I recently had some feedback from one of my lovely clients, who I’d spent a lovely time with during their session. On receiving their package images in digital form that they politely told me they didn’t feel “they had anything to show for their money”. I have to say, I was a little taken aback at this, having spent 3 hrs shooting their newborn photography session, over 11 hours working on the images afterwards and also creating a large bespoke collage artwork of the session images. And they were lovely images. My client thought they were lovely images. Lovely people get lovely images and the session had gone so so well.
So I asked myself, how do people perceive worth when it comes to portrait photography. Is it in the print? In the experience? The art? Or in the digital?
There’s an analogy that’s often used in the digital photography world that, in my version, requires you to think like a medieval peasant. Imagine you are living in a medieval mud hut with your 15 kids. You need to feed and clothe your 15 kids, it’s not the law yet, in medieval times, but you’re not a monster. You feel obliged. And something called “love” for them.
The local farmer ambles by with his lovely Jersey cow Daisy and a little rustic cart full of wooden buckets of milk (which would be the perfect vintage style prop for a modern day children’s photographer like Little Wonderland Photography). He’s selling the milk. He’s selling the cow.
Your kids are really thirsty. Like, really thirsty. Right now. They’re wailing in unison for milk. WE WANT MILK! GIVE US MILK! You stopped lactating years ago. After 15 kids your nipples look like pork scratchings. You buy ALL the milk.
And the kids love it! They inhale the milk almost via osmosis. One of the littlest climbs right in the bucket and bathes Cleopatra style. You’re really happy with your purchase. Money well spent, you think. You can see what you paid for and the enjoyment it brings. The neighbours are looking on admiringly. Parenting? Nailed it.
But then the milk is gone. It’s finished. Imbibed. The kids are hungry, their clothes are in rags, they’re bored, they never get to do anything or go anywhere and their only toy is a mouldy potato.
“What now?” You think as you gaze wistfully at the Farmer and Daisy as he turns the corner just past the family latrine. “How will I feed my family?” you question, as Daisy and the farmer pause at the brook and Daisy laps up the cool water. “How will I buy stylish new medieval rags to adorn my little army of cherubs?” you debate as you find yourself staring at Daisy’s full and bulging udders, swinging in the sunlight hypnotically. “I am in udder despair”!
BOOM! Lightbulb moment (except lightbulbs haven’t been invented yet so it’s more like a “blinking whilst looking directly at the sun” moment).
Daisy! Daisy! DAAAAIIIIISY!
You buy the cow, you make your own milk. Limitlessly. You can even make cream! And cheese! And yoghurt. And you can add flavour to it, and sweetness, and make ice cream just the way you like it (if you trek to the Antarctic for some medieval ice, but still, the possibilities are endless).
And that is where my take on this analogy ends. Suffice to say, if you haven’t guessed already, a print of an image is the milk. A canvas, the cream. An acrylic or album or whatever you desire, the cheese.
The digital file of an image? That’s the cow, baby. The whole beautiful beast of a cow. Yours to create whatever you like, how you like, where you like, for who you like. Forever.
Except the cow will die. The digital file will live on. Moo.