By Zack Davis
Like many photography studios, I get my share of calls and requests each year about restoring an old or damaged family photograph. That’s where Onlinephotofix.com comes in. Offering a range of services geared toward image restoration for consumers and professionals. Professional Photographer magazine sent me to see if this service could be valuable to studios as a cost-effective alternative to keeping the work in house.
I wanted to challenge Onlinephotofix.com in several ways, as they are a restoration service and not a retouching firm. Though for this review I did use images from sessions that had real-world exposure and composition issues to get a better idea of the quality of their work.
With wholesale account discounts of 50% off their retail service, the Onlinephotofix.com restoration service is priced quite reasonably. Taking the cost of time into consideration, this service could open up a new revenue stream for your studio or free up your time for additional appointments.
Since the goal of using a service like this is to lighten your workload, the amount of time it takes to prepare and send the files is important. For this review I had one very important question, “Can I submit an image to them in less than 15 minutes?”
On my first visit to the image submission portion of the site, my total time investment to send in an image for a quote was 9 minutes, and I was pleased. A client could come in with an image, and in less than 15 minutes I could have it scanned, saved and uploaded for a free quote.
There are no strict size requirements. The full-size file goes directly to the server without any need for manipulation on your part. This immediately removes 90 percent of the work you have to do. As far as fee structure goes, it’s simple.
Submit the image for a quote (which is free). Onlinephotofix.com, using the information and the image you supplied, will decide if your image falls under Restoration 1 (a light restoration), Severe 6 (a heavy restoration), or anywhere in between. Quotes are not instant, in my tests they were returned to me in a few hours. Once the total quote for the image is received (and if the client approves), I simply log in to my account, approve and pay for the work (at my wholesale rate) and wait for my e-mail to notify me that the image is ready.
For the average restoration, you’re looking at between $10 and $35 for your cost, not including any extra options, which are plentiful.
I submitted my images in the late evenings and had my quotes ready the next morning. Work on my images was completed and ready for download less than 24 hours after approval of the quote.
Getting clients’ orders returned to them in a timely manner is the pinnacle of good customer service. So, actual in-production time was another important factor, and, to be honest, I was surprised to see the 3 to 6 day timelines. When I submitted my first image, the production time estimate was approximately 6 days.
You can bet I was surprised when I got an e-mail 3 hours later notifying me my order was ready for download. I assumed they rushed my order because of the review, but when researching their site for the article I discovered their claim that 80 percent of their orders have a turnaround time of approximately 24 hours. This does not mean that you can skip the rush charges. The standard turnaround times will apply when they are busy, so if you need it, rush it. Rush order fees start at $5.00 and increase based on how many days you want to remove from the standard turnaround time.
Download speeds were fast as well—maxing out my connection, a small 4MB file was downloaded in seconds. The files are then stored on the Onlinephotofix servers for 60 days, during which the file can be downloaded from their website when you're logged in to your account. After 60 days, files are erased for security and confidentiality reasons.
With the global reach of Internet, and because all the files are digital, Onlinephotofix can service anyone in the world. Their production offices are based in Argentina, which I found to be a plus over some other overseas companies because their office hours were 3 hours ahead of mine. This allowed me to have a conversation via e-mail and get a response the same day, or even call their offices directly during my business hours.
Their customer service staff was knowledgeable about their products, and I could track my orders with individual tracking numbers. Even lengthy and complicated instructions on my special requests were completed successfully.
Since their work will also have your studio’s name on it, quality is extremely important. For this review I submitted four images with varying needs, using both scanned and digital camera captures from our studio.
The first was an old family photo of my sister Carly. This image was the worst off out of all the images I sent in to have worked on. The photo is damaged around her face and hair, there are some fingerprints in the worn emulsion, and there is light dust and scratches on the surface.
This scan went out sized at 4 x 3.5 inches, 600ppi. It was returned to me as an “Optimized” 4.8 x 3.3-inch, 300ppi JPEG file.
The completed restoration is fantastic. They removed all the damage to the print surface as well as the dull, low-contrast look. I would be happy to hand this image to a client. The only issue I find with it at all is the color. Carly has had red hair since she was born, and in the completed image her hair appears light brown. If the client had an issue with it, Onlinephotofix.com offers a satisfaction guarantee.
The next test is a family portrait I used to see how well they handled background swaps. The girl on the far left has lots of poof in her hair, which shows the background bleed through, and the girl next to her had ripples in her shirt that could affect continuity of the swap if they were removed or the background was swapped poorly.
When I sent in the image, I selected a studio backdrop from their stock background image library. I knew it wouldn’t be a great fit as the original had the family seated on a fireplace hearth and this background would have them appear as if they are on the floor. Looking at the details though, I can easily say the Onlinephotofix.com service didn’t sacrifice details from the original image for speed when swapping the backgrounds.
Next I submitted an individual portrait of the son. I wanted to test out some kind of detail removal, and I have had a few people come in and ask for their braces to be removed from their high school yearbook photo for their anniversary. This image was a simple skin clean up and braces removal.
The returned file is one any client would be happy with, and I’m sure someone wanting an object removed from an old family snapshot would be handled just as well.
The last image is a head swap, exposure and color correction. I find these are three of the biggest requests I receive when doing a restoration myself, which made it an ideal image to send in and see what I got back.
The work was completed accurately, even with my lengthy and complicated instructions. The swaps are seamless, the exposure is a great improvement, and the color is fairly good.
Price-wise, there’s plenty of room for a markup after your wholesale discount. Restorations are important to our clients and non-clients alike. Offering this service just improves our image, and being able to do so at an affordable rate just makes it easy on us. Clients will love that their images never have to be risked in the mail or take weeks to be returned.
It should be noted that Onlinephotofix.com is a restoration service and not a retouch firm. Onlinephotofix only works with digital files. You never mail paper prints to them, which saves a lot of shipping costs. Turnaround is fast, and the quality of their work is great; they truly appear to want to serve their customers well.
My experience with their service can be summed up as fast and simple. Effort on my part practically ended once I'd uploaded the files. I've personally restored more than 1,000 images, and looking at the results from the images I sent to them, I think this service would be a benefit to any studio that wants to offer image restoration to their clients.
Look for our roundup of additional outsourcing resources for pro photographers in the December issue of Professional Photographer.