The ethical dilemma of shooting & burning
Providing digital files is an easy way to dump the task of printing on to families
As a frivolous teen, I wasted two years studying undergrad electrical engineering.
I put myself through college as an archival framer.
I started digitizing my family’s photographic history in 1998 – and have lost hundreds of memories because of it.
So with all the knowledge this experience has provided, I speak the truth when I say:
Digital files corrupt – in more ways than one
We have the fun, families take the drudgery
Delivering a disc packed with digital files is profitable and convenient for photographers. Off-loading the work of printing cuts our workflow by over half. It lets us off the hook with no responsibility to format, calibrate, and replace bad prints. We have all the fun shooting and none of the dreaded post-processing work.
Still, I advise families to print the images we create – before it’s too late.
As an artist, I create what I wish I could have as a client
I wish, when I chose to buy digital files from my wedding in 2007, I had known how much work I was getting into.
I was a trained film photographer, 25 years old, with plenty of free time and only cats to care for. After funding an entire wedding, I thought digitals were the cheap choice – so I chose to DIY-it.
I had no idea how expensive and time consuming investing in digitals would turn out to be.
The beautiful work of our amazing photographer ended up buried. I might as well have not had the wedding photographed at all.
I was the unwitting toddler tossing cocoa puffs into the cart when I really needed broccoli. I wish someone had educated me about my options.
Years passed, and I meat to do something with our photos. Every time I got started, life got in the way.
My cat got sick and our time and energy went into his medical care. (Don’t judge! He was my best friend.) Then I lost my job. Then we bought a house. Then we started infertility treatments. Then my partner lost his job. Then I changed careers. Then we had some babies.
Life never paused long enough for me to get to that someday project.
Nine years later, those gorgeous images still languish on my hard drive.
Photography was half the budget of my wedding. I spent 21 times more on a photographer than I did on my dress and wedding ring combined.
Since our wedding, I’ve seen my images three times. They are never available to flip through when friends ask to see them. They are a burden.
I spent over four thousand dollars for the privilege of backing up a pile of files every few months. I’ve spent hundreds on external backup drives and cloud storage.
All that money, just for the icky feeling that I’m still not done with that ‘someday’ project.
Families deserve more respect than toddlers in the cereal aisle – they have a right to full disclosure and education
Photographers treat families who ask for digitals like toddlers about to have a tantrum.
Some of us try rational discourse, growing more exhausted with each request, like a parent refusing endless pleads for Fruity Pebbles.
Some of us take a hard stance, creating print-only ‘for your own damn good’ policies, eliminating a client’s agency and right to choose.
Some of us just give up and throw the sugary digital junk in the cart.
The families I work with are not grouchy toddlers. My families are well-educated people with unique needs and busy schedules.
They deserve guidance in choosing between DIY projects and full-service products – to learn the benefits, pitfalls, and ultimate costs.
The hidden cost of a great deal
A shoot & burn photographer is more concerned with moving on to the next client than making sure your images are safe, your investment is sound, and your images are enjoyed to the fullest.
Digital file discs don’t come with a degree in archival materials, color calibration, and maintaining digital media. No one would have time to read it.
There are well-intentioned, respectable photographers who shoot & burn. They are not trying to harm anyone, they are just trying to stay in business and tired of arguing.
I’m tired of arguing against the risks of digitals. My conscience, however – isn’t.
Families shouldn’t have to accept images that are only half-done.
To accept a digital file as the final product is to accept hundreds of dollars of backup, printing and framing costs, days of time-consuming work, unfortunate surprises, and that icky feeling of obligation that comes from a ‘someday’ project.
“Sometimes people keep a mass of photos in a big box with the intention of enjoying them someday in their old age. I can tell you now that ‘someday’ never comes. I can’t count how many boxes of unsorted photographs I have seen that were left by someone who has passed away.”
Maybe I’ll do something with my wedding images someday – when my kids are in school and my work schedule is less hectic.
Maybe I’ll sort the 12,336 images of our family sitting on my hard drive some day – when I’m not too busy backing them up.
Maybe I’ll take a month to take care of these personal someday projects – after I’ve created a comprehensive, easy-to-follow guide for families to cull, print, and preserve their own digital files so I can sell them with a clear conscience.
Or maybe someday will never come.