Special Occasion Photography: Printed Photos or Digital Images?


My son had the traditional senior pictures taken a few weeks ago. Last night we had an appointment with the photographer to view the proofs and to decide what we wished to order. I don’t know what the average person spends on senior pictures these days, but looking at the photographers price list I had prepared myself for how much we would have to spend to get what we had envisioned for remembering his high school days. What I wasn’t prepared for was another option that could be a complete game changer.

My wife, son and I were going through the proofs, having a hard time choosing what images we wanted to keep. The photographer took around 100 pictures, but ultimately we would only be using a handful. Our initial thoughts on what we would be ordering looked like this:

  • 3 8×10 pictures: $75
  • Bragbook (30 pictures spiralbound): $75
  • 112 wallets (2 poses): $120
  • Heirloom book (20 poses) : $300

Total cost: $570

As the three of us discussed which proofs were in, and which were out, my wife pointed at a different option on the photographers price list and asked, “Why don’t we just do that?” Following the tip of her finger, I read the line that said we could purchase all the digital images for $499. Doing some quick research I calculated the cost of getting the same products using a local printing service, and an online photobook service called Shutterfly that a family member of ours has used many times with great results

  • Digital Images: $499
  • 3 8×10 pictures : $8.52
  • Bragbook : $10 (estimate for the cost of an album as the photographer gifted us all the proofs)
  • 112 wallets : $30.24
  • 20 Page Photo Book (Using Shutterfly plus a 50% off code) : $25

Total Cost: $572.76

The cost of the two directions comes out almost identical. However, the purchasing of the digital images comes with several advantages:

  1. We wouldn’t have to print 112 wallets at once. We could print batches at a time as needed. We can also select more than 2 poses. This could reduce the amount of unused pictures as well as bring our cost down.
  2. If we wanted more keep sake pictures (8×10 or 5×7), we have can print them inexpensively
  3. The Bragbook contains ALL his pictures, not just 30 that we had to select
  4. By using Shutterfly we have more options as to the look of the photobook, and can add additional pages (for an extra fee) if wanted
  5. If we wanted to do additional things with his senior pictures in the future, OR if the printed copies got lost or damaged, we can easily and inexpensively reprint them.

After doing the analysis, it was clear that buying the digital images was the way to go. It may be a little less convenient, but the flexibility, control and future potential of having the images in our possession makes it a no-brainer.

Have you ever considered just buying the digital images for a momentous occasion and printing the pictures yourself?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

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Brock Kernin


  • Yes, I have – however, as a amateur photographer I know that the attention to color, paper quality and finish is as important as the image itself. If you’re going to use Shutterfly (and I use them myself for certain shots), try to get the higher quality paper, don’t let them “color correct” (assuming your photographer has the colors set properly in the digital images you buy), and watch your finish – get matte where you need matte, and glossy where you need glossy. For those 8x10s I’d recommend a matte finish. Better yet, order at least the 8x10s from – they are the consumer arm of the pro print shop Millers.

  • We almost always choose the digital copy CD/DVD option when it’s available. Not only do we have access to all the pictures forever, but we aren’t forced into choosing a “lesser of two evils option” that the photographer is offering.

    I think some people think it’s a huge hassle to “print your own”, but as you mentioned there are lots of online options these days that are cheap and easy.

    Thanks for sharing!

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