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.

  • Cypherpunks (a public account)

    You may or may not die. Whether someone stays in business isn’t solely dependent on their business model. It’s also things like their market, how good of a business person they are, and whether they deal with their customers well. And, it’s not the business owner who decides what criteria make them the “best” – it’s their customers. That decision is out of your hands.

  • Alan Klughammer

    in reality, the cost of printing has not changed that much. It is a little easier in the digital age, but not much if you are talking high end.

    I am not claiming to be an expert printer (though I know a fair bit) and these are low res web images of simple landscapes, but I have a couple of before and after shots that may explain of the work done on a good print.

    mouse over the images for before and after…

  • Cypherpunks (a public account)

    Henry Ford supposedly said, “if I had asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

  • Cypherpunks (a public account)

    Thing is, you can call for a boycott all you want, but there’s not a lot you can do except wait out the trend and see what happens. People eventually figure out whether they’re getting their money’s worth. Any occasion worth hiring a photographer for is going to be an important one, a life-altering one. Most people aren’t going to want to skimp on that if they can afford it, which brings in a little wider perspective – this is precisely the kind of thing that happens when the middle class starts going away. If people can’t afford a great photographer, they’ll seek out a good one. If not a good one, an okay one. If not them, Bob’s your uncle photographer. At some point you may have to accept that your standard of living will just have to be lowered. Or get a new career.

  • Graham King

    Long time reader, first time poster. Sorry John, but you just sound out of touch here. Industries evolve, and people just don’t want or need prints like they used to. What’s wrong with making your money on the shooting? Adapt or die.

  • sorte

    Erm… no.

    How can you hold back the digital images and try to force people to buy X amount of prints, when nobody cares about prints nowadays?

    The second you present that to a client, they will walk out the door.

  • jkantor267

    The only way to make money from photography nowadays is from fleecing wannabe photographers.

  • Tam

    Hooker A and B both perform stellar BJ’s. Hooker A charges $5 less than Hooker B. Hooker A has herpes…

    Hooker B knows she better, therefore she markets herself and determines herself as “the best”

    decision is never out of the owners hands if they know they can produce something better.

  • Nature Photographer

    Seems like much ado about nothing to me. David Jay markets to the bottom feeder photographers and the bottom feeder photographers market to the bottom feeder brides. If you are competing with other photographers for brides who want to spend the minimum on the photography side of the wedding then it’s time to find a new occupation.

  • hdc77494

    Yeah, and movie theaters make all their profits showing movies.

  • Guest

    If you educate your clients on why the session fee is higher, chances are they will understand and choose that method…

  • hdc77494

    As an occasional paid photographer (with another source of income) you don ‘t need to make a profit. Then again, without profits, you can’t justify the very expensive equipment it takes to produce consistent professional grade work.
    The concept of shoot and share may be valid, but giving the software supplier control of your pricing is a business model guaranteed to fail, unless of course you got your gear for free, have lots of spare time to work for nothing, and it doesn’t bother you when people steal your work.

  • hdc77494

    You’re still approaching this from the basis that prints are overpriced based not on the actual costs to produce and deliver the final product, but based on the commodity cost of printing a product that’s already been created. Do you skip eating in restaurants because you can buy the ingredients cheaper at the grocery store?

  • hdc77494

    it’s not the business owner who decides what criteria make them the “best” – it’s their customers. That decision is out of your hands
    Did Obama teach you that?

  • hdc77494

    There’s a difference between getting to “look” at their pictures as low rez digital proofs and actually buying high res professionally photoshopped final digital prints.

  • hdc77494

    If you don’t generate enough profit to stay in business, you can’t help customers at all. Even with no studio, cameras, lenses, computers, Adobe, marketing, education, etc, it costs a fair amount to stay in business. What shoot and share, even SmugMug, and all those services make money on is the constant stream of photographer wannabes who shoot until they bleed their bank accounts dry and move on to another job. The service companies know their model works for them and not their clients and frankly don’t really care. There’s always a new crop of starry eyed newcomers who are tickled pink they can call themselves photographers, but have zero comprehension of the margins necessary to STAY in business. I remember the very first retail business I busted my butt to build. The greatest (business) shock I ever got was the realization that many of my competitors didn’t really care whether they made a profit. They were run by people who used them as a tax write off and a place to see all their friends and have tea. PASS, and it’s ilk cater to the same people.

  • hdc77494

    GoldmanSachs packaged and marketed securities they knew their customer’s would lose money on. The government defines that as fraud. PASS isn’t being sold to consumers so they can save money, it’s being sold to photographers, who following the PASS business model realistically can’t stay in business.

  • C Parker

    David is right…times are a changin’. The majority of people in today’s economy cannot afford expensive prints and they deserve to have their needs met at affordable prices.

  • Nick

    I am not a photographer and offer my comment from the perspective of a customer. If I were to hire a photographer for a wedding, I would expect that I am paying for the photographers skills in taking a photograph and the photographs themselves. In addition, since I commissioned the photos, I want full, complete, and exclusive rights to them. I would expect this to be in the most basic photography package. I would expect, and be willing to pay more for touch-ups and prints, but if I wanted someone else to do that, or wanted to do it myself, I completely expect to be allowed to do that. The photographer for my wedding did exactly this, and I was very happy with the services and fair price. As a customer/client, I think that the PASS System is absolutely leaning towards what I would expect.

  • C Parker

    And there is a mistake in the article…it is not 50 cents per print for a 5×7 or an 8×12…it is 50% for all prints.

  • Vin Weathermon

    You do NOT understand the amount of work it takes to do the job because end-to-end you have never produced professional wedding products. It’s obvious from what you are saying that you think a pile of jpgs is the product. Maybe you got yourself a nice camera and did a free wedding for someone. Maybe you paid $500 for another guy like you to photograph your wedding and hand you a DVD or whatever. But clearly you are out of touch with what products are produced for weddings and probably just couldn’t afford to even look at them yourself.

    While I agree that the end game should include a permanent archive of images for the married couple, I do not agree that that is the product the customer is paying for. It is the tangible, the heirloom, the “originality” that you apparently have never actually seen yourself that is the product that good wedding photographers spend fortunes to be able to produce.

    Will you pay that photographer that did your wedding $1000 to do your 30 x 40 family portrait? I doubt it very much.

  • Vin Weathermon

    I imagine this is because your work shows tangible quality, and art in the hands of the buyer is far more valuable to them than a webpage with some jpgs.

  • Guest

    Actually neither of these is emotionally binding to the customer. What they can touch, feel and hand to someone that has a tactile response is what a customer remembers…and passes on from generation to generation. How many jpgs do you look at daily? For ten, twenty years?

  • geeves

    Hi David Jay!, how are you?

  • Vin Weathermon

    Customers have no idea what they want with digital enhancements. The artist/photographer does this with his/her creativity and then expects to be paid well for it. Letting someone show others “unfinished” work is also not good for building a reputation.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Do you earn a living with your wedding photography? Or are you just blathering?

  • Vin Weathermon

    I am in software too..but I have been an artist/photographer for many years. Software comes and goes..and is obsolete immediately. So will FB, LinkedIn, Instagram….they won’t be around in 10 years. Very fine photographs have more longevity than most people’s lifespan. Isn’t that worth paying for? The artist is selling his creativity in a tangible way. To qualified buyers who appreciate tangible stuff.

    The jpg only wedding couple who loses their jpgs will very likely wish they had a decent album or portrait.

  • Steven Wade

    Who gives their clients low res images? When I got married, I got full resolution, 300dpi high quality JPGs. If I wanted, I could ask her for space sucking TIFs, but I don’t care that much. You don’t think I could send it off to Richards Photo Lab myself and get prints made? Or even the local camera store that does prints?

  • Steven Wade

    When you charge $4000 for a wedding a giving them digital files, I would hardly say that’s giving them away for free.

    I’ve never heard of anyone offering to sell digital files in leu of prints, but that’s a pretty damn good idea. And what you are talking about is good business, not what everyone else is commenting about. Lastly, $1900 for a portrait session? Damn. That is good business.

  • spotmaticfanatic

    Wow… where to start…

    1) “A good photographer wouldn’t need to do a lot of post in the first place. ”

    No? Cameras suddenly can reproduce what the human eye does? Gosh, if we only had thought of making perfect negatives/captures in the first place, all those photographers wouldn’t be racking up the bills in Photoshop/the darkroom. Another scam exposed!

    2) “As others said- this is a new generation. Gone are the days of film
    and the restrictions. These are the digital days- taking thousands of
    pictures and being able to edit and share them. ”

    Stupid film: it caused people to stop, consider the scene and make a good shot. Now we can just hold the shutter button down, and chimp our way into good photos! Fortunately we need not worry about good processing, so surely if we upload them to Flickr with helpful titles like “DSC_091999.JPG” all our family can relive our perfect one-of-a-kind boutique wedding for all eternity, as emboided in the 3,497 photos my photographer/drinking buddy shot.


  • hdc77494

    Vogue Magazine is holding a competition for up and coming fashion photographers with the “prize” being a $10K photo shoot.
    When you read the contest rules, you learn that Vogue owns all copyrights to ANY photos submitted for the competition. The White House is hiring new interns. 48 hours a week for zero pay, and people are killing themselves to get the job (Like the Bank of America intern in London who dropped dead after three 22 hour days.) Don’t even get me started on what’s happened to the stock photo industry. The haves are scamming the have nots at an alarming rate. Companies like Pictage or Craig’s List are destroying entire industries, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands if not millions.
    You can talk about what a great thing that is for consumers, but look at the tens of millions who’s jobs are evaporating not because a more efficient player has arrived, but because in just a few decades, tens of millions of people are no longer necessary to fuel the entire economy. No, they cn’t just go back to school and train for a new job, because leaps in digital efficiency are making them superfluous.

  • Chris

    Not everyone is making a decision to buy based simply on how much the prints or digital files cost. They are buying the skill, artistic sensibilities, etc… of the photographer. If you’re amazing, you can probably sell post shoot products any way you like, and you’re fee just for showing up is probably much higher than others. I know a woman who shot weddings for a few years and only had clients that were spending around $2000+ for her work. She shot 2-3 weddings a month. It wasn’t about the prints or files, it was about her work.

  • Chris

    If you don’t mind me asking, how much did you pay?

  • Sebastian Roxeno

    professional photographers shold take pictures not only for the moment or for the next 2 years … that´s what printed pictures are for and files never will. We know a lot about our past, the history our families from printed pictures … I fear we are losing our roots working to much digital and habituate on files.

  • Steve Nuth

    are we talking weddings?
    I shoot n share my weddings but for the studio portraiture I sell luxurious beautiful folio books, wall art prints etc. I educate my client to the value of getting the best quality reproduction from people that care about the ultimate in presentation. clients love buying this and the bonus is that they get the digital files when they purchase these.
    There’s no “forcing” going on here mate.

    Ansell Adams said “the negative is like the music score and the print is the performance.”
    When clients come in they see and hold real fine art prints in their hands. The tactile experience of a real picture printed on premium quality papers is what convinces the discerning client that the final print is valuable.

    If you don’t value this then you won’t pass that on to your clients.

  • Levi JW

    I thought I would learn something from this article, and I suppose I have. I learned that the industry is moving toward a consumer-centric model, and that some photographers are bothered by it.

    One point that’s left out of the article: David Jay and his evil system gave it an OFF button that can be clicked. The print purchase part of the platform is an opt-in option that can be opted out of. And then you can let folks order prints from wherever you want for whatever you want to charge. You don’t have to play by DJ’s rules, or adopt DJ’s philosophy.

    But I guess the reason the author (et al) is mad is financial, and philosophical. David Jay is deliberately both leading and following a trend in the marketplace – and you don’t like that trend. It’s a trend away from paying $25 for a $2 print.

  • Gman

    cheap photos aren’t good and good photos aren’t cheap.

  • Aerad

    perhaps its David who destroys the market in one way…but its also the big companies such as Nikon and Canon who keep killing every professional photographer out there…by selling the best stuff for prices almost homeless can afford!

  • dbltapp

    Photography seems to have evolved into a quite cannibalistic business…

  • Houston

    Basically, what we are all getting at here is that if David Jay and PASS company would have allowed us to make our own prices, then we wouldn’t have a problem?

    It sounds to me that the author here just outright hates David Jay, and has not given a thought to the quality that PASS may offer to photographers.

    Who’s to say that PASS won’t change that model in the future? Who’s to say that professional photographers won’t change to the shoot and share method?

    I personally use PASS, and while I wasn’t happy about not being able to set my print prices, PASS offers photographer to disable the print option! YOU DON’T HAVE TO PRINT THROUGH PASS…

    I’m still an amateur photographer. I have one wedding under my belt, and two more booked. I want my clients to see their work in the highest quality, but in the easiest way. I also want my images tagged, but not with a watermark.

    PASS keeps your name attached to all of the photos shared to by your clients – perfect!

    I personally love shooting, and I love when clients love their images, call me a hippie but I don’t want to charge $25.00 for an 8×10. That seems like highway robbery to me. I make my backend on my session fees, and while they are reasonably priced they offer the clients options that are worthwhile.

    I’m still young, and still learning the business. Had I known about Pixieset, I would have probably gone with them initially. But I also don’t like having to hand deliver, or reship my prints to clients after ordering them through WHCC. PASS takes care of that, and I’m fine with it. Once Pixieset offers inhouse printing, I’ll join with them.

  • Matt Payne

    Honestly, I think this is the direction that photography services are headed. A great majority of my clients do not wish to get prints. They are more interested in sharing the photo digitally with friends and family. Sorry but that’s just the way the world is now. Innovate or die.

  • RMillward

    I don’t see what those two things have to do with each other. Goldman Sachs committed fraud, yes, but if you think that’s on an equivalent level with David Jay creating a business model you don’t like, you don’t know crap about what really happened at Goldman. Your comments all over this thread are incoherent, so, I’m just going to let this go.

  • Roberto Giobbi

    no my dear, there are not more photographers than works, there are a lot of people that own a camera, doesn’t make them a photographer.

  • fumanchu

    it’s cute that you get all pissed off at David Jay for guilt-tripping you into sticking with his business model, and then you end your argument saying we should switch away from a system “that is not working to destroy the very industry that you’re a part of”.

  • Scott

    I’m not saying prints and no digital images for sharing with family and friends online. Just saying that I’d imagine that when people actually go through the trouble and expense of actually hiring a photographer, they’d likely actually get some prints. Either from the photographer or by paying more upfront for the digital images so they can do printing themselves.

  • Tito Herrera

    Congratulations: You just gave the person and system you you want to hurt even more famous. He must love you a lot cause all the free press you just gave him. #Fail

  • bseaman112

    “by selling the best stuff for prices almost homeless can afford!”

    The homeless must be doing quite well these days, which is especially surprising given the state of the economy. Here’s a range of my gear costs:

    Full-frame DSLRs: 3 Cameras ranging in price from $2300 – 6000/each
    Full-frame Lenses: 5 Lenses ranging in price from $900 – $2400/each
    Speedlights: 3 Speedlights ranging in price from $300 – 600/each

    Perhaps you should do some more research around what type of gear professionals actually use.

  • Guest

    Having talent and expertise in photography has nothing to do with forcing clients to pay insane amounts for basically, prints and frames. Even if you call them “fine art” or whatever.

    Go easy on the frames & print markup, or you will look like a scammer. Talent aside, people CAN and WILL compare what they are getting for the price, with what they could get if they printed and framed their photos elsewhere.

    The price that reflects the photographers’ talent and expertise must be included in the session/daily rate, not “pushed over” into the prints’ prices! It’s the session/daily rate that clients must compare to see which photographer is “worth” more!

    That’s like selling Mercedes cars for $10,000, but stating that the tires cost 40 grand!

    “Oh but a photo in a frame will last decades!” True… so, when I buy a cup made from glass, it should cost $25,000. …Because it lasts forever, right? Please. The “because it lasts forever” logic is killing the industry.

  • Guest

    Nowadays people have access to luxurious photo printing and framing wherever they want. They CAN and WILL compare what they will pay the photographer for these prints vs. what they would pay if they printed them themselves. “Too big a difference? That photographers’s a scam artist!”

    Educate clients to pay more for the session/daily rate part of the deal, because most clients will understand the differences between photographers better this way.

    A good photographer and a bad photographer can sell prints and frames with EXACTLY the same quality. There is absolutely no reason for clients to pay more (FOR PRINTS) “just because the photographer’s better”. Prints are prints! The difference must be paid in the “photography” part of the invoice, not the printing.

    Or, keep on trying to sell typewriters for all I care.

  • João Paulo Barcelos

    Sometimes I just wonder how these articles get posted… Doesn’t anybody at petapixe read them at all? If they did, I’m sure they’d request the writer to tone down the hate a little bit… :)