By Stan Sholik
An efficient workflow is only a dream for most portrait and wedding photographers. Too little time is spent behind the camera relative to the time spent in front of a computer monitor. Preparing proofs for client review, creating albums, taking and fulfilling print orders and making online web galleries are far more time intensive than the photography itself, yet are not billable hours.
So it wasn’t surprising that, at the PMA trade show this year, the largest category of products I saw were offerings designed to create an efficient workflow for photographers, labs and retail outlets. One of the foremost among these offerings is DigiLabs Pro software.
DigiLabs is a market leader in creating online front-end ordering systems for photo labs. Several of the leading labs are using DigiLabs software, but with the lab’s own branding so that you are unaware of the actual origin of the software.
DigiLabs Pro software is a combination and major upgrade of their previous My Photo Books and My Photo Calendar & Cards software that were licensed to private-label partners and the previous DigiLab application used by professional photographers.
Using DigiLabs Pro software, photographers can create studio-branded web galleries and a wide range of photo products. The web galleries allow studio customers to view and order photo products online from their computer or iPhone. Available photo products include flush mount albums, coffee table books, proof books, calendars, greeting cards, and canvas gallery wraps, as well as photo prints and enlargements.
Digilabs offers a a number of calendar options, including custom design; a range of products including greeting cards, event cards and announcements; and photo books are available in a range of sizes and cover treatments, printed on digital presses on heavy paper stock. Photos courtesy of DigiLabs.
What sets DigiLabs Pro apart from other competing software is how fast and easy it is to use. With a common, clean interface for all available products and wizards included to guide you through the more complicated products such as photo books, it is quick to learn and easy to navigate.
DigiLabs has created an iPhone app that is available at no charge from the Apple iTunes store. This allows your clients to view their web gallery and order prints on their iPhone. Images courtesy of DigiLabs.
The first step is to download the software from www.digilabspro.com. The download is free, and the software is free to use for all products other than web galleries as long as DigiLabs handles the fulfillment. I did find it a little strange that the label on the desktop icon that the software creates during installation on both Mac and Windows computers is labeled “My Photo Creations.” Still a little bit of identity crisis going on apparently, as well as the “Beta” version title on what I have been assured is not beta software.
The Home screen of DigiLabs Pro software features a large central window. Here you access online information from DigiLabs. To the left of the central window is a list of DigiLabs products. When you click on any of these, the initial screen for that product takes over the central window and the layout process begins.
Unlike with a few other online gallery services, there is a monthly or yearly fee to use the Web Galleries feature. There is also a fee if you want to use the software to design and lay out photo books, photo albums or proof books, but print them yourself or have a lab other than DigiLabs print them.
Signing up to use the Web Galleries feature entitles you to a variety of free and discounted services. At the moment these include one month free web gallery services, 20 free pages of digital press double-sided proof magazines, $7.50 worth of test prints, $20 off your first photo book, $10 off your first card order and 30% off your first flush mount album.
There are only four steps needed to create a web gallery before you upload it. The software stumbled on the third step, where I was asked to select an image to appear on the gallery entry (first) page. Thumbnails of only the first and second images in the folder were displayed and there is no way to navigate to the rest of the images. So I had to go back and manually reorder the images in my folder so that the first image would be the one I wanted on the first page, then start the process again.
Additional steps in the process allow you to choose display sizes on the gallery pages and add a watermark if you desire. You are also given the choice of applying Athentech Perfectly Clear image enhancement to your images as they upload. Perfectly Clear automatically optimizes the image for display, saving you the need to correct images before uploading. Once you have completed those steps, you log onto your account, name the gallery and move through eight additional steps.
The initial steps in laying out a web gallery involve simply adding a folder of images to the main window, then making a few quick questions about the display sizes of the images. Images ©Stan Sholik
After you have uploaded your images to a web gallery, you log onto your account. From the Administrator panel you can customize the look of your web gallery with options for headers, footers, access limitations, background colors, text colors and many more.
DigiLabs Pro took less than a minute to create the gallery and upload 24 images from 24 full-resolution 12-megapixel original JPEGs. Once the gallery is online, you can customize it by logging on to the DigiLabs site and selecting options. These options include everything from background colors to branding to creating a price list.
DigiLabs provides an excellent wizard for setting the prices of prints in your web gallery. You can save the price list and uses it for other galleries, or create a new one each time with different options.
Once you have created the web gallery you can link to it from your website, bypassing—as far as your customers are concerned—any connection to DigiLabs. Your customers can also download a free app from the Apple iTunes store to view and order prints on their iPhone. Imagine the new bride and groom sipping Mai Tais on the beach in Hawaii ordering their wedding photos.
My completed web gallery. If I were doing this for a client, I would have included my logo, more contact information and other options. I would also have linked my website to it so the client thought it was a part of my site, rather than it being hosted by Digilabs. Images ©Stan Sholik
While I admit to being most excited about DigiLab’s web gallery feature, that isn’t to belittle any of the other products or the workflow to create them. DigiLabs offers two flush mount albums and three coffee table books. The albums are printed on photo paper while the coffee table books are printed with Kodak Nexpress or HP Indigo digital presses.
DigiLabs offers two album choices. Botha re lay-flat albums with the images printed on photo paper. Images courtesy of DigiLabs.
Designing and laying out the albums and books in DigiLabs Pro are as easy as creating a web gallery. If you choose to, you can also upload the products so that your customer can see them before you commit the album or book to output.
The process of creating a photo album is nearly as simple as creating a web gallery. The first step is to choose an album style and size.
If you decide to create your album without using the DigiLab templates, you are presented with blank album pages in the main window. Your folder of album images is displayed below and completed pages displayed above. To the right are pre-built page backgrounds, page layouts, picture borders, picture shapes, clipart, themes and book templates. Images ©Stan Sholik
DigiLabs Pro software includes sets of page backgrounds, page layouts, picture borders, picture shapes, clipart, themes and templates. Unfortunately, nearly all of the page backgrounds, clipart and themes seem far more suitable to scrap booking than products for professional photographers.
However, It is possible to start from a blank album, add your own image as a page background and design each page yourself. The software provides all of the design capability—layering photos on top of one another, adding drop shadows, adding captions, etc.—that you need. I think it is quicker to do this than to modify the prebuilt pages, but either way, the process is fast and painless.
The pre-built options, such as this wedding book template, are lacking in contemporary styles. Fortunately, you can add your own page backgrounds and lay out all products in whatever style suits you and your customer. Images ©Stan Sholik
The other products available with DigiLabs Pro are equally easy to prepare for printing, but also suffer from what, to my eye, are dated looks. It would be nice to have other libraries available that users could download and install should they be looking for more contemporary styles.
With all of the products available using DigiLabs Pro software, the wonderful web gallery feature, and the software available as a free download, it’s worth a look. Particularly if you are finding yourself spending more time than you would like in front of your monitor rather than behind your camera.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, "Professional Filter Techniques for Digital Photographers," covering both on-camera analog and post-production digital filters is published by Amherst Media.