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Using Technology to Take the Edge Off Recession

Video products, image repair, press books and unique output and display options

By Sara Frances, M.Photog.Cr.

How can you break even in this economy and even be profitable? Now’s the time to apply technology to the task. You already have an advantage with your devotion to high-quality posing and lighting and attentive customer service. Your allies? New pro camera technology, unbelievable software, sleek lay-flat press books and many other innovative digital products that consumers haven’t seen before and don’t have access to. Pick products and equipment that boost your capabilities into the must-have category. Be bold, and make this downturn your opportunity to re-tool your studio and master cutting-edge skills.

Video
The idea that photography and videography will overlap and eventually merge changes the role of photographers as imagers. We’re looking at the possibility of capturing images for stills, video, prints, publication, signage, Web publication and electronic media. The future lies in cameras that take both still images and video, such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The Canon 5D has been an event and portrait industry workhorse, and with the new 5D Mark II, we’ll be able to provide an outstanding array of new services thanks to the video capture. Think news reporting, public relations, forensics, medical, surveillance, product demos. Think of markets far broader than you’re accustomed to. Think of exciting 30-second shorts for YouTube and Facebook, not to mention commercial Web sites.

Wedding and event photographers are already getting into cooperative ventures with videographers to provide seamless, one-stop coverage. Be very choosey about who you pair your name with; look for a professional video company with skills that match your own. The shaky-cam stigma of amateur video will do your reputation no good.

Proficiency in the latest Apple Final Cut Pro video editing software with its added motion and color modules will catapult your video into Hollywood status, but it does takes time to learn. We’re finding significant interest in video, and very affordable DVD instruction and presentation by all sorts of small businesses. The trend is very much toward motion picture PR rather than stills, and not just because companies have opted to choose one or the other for economic reasons.

Image repair, recreation and retouching
The new Final Cut Pro software also makes it possible to assemble meandering, historic family footage into watchable movies. A great business specialty is re-editing those disappointing wedding videos to correct all kinds of faults in composition, color, poor audio and boring sequences.

Remaking wedding albums has become a hugely rewarding profit center for me with the help of Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom II. Distraught brides who have experienced disaster at the hands of unscrupulous or unskilled photographers are willing to pay almost anything to have those images professionally re-rendered. I’m typically asked to repair compressed jpegs with poor lighting, little clear focus, worse composition, lots of orange-yellow color casts, even missing must-have images. You can’t buy this kind of art service from a lab or ordinary out-call retouching firm. Learning to do it yourself is a sure moneymaker. My fee for re-creation is often double what I’d charge for our full-service capture and album design! And dealing with mothers and mothers-in-law is a pleasure once they see how I can magically restore the memories that they thought were irretrievably lost.

 


I get paid lots of money to correct white balance problems like these from other photographers. Album continuity calls for color correction, contrast and noise abatement. A simple eyedropper fix won’t do it. Gray suits are notorious for trapping obvious color casts; these had to be desaturated individually, as did many of the dresses. (Click image for large view)


Eighteen years after her photographer disappeared for good (shortly after her wedding), Charissa Gianos came to me for help. A set of scratched, poor color and out-of-focus proofs was all she ever had. Look closely at the before shots: the surface is a mess of damage and fingerprints, not to mention the unprofessional crop, blurry subjects, saturated orange faces and distracting elements. There are no other images of the recessional.

After replacing the heads with clearer ones from another image and retouching the reflections from straight-on flash, I repaired the damage, re-cropped, fixed facial tones, neutralized the dress and suit separately, and eliminated a guest's distracting white shoes. To regain impact of the couple, I made them stand out and the background recede with onOne’s FocalPoint software. (Click images for large view)


Eye-catching output and display
Press books are on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and the new professional styles are standouts that the amateurs don’t know about and can’t access. I recently bought a sample of MyFotoPros’ laminated lay-flat book that far exceeded my expectation. The construction is superior, as is the color match to my original, which had lots of neutral tones that could have easily taken on unattractive color casts.

Apollo Photo Imagizing still gets my vote for the widest variety of sizes and types of press books. Apollo’s heavy deckle-edge mat paper is perfect for any art or portfolio presentation. American Color Imaging (ACI) sells thick, hinged paper press and photo books. If your subject matter is scenic or for use as fine art, the potential for one-off publishing trumps the past when we had to get a minimum of hundreds of copies printed and incur huge up-front costs.

Already spawning imitators, the iPhone is poised to evolve into the new laptop. Entertainment and chit-chat totally aside, the self promotion and potential product sales through this medium aren’t even imagined yet. Photography will still be a one-on-one craft, but the business of photography will be revolutionized through consultation and order communication.

Nobody has time anymore to drag clothing to an advance consultation appointment. How great would it be to help a client look thought her wardrobe to select clothing for a family group portrait while she’s at home, and you’re in your studio? While you’re at it, she can show you the exact place the portrait will hang, and you can easily suggest size, orientation and framing.

Getting a final okay on significant retouching online is a wonderful solution already. Corporate teleconferencing isn’t new, but soon the studio will be able to do it affordably, too. Most of us use online proofing, whether directly on your own Web site or through a fulfillment lab. When it comes to final output, I prefer producing my own inkjet prints so I can increase my income and have total control over special requests my clients always seem to have. It’s just one more way of differentiating myself from the consumer photo-share sites.

Rock ’n’ roll slideshows for iPod, videophones and even wide-screen presentations are a snap with Animoto. You pick and sequence the images, select royalty-included music and automation does the rest. Of course, you can also do this in Final Cut Pro with the ultimate control of a real movie, but this animation is fun, fast and inexpensive through a year’s subscription.

While sign companies have had such technology for years, Metal Mural makes putting photographic images on aluminum tiles easy to design as dramatic large wall hangings. Retail and commercial clients alike can have an eye-catching presentation that instantly generates conversation. They’re durable, weather- and sun-resistant, glamorous and arty, with lots of uses in all sorts of industries, as well as portraits and home decor. Try this on an architectural firm or any company putting together a tradeshow booth.

Canvas wraps, now widely available, remain very hip, and are full of contemporary interior design possibilities for both commercial and personal markets. Spare and simple of line, they’re lightweight yet durable if properly coated. The inkjet studio can make canvases in-house, and then mount to unbreakable Sentra substrate for traditional framing, or wrapping on stretchers, then framed as well. Strathmore inkjet iron-on sheets let you create brilliant, washable image transfers for fabric. Great for your own very affordable brand of tote bag or fashion and home accessory.

Art cards are a must-have product, with poster-like designs or collages tipping you over the top when clients are looking for something they can’t do themselves. Big, bold, sometimes like art posters with titles, these frameable keepsakes double the pleasure of holiday greetings—way better than the old refrigerator snap stuck on a Christmas card or the online quality for the amateur market.  Lineco and Light Impressions have moderately priced portfolios to box a series of cards or small art prints. Affordable coffee-table book gifts give years of enjoyment. Also try out promotional bookmarks, picture luggage tags and discount gift cards for favored client promotions.

These are just a few suggestions to get you going! Hunt for new items, but keep it classic. Take care to make the right selection for the taste and style of your clients. Boutiques should avoid the knick-knacks that look like carnival prizes, and do take clues from art galleries, which often use the latest in hanging devices or three dimensional presentations. My husband and partner and I take time to change and widen our product design skills every day; it’s fun and it pays off. Customers will pay your price only if you prove you are creative and new, better by far than they could do themselves. And believe it: get yourself positioned with possibility thinking, because the recession won’t last forever.