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Sunday, 20 July 2008


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At the beginning of a friend's birthday party, I handed her an empty, 4x6-ish book, inside which was written 'Hand this back to me, and I'll fill it with photos from tonight'. I think my hand-written note and the book itself made the whole thing seem like a once-off "work" to be very grand about it. The album of the pictures on Facebook does the rest.

Unless you're really a professional, earning your living by selling photographs (and in some cases even if you are) I think many lay people don't get that your photographs have any greater value than theirs.

Until my recent purchase of Nikon D300 I often found that relatives and in-laws had gone out and purchased a "better" camera than I had (say, a Nikon D70 to my K-M 7D). In spite of the fact that they knew nothing about composition or exposure and their backlit snaps of our beach holidays or their flash-blown family events belied this, they seemed to think that my well framed, properly exposed (and, perhaps most importantly, edited down to only the handful of good images) represented good luck in snapping rather than 35 years of striving.

Therefore, you can always print up another one for them - after all, if you send them the jpeg they'll do it themselves. This is the corollary of the microstock movement with its legions of amateurs like me filling their photo banks to the detriment of the pros (actually I haven't sold any stock photos, but it's probably serious amateurs of my caliber who are).

Technology is leading to a sudden photographic efflorescence, a thousand points of light if you will. That's cool in some ways - but it means real quality is getting lost among the profusion and the massive increase in supply is cheapening the value.

Something similar seemed to happen shortly after I first got interested in photography when it seemed, in the early '70s, like everyone and their aunt had just gone out and bought a Nikon F to take their family snapshots and it was hard to be taken seriously with my Minolta SrT101.

At my age now, I'm mostly philosophical about this, but sometimes it sticks in my craw, too.

People used to do the same to me, but now I lean in and say in a seductive voice "anything can be had... for a price." Make sure to cock one eyebrow when you say "price." It works wonders.

Adam makes some good points! But I would like to differentiate between people shots, and everything else. I think I'm just as good (bad?) at portraits as I am at every other type of photography, and this is what I've found: Show people portraits (or give them some prints) and they will ask you for more copies as if they wanted 3 cubes, not 2, of sugar with their coffee. They often don't seem to appreciate how well you captured their likeness and personality and probably think, like Adam said, that it was just luck. However, use the same techniques to capture a landscape, an abstract, or anything that's not a portrait, and you'll get all types of ooohs and aaahs from them, "I'd love to hang that on my wall", "you're *really* talented", etc.

I've thought about it (I do that every now and then, thinking) and I've come to the conclusion that most people take pictures of other people almost exclusively. Sure, there's the odd scenic pic here and there, but mostly, it's pics of the kids, grandma, the spouse...all on different occasions (birthdays, holidays...). Most people photograph memories, not subjects. What this has accomplished, I think, is a desensitization toward portraits, where they become common place. All pic snappers have a photo or two they took that turned out really well, by pure law of statistics, of course. When they look at 10-15 pictures that *we* took, and they're all good, they don't make the connection (or lack thereof) between their luck, and our talent.

Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just that my portraits suck a lot more than my other photography?

I admit I've used that trick. People ask for another print and I just say, "I'd be happy to, but I'd have to charge you my regular price for a print...$350." That's the most I've ever gotten for a fine-art print. Does the trick, though.

Mike J.

Come on. A print alone looks like a cheap throw away gift. I know all the arguments against that, but really, how much does a print cost from an image you should have already worked out the post processing development on anyway? I can't believe you would give an unframed print anyway. It really is in the packaging and you know that. Otherwise you would not go on about book quality aside from the content like you frequently do when talking about collecting. Here is a clue. If they ask you for a different size they view your gift as your giving them a component in a do-it-yourself project, something few people want. If the print subject is an unfortunate choice on your part and they are just being polite even though they hate it, spending time and money framing it is adding insult to injury. Have your print beautifully, and expensively, custom framed the way you think it should be and both your print and your gift might get more respect. It will not seem so much like getting an uninstalled sink trap as a gift from a plumber friend.

"...I think many lay people don't get that your photographs have any greater value than theirs."

They don't, to them.

For good or ill, it's not experience that makes any individual picture more "valuable". That's just how we arrive at being able to do it consistently.

You can get the same kind of response if you give someone a gift of food (cookies or whatever). Either they'll ask for the recipe (the negative?) or ask you to make it again for Aunt Tillie's birthday party.

I think Miserere's counter points are well taken. I'd add to it however. It's not just non-people shots. For instance, most people have been on a vacation somewhere they captured some nice postcard type scenics (maybe with only 1 or 2 telegraph poles, or the sunset not squarely athwart the center). And it often seems to me they're able to ignore the telephone pole when they show it off, in the same way their brains ignored it when they were first entranced by the beautiful scene. I find the shots of mine that are best liked by (non-expert) people are pretty cliches - but not the same cliches that snapshooters shoot - rather they ooh and ah at the calendar or Hallmark quality images - which they know they can buy at Target or Walmart so they're not about to pay me. My most popular photo ( http://islerphoto.zenfolio.com/p382660421/?photo=h144E0572#340657522 ) is one I took when I was 13, the day I bought my first SLR with Bar Mitzvah money - my Dad took me down to the Brooklyn Bridge. I still have a soft-spot in my heart for this photo at age 51, but geez, c'mon - and why do you need an extra print to fit your lucite cube-o-photos?

I give prints as gifts all the time, and usually the recipient cries or at least gushes over how much they love it for a few days.
You have to hit their soft spots--whatever you think they'll love.
Dogs, grandkids, sunsets with palm trees...just know your audience.
And they're all aware of exactly how much I pay for my prints AND what I sell them for to the general public, and that works in my favor.
Maybe I'm just lucky, but gift prints always go over well in my circle of family and friends. I usually make extras for Uncle Squatty & Myrtle so I come off as being prepared AND thoughtful.

In response to Eric, and his comment that most people take pictures of other people almost exclusively -- very true, and it almost prevented me from enjoying photography. When I got my first camera in early adolescence, I figured everyone around me was getting lots of snaps of the family and I wanted to photograph the landscape and little southern town where my family lived. When I showed my family the photos, the response I got was "why did you want to take a picture of that, everyone would be happy to go in the back yard and let you take pictures of them." I packed the camera into a dresser drawer and didn't take it out for several years, because I just didn't want to take pictures just like those everyone else was taking. Well, I'm having a great time now, taking pictures of landscapes and that little town. I still don't take many pictures of people, although I really admire portraits that are well done. I'm also trying to label and file many hundreds of family pictures going back 150 years; there really were already enough people in the family taking pictures of each other.

You're giving the culmination of a long and sometimes difficult, even painful process. They're receiving a piece of paper with a picture on it.

I always frame my prints before giving them away as gifts. Granted, I usually do the framing myself to save on the custom framing cost. I think it's a complete gift that way, something people can go an hang on their wall right away.

There have been a few other analogies in the other comments -- "uninstalled sink trap" for instance -- mine would be a print without a frame is like a sweet new toy without those fancy lithium batteries.

I always used to say "I don't do weddings". However, this month I have done two; one my godson's and the other a friend. In both cased this came about because of images these folks have seen that I did for my daughter (portraits) and some event photography at social functions.

Anyway, that's a lot of hard work and my dear wife offered this for free, as a wedding gift. Now, they want more albums or prints for family and other members of the wedding party. Ah well... next time some ground rules up front.

"If its free it has no value." Thats how its always seemed to me. In the past I strove to take good photos of the nephews and nieces and doled out copies only to find the one the 'Professional' photographer took had pride of place on top of the television (and frankly some of them were stinkers. Burnt out highlights and wooden poses were the prevailing memory I have of them).

So I started to charge and gained more respect, or so it seemed to me.

8.5x11 Frames are sold at K-Mart for $2.95. If I give a print, I always give it in a frame so it doesn't look like I'm such a cheapskate, and the receipant won't have to spend a bundle getting the thing (which he may not want in the first place) framed and hung to avoid insulting me.

"Oh.....thanks." (puts tactfully to one side)

At one point do they ask for another copy then? How many years should I wait?


It's not photography it's your family and friends!


I flatly refuse to alter composition/aspect ratio. I make it part of my agreement when I donate images for charitable use.
So that part works. The one that I have been asked that challenged me is the request for a black&white version. usually requested by an "artsy" type:-).
I have acquiesced when I think it works. Most of the time I won't because it's not the way it was conceived.

Is photography the only gift you can give people where half the time they'll ask you for more?

There's also cooking where this happens often. Serve a bite size piece of a great edible item, and ppl are dying for more. In photography, it's just that they don't know they're hungry for art or their own vanity.

There's a newer fashion now, Mike. People lately have been asking for a copy of the "original raw" files since I've handed out such lovely prints, so they can go off and print "whatever they want" in "whatever larger size" they please. And so I oblige them, and give them a copy of a CR2 file with unmodified "shot settings."

It's not a cheap throw-away gift. It's something of intrinsic value to them. They just haven't associated a practical value to it yet. Why? Because like a diamond in the rough, they too could stumble over it by chance.

Tell them it's someone else's work - someone whose work you admire - and you bought the photograph for them as a present.

Apparently this is my week for being out of synch with the world. I have never had the experience Mike talks about, whether giving someone an art photo or merely a nice print of a photo I had made of them "casually."

I am also in the measly 13% who have not ever fallen in love with a camera and don't expect to ever do so.

All you people are weird; I'm obviously the only normal one around here [g,d,&r]

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

Miserere said: "I've thought about it (I do that every now and then, thinking) and I've come to the conclusion that most people take pictures of other people almost exclusively."

The thing that has always astonished me is how well many people take photos of their kids. They may use P&Ss, or moderately priced DSLRs, but they often catch very expressive and interesting portraits -- maybe because they always have the camera sitting around the house, and when the kid goes into a spasm of cuteness, or genuineness, it's right there. (I also find "America's Funniest Videos" sometimes genuinely funny; I especially like the ones from Georgia that begin with somebody shouting, "Hey, watch this!"

I was one of the people who never fell in love with a camera; though I have to say, I have good associations with the feel of the curve of the handgrip on a Nikon F5/D1/D2/D3 dangling from my fingertips...


I think this is because the perceived marginal cost of another print is essentially zero. That's certainly true when I give prints, it takes me a couple minutes and a couple dollars to order and ship more prints, and I feel it would be rude to reject that request. It it takes significantly more time/money for your prints, you should let them know - they'd certainly appreciate the gift more.

1. I rarely give prints as gifts and, then, only to my closest friends who really do hold them in value. (The exception: prints of snaps taken at events we shared in common.) Since I have been fortunate to have some of my work published during the past few years I more often give copies of the books as gifts to close friends and relations.

2. I never give these prints framed (as an earlier poster suggested). That's far too personal of a decision for the owner and effectively demotes the print to the context of the frame.

3. I have never had anyone ask for other prints in other sizes. The most unexpected response I can recall having was when one print's recipients decided to display the print in their business rather than their home.

I think that you must be somewhat introspective of your motives when giving others unsolicited samples of your photography as gifts. As others have noted, unless it's been valued through exhibition or other means it's not normally going to hold the weight with others that you think it should. So don't be offended when someone asks if they can print a t-shirt from it.

I've noticed that I tend to give photographs only to people who appreciate them. Some people I know, including in my family, like pictures, and some don't so much. So I tend to give pictures to the people I've learned appreciate them.

I gave a print (custom framed) to my 100-year-old great Aunt recently, and the reports I've gotten back are that she loves it. She's always loved photographs and has a real feel for them, a real appreciation. (I've been meaning to make a book of pictures for her, but I finally came to my senses and realized I might not have all the time in the world to get that done. Thus the single wall piece.)

Mike J.

I try to give prints framed when I give them to friends or relatives, but it's not always convenient to ship them or travel with them that way. Sometimes I've given large unframed prints to relatives who don't value fine prints and are just as content to print an image off the web on their office printer, and the prints have been handled poorly. Once I've sorted out who doesn't really value the work, I don't give them unframed prints anymore.

Like most others, I have experienced this kind of phenomena too. The proliferation of photographic equipment certainly has commoditised all but the work of the most famous photographers in the minds of the average person. Personally I don't sell my work (at least, not yet) and consequently there is no established value but, for me, I feel that my best work IS valuable and this has led me to be somewhat reluctant to give it as gifts for the reasons that people outlined above. In particular I don't want to be seen as a cheapskate and, even more so, I don't want to give something I've invested considerable emotional currency in to somebody who is not going to appreciate it. As I see it, giving a gift which has considerable emotional value for the giver but will have limited value for the receiver is a lose-lose situation!

I do recognize many of the comments above, and all this time I was thinking it was me!
Just last week, a nephew asked me if I happened to have a decent picture of his parents he could use in a picture wall with other family pics. So I send him a jpg in the email from which he could have a 4x6 print made. It was in black and white. He replied that he sure liked that pic but wondered if I could send it in color; he had this new picture editor program and wanted to try his hands on, God forbid, making the background b&w while leaving his parents in color!
What could I do but suggest that he would make a picture of his parents with his mobile phone and try his new editing skills on that!

I must admit I do not understand most of the comments here: how is asking for one more print a sign of not appreciating it ? When I cook dinner for someone and they ask for seconds, I take it as a sign that they appreciated it. How is it different with photos ?
And the reason why people do not ask for another copy of a book seems obvious to me as well: they can go in a bookshop and buy it. And, as someone else noted, the net cost of an extra print is not huge.
Am I missing something here ?

"... And so I oblige them, and give them a copy of a CR2 file with unmodified "shot settings."

I love it!!! That is beautiful.

I fall in the camp of this isn't a big deal.

If someone loves my photograph enough to want to share it with others, that's all gravy to me. I can make more prints. It takes just about no time, and costs just about nothing. Or, they can have the image file and make their own prints if that suits their fancy. The moment I decide to give a photograph to someone, I mentally write that entire picture, from the moment I snapped the picture to the moment I hand it over to them, as a gift, and gladly share any artifact of the process between. To me, that's what the gift of a picture is, not a gift of *a print*, but the gift of a picture, a moment captured for their enjoyment.

I suspect, though, that the main reason I feel differently about this than others here is that you guys spend a lot more time and energy in getting a print out of your printer. Do you apply some coating to it after it comes out, or pore over it with a loupe to ensure no printer artifacts came through? All the color management manipulations should get saved so they only get done once for one or a dozen prints, and obviously the edited photo is kept around forever in your library. Right?

So, question: what, exactly, is it which give each incremental print so much more value in your eyes? Is it an idea of creating artificial scarcity, or rather of abundance diminishing the value of your work?

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