Business Trends
Develop Photographer, Client Digital Relationships

Recognize that making images is a complicated and evolving process, whether it's via the digital or traditional route. "Going digital" from your perspective is no longer an issue or even a simple choice of just digital capture or just digital manipulation. From the client's perspective it is not about just hiring someone with a lot of expensive equipment and using the newest techniques. It is about where and how you, as an image-maker, will enter into a process that, quite simply, has become digitized.

When do you step in? Do you take on the added services of production, or remain a photographer who just captures the image? The good news is there are opportunities throughout the entire process. It often depends on the client. High-end clients with an internal production department will want to do more of their own work and have more control over the image process. A client with less knowledge or less internal capabilities will want more of your digital production assistance. Many of these additional services will be potential "line items" on a photography invoice (e.g., digital capture, enhancing, manipulation, Internet proofing) so you have additional pricing issues with which to deal.

Successful evolution and change may not be about the equipment or the process. It may revolve more around issues of education and communication. Sam Merrell, principal of Synthetic Imaging (www.merrell.com), says, "This change is a meeting of the minds and is driven by both sides. When the client is very technical, they will drive the photographer to go digital. When the photographer is very technical, they will go to the client and make the point of benefits of technological change.

"Digital has introduced change into the process of buying and selling images. These changes require new communications paths between image provider and image buyer. Clients need to be savvy about what kind of RGB file they are getting and the photographer needs to get more informed and involved in printer equipment specs. The human factor is the crucial element. The image-maker needs to learn how to use the equipment and understand the kind of image needed and the image user needs to learn how to use an RGB file properly and how to store and retrieve images.

"Photography has not really changed. What has changed is how you do all the above. Clients will save money in the long run if they analyze their needs and the process to satisfy those needs."

Some of the biggest changes clients have to face in the process of evaluating digital technology include: quality control, color management, speed, flexibility, and possibly lower costs. Two big questions must be answered before your client can seriously consider digital technology. The first is, who will be responsible for what aspects? This is a communication issue, but you can help your clients by detailing these aspects before you start a project. Second, what additional services beyond that of making the image will the client need (e.g., instead of transparencies, digital files that require no scanning)? This will definitely be a project management and a pricing issue.

Merrell comments, "In photography, film and chemistry is mature and a well--understood technology, both on the buyer's and seller's sides. In digital imaging, everything is changing and fluid and the chance of miscommunication, errors, and mistakes are greater than with traditional photography. Color management is a great example. Right now, there is an industry-wide initiative to develop a set of standards of how photographers deliver files based on a whole range of conventions or recommendations. Considerations include: file naming, file creator information, file formats, resolution and image size, colorspace issues (which RGB, CMYK, etc.), preflighting, transportable media, archival responsibilities, and copyright issues."

Some of the biggest problems your clients face when they consider digital technology include mistaken assumptions, inappropriate applications of high-end digital capture, not letting the imaging platform suit the image situation, and not discussing critical issues of resolution, color management, and delivery media. Help your clients hire you (instead of your competition) by emphasizing the fact that you appreciate the communications and project management issues of their digital needs. Make certain your workflow experience in digital projects complements their own. Managing an annual report is not the same as the overnight printing of a brochure! Make sure they know you have the infrastructure to support the technology required. Explain your understanding of the process from capture to printing and the potential glitches in image-making.

A smart client will hire a photographer for digital services who has good working relationships with all people involved in the process, and a high level of confidence in on-time delivery of the creative and technical aspects of the process.

Merrell concludes, "Photographers and clients should be sensitive to each other's digital literacy. A digitally savvy client might not have much patience for a photographer who's just cutting his or her digital teeth--and similarly, the digitally savvy shooter is going to have to help 'bring along' his non-digitally literate clients. It's an issue of communications and human relations--and digital hasn't changed that."

My thanks to Sam Merrell for his great assistance with this article. He has worked in and around digital photography for over 22 years as a researcher, photographer, teacher, writer, and editor, and most recently as a consultant. Currently Merrell is involved with a dot.com stock photography start up (Solus Images) and together with Andrew Rodney is a co-producer of the PhotoPlus Digital Learning Center.

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