A guy walks into a hardware store and asks for a drill bit. What is it the customer wants?
- He wants a hole.
We get so wrapped up in products and things that often we forget what it is our customer wants - memories.
The debate about prints vs digital content has raged on for years and it's far from the actual point. Who cares that they want the digital files. It's a new world and they have new needs, but the actual reason they want photos has not changed at all. Sure they want to Facebook them, and send emails, and post them to websites. These are genuine needs and desires.
What we have to do is remember what it is we're selling.
Years ago I was having a bad day in the studio. I was tired of answering the phone and getting the same question over and over. How much are your 8x10's or 5x7's and so on. In a weak moment I snapped back. Family portraits are a thousand bucks - prints are free.
A bit rude, but the point was valid. It's about the photography, not the prints. But as an industry we base our pricing and business on the prints. We weren't selling photography, we were selling pieces of paper. And that's what set us up for failure in today's world.
The other day I was flipping around the TV channels and caught the last few minutes of the movie Titanic. The scene was where the granddaughter of the lady that almost died was glancing over a gallery of her pictures. Miscellaneous captures of the lady's life that she almost didn't have. The photos told the story of her life so well. They were beautiful. Not that they were professionally produced, with awesome digital effects, Photoshop retouched, enhanced with artificial backgrounds, or any of the crap we get into today. They were captures of moments. A shot of her sitting on a horse, standing beside an airplane and hugging a child. Shots that made the viewer realize, Oh, she rode horses, flew planes and had children. A life well lived.
As photographers pound each other into the ground with artificially created images that twenty years from now will look so tacky it'll make us cringe, the amateur will go on to create the real memories that people will cherish. Captures done on cell phones, and point and shoot camera's that tell a story. This is what we've lost. We've made professional photography about the wrong thing.
Nicely produced images that tell a story of a person's life is what they want. Not the drill bit they asked for. Once we remember that, and base our pricing that way, the question about prints or digital files goes away.
Painters, sculptors, and artists have known this for centuries. Capturing emotion and feelings in a frozen moment of time. This is what our seminars and workshops should be about. Not new Photoshop techniques or plugins or actions all designed to get us to "Buy" a ready made solution that will catapult us to riches.
Study the artists. Make image captures as powerful as their paintings. Now that's a skill.
Like I said twenty years ago on a bad day - prints are free. Photography is expensive.