In-house computer work and printing or lab services? How to decide what works best for you?
By Sara Frances, M.Photog.Cr.
Like many other boutique artisans, I want to handle as much of the post-production work as possible. Our theme: integrated imaging from concept to delivery. Here’s how I weighed the pro and con before becoming my own lab.
I love the magic of Zone System film technique, retouching and book design. It was easy to preserve those same concepts once our digital light bulb turned on. Being a “pixel surgeon” and printer gives me creative joy I never felt when outsourcing production. My best images have found artistic life through experimentation with materials, collaboration on cinematic projects and even serendipity. My friend the late film maker Stan Brakage said, “To make art you have to set yourself up to let your subconscious come through.”
Ask these questions to determine which workflow suits your temperament and business model.
• Learning Skills: Can you take the time and have the patience to learn Photoshop, Painter and other software? How to print and finish images? Money is made equally behind the camera and in post, but can you afford to become a technician?
• Attention Span: Can you take the strain of hours at the computer, just like in the darkroom? Retouching can become a repetitive chore. Unique album design can eat huge amounts of time.
• Techie Stuff: Are you detail oriented enough to conquer resolution and color space, sharpening and interpolation? Do your have the colorist’s eye to maintain continuity in your look from start to finish?
• Investment: Can you afford a sophisticated computer, the latest software, peripherals, inkjet printers and a finishing and storage facility? Who will manage equipment maintenance? Are frequent upgrades too costly to justify?
• Space: Postproduction takes sizable space, cleanliness and organization. Can you allocate a dedicated workshop with lots of accessories like cutters, assembly tables, scanner, drying racks, sink, tools, glues, spray, etc.?
• Collaboration: Are you clients intrigued with your process, or would they rather not be involved in too many artistic choices?
• Sales: Who is selling your next job while you’re doing the art work? Are you charging enough to be able to do just a couple of jobs at a time?
• Seasonal Rush: Can you handle fluctuating workload? Seasonal employees?
• Free Time: If you do everything yourself, or with a small staff, how will you take a vacation or allocate family time?
Printing in house is an easy and economical way to compare image variations before deciding on a final version. Pictured left to right are noted photographers Bruce Elsey, Lito Tejada-Flores, Linde Waidhofer, Burnham Arndt and Sara Frances.