Let’s talk IPS vs. digital sales methods for photography…advantages, disadvantages and which makes the most sense for YOUR business!

IPS vs. digital photography is one of those subjects that really shouldn’t be controversial. Let each business owner figure out what’s best for him or her and move on, right?

Except it IS controversial. Each side thinks their way is the best way and what’s best for the industry. IPS (In Person Sales) photographers feel giving away so many digitals makes each image, and thus the industry itself, less valuable. Digital sales photographers believe they are giving what clients want embracing the societal shift away from prints.

Who is right when it comes to IPS vs. digital Sales?

Neither. Or maybe both. Because there are clients out their who want both. And I think it’s awesome that there are photographers who can serve each type of client. What does matter is that when it comes to how you structure your sessions, pricing and image delivery, you need to make the best decision for YOUR business.

In this tutorial, we’ll talk IPS vs. digital photography sales….what those terms mean, the advantages and disadvantages of each and some hybrid techniques you might want to consider. That way you can make an informed decision that fits your personal philosophy, your lifestyle, your clientele, you business style and your goals.

You Do You.

I’ll be blunt. No matter which business model you follow, at some point in time, you will get pushback from other photographers about it. They’ll say your business model is wrong, you are ruining the industry and that you’ll never make any money doing it that way, that you don’t understand what customers want, that it takes too much time.

As my Wyoming born-and-bred father used to say…

That’s a bunch of hogwash.

The truth is, there are successful photographers out there using both methods. I know ladies KILLING it doing in-person sales. And I know dudes who are positively crushing it selling only digitals. And there are lots of us somewhere in the middle running successful businesses and loving life. In other words,

My best advice on IPS vs. digital? Decide what’s best for you. Then ignore the haters. And recognize that what works best for you might not work best for another photographer and don’t become a hater. Friends, there’s enough ugliness in this world without photographers shaming each other online.

ips photography business model

What is IPS in photography?

IPS is short for in-person sales. This photography business model is centered around selling tangible prints and products to clients. It’s called in-person sales because most photographers using this model schedule an in-person meeting when the images are ready to view. The photographer and client then sit down together to review the images, and the client places an order for prints and products in person. This is how most photographers worked before the boom of digital cameras.

IPS photographers typically have a lower session fee, choosing to earn their money through the sale of prints and products during the sales consultation.

IPS photographers are selling products. They view their work as art, worthy of commanding a premium product.

Here’s a brief, generic overview of a client IPS experience.

I charge my lifestyle newborn clients $200 as a session fee. This fee is only for the session itself, no digital images or prints included. After the session, when the images are ready, I invite my clients, a newlywed couple, to come to the studio to view their images.

We sit down and view their gallery. I might reveal their gallery as a slide show set to music. Or I might reveal their gallery as a pre-printed photo album they can eventually purchase. I could also have beautiful prints ready for them to see and purchase.

I present them with options of products like canvas, metals or fine-art prints, so that they can see the product and hold it in their hand. We discuss the heirloom quality of the products and how they are built to stand the test of time. I might present them with a sample album or show them how a wall art piece of their image would like using software like Fundy.com.

The client reviews all the products and places an order. I place the order for the respective products through my preferred vendor. The products are delivered to my studio. I then package them together with my branding and deliver the final result to the client with a personalized thank you.

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The advantages of IPS vs. digital Sales

  • The opportunity for a larger profit margin per session. You are earning money from the sale or products in addition to your session fee.
  • Fewer clients and sessions to manage.
  • Ensures clients receive only the highest quality products.
  • You control where and how your work is printed.
  • A highly personalized experience for clients and more opportunities for touch-points between client and photographer.
  • You handle and edit fewer images because you are showcasing your absolute best work.
  • Clients can’t ever “steal” your images through a screenshot, etc., because you tightly control their access to those images.
  • You control how the images are initially viewed, ensuring complete color accuracy.

The disadvantages of IPS

  • More time-intensive per client.
  • It requires an in-person sales meeting and you must advocate for your products. This can feel pushy or overbearing or high pressure for some photographers and clients alike. (I’m not saying that’s the reality of IPS…simply that it’s a preconception that can make some photographers and clients uncomfortable.)
  • IPS requires additional investment in-studio samples and specialized apps or services to demonstrate how products will look when purchased.
  • Requires a clientele that values printed products and will pay a premium for premium products.
  • There is some risk that clients complete the session and never purchase images.
  • If handled poorly, IPS can cause clients sticker shock at their order session, leaving them feeling misled and tricked.
  • Requires a high level of preparation, knowledge and confidence on the part of the photographer to conduct the IPS session.
  • Clients may feel as if you are “holding out on them” because they only see a small number of the final images you’ve taken.
  • Clients may feel guilt or shame because they can’t afford the prices of your premium products and only place a small order with you.
  • And finally, an IPS photography business model may mean less social media sharing which can affect word of mouth marketing.

IPS tends to work really best for portrait and wedding photographers.

Click here for one photographer’s IPS vs. digital story!

digital sales photography business model

Digital sales photography

Next, let’s discuss a digital sales photography business model. I’ve heard photographers who use a digital sales business model described as “shoot and burn” or “shoot and share” photographers.

To begin, don’t confuse digital sales photography as I’m using the term here with shooting on speculation. I’m using digital sales photography to mean a photographer who is shooting for a pre-determined client and is being paid for the session. Shooting on speculation (attending an event, shooting images and trying to sell them in an online gallery afterward) is something entirely different.

In a digital sales model, the photographer generally charges a higher session fee and includes either a limited number of digitals or all the digitals as part of that fee. Images are usually revealed through an online gallery like Shootproof and clients choose their favorites from the comfort of their own home. Through their gallery, clients can purchase prints and products from a professional lab. But they can also download the file and purchase products through their own preferred vendor.

Digital sales photographers earn most of their fees upfront through the session fee. They focus their business on selling photography as a service, not as art.

Here’s a brief, generic overview of a digital sales client experience.

I charge my clients a $500 fee for their photography session and a limited number of digitals for her to pick from her gallery. We have the session, I edit all the best images from our time together and place them in an online gallery in Shootproof. I send my client a message saying the gallery is ready. When she logs into the gallery, she sees a welcome video from me telling her how to navigate the gallery and select her images. She can also watch a slideshow of her images set to music I’ve curated specifically for her. She views the images from her own location and device and spends a few days deciding which images she really loves.

Customer service doesn’t have to end there.

About 24 hours after delivering the gallery, I call to touch base with my client and answer any questions she has about the gallery or her options for the products.

We talk about her favorite images. I make some suggestions about specific products for specific images. “The image of Maggie and her dog under the tree would look absolutely lovely as a showcase canvas for above your fireplace,” I tell her. Or “It sounds like you’re having a hard time narrowing down your choices. What about creating a photo album that includes all your images? I’m happy to put that together for you. I’ll send you a sample album to show you what that might look like.”

My client selects the digital images she loves the most from her session, downloads them and shares them online. She makes small prints through her own vendor to share with family and friends. She also orders several big, premium wall pieces from me based on my recommendations. I place her order with my lab and request their boutique packaging. Finally, after her order is complete, I send her a personalized thank you with several small gift prints and a gift card to our local soda shop.

Advantages of digital sales vs. IPS

  • Less time spent per client.
  • Clients receive the products they really want…digital images they can share immediately with family and friends.
  • Clients can choose their own vendors for prints and products.
  • More “word-of-mouth” marketing because clients can easily share their images online.
  • No perceived “high-pressure sales sessions” for the client or photographer.
  • Fewer touchpoints you need to manage between you and the client.
  • Clients are satisfied they have a truly representative sample of the work you’ve done for them because they can see all the best digitals.
  • After-sales investment is limited to your gallery delivery method.
  • Allow multiple parties to view and order images simultaneously, taking that responsibility off your client.
  • Ideal for clients that want images for social media or web-based use.

Disadvantages of digital image sales

  • Few opportunities for profit after the session.
  • Lower per-client profit margin.
  • Clients may steal your work through screenshots, right-clicking and cropping out your watermark, etc.
  • Lower per client sales can require more total clients to reach your overall income goals. As a result of taking on more sessions, you might feel overwhelmed or “burn out” on photography quicker.
  • Digital ordering can be confusing for some clients.
  • Clients don’t have your one-on-one guidance for selecting the right image for the right product, grouping products or selecting wall-art.
  • Clients put off selecting favorites or ordering prints and their images stay as digital images.
  • Less control over how your work is viewed (client’s monitor is probably not calibrated) and printed (just say no to Walgreen’s prints!).
  • And finally, an online gallery hands-off approach means fewer opportunities for face-to-face touchpoints between you and your clients means less opportunity to get to know them.

A digital sales based model can also work for portrait and wedding photographers. It also works great for events, sports, personal branding and commercial photographers.

Speaking of watermarks…read our tutorial on the pros and cons of watermarking your images!

IPS vs. digital sales… It doesn’t have to be one or the other

As I said before, there are photographers following both business models with wildly successful businesses. It’s a matter of finding what YOU are most comfortable with and works for you, your business and your current life situation.

But here’s the best news…you don’t have to pick simply one or the other. It’s easy to incorporate a bit of IPS into your digital-based sales and IPS photographers can offer digital packages. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

For example, if you want to focus on IPS but still deliver digital images, you can absolutely do that.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Include a social-media sized digital image for every image purchased as a physical product.
  • Offer packages that contain social-media sized images.
  • Offer digital images for purchase as an ala carte menu.
  • Provide clients social-media sized images as a thank you after their purchase.

Likewise, digital-based photographers can still provide great customer service, “upsell” and get prints into the hands of their clients.

Here are some ideas:

  • Offer session packages that include both digitals and prints. A session might include 5 digital images and a print package that includes a print collection of a 16×20 canvas, 4 8×10 prints, and an accordion gift album.
  • Deliver digital files through a platform connected to a professional printer where you make a commission on all future sales. For example, I deliver my volume photography digitals and action sports through the CaptureLife mobile app. The customer orders prints through Richmond Pro Lab at costs equal to or less than what they would pay a drugstore lab. They get professional prints and I get a commission on immediate AND all future orders of those images through CaptureLife.
  • Offer a print credit with your session fee that clients can use to purchase tangible goods. You can charge a premium fee for your sessions because they are receiving something on the back-end of your session and they are more likely to get their images printed!

Here’s some even better news in the IPS vs. digital battle…

You aren’t stuck with this business model for life. If you try one method and it just doesn’t work for you, CHANGE! It’s your business, make it work for you! It doesn’t have to be IPS vs. digital. I can easily be IPS then digital sales or digital sales then IPS.

That’s not to say changing from one to the other will be simple. It will require some work and reeducation of your clients. And you might lose clients as you price your work differently. But with time and effort, you can move to a business model that works better for you.

The truth is, there’s room in this industry for both business models because there are clients that want both models. And either method can provide a quality product and outstanding service. So when it comes to IPS vs. digital sales, do what’s right for your personality, clients and bottom line.