greed.

    So what’s the future of photography look like? Here’s my motto and what I suggest the photographers I coach keep in mind- digital is for sharing and prints are to preserve. In today’s digital world we will never win against the desire of our clients to share their images. And we should encourage it. There should be joy in what we do and there are tremendous opportunities in having our clients share their images. We must also educate our clients that there is nothing permanent about digital files. So many people have lost everything because of a computer crash. I would like to see our clients served by photographers who create amazing products for them and provide incredible value to the experience by providing opportunities for them to share their beautiful images with their family and friends. That’s a win-win.

  • Brian Zuzulock

    A photographer is not just charging for the cost of the print, they are charging for the photo, the art, that they have created. It’s the same as any artist, for arguments sake let’s say a painter who charges hundreds or thousands for one painting but only spent $100 for materials. Should that painter only charge $100 for the painting? The physical materials mean very little when it comes to the price for art and that’s what you have to think about when you are looking at prices for photographic prints. What is it worth to you as the photographer and what is it worth to your client? A great photograph of a once in a lifetime event is worth far more than $25 and in order to be a profitable photographer, it is your job to charge accordingly, whether via selling prints or rolling your worth into a lump sum price for the event, and to convey the worth of your art to your clients, helping them understand that the cost is appropriate.

  • sikdave

    I charge $225 for an 8×10 print, it’s my smallest print.

  • sikdave

    I think PhotoMerchant might be suitable as well. Worth a look if you’re interested.

  • sikdave

    Thank you Jeffery, well said.

  • Fernando Gonzalez

    Obviously you don’t get it. And that’s ok. Most people don’t. Many people look at the COST of a print… versus the VALUE of a print. Two totally different things. If you look at the print as a cost only commodity, you will NEVER get it.

    EDIT: Here’s a great analogy for you.

    The story goes that Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer approached and asked if he would do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, swiftly executed the work, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather significant amount of money. The admirer was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years”

  • ihatedavidjay

    Interesting, I turn down work all the time because I am booked. They I call the other “Not so stupid to by into the David Jay Drivel” Photographers, and most of them are booked to … there is WAY more work out there than you will ever be able to handle … I would LOVE to see our post work that you don’t feel is worth charging $25 for.

  • raysot

    I can downsell PASS just as easy as I can upsell professional prints. It’s really not that difficult, using the “You get what you pay for” mantra.

    If I have a client that just paid $4k for a wedding shoot, I can easily down-sell PASS, (Especially if they’ve never heard of it!) and also because they don’t want that 4k investment to go to waste on cheap prints.

    In reality, the clients who pay 4k for a wedding will most likely never be aware of PASS. Problem solved.

    “Shoot and Share” all you want, guys… The business model hasn’t changed a bit.

  • Steve Nuth

    If you think the value of ones work is purely on the cost of a piece of paper then you just don’t understand or value what good photography is all about.
    Damien Hirst gave a taxi cab driver a sketch on a napkin as a tip. He then went on to sell it for £15,000
    But a napkin is a napkin surely?

  • Matt Wheeler

    These comments are way to long. Adapt and survive, don’t and don’t.

  • MattB81

    I agree completely, welcome to the spray and pray generation of photography. The problem is we’re arguing with people who have never entered a dark room, people who have never had to consider the number of exposures left on a roll of film, and in fact people who probably have no experience with prints other than Walmart and Ritz Camera – instead they just let the statistics play the game hoping that 1 in 1000 will come out ok.

    It’s sad really.

  • Alex

    Tires are always included with cars, so that analogy doesn’t make sense.

    A better way to phrase it would be if the Mercedes was $10k, and all the bells and whistles (prints, canvases, etc) were $40k.

    But why does Mercedes stay in business? Why do they continually sell all the bells and whistles? Good branding and good marketing–something that most photographers have no clue about, and so they have to settle for using PASS to do all the dirty work for them. All the Sal Cincottas of the world will be happy to make that extra $2-5k post-wedding selling the extra bells and whistles to their customers.

    Overall I like the Pass model; I just don’t like how we can’t set print prices. That’s all. I don’t need to sell a 4×6″ for $30. Anywhere from $9 to $15 is fine, and there are still enough people out there willing to buy from ME because of my brand to make it worthwhile, and not from WALGREENS.

  • hoju_saram

    If you don’t like PASS, don’t use it. I’m sick of reading articles from photographers complaining about competition and innovation that serves clients. If you can’t compete, go to another industry.

  • yippeekayay

    What a callous and uncaring assessment. You’re obviously not someone who feeds their children and pays their heating bills by their photography. Pass is evil, not because it’s not following along changes in the “business of photography” but because it’s doing so in an exploitative way that diminishes and denigrates real photographers. Pass may be suitable for “commodity photographers” whatever the Hayell that is, but it’s kryptonite to real pros. Any self-respecting pro should give Pass a big pass.

  • yippeekayay


  • yippeekayay

    I’m with you John. Pass is obnoxious.

  • yippeekayay

    David Jay. Isn’t he that hokey dude who sells photography sessions like some kind of new age aromatic oil? He’s all stare in your eyes and verbally grope you kind of guy. I think I saw him once on some seminar thing. He gave me the creeps. i just checked out his site. His photography makes me laugh. It’s so over the top contrived. Whatever. That doesn’t really bother me. Different strokes, right? But creating a “photo sharing” system (and marketing it as a proofing option to wedding photogs) that effectively cuts the legs out from under any pros who use it is just evil. That makes me hate him. I’m with you John. I am officially at war with David Jay and PASS.

  • yippeekayay

    You’re not wrong. The better the quality of the photography the more brides and their families want high quality enlargements. Maybe Walgreens is okay for your average amateur or part time pro but our clients still rely on us to guide them through getting a beautiful high end Miller’s print of the key images from our collections. PASS just doesn’t cut it for our market or for our business model. I liked the layout of the proofing page but absolutely hate the back end and the business offer (and the arm’s length customer service). We’ve already duplicated the visual look with our own proprietary proofing portal software that we own and lives on our own servers and will never compromise the privacy and security of our clients’ images the way that PASS does.

  • yippeekayay

    So you’re not a photographer.

  • yippeekayay

    ABSOLUTELY!! Well said!

  • viki reed

    This PASS system is what the Bella Baby and other in-hospital photography corporations use. You as a photographer are not allowed in the hospital unless the patient arranges it on your behalf, but Bella B and others do all the screening and shots and then send you out to their contracted chain of hospitals to wait it out in the maternity ward, then they encourage you to pounce once you see mom and baby in some form of ready, You can bring some props but overall you shoot and then upload to an ipad , which you can then do some Lightroom editing on your shots (not much though because the next step is mandatory and has to happen pretty quickly after shooting) and then , at the most hormonal and vulnerable moment of a new mom’s life, she is shown images (good and horrendous) of the baby. The images are in a PASS / JC Penney style of sales site. Packages, prints, you name it. Flat monochrome and sepia, ruthless cropping , etc. The parent can walk away but few do and the shots more often than not are what you’d expect or worse odds-wise. Then your client gets home having spent $125 or more and doesn’t want true blue custom heartfelt crafted images now. Most folks don’t mind the lack of quality because they are rightfully in love with their newborns and nothing is more beautiful than that, not even a distracting mediocre or bad image of that gorgeous baby. But it’s THERE, on the SPOT and it’s a bit like a gun to the head.

  • viki reed

    you have to admit on some level that there’s no way you can take a shot, even knowing it’s the best it can look SOOC and hand it over immediately. Part of what makes you different as a photographer is what kind of total image you put out. If you check out Iconic Images, the blog you’ll see that the most singular iconic images history has known were indeed done without photoshop, although many were artfully modified in the darkroom…but were also snagged from a series of shots. Images that the photographer grease penciled and rethought and then put out. It matters what you do with the image before you take it and after. Just because a lot of potential clients don’t know what great composition is, that doesn’t mean everyone should hurl their artistic and storytelling goals out the window because the industry is and has to change. Do you ever give your clients the raw unedited shots? If you’ve ever been lazy enough to give a client a shot you weren’t thrilled with, even in post, guess what, that’s the ONE shot they tend to use for some non-artistic reason and that’s the one that all their family and friends see of course with your name attached to it. If you give out your edited shots be sure that your clients will crop them to fit a frame they got on sale. It all matters. You have to do your best to control how your images are finally seen and PASS and similar methods of sale throw that ethic out the window.

  • Sean Molin

    This is why I don’t even offer an option to choose between black and white and color. I make that choice for the client.

  • Taylor Allen

    Mixed metaphor.

  • SteamboatSkier

    no doubt! LOL!

  • James

    “YOU DON’T HAVE TO PRINT THROUGH PASS…” I think that’s the biggest thing this story left out.

  • James

    You can book a wedding with a T2i and kit lens around your neck. I’m not saying that you SHOULD do that, just that that is probably what he’s meaning. The right gear to do the job, and all of the gear that looks like you could do the job with, are not necessarily the same.

  • James

    Yeah I noticed from the comments that he left that part out. I think the reason that it bothers people so much that there is a push for things like the PASS system, is that they’ve built their entire business around charging less than what they want to make for their sessions then making their living off of marking up the prints. I’m not saying it’s right, but it made sense back when we lived in a world where the products that the consumers really wanted out of us where physical rather than digital and in unlimited quantity.

    Look at it this way, would you rather go to a photographer that you have never worked with before, (the photos on the walls in his studio might not even be his) and pay $1,000 for a photo session, then $25 print, once you see the images and like them, or to another guy that charges $3,000 for the session, then $4 per print?

    I’m sure some people would take the latter, but to me, the pay way to much per print method, seems like it was a mark of quality. Now does that still apply? Somewhat, i think but not nearly as much as in the old days.

  • James

    “space sucking TIFs” I think we know which side of the photographer/client spectrum you fall under.

  • Steven

    Or I just don’t think TIFs are worth the hundreds of gigabytes in extra space that they would affect print quality. Shows how much you know about what clients want.

  • James

    Oh no, I know full and well my clients want Jpegs, and that’s what I give them. But you don’t claim to be a Client do you? Or at least I would hope not with that D800 of yours and the “dozens” of weddings you’ve shot.

    FYI: TIFF is a Lossless compression type just like DNG, or PSD.

    Real photographers shoot raw, so that they can post process. It’s one of those things that sets a DSLR apart from an iPhone.

    If you don’t think that RAW files are worth the space, as you spelled out pretty clear with your “space sucking” comments then your probably not a professional Photographer.

  • gypsydonut

    But with this model it seems you can still offer prints. You just don’t have to make the prints the profit center.

    Previously wedding photographers would give the bride and groom a price for the shoot, with that being lowballed a bit and then make it back on the print/album end.

    This is just a different model. This model says that the time and skill of the shoot is the valuable commodity, not the ability to produce a piece of paper with the image. But hey, if you want a print, you can do it this way.

  • Chris Cummins

    The problem William is that you are assuming they will actually go print out their images if they had them on digital.

    Most people do not do this. Why? They don’t have time. They know they can do it someday, but someday never comes around. Thusm the disc goes in a drawer on a smartphone or on a computer hard drive, never to be enjoyed again.

    I almost never have people insist on digital images anymore but would much rather do prints.

    The real problem is that most photographers have had zero courage and a terrible money concept, they hate selling, they have no target marketing strategy and they grossly undercharge for prints which destroys their ability to profit.

    They see the loss on their profit and decide that since discs and Dropbox downloads are so much cheaper than a great quality print, they can just give away the farm for $200 of $600 from a non-wedding portrait session by putting it all on a disc.

    Now here comes David Jay to tell them that they are right and have are not responsible for their own sad state of affairs. It’s the market dude. The ultimate copout is to blame others and not assess your own responsibility. But that is hard, difficult work. David Jay knows that. So you should give him your money for a “service based business” model.

    It’s all rather manipulative, but that is what all the new and some old blood in this business goes for, over and over.

  • Mark Tassoni

    I am still waiting for someone to get this model right. It can’t be that hard.
    Pixieset had the right idea (way more elegant design…personally, I think Pass looks tacky, esp the dimmed out thumbnails in the background), but how can you, Pixieset, ignore the fact that photographers just might want to replace a photo in a gallery. How can that not be an option?

    Pass seems like a good idea. I have been using Zenfolio for a while and am always looking to migrate mostly because of their inexplicable design and customization choices. But, one look at Pass and I just wasn’t impressed. Not even a little bit.

    And yet, they come. In masses. And I really don’t get it.


  • Ben Modica

    You sound like your are Blockbuster talking about Netflix. Who is still standing?

  • Tess Lucas

    What are you opinions on the new PASS features & updates? They’re working on an update that allows the photographer to set their own print prices, as well as additional products other than prints… Also, galleries under 100 images are free, rather than the $29 charge they have been (which is still the case for galleries over 100 images). Also, The images can be downloaded & shared for the full 10 years that they are backed up, rather than the inital 1 year for downloading & sharing, and then 10 years of storage.

    Personally, myself & my clients have been enjoying the easy to use, easy to share system. It works perfect for weddings where I am travelling (as well as family & friends are), and don’t live near the client. As soon as I’m done editing, their images are up and they have them! They can then share their photos with their family & friends all over, in the blink of an eye. Not to mention, 10 years of access to these images in case of the event their computer dies or a harddrive is wiped. I enjoy this as well! It makes total sense to me for David Jay to be on board with this ever growing & evolving industry, and pushing it forward into our more digitally-geared era. Don’t get me wrong, I love & respect the traditional photography ways, but it is 2014 afterall.

  • Sohail Chouhan

    I’m a full service photographer who is not willing to rob his clients from the best that’s out there. It is such a shame that professional photographers will not educate their clients and deprive them from the beauty of real and modern art that’s out their. Perhaps that’s why I don’t see myself using that con man system. I feel sorry for those photographer who are acting like sleazy used car sales person and just selling what’s on the lot because it is easy and requires no work or continued education.