Home Forums Let’s Talk Photography Pricing for Digital Files

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    I am a photojournalist and I occasionally take portraits or photograph parties and then sell prints.  Recently a woman hired me to take photos of her which she will use for articles she writes, so she needs the digital files.

    I have no idea what to charge for digital files as I have never sold them before.  The sitting fee for the shoot was $150. Prints cost from $25 and up.

    Any ideas?  I hate this.  Pricing is the worst part of the business.


    There are always two sides to the cost of something.  It doesn’t matter if it is a watch, a car, or a hair brush.  How much does it cost to produce it, and what is the value to the person purchasing it.

    Any time it appears the sale price is well above the cost of manufacturing, someone else will jump in and start manufacturing as well.  This drives the selling price down.  If enough people jump in, the selling price may drop below the amount at which it is profitable to produce and sell the item.  This causes some to leave the market, which will let the selling price rise again.  Usually, and particularly for commodities an equilibrium selling price will emerge.   This results in our having a general notion of what a generic watch, car, or hair brush is sold for, or worth.  Of course there will be a diamond encrusted version of each, which will rightly or wrongly be valued much higher than the generic version.

    With photos, there is the notion of value.  If you photograph my Aunt Mary, and produce a print, your photo may end up on her wall above the fireplace.  The value will be that friends and relatives can admire her likeness during the parties she throws.  The sale price will have to fit into her budget and she will have to value your work enough to pay your price.   If you photograph Miss Recently, and she is going to use the photo with her byline in newspapers and magazines distributed to hundreds of thousands, daily, or weekly, then the value to Miss Recently may be much higher than it was to Aunt Mary.  Or not.  Who knows.  Though if she is willing to pay $150 as a sitting fee, it suggests she values your work more than what it would cost her to get her cell phone from her purse and shoot a selfie.

    Your challenge is to figure out how much value Miss Recently places on having a quality photo to include with her articles.  Too high a number and you may lose the sale.  Too low a number and you are leaving money on the table.

    A business tutor I was speaking with last year had a similar photo taken by one of his students.  It cost him $250 for the sitting fee and the digital file was thrown in.  He thought he got a really good deal.  I think the photo went on his web page.  I have heard of other photographers who have tried to gauge circulation of the photo and charged a few cents per copy.

    Once you have covered all your costs, the rest is profit.  How much profit there is depends on your negotiating skills and how much distance you can put between your photo as a commodity and your photo as a unique work of art.


    Hi Rise!

    I couldn’t tell you what you should charge but most of the good portrait shooters I know don’t sell digital files for obvious reasons. It puts them right out of the print aspect and rather than go to a pro print lab the client will invariably have their prints done at a Wal-Mart or the like as a further insult. Then when grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, friends, dogs and cats want prints they don’t have to come through the photographer to get them. This is part of a successful business plan. If, in the rare circumstance they do sell digital files, they are priced with this in mind; i.e. quite expensive.

    As an aside this is also a major reason most of today’s fauxtographers will fail. They don’t have a business plan that could possibly succeed.

    But having said that (and I wasn’t referring to you or your situation when I did) I presume you would be providing low res files to your client. And presumably you would have the usage limitations spelled out in your contract. This is what I would base my pricing on if I were in your position.

    More usage permitted, the higher the pricing. And I would probably be looking at a minimum of my regular print pricing (again depending on usage terms).

    If prints are a large part of your margin, than I certainly wouldn’t want to lose that margin to a digital file.


    Thank you for the replies.  I guess whether or not the client needs high resolution files to send to the magazine to accompany her order will determine what I charge her. I could give her low-res images but I doubt they would be useful for her needs as publications usually require high res.



    Well, I am going to be paid $25 per digital file (the client wants 5 photos from the shoot).

    So the whole thing will net me $275. Not bad for a few hours’ work, but I think the digital files are worth more.

    She absolutely did not want to buy prints, so what choice did I have but to sell her the files?

    Part of this is my own stupidity. I should have worked out a fee schedule before I even took on the job.

    $150 sitting fee

    $100 per digital file

    Would that have been too much?



    There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to pricing, CC summed the basics of pricing but there are many variables to consider.

    In the end, if you are happy and made a decent profit and your client is happy, then you did okay.  $25 for a digital file may seem cheap, or not to some.  What some can sell for that price may be unheard of in other areas, it all depends on your localized market.

    I am just curious, not that you have to answer, in what format were the digital files?  I was wondering if they are re-sized digital files for full resolution?  JPEG or RAW?

    The reason I ask on the format of the digital files, is you may have inadvertently sold yourself out of future print sales if you offered her full-resolution digital files.  I know full well, that some of my clients take the digital files and print them up locally, so I make sure that my sitting fee at least covers my time for  the shoot which for me ranges from $250 – $600.  (i know it’s a broad range, but it depends on the circumstance and time).  The digital files I offer my clients are re-sized and are at 72 dpi from the typical 300 dpi.  The lower dpi allows them to share the photo (un-watermarked) on social media and email but is good for small prints but starts to degrade when enlarged too much.  Instead of photo protection, it is enlargement protection.

    I have had some clients come back and tell me that when they tried to print a 8 x 10 from the digital files, that it doesn’t look that great, but when they bought the ones from me in the same size they were very noticeably much higher quality then what they had printed.  So in essence , it can be a self-marketing tool to showcase high quality prints over run-of-the-mill prints from places like Costco or Walmart.

    Usually when I sell or provide files for magazines or print media they are very specific in the way they want the files.  First off, I never sell my PSD files.  I have sold the RAW files (pre-photoshopped) but for much more then the photoshopped files.  From my experience, magazines want their files to be 300dpi and with a cmyk profile (if they are for print) and they will typically state the size required let’s say 300 x 300 pixels, but that all depends on the pic they want and the format of the article.




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