Why Digital Files are Junk

It sounds harsh, but bear with me!

Families have come to expect digital files from portrait sessions, and I do provide complimentary shareable web-formatted images with orders for wall presentations and albums. However, downloading digital files should never be the final goal of your portrait session –  enjoying your portraits forever is the goal.

The reasons I am so adamant about educating clients about digital maintenance are not economic – If I was a smart business-person, I would shoot & burn files ONLY. I keep my print prices embarrassingly low because I know the only way to ensure they glow the way they were intended (and ensure they last) is if I spend the hours it takes to format an image using professional techniques. Creating photographs brings me joy. My very top priority is to share that joy, and the only guaranteed way to do that is to provide artwork that my clients can look at every day and pass on for generations.

I honestly believe that the tedious, unexpected work of transferring, formatting, calibrating, ordering, printing, displaying and storing digital images would be an imposition for you, and it would make me feel guilty knowing all of the hidden work you are taking on. There isn’t a family, anywhere, who needs another complicated task list to complete.

You are hiring me because I am an expert in providing custom portraits and can provide a much higher quality photographic product than a bulk studio. By leaving the responsibility and tedium of creating a finished product to me, you can receive the full value of my services as an artist.

Even so – it can be reassuring to own the digital files from your session and I’m happy to provide them, but it’s important that you know the risks and limitations of electronic media, and why I don’t offer only digital files.

Digital Files Will Not Last

Due to the unstable nature of digital storage, digital files can not be archival images. They will not last. Digital files can and will eventually corrupt and are easily lost and deleted, they can not be guaranteed to be available at any point in the future. To protect your memories, I strongly suggest creating hard-copy, printed copies of your files and backing up your digital media in at least three places: on two separate external hard drives located in different buildings and using cloud storage at a third location. Even with diligence, encapsulation and proper maintenance, hardware deterioration will often cause external hard drives to corrupt in about five years, cloud storage companies can and have gone out of business without notice, and regular backups are subject to user and hardware copy errors. I can’t stress this enough so I’ll say it again – Digital files will not last.

We can create digital copies of old prints. We cannot create prints from corrupt digitals.

The only way to guarantee the preservation of your portraits is to print them using stable, archival materials and properly displaying or storing them. Heirloom prints, albums and canvas artwork can be guaranteed to maintain quality on your walls and bookshelves for 100 years under reasonable conditions. From these prints, even after 100 more years of deterioration, a photographer can make a digital copy and edit it to look like new. However, a new print can not be salvaged from a corrupt or lost digital file. For the sake of preserving your memories for your children and grand-children, please make hard-copy archival prints of each image your family holds dear.

Caring for Your Digital Files

After your order session, your digital files are available for screen viewing and sharing, and I’m happy to provide the novelty of owning an electronic copy of your images. Here’s how to care for them once you’ve downloaded them and some information on licensing – what you can (and cannot) do with the files.

Downloading your digital files

Once final polishes have been made, I deliver screen-shareable digital files via Dropbox link for a period of three days in which you can download your files. Digital downloads are not subject to sales tax. If you opt to have your files delivered using a USB key or disc, please be aware that the fact that the images come on a tangible item means they are subject to a 6.025% Massachusetts sales tax.

Backing up your digital files

As mentioned above – back up your files! Cloud storage, external hard drive, make sure you have a mix of at least three backup sources and be aware of their limitations. Cloud storage services sometimes go out of business without notice – taking your data with them. I have stored external hard drives in dust covers with desiccant packets in a climate-controlled dark closet and not touched them for months or years and they still corrupt. Every time you copy or move your files, you will risk copy errors. Be aware of electronic limitations know that digital files require regular maintenance and review to ensure they will still be available next year.

Printing digital files (and why I have such strict policies)

Transforming digital media to a print medium is a technical skill. Each printer within each lab has a slightly different color profile. I use a professional lab which employs the use of archival mediums and professional color calibration experts to ensure that your heirloom prints can be trusted to remain stable and not fade, darken or shift color over time. I use professional hardware to calibrate my monitor monthly to stay in compliance with the labs and equipment I trust.

Because of all this hidden busywork, I can guarantee satisfaction for all items I process and deliver. If we choose to print your digital files using a third party, I cannot guarantee the quality or longevity of your portraits and cannot be held liable for errors or dissatisfaction with the end products. My main priority is for you to enjoy these moents for the rest of your life and pass them down through generations.

I don’t mind if you don’t hire me because you want digitals only – really! But no matter who takes your photographs, please pick a reputable lab who can do justice to the beauty and personality contained in your images

When preparing your images for production – whether they become albums, wall hangings or something else that requires precise margins, the time and effort I take is included in the cost of your product. Because this is a service I offer, I can’t offer to format your digital files to be sent to a third party lab.

 Re-Ordering Lost or Corrupt Files

Lost or corrupted files may be available if I have not yet purged them from my archives, but I do so frequently (so again, please back up your files!) I create multiple backups of all images created during a session and post-processing edits to create a final portrait immediately after a session. However, due to the unstable nature of digital storage, I cannot guarantee that digital files will be available for printing 6 months after your session date. While I will do my best, digital instability, space limitations and cloud storage fees do require that I purge my archives routinely. After your Dropbox download link has been deactivated, your files cannot be guaranteed against loss, corruption, or screen-viewing quality.

Licensing Information

With the purchase of any print product over 8×10″, I provide both a web-resolution file that displays at 1000 pixels on the long edge in .jpg format. Web-formatted files are small and easy to upload and sharpened for screen viewing, but will look terrible printed out.

Licensing is for limited usage for personal-use only. I retain the full copyright to images and the license is a legal permission with restrictions for your use. Receiving a digital file does not imply exclusivity, and the existence of your usage license does not change my rights to distribute or sell the artwork I have created.

The license duration is for 100 years (a time frame that is guaranteed to out-last the file itself) and licensing usage extends to your spouse and descendants (even the ones not born yet).

Personal-use means non-commercial use of the images for display on personal websites and computers. The images may not be used in any way whatsoever in which you charge money, collect fees, or receive any form of remuneration. You may not re-sell, re-license or sub-license the images or use them in advertising.

Web-formatted files are for sharing throughout the web, social media, and any personal space on the internet. To save you time on copyright law attribution, I include a small attribution watermark in the corner that says ‘Ashia Ray Photography.’ You may opt to order your files without a watermark, but will be required to type an attribution on each individual page that the image can be viewed, which can be a hassle, so most clients opt for a watermark.

Need more information or customized licensing? Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or requests for further details or permissions – I want to ensure that you enjoy your portraits, in any medium!