Digital Opportunities
Scanners, Printers, And Software Change The Studio Business

New proof sheets have white borders. Just have the film processed at your local lab and make your own proof sheet by scanning in the negs and printing on your ink jet printer. This way clients can look at photos in two hours instead of two weeks.
Photos © 1999, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

I have to admit something to you. About five years ago, when it was becoming very evident that digital technology would become increasingly important for the imaging professional, I tried to look the other way. I figured it would be a niche market. If they wanted to use digital manipulation to make flying cows and people with skeleton heads, that would be fine by me.

I'd just go on creating nice portraiture the same way I always had, thank you very much. There wasn't going to be anything freaky about my work so I didn't need to know anything about digital imaging.

Cut to the year 2000. Boy, was I wrong. Not only about the way digital advances would change my business, but also the extent of my involvement in it. Digital is not the future, digital is here. And while I believe that film and digital imaging will both exist for some time, to ignore the ways that digital can help your business and create new markets for you is just plain stupid. Having said that, I'd like to detail just a few of the ways my business has changed because of recent technologies. This is not intended to be an all inclusive list of every way digital can help your business. Use it as a starting guide, there are going to be many more. Notice also that all the methods I currently use are based on film capture. I do not as yet own a digital camera, but probably will by the time you read this.

Before I start explaining some of the new opportunities, let me tell you what my digital arsenal consists of. Incidentally, as with all purchases in the technology field, there is a fear of buying the wrong equipment or having it outdated before you learn how to use it. Not being a digital genius, I based my purchases on test reports, most notably in Shutterbug, by David Brooks and the other digital writers. I think the choices I made are a good fit for my goals and way of doing business, yours may be different.

I have an Epson Expression 800 Professional scanner. This model comes with a transparency adapter and a nice suite of software, including Photoshop LE, which I upgraded to 5.5 for $300. I also purchased the Epson 1200 printer because I wanted something that could make larger prints (more on that later). That comes with Photoshop LE also so if you don't already have it and need a printer or scanner, it definitely beats paying $600 or so for Photoshop alone. So now, armed with a scanner, printer and Photoshop, I'm ready to rock.
Of course, you will also need a computer. Mine's a Pentium II 350 with 128MB of RAM. I may have to get some more RAM in the future, but for now it's going quite well.

You won't believe how great people think you are when you send them "Thank You" cards with their own photos on them, as in this manipulated SX-70 Polaroid from their wedding. Need a quick black and white for yearbook or publicity? Just scan the neg, retouch in Photoshop and pop out a print--it's that simple.

Publicity Photos. I've never done many publicity or newspaper photos before. Why? Because they usually need them in a hurry and I don't like to disrupt my regular workflow. Plus, I don't know how to retouch negatives, and I like all my work to be top caliber. So in the past, I'd refer these inquiries elsewhere. Not anymore.
Now, instead of shooting film, making proofs, retouching the negative, and having prints made (about a three week process), I can do it faster, cheaper and better. I still shoot the portrait on film and the camera store across the street can process it in either 120 or 35mm. I recommend you use 35mm color negative film so it can be processed anywhere. After scanning the negatives I pick the best one and retouch it in Photoshop then print it out on photo paper. I can then e-mail the file to the newspaper or give it to the client on a disk. Either way it's fast, affordable, and easy. Clients can pick their favorite image on the monitor or leave the choice up to you. An inexpensive (under $1000) camera would make it faster and even more affordable. If you e-mail the file, your costs are close to zero. Let's say you charge $75 to $100 for this service. Sounds like quick and easy money to me.

This procedure can also be applied to the age old problem of rush jobs for the high school yearbook.
Retouching. As mentioned earlier, you can import an image into Photoshop and quickly retouch it. Many times I'll have a portrait client who just needs the slightest bit of retouching, perhaps one small blemish. Can my lab do it? Sure, but it'll cost me $4 or so for 10 sec of work and delay my order by perhaps a week. Now I, or more likely an employee, can retouch several negatives in a short period of time and send the files to a lab that is equipped to print digital files. I'm looking at the possibility of doing all my work like this very soon. Since digital files are printed quicker, my lab time is being reduced from four weeks or more to about 10 days. That's a great client benefit.

These kind of promotional pieces can be quickly and easily produced with the aid of a quality scanner and printer.

Specialty Cards. I'm a big believer in Thank You cards. I know how few people take the time to send them, and how nice it feels to receive them. Now, when I get my portrait or wedding negatives, I can scan my favorite pose into the card template I made in Microsoft Publisher and make a personalized "Thank You" for my clients. They flip over them. For my best clients, I may make a few with no writing on them so they can be used as note cards. Wrapped up with ribbon, it's a wonderful gift they won't forget. Don't forget to put "Photo and design by..." on the back of the card.

Proofing. Getting proofs in a timely manner is always a problem. If they go to my regular lab, they look great but might take two weeks. If I have them done locally, I can usually have them in 48 hours but the quality varies greatly. Now I have a new option. I can have the film processed in 30 minutes, scan the negs, and show them to my client on a monitor later that day. My sales usually increase because the client is still excited about the session and my "hard costs" are limited to film and processing. I'm still not quite prepared to spend the 20 grand or more I'd need to get a digital back that would give comparable quality to my medium format camera, so at least for now this procedure makes sense.

As far as weddings are concerned, I've made drastic changes in the way we handle proofing and show prints. Some of these are based on a combination of my equipment and new services from the lab (LustreColor in Canton, Massachusetts). We are doing away with proofs for our 2000 weddings. All the film will be scanned to a CD. Then I'm going to print 12 images per sheet on my Epson printer and give the couple the complete set, bound. Groups and selected photos will be printed larger for viewing. Then they choose their photos for a traditional album. I'm even looking at the possibility of making "coffee-table" style books where I send completed files to a company for printing and binding for a very unique album. More on that in a future article.

Multimedia Productions. When prospective clients come to you about portraiture or weddings, you can show them samples, or you can blow them away with a presentation. I've done it twice but I'm still rather new at this. I take the CD with the wedding proofs on it, pick out my favorites and import them into Kai's Power Show software, add music, then create a powerful presentation for my wedding couple. Instead of having the first memory of their wedding photos be a stack of prints, they get a wonderful show. If they don't cry, you've done something wrong, it's that powerful. And now you can use that presentation to show to prospective clients. Many times, being unique is as important as being good.

Major Surgery. I mentioned retouching with Photoshop earlier, but we all know it can do much more. How about that family with the wild kid where he only looks good in one pose--the one where dad has his eyes shut? No problem. Switching heads from one pose to the other (where the lighting is the same) is now a snap, although I'd still like to get it done right the first time. If you can't do it yourself, your lab can, but it'll probably cost you over 50 dollars.

While this could be the subject of at least another article, I'm thinking of shooting some "green screen" portraits in the near future. Then I can have several backgrounds for them to choose from, all with comparable lighting so the results look believable.

Have I "gone digital"? To a certain extent, yes. I'm still shooting film and expect to for most of my work. If change can make things better for you, then take advantage of it or you'll be stuck in a rut and the world will pass you by. After all, a rut is just a grave with both sides kicked out.

I do very little advertising for weddings, most of my work is from referrals from past clients, other photographers or wedding related services. Many times I'd make a few photos for a florist or reception hall as many photographers would, but these were only marginally effective in generating referrals. With my new digital capabilities, I tried something new. I created a piece for a reception hall from two weddings I'd done there this past year. I scanned in about six photos, added their logo and "Weddings at the XYZ Inn" along with my logo and contact info. I printed up about half a dozen and sent them to the sales manager. The result? An immediate phone call thanking me for the piece and telling me how great it looks, an immediate referral of a wedding, and a new "relationship" for me where there was none before. All for about 45 minutes work. I think I'll send her a few more copies. Now that I have a template and can just change the name and plug in different photos for other places where I've done weddings. I think this one idea could make my business increase quite a bit next year.