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There are a lot of industries that will be going by the wayside in the next 10 years because of technology.

Professional photography studios is one of them. Or at least, studios that charge you for each picture and retain the copyright to the picture in perpetuity.

We recently had our annual family portraits done at JC Penney, like every year. But this year will be our last year there. These places will be out of business in no time. Why? Because they think that because they took the picture, they own the copyright and can charge you a premium for each picture.

Do they have ANY clue as to how annoying that is to the customer? I tried to go to Walmart and use their scanner to scan one of the pictures so I could get it in electronic format to use for posting on one of my websites. They said they couldn’t do it because I didn’t own the copyright. This is absolutely incredulous.

This “hostage taking” way of doing business could be done without impunity because the photographer traditionally, through alliances with developers, owned the system by which people received their photographs and made such a big deal of the whole process. Even today, JC Penney takes almost 3 weeks to get you your pictures back. Can you believe that?

So, I want to assist in this industry’s demise as it operates today by sharing with you the idea that will change the face of professional photography as we know it.

If you have a flair for photography, hang a shingle and make a million off this idea. First mover on this will become quite wealthy.

Set up a traditional studio, with all the traditional backdrop gear and trained photographers… etc. But instead of using a camera that uses film requiring “developing”, use high res digital cameras. They are cheap enough and high res enough now a days to be more than sufficient to do the job. Then charge people per hour in the studio and when they are done with the shoot, all the pics that were just taken can be put onto a disk or several disks, depending on how many shots there were, and presented to the customer as they leave. In, out, no “consultation” (fancy term for selling you shots) and they’re done.

In this day and age of digital photography, the two tasks should be completely separate. The picture taking and the developing should be two completely separate operations.

Now, if you want to get a piece of the developing, that’s fine. Include info with the disk that shows them exactly how to get the shots developed and even partner with a developing company like to get a kickback each time a customer of yours uses their service. But don’t hold their pictures hostage as if you hold the golden key. This is so pathetic and hostile to your customer.

You could even have wardrobes for people to put on for the pics so you can facilitate impulse shoppers in a mall setting and charge extra for use of the clothes.

As for tracking the time, you could give them a slip at the door and when they enter the camera room, the slip is punched by a machine that keeps track of time. Then, when they emerge, their ticket is punched again and then you charge them for the total time that was spent in the camera room. I don’t know what that would be as it would depend on your expenses and what you have to make in order to earn a profit. But I can guarantee you’d have much happier customers because they can take their disk home and mull over which shot they want to use for what purpose and then have all kinds of options for printing them using a place like to develop them.

Specialization is the future of services. This has been known for a long time.

So either be a photographer or be a developer. PLLLEEEAAASSSEEE drop the scam of being both. It’s infuriating.

Mark my words, as soon as companies crop up that do what I propose in this post, you’ll see what I call the “hostage taking” studios drop like flies. Sooner the better.

Oh, and if you happen to be in this industry and you’re guilty of holding pictures for ransom, don’t be offended. Consider yourself lucky to have come across someone willing to tell you the truth and show you the way to survival in your own business. 🙂

About The Author


  1. […]

    June 7, 2005

    Portrait Service – Copyright Free

    I’ve written about this before, but it’s come back to me in spades […]

  2. Hostage taking business model

    Business models that depend on hostage taking really irk me.

    Last week, my fiance and I took studio portraits for our wedding later this year. I got a package that contained 2 portraits, a big album, 2 small albums and various other sundries, but…

  3. This is a classic example where an industry is frozen in time, that is, they have not updated the way that they interact with there customers when there are more efficent and streamlined ways to provide a service.

    My thinking is that it is only a matter of time before we see a shift here. One example to point to is the travel industry. In the beginning of the 90’s, if you wanted to travel, you had to call an agent or the airlines. By 2000, the “shift” to the internet was in full swing and those who had not adapted there business were soon to be extinct. Now, in 2005, there are hundreds of web sites to book your travel.

    Digital photography is a “game-changer”. We will see this shift occur soon…even quicker when the masses realize that they can get they same quality of photos and retain the rights to those photos.

  4. The copyright you speak of is for good reason. REAL photographers are producing art. It those copyright laws are retracted, then anyone off the street can steal and use an award winning photo that appeared in say…national geographic. Even gallery art would not be safe from this. It all depends on how musch you value quality and good art. If you want art to drop the the level of mediocrity that most people that pass themselves off as “photographers” produce then enjoy paying for snapshots and not photographs…

    P.S. I think most of your ideas are great and I love how you share them with all of us. So sorry for the tone of this post.

  5. Hi Rudolph,

    I’m not talking about art in that sense. I’m talking about photography of a subject that has paid the photographer to take a picture of them. That’s the only type of photography I’m talking about here. The end result is something that a family wants to hang on their wall…etc. That does not have any intrinsic value as art because it does not appeal to anyone but the subject. When photographers retain the copyright of a picture of ME, that’s highway robbery and shouldn’t be tolerated by a paying public anymore.

    JC Penney’s photographs of my family can in no way be considered “artwork”. It’s some schmo posing me in front of a camera and anyone can be trained to do that job in a weekend. That’s not artwork. That’s task replication and I should own the copyright of the work produced.


  6. Incase your intrested, as a “schom” of lifetouch aka JC Penney, not everyone can do my job, let alone learn it in a weekend. It takes far more patience and understanding then you have, because all you needed to do was contact your studio and ask for a copyright release. As long as it’s not a service that we offer or your sitting was over 90 days, we are more than happy to take care of you. I love my job, I’m a published photographer and adore the families I watch grow year after year. And I do consider my work art and sure hope it doesn’t dispear as you would like because this is my career that supports my three children. Opinions are a wonderful thing, but so is speaking them with kindness. Take care-

  7. I know this is an old piece, but I just came across it. Looks like you predictions were wrong. I work at JCPenney and sold over $500 in portraits today in the span of a few hours. Of course, we have made the switch to digital (anyone not living in cave since 1999 could have predicted that). The previous poster is right, we give out copyright releases for free to customers who want to use the images for t-shirts, mugs, and other items we don’t sell. After 90 days, we’ll release them completely. Our systems only save the data for 90 days, we couldn’t even sell you more prints after that if we wanted to. I love how everyone plans on traditional media dying after a new digital version comes out, though that scenario has never happened. Record stores are still open, book stores are doing well, people are still going to the movies, and even my travel agent is still in business.

  8. Hi Pat,

    My prediction was for 10 years, not 1. 🙂

    When another outfit comes along and charges people by the hour (+$1 per picture printed or something like that) and gives them their prints right after taking them (instead of two weeks later), your business will slowly fade away.

    Newspapers are losing money hand over fist. Why, because people can get their new immediately, all the time, via the internet.

    Same store video store sales are going down. But not nearly as fast as they will when videos become downloadable on a mass basis. Look at the history of the stock of the big video companies and you’ll see the market anticipating this mass migration away from the traditional rental.

    You’ve gotta be kidding me on the record stores comment. Sure, they’re still around, but the traditional record store (not some shelves in a media store, but a real record store) is considered to be a dinosauer.

    You are right about book stores. There is still an element of love with the physical book and browsing the shelves. Our of all your examples, I can give you that one. However, even that has seen it’s hey day.

    If I were looking to get into any business that can be made obsolete my electronic delivery and technological advances, I would build that into the business plan as something I would want to be on the forefront with, going forward.

    Thanks for commenting.

  9. i went there today and the lady who took our photos told us we couldnt even scan them to our computer. what a crock. with all of the photo editing software out there when there little lifetouch is removed from the bottom who is to say i didnt take that photo with my cell phone. jcpennys is a ripoff and ill never be going there again. ill scan my sons photos all i want! i paid good money over 100$ for 9 5X7s, 2 8X10s, 3 collages, and 2 wallet sheets and I even had coupons!

    i could have done the same thing at home after i watched her! and it wouldnt take 2 weeks to get back to me!

  10. If you want to be able to do whatever you wish with your photos, you need to go to a professional photographer that offers you the option to buy the copyright to the photos (in essence if it is done with a traditional camera you would get the negatives). Many wedding photographers offer this after your fifth wedding anniversary. My husband I were able to purchase ours immediately after the wedding and could save $ on gifts and creating our own album. Formal portraits are not the same as doing your own snapshots at home. There is an art to it, and is important for milestones—otherwise why hire a professional? Yes, we will be seeing changes in the industry such as being able to get copyrights for a price, or a shift in the industry where photos are done in more “art like” setting as opposed to traditional portraits, ie. children in fairytale like settings. I am sentimental so I have no problem paying for professional photographs (and I already take nice candids with my photography background). I have utilized JC Penney, and local photography services. Nothing worthwhile is free.

  11. You guys are too funny. Don’t you realize that if photogs drop their price per print, they’ll charge a higher sitting fee? They have to be fairly compensated for use of their studio space, equipment, and expertise. Higher sitting fees are more off-putting than higher print fees, which is why they operate in the manner they presently do. Also – you *can’t* print the same picture at home (or Wal-Mart) that you get from a pro lab. There is a vast quality difference. The prediction that someone will come along and vastly undercut the present price structure of pro photogs with an hourly fee plus $1 per print is laughable. In and industry where many fail or struggle to stay in business, why would someone drop their pirces to the point of no longer being able to maintain a profit. Printing at $1 per print yields minimal profit after subtracting the cost of paper and printing equipment. Now factor in the time spent printing, and it’s not worth the photog’s time. They would have to shoot constantly all day in order to make a living wage. Absurd.

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