Photography Business Tips | Should You Sell Photos on a CD?

October 20, 2011

in Photography Business Tips, Photography Tutorials

Photography Business Tips - I Heart Faces

Among professionals with photography businesses, the debate on whether or not to sell digital files is a lively one.  In today’s business tips, we take a look at the pros and cons of offering an image CD to your clients.

Photography Tip – To CD or not to CD?

If you are looking for the most debated topic amongst photographers out there right now, look no further than the simple question “Do you sell Image CDs?”

I do. And I am a pretty firm believer in doing so for many reasons, but I also see both sides of the debate. If you are on the fence, let’s work through some of the positive and negative outcomes of selling Image CDs.

To Sell:

  1. Photography is a business.
    Image CDs are what people want. Period. We live in an age of sharing. Can you honestly get through the day on Facebook without seeing at least a dozen pictures of your ‘friends’ kids? And we are talking the cell phone blurry kind. Present these folks with gorgeous custom images and they will want the world to see. There are a lot of photographers selling CDs so unless you are prepared to potentially lose business to another photographer because they are selling the CD of images, that is fine. I am not condoning bending to every customer’s whim (some people want selective color, and I don’t go near it) but if someone VALUES and is willing to pay a PREMIUM for my work, so be it. Which leads me to…
  2. Low COG = high profit.
    No matter how you approach this, be it pricing it out of the gate at a premium or requiring a certain minimum order amount before being able to purchase digital files, this control lies in your hands. I approach the sale of my CDs by assuming this may be the only thing my client will purchase. I know where my happy place is in terms of what I want and need to make each session. So I price my CD accordingly. If you give away a CD for $50 the message is pretty clear. You just valued your work and time per session at about .5 cents an hour. And aside from a custom CD case (which I strongly recommend and talk about later) your out-of-pocket for the COG (cost of goods) is low.
  3. Minimal work required = more time to book sessions and more time with your family.
    Minimal work meaning, once a session is edited, you’ve already done the work required to sell a CD. Order the cover, burn the CD and that’s it!  Time is money, especially when you are super busy and want to turn sessions over quickly. Time is also valuable to your life outside of photography.

I Heart Faces CD Tutorial

Or Not to Sell:

  1. One of the strongest arguments against selling digital files is the idea that the clients will print at less than desirable places and that will reflect back on reputation. You are 100% right. Which is why if you do sell CDs you absolutely have to educate your client. Go into each session with the same picture printed from 4 different places including the consumer lab you recommend. Seeing is not only believing, it’s UNDERSTANDING. You show someone a washed out, color cast picture next to a perfect one and they will get it. Then if they do purchase the CD, they will be reminded on the CD label once again where I recommend they print outside of my professional printing services. Will they still take the CD and head over to CVS? Maybe. But I feel I’ve educated them enough and reminded them enough to think twice about it.
  2. Clients will alter your images.
    This is a tough one. They might! They may go ahead and crop or turn color images into B&W. There really is no way to prevent it other than letting them know they will be in direct violation of copyright law. However, I will go back to my earlier comment that if you charge a premium for the images, those buying them and investing in the product probably won’t mess with the perfect images you already presented to them.
  3. You will lose money because people will just buy the CD and not prints.
    First, put a size limit on them and size them accordingly. For me, it’s 8×10 max print size. If they attempt to print higher, the resolution will be compromised and the images will look less than desirable. Secondly, price accordingly (you heard that before!). Third, show them how amazing the images will look larger than 8×10 via Gallery Blocks and/or Canvas. When someone purchases an Image CD it should be so they could run off prints for their photo album, give a few to Grandma and Grandpa and have a keepsake of their session. What a CD does NOT supply is a beautiful 16×24 piece of art hanging on their wall.

I Heart Faces CD Tutorial
One final note if you do decide to offer Image CDs: If you are selling them at a premium, a jewel case just won’t cut it. WHCC, Miller’s etc. all offer custom keepsake CD cases. If you offer a premium product, you best follow through with a premium case and some thought out packaging.

With the right education (printing recommendations), stipulations (print no bigger than 8×10) and cost (price at a premium), I’m sold on selling them.

There really is no right/wrong answer. The best answer lies in what your own personal business goals and objectives are and what makes you feel most comfortable as a photographer.

Natural Light Lifestyle PhotographerJennifer Tonetti-Spellman, owner of JellyBean Pictures is a die-hard, natural light, lifestyle photographer in New York who loves to search for the light. Like her on Facebook and follow her blog to continue being inspired by her beautiful work!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah October 7, 2016

So what do you charge? And how do you make the images 8×10 max? Thank you!


Jane July 10, 2015

This was really great advice. I especially liked your idea of showing clients the 4 different prints. I really love using CDs for clients. USBs are becoming trendy but they cost more and are less customizable. I get all of my CDs custom designed and burned for me through It’s just so much easier, despite the possibility of my clients poorly printing my work. Oh well!


Casey February 21, 2015

Could you help me with figuring out how much to charge per session! I want to so Newborns, Maternity, Engagement, Senior Portraits, and Family pictures! Thanks! 🙂


Brittany March 14, 2014

Hey! I sale CDs with my photography business. The pictures look great on the computer but when I go to print the color is off and not like how I edited. I was wondering if you knew anything that I may or may not be doing?


Dino August 14, 2015

It sounds like you may need to calibrate your monitors. You may be editing them to look good but that “look good” is actually just the way your screen is producing it. And when you print it is printing the actual colors which are off.


Jen-Sem November 14, 2013

Could you please give me some advice about setting prices for digital images? I’m just not sure how much is appropriate.


Lacey September 29, 2013


Im just starting out myself, with my own Photography business. and I am very nervous!!! I was wondering if you could tell me exactly how I should go about pricing my work/time and how I sell my pictures online to them, rather than going through the whole CD uploading mess and such… I am very low income right now, and am trying to use my Talents, to go far.. but Im literally starting out from scratch!!! I don’t have my own lab, or dark room
or any of that!! is it even possible for me, to succeed at this right now?!? lol ugh

please email me



nitacha August 20, 2013

I was ask to put my photo on a cd cover they offered me $50 plus a bonus on the back end . I want to know is that a fair amount?


Mason August 6, 2013

It baffles me that so many of the photographers commenting here agonize over what customers do with pictures of themselves after you take the pictures. Customers come to you for your expertise in shooting the photo, and maybe retouching it. You should sell your time, not the images or prints. Whatever it is your time is worth, I would love to find a photographer in my area that simply offered a 30-60 minutes session for the cost of their labor for that time, then handed me a CD at the end of all of the photos taken during that session (with no laborious restrictions). My family uses photos on our home computer, on our iPads, on Facebook, in digital frames, etc. we simply have no use for paper. At the end of every photo session, I always feel like I am trying to explain to the photographer how I plan to use the photos in my life, and the photographer is trying to shoehorn me into a very limited set of paper options. If this were 1950 that might make sense, but this is not how people use photos today. Give people a CD, charge a fair amount for your time, and rest easy. That’s not to say there isn’t room for a high and low end market. Maybe a new photographer is only worth $10-20/hour and someone experienced may be able to fetch even $1,000/hour. That’s fine. I am very willing to pay for the level of expertise I need/want, but the point is you sell that expertise, not the paper your buy or access to a photo printer. Know your business, and what customers value from you. And by the way, even at $50 per half hour session, you could make $100/hour which is $200k/year working a normal schedule with no costs other than a $0.05 CD per session (and your upfront costs in camera/lighting/scenery/etc.). I also think the CD labels are not needed. I copy the files from a CD to my computer and throw the CD away or throw it in a drawer as a backup. I want it the minute I leave the session and don’t want to have to revisit your office later to pick up a nicely labeled one. That just wastes my time and delays me enjoying the pictures.


Elissa July 22, 2013

Hi everyone,
How do you put a 8×10 size limit on photos? Thanks!


Jennifer November 14, 2012

There’s a story about a high end photographer (I’m talking $20,000 weddings) who went to a client’s home for a party. This person happen to pass the study/office at some point in their visit and noticed a horrible 20×30 print that she had taken but was not ordered from her. At that moment, she realized they had made a copy from an 8×10 print she had given to them as complimentary as a thank you for their business relationship. POINT? People don’t care; high end or not If they’re not willing to pay our prices, for quality prints nothing you say to them or offer them will changes their minds. Can you imagine this happening to you as a photographer? I can’t. Either sell them their images, or don’t. But I don’t believe in going half way. Just my thoughts.


Denise June 14, 2013

I agree with Jennifer. I sell my digital images online and they get them in a zip file. I sell them for 399. for newborn session. I never give out c.d.’s because the files are compromised and get even more compromised when they get downloaded again and again. I sell them full res because they will blow it up to whatever size they want anyway. I like the idea of having hard copies from different places to show the customer though.


Kimberly January 9, 2012

I have a couple of questions regarding this subject:

1. Weddings – how much would you charge for 250-350 images on CD?
2. What resolution do I save them at to only print an 8×10 clearly? I’m using CS5 and save as a .jpeg.
3. Can you point me in the right direction of a clear copyright description that I can add to my CD label like you have above?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Leyla January 6, 2012

Question is: How much do you charge for a CD of 20-30 edited images? Please email me or Facebook me!


PhotographyTalk November 8, 2011

These are good tips and really deserve the attention of anyone who is taking their photography business seriously. Another tip, if you decide not to offer the cd’s for sale is to offer to only put digital images online for sharing (website, facebook etc.) if the client purchases a certain size (as a way of protecting your time). The bottom line is that everyone wants to share them online – so if you require purchase of a 16 x 20 to do that, you’ll increase sales.


Mitch Labuda October 27, 2011

I don’t shoot weddings, but, see a great deal of DVD’s and CD’s in my day job in many stores with copy right release in hand and making prints.

In the old days, people had to go the photographer or studio for quality prints.

Fast forward a decade and anyone can get a great print made, practically any where.


Andrea October 25, 2011

Would you mind telling me what should I say (print) on the CD’s about Copyrights, Printing or any additional information?
Sorry to bother you.


Jeanne October 25, 2011

Just a point of view from a customer. Recently I had my daughter’s wedding and the awsome photographer sold the CD. It was wonderful for us as I could have all the beautiful pictures of the wedding, and not have to buy just a few and never see the other one. Just the fact that I can have them going on my digital screen is wonderful. How many can you put on the wall??? I have one or two but that’s it. All that hard work you do for just may be 50 pictures sold, when you worked crazy to take and edit so many perfect artistic pictures and we cannot see them and/ or cannot afford the price to buy them all? I tell you my daughter’s photographer doesn’t have enough hours in a day to do photo sessions because so many people saw her work everywhere display in many houses, internet etc. So she makes her money in the photo sessions. Also if I used a cheaper place to have my photo develop I don’t fault the photographer’s work as I can see the actual beautiful pictures on my computer screen and I can see the difference if the quality is not there, nothing to blame the work of the photographer. I sure appreciate to see and owne all the pictures taken at the wedding. I don’t judge anyone of you but just tell you how wonderful it is to owne so many of the art work when the photographer sell the CD, and also with the CD we can really see your talent and promote it instead of just having just one hanging on the wall.


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