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Digital: Taking the plunge Part 3

Digital: Taking the plunge Part 3 - Professional Social photographer David Simm explains how you can safeguard your business.

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Portraits and People

It's now a good time to make the move to digital, as professional society photographer David Simm explains in the last part of a three part series aimed at those who shoot, or want to shoot, weddings or portraits. This third part explains how you can safeguard your business.
Words and Pictures David Simm


Digital: Taking the plunge Part 3In the preceding articles you must have discovered how remarkably simple digital imaging appears to be, and of course it is to some extent. There are however a small number of pitfalls that you really need to be aware of and to insure against. As part of this final discussion on taking the plunge, I will take a look at what you need to do to safeguard your business and your reputation from an impending disaster. Keep in mind that disasters also happen to film photographers and above all to sloppy business people, but first let's explore more of thebenefits.

To open this last look at going digital, I want to help you explore some of the possibilities that digital opens up in the creation of saleable and profitable products, not just for the wedding and portrait photographer, but just about everyone from those who make this a cottage industry, freelance news and sport photographers, nature photographers and even fine art photographers.

As a wedding photographer my interest of course is in increasing the amount of money I can make for my Saturday, since that is singularly the most saleable day I have. Now that I have eliminated film and paper proofs from the equation, that one time cost has now been converted directly into profit. Moreover the material cost of making wedding albums has gone down considerable, just because I colour manage and adjust image sizes of my own files. I am getting the lowest possible print prices for chromogenic (C type) colour prints from my lab.

The reason I still use a lab for wedding work, rather than output my own ink jet prints in house, is rather simple. One of my major product lines is a hand-bound library style album where the prints bleed off the full page, the bookbinder who fulfils this work won't accent anything other than real photographic prints. However, as I mentioned in closing part two, I also sell GraphiStudio albums from Italy. Graphi books come in two varieties, one printed with ink on board or paper, the other on photographic paper.

Digital: Taking the plunge Part 3Resin coated photographic paper, as any lab technician will tell you, was designed and manufactured to one premise… to lay flat… full stop. It was meant either to be displayed in photo frames or presented in albums, but it wasn't meant to be folded in the middle, or anywhere else for that matter. Since Graphi albums feature panoramic images that span the middle with at least twenty percent of the pages, for this reason alone I only sell the ink on board or paper version just because experience tells me that folded prints, when opened and closed repeatedly will eventually fray across the

I really like Graphi albums and have to point out that they have the potential for being the most profitable products you offer. Once the bride and groom have made the selections for their wedding album, all you do is drag and drop those images into a separate folder, do any manipulative work you want to and save the images either as 12 resolution JPEGs or as I prefer to, as TIFFs.You then burn a CD and send it to Italy with the order form and your input is done, until the album comes back. The add-on sales are great with mini albums, calendars and of course, parents' books, you just can't fail to make money with it.

During the past eighteen years I haven't sold one single self assembly album, I don't carry an inventory of pages, matts, dry mount tissues, double sided adhesive tape or anything associated with assembling wedding albums. Every book I ever sell is made in a factory with the images I supply to the bookbinder. My other two bookbinders are Leather Craftsmen of New York and Zookbinders from here in the Chicago area. Both are top of the line, deliciously expensive,
very luxurious and in both cases I send out photographic prints and they trim and permanently mount the pictures onto heavy card pages, whether it is an album with a matted look or a flush-bound picture story book. The books are
made with real leather, no Naugas or Aristos sacrificed their lives for these products… only real leather.

Having said that there is still a fair amount of work to be done in preparing images for lab printing. I resize, colour balance and make up my own templates for special album pages, but of course there are Photoshop plug-ins that you can purchase that will do some of that work, like Zookbinder's DigimatZ. Here I am in America, there most of you are in the U.K. and It is an awful long time since I had any kind of communication with any of my lab friends back home, so rather than advise you on any form of colour management projects, I am going to suggest that you talk with the customer service personnel in the digital department at your lab. It may well be that they also have similar templates to those offered by Zookbinders or Fuji's Studio Master Pro., the best I can do here is to elaborate a little on the way I do things and let you be the judge of whether you want to get involved in all the post production or you want to pay the lab to handle most of it.

In the case of wedding clients, when the couple place the order for their album(s) I first create a folder with their name on it and place it into the work in progress folder, I do the same for the guest orders and parents' albums plus one folder for the Bride's album. From the CDs I drag the image files into each folder for prints that are ordered. There are simpler and quicker methods and I have tried others, but found this allows me to collate the orders on the return from the lab and or bookbinders, so I am willing to do a little extra work for that convenience.

One folder at I time, I go through the orders in Photoshop, cropping and adjusting colour fidelity and balance, finally I add the unsharp mask
(Filters>Sharpening>Unsharp Mask). For 5x4in prints I put four up on a 10x8in sheet, 7x5in are set up as two on a sheet. If it is an order for an
album, depending on whether it is to be lab printed or sent to Graphi, I will set up, size and orient the images to correspond with the manufacturers requirements. If I am making a Zookbinder's book, my decision will be made based on the client budget, whether I use DigimatZ or my own templates, remember every other digital photographer can acquire a DigimatZ CD but my templates will remain uniquely mine and therefore only go into my higher priced service levels.

After all the prints are made and delivered, I purge the files from the computer to make room for the next job. So the process continues, the templates of course are reusable, I created them in Photoshop, using a bit of trial and error, by first opening an new document, sizing it to the page size I would be working with and then using various method the fill the canvas with soft detail, I will add distortions and filters and finally I will blur the image before saving it as a template.psd Next I will drag, drop and resize one or more of my images onto the canvas, add such effects, perhaps as a drop shadow or bevelled edge, maybe a little rotation. Finally I flatten the image and save as a TIFF to send to the lab. All my wedding albums will go through one or the other of these two avenues.

As yet I haven't gone into inkjet printing, but I am beginning to take it very seriously, I do intend to make a purchase within the next few weeks. It is quite funny really until a very short time ago ink jet prints were considered very low end and undesirable, but in true American fashions someone has to come up with a posh sounding esoteric name that no one knows the meaning of and suddenly Gicleé prints are rather expensive and somewhat sought after in the right circle. Of course those who've getten edificated like what we done, know that Gicleé is just French for a common or garden ink jet… but SHHHH don't let it out, the Americans are still falling for Gicleé like it was something hand stencilled onto Papyrus by a thousand year old Egyptian, it is so amusing listening to them.

Digital: Taking the plunge Part 3Clearly with all the fine art style media and the newer Ultrachrome inks, in house printing is becoming an attractive proposition. The price of doing it one's self, sadly, will never rival the low cost of silver halide printing, but then you can't have it both ways. A mini printer and paper processor for chromogenic paper would run into several thousand pounds, add a couple of chemical mixers and a water panel… Hey hold on, a really good ink jet printer only costs a few hundred, just how many ink cartridges would you have to use before you reach the cost of a 1970's mini lab? Album manufacturers have seen the writing on the wall and have started to produce ink jet printable album pages that can be bound into a first class presentation. But for now ink jet prints have more than enough applications to be going on with as the range of available substrates continue to increase to include fine art canvas, water colour paper and an incredible assortment of others.

My personal favourite product is the plain old picture CD, it costs me next to nothing to make, I get paid handsomely for producing the images I burn to it. The last half dozen commercial jobs haven't even asked for a paper proof, they just wanted the CDs in a hurry and the fact that I can deliver them the same day as the shoot, just bowls the clients over. Mostly they want CMYK (colour separated files) for reproduction in advertisements, occasionally low resolution files for a web site, but can you imagine shooting a couple of thousand pounds worth of work and only spending two quid on production… including postage - this should have come earlier in my career I tell you!

Finally: if this three part introduction to digital, hasn't convinced you that it is time to take this new medium seriously, then I have some very good eye wash solution that works great, even when the head is buried three feet under sand. It may be that you are waiting to see just what the pitfalls are that I mentioned at the beginning of this editorial, well just like any system or process, things can go wrong and from time to time do.

CompactFlash storage cards and Microdrives are both very susceptible to failure. Very early on in your transition to digital you should look for and make contact with a good data recovery service. CompactFlash costs considerably more than Microdrive so there is an immediate temptation to save money, that is OK, because according to the experts at Drive Savers, California's premier recovery service, both break down with equal regularity. However, recovery from a CompactFlash cards costs about 1/3rd of the recovery from a Microdrive.Even though I own four one gigabyte Microdrives, that information alone motivated me to invest in a handful of 512 megabyte CompactFlash cards, having just spent more than double the cost of a Microdrive on a 100% successful recovery job a few weeks ago.

Join the digital groups, ask questions, log onto to a digital forum, they are all over the web and some are full of worthwhile information, but above all network with your fellow professionals and attend the meetings and seminars. Take every step you can the accelerate the learning curve, remember some cameras are more intuitive than others, but they all take longer to get to know than a completely manual film camera, just because of all the electronic functions.

The only thing that really matters in your choice of camera is how it will fit into your workflow, not the whistles bells and flashing lights, not the price, not even the name. I covered six weddings earlier this year with an Olympus E-20N and it did a great job, despite the latency. I am a lot more comfortable with my S2, just because of the speed and the slightly larger file size. What is more I could use almost any high end digicam and get superb results, not because of anything I do, but because they are all so well designed in their own right.

Take it from me that tomorrow is here today, the fiscal health of your business is going to be utterly dependant on your products and services being current, the days when you wait just a little longer are rapidly running out. You should make 2003 the year and yes, the current camera models will come down in price during the new year, but only because they will have been replaced by the next generation, but they will still be good enough to make you a lot of money, if you don't care about being on the cutting edge, not only is time running out, so are your excuses. Go for it!

This series of articles has been adapted from material that has appeared in Professional Image Maker - the subscription only magazine for members of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers. For details of how to join please visit their web site: www.swpp.co.uk, write to SWPP & BPPA, 6 Bath Street, Rhyl, LL18 3EB. Tel: 01745 356935 or email info@swpp.co.uk.

David Simm has a web site at www.davidsimmphotography.com

He lives in the Chicago area in the USA and can be contacted on pix4bux@msn.com.

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