Many photographers who have
made the switch over to digital have survived, and thrived. What are some
of the business advantages? Where are the best markets for digital photography?
What are the pitfalls you can expect? For this topic, we interviewed photographer
Sandy Stroud of Stroud Photography (www.stroudphotography.com)
and Daniel Wilmoth and Mike Sondag of United Color Lab, Inc. (www.unitedcolorlab.com).
Shutterbug: How long have you been focusing on digital
products for photographers?
Mike Sondag: United Color Lab (UCL) was started in 1992
by owner and president, Mr. Daniel Wilmoth. Dan has been in the photo
industry for many years prior to '92. UCL has been in business for
11 years, and started working with digital about three years ago.
SB: How did the consumer portrait photography market
influence the decision to help photographers you work with switch to digital?
MS: Dan has always been on the cutting edge of developments
in the photo industry. He saw the trends of where the consumer portrait
photo industry was heading, and felt it was important and necessary for
the future of his company. Dan has worked cooperatively with Digital Photography
Innovations, Inc. (www.dpilab.com) in helping them develop and refine
OzE, the software we use in our digital imaging operation. This was a
strategic move to preserve the future of UCL and the franchise business
he is a part of called Lil' Angels. Lil' Angels is one of
the most highly successful photography franchises in the country today
with over 100 franchisees now in the US.
SB: Dan, describe your work with Lil' Angels, how
did you get started and why is it so successful?
Dan Wilmoth: I have known for years that daycare was
a great market for the photography of children and portrait sales. The
trick was convincing people around me of it. With United Color Lab growing
as fast as it was, my hands were full and I knew that I needed help. I
talked two of my better customers and my salesperson into giving it a
go. We started Lil' Angels, LLC (www.lilangelsphoto.com)
in June of '96 with the philosophy of empowering people to succeed
for themselves. That has been a key factor in the success of this business.
Since franchising the company in December of '98 we have added a
partner and grown by leaps and bounds. This year we were listed by Entrepreneur
magazine as the number one photography franchise and are expecting to
soon have over 100 franchises.
SB: Mike, specifically what kind of assistance do you
offer a photographer making the transition to digital?
MS: Dan and his UCL staff offer photographers consultation
services on all types and kinds of cameras that may be available in the
digital and film industry. Dan is very good with helping photographers
"ease" into the digital era. He is also very good in helping
customers avoid many of the traps, disappointments, and pitfalls associated
with digital. UCL also has cameras on hand, and often demonstrates them
to customers, and makes suggestions to them on their use and capabilities.
UCL offers training to photographers on the OzE software we use here and
on other applications/software used in the digital industry.
SB: Dan, when you are talking to a photographer considering
digital for the consumer photography market, what are the specific options
and alternatives that film does not offer?
DW: From the retail side of things the most prominent
issue is the vast array of products that photographers can now offer.
Although many of these products are more novelty in nature, they sure
can help sell portraits.
Another major benefit is "control." Many portrait issues can
be fixed that may not have been caught during the shoot like pimples,
glass glare, and that ubiquitous hair flying around that has plagued every
portrait photographer since they shot on silver plates. For those who
shoot volume type work like schools and sports, we now have software that
can merge the digital image with related information such as names of
subjects. That is revolutionary for someone who needs composites or baseball
cards. Storage is also a wonderful benefit. No longer does a photographer
need an extra garage to store all of his or her negatives. Digital memory
is now abundant and cheap. And when someone wants a reorder we no longer
have to mess with clipping negatives.
Portrait And School
Stroud Photography was started in 1975 in Memphis, Tennessee, and is a
portrait studio with a strong emphasis on high school seniors and school
SB: Sandy, how did you get started with digital photography?
Sandy Stroud: After digital cameras became "reasonable"
in cost and were able to produce salable quality images, I became convinced
that it was only a matter of time before I had to make some changes. The
only question that remained was how I was going to start to manage images
I could not hold in my hand (e.g., negatives). With the "front side"
studio and the "back side" lab system of the OzE software
system of digital image management, it offered an appealing opportunity
to make the jump to digital. We did so, completely, in January of 2001.
SB: What kind of difference has the transition to digital
made for your photo business?
SS: The advantage of using the digital technology in
photography that is most important to me is the speed at which I can produce
images for my clients. Additionally, there are image enhancement advantages,
instant feedback on image quality and lighting, image portability, back-up
copies of image files, and ease of archiving and locating images. On reflection,
I must say any difficulties we encountered were, in large part, due to
the "newness" of the challenges I faced. I was not as "computer
literate" as I believed I was. There were some issues directly related
to my lack of understanding in that area. Perhaps the most glaring example
of a shortfall would be the lack of "computer power" and,
most importantly, storage. I now have a large array that houses all my
images, where before we were working from smaller (120GB) drives. Big
SB: Dan, what are typical "hiccups" or pitfalls
a photographer can anticipate in the transition to digital?
DW: The digital photographer has to have another mindset
than the film photographer. For instance, in film an image can be two
stops overexposed and the lab can save it. Underexposing even one f/stop
will cause serious color issues. With digital portraiture we can save
a significantly underexposed image, but are powerless against the posterization
Many of the hiccups that the photographer suffers come from simply not
following good procedures. Little things, like not making a back-up copy
of your files, can be disastrous. Or not paying close attention while
ordering prints. Computers do what we tell them to do--not what they
think we want.
And of course, the lab is always an issue. As many of your readers have
probably found out, just because a lab might be good at film processing
doesn't mean they're good at digital image processing. They're
different animals almost entirely. Most people with half an eye for color
can sit with their digital image, a PC, and a printer, and make a pretty
good print. Producing professional studio quality prints at a high rate
of volume and economically is a challenge not for the faint of heart.
It takes piles of money, years of learning curve, and an unbelievable
amount of patience and perseverance.
We frequently hear people who have a bad experience say, "Don't
do any of that digital stuff. I don't like the way it looks."
The truth is good digital processing is not only possible, it should be
expected. It's kind of like a good hair transplant: you've
seen it, you just didn't notice it. Make sure your lab knows the
Any new technology brings its own set of problems and issues. One can
get into serious trouble by dismissing or ignoring them. Think of the
farmer who kept his donkey because he didn't want to be bothered
with fixing a tractor. The digital wave is definitely here to stay and
will eventually replace film. It's time to surf or sink.