Photo District News, the venerable photo trade magazine, published an article in the January issue titled “Digital Confusion” about apparent difficulty photographers are having deciding what to charge for post-processing their files before delivery to the client. (no link to the article; it’s not online)

The main idea was that there are a lot of different ways (and amounts) to charge for post-shoot digital services, and nobody seems to agree which is best.

Editorial photographer and workflow consultant Seth Resnick says that “photographers doing post-processing should not charge by the hour, but rather should document the numbers of layers or steps they used.” That sounds like the “baffle them with bullshit” technique to me.

According to the article, some photographers are hiding their (much higher for digital) overhead costs in a Digital Processing line item. That ain’t right.

National Geographic Traveler has instituted a $100 per diem allowance for digital processing. That seems pretty fair.

I thought the article was a bit of a tempest in a teapot, so I wrote a Letter to the Editor and they published it in the April issue. Please do comment.

Old Delivery product: Slide film ready to be scanned, retouched, separated.

Old Fees:

Film: $7/roll

Processing: $8.50

Standard markup of 20% : $3.10

Courier fees: $20-30

Total cost: $38.60-48.60/ Round up to $40-$50 per roll of “expendables cost”

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New Delivery product: Digital files ready to be retouched, separated.

Time spent per “roll”: 15 minutes maximum

Fee: $20 to $50 per “roll”, depending on market, inflation, etc.

Because of efficiencies offered by Bridge/Lightroom/Camera RAW settings-synchronization, each lighting setup (studio shoots and controlled-lighting location shoots) can be treated as 1 “roll” of film. It generally takes between five and ten minutes to optimize one frame from a given setup, and then a couple of clicks to apply those settings to the rest of the files in shot under the same conditions. Processing-to-TIFF and capture sharpening can likewise be automated.

So, each “roll” shouldn’t cost more than it did under the old film rules.

The extra overhead that is due to digital technology initial costs and upgrades should be reflected in your day rate, which is where overhead has traditionally been paid for.

Your goal as a photographer is to provide the client with a digital file that is of the same quality as the chrome you used to deliver. Anything more than that should be billed separately. If you’re a retoucher as well, then bid that as a separate thing. Don’t give away things you can bill for or you’ll go broke.

The idea that you should provide a detailed history of the edits you perform is, with all due respect to Seth Resnick, preposterous. Your clients don’t care. They wouldn’t understand the information, they don’t want to understand, and you don’t want them to. They want a clean, properly-balanced file. If you can’t provide that in ten minutes or less, you should have someone else process your shots. (I know they don’t care, because I called a bunch of them and asked. They all laughed at the suggestion.)

Which brings me to the question of how to justify a digital assistant. Well, you can justify them the same way you used to justify your lab fees; you never handed over unprocessed film before, so why should you hand over unprocessed files? (If you have a digital assistant, don’t bill separately for “processing”)

I don’t really think that this issue is as complicated as the article made it out to be. A teeny bit of client education may be necessary, but since we have to do some education for most jobs, rolling this info into the mix isn’t a particular hardship. If they like your work and your pricing is fair, they won’t grumble.