By Stan Sholik
Have you ever wished you had a piece of equipment to shoot a commercial assignment, a wedding, or a great idea to update your portfolio? Or maybe you’ll be traveling on assignment and would feel more confident with another body the same as your main camera rather than that old backup you carry. Or it’s time for a little time off and you’d like to take one of those compact mirrorless cameras and a couple of lenses on vacation rather than your heavy digital SLR.
There are many occasions when it just doesn’t make sense to buy a piece of equipment that you may have limited use for in the future. For those times, renting is the better option. And BorrowLenses has become one of the leading online rental houses for photographic and video gear.
If you have access to a local professional photography equipment rental house, I would encourage you to support them first. But if you don’t, or if they don’t have the equipment you need, it’s hard to beat BorrowLenses’ system of ordering online, having your rental delivered to your door, and shipping it back in the packaging it arrived in.
The process couldn’t be simpler. You choose the gear you need from the BorrowLenses website, select your rental duration, log in or create an account, enter start date and payment information, and you’re done. For most items, the FedEx shipping cost is about $25, and that’s round trip, not one way. A return-shipping label is included in the package. BorrowLenses is the only rental outfit with warehouses on both coasts, in California and Massachusetts. There are also 30 pickup sites in twelve states, but there is still a shipping cost to the pickup site.
The rental term begins on the day the first delivery attempt is made and must be shipped back on the day the rental ends. For example, a seven-day rental that begins on a Monday must be shipped back on the following Monday. All this is clearly spelled out in the paperwork when you receive the item, and BorrowLenses sends you an email the day before you should ship it back as a reminder--very neat and efficient.
But what if … The FAQs on the BorrowLenses website has answers for every contingency I could think of and all the ones they have encountered. With the high cost of the equipment you are likely to rent, loss or damage is most photographers’ biggest concern. BorrowLenses has this covered with the availability of a damage waiver fee for each piece of equipment.
The damage waiver covers only the main piece of equipment you rent, and it doesn’t relieve you of liability entirely. If the equipment is damaged beyond normal wear and tear, you are charged a 12-percent deductible for the replacement cost of the item’s value, or repair fees, whichever is cheaper. If you declined the damage waiver, you are responsible for 100 percent of the repair or replacement. And like all rental houses, the equipment carries an inventory tag. Removing the tag is considered damage, and there is a $12 fee per tag.
In my experience, the equipment from BorrowLenses shows less wear and tear than my own, and I shoot mainly in the studio. I have never had an operational issue with their gear, and when I wanted to keep a piece for an extra couple of days, it was no problem. Of course, if someone had been waiting for it, I would have had to return it.
It is best to reserve gear as far in advance as you can, and if FedEx or UPS delivery is not 100-percent reliable in your area, give yourself a extra day buffer if you need the equipment for an important wedding or a trip abroad.
When I first rented from BorrowLenses, the availbable gear was mostly Canon and Nikon, with a few exceptions. Now the equipment ranges from quality point-and-shoots to Leicas and Hasselblad H5D-60s and from GoPro to RED video cameras, with all the accessory items needed.
A portion of the selection of Canon camera bodies available from BorrowLenses.
BorrowLenses has a wide selection of Nikon bodies, including the Nikon 1 V1, as well as digital SLRs. The D4s is expected shortly.
BorrowLenses has packages available for still and video shooters for specific assignments so that it’s easier to order everything you need for an assignment.
In October of 2013, Shutterfly Inc. acquired BorrowLenses. Max Shevyakov, a BorrowLenses founder and now director of marketing at Shutterfly, believes this can only benefit the company. “In the beginning we always felt we were underfunded and couldn’t keep the inventory level we wanted during busy shooting seasons,” Shevyakov said. “Now, with Shutterfly’s financial backing and industry connections, we are able to have the inventory we need when professionals need it. It is also helping us to be one of the first rental houses to have the latest equipment available.”
For frequent and volume renters there is a $99-per-year membership option. Membership advantages include an automatic 10-percent discount on all rentals, an increased level of availability for gear you need that may not be available when you need it, the ability to cancel a rental at any time without a fee, and a BorrowLenses T-shirt.
BorrowLenses offers other services beside rentals. There is a selection of used gear taken out of rental and offered for sale. The equipment is guaranteed to be in perfect working order but with some cosmetic issues. You can return the purchase within 10 days and pay a restocking fee, or up to four weeks from purchase and be charged a rental fee. If you happen to be around their San Carlos, Calif., location, you can bring your camera in for a cleaning.
In today’s business environment, it’s discouraging to turn down an assignment because you don’t have the equipment to do your best possible work. With access to BorrowLenses, that never needs to happen.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, “Photoshop CC: Top 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks” (Wiley Publishing) is available now.
By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
Like many other photographers, I use Adobe software products for the core of my photo editing workflow, but I recently found a nice addition that will complement what I already use. I was looking for a portrait retouching solution that would integrate with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and I decided to look into Perfect Photo Suite 8 from onOne Software. This application suite does much more than just help you retouch portraits. It’s a whole workflow solution that integrates with standard editing programs, or functions as a standalone product.
There is a profusion of information that I could share about Perfect Photo Suite 8, but for the purposes of this review I’ll give you an overview of its main features. Look for an article on retouching using Perfect Portrait 8 to follow. Perfect Photo Suite has a number of different modules, each of which focuses on a specific function. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First you have to install Perfect Photo Suite 8 and the appropriate plugins for your other software.
During the installation process, Perfect Photo Suite 8 automatically detected the compatible programs on my computer and installed plugins for each of them.
Perfect Photo Suite 8 offers eight different modules within the interface: Browse, Layers, Enhance, Portrait, Effects, B&W, Mask, and Resize. I’ll walk you through my first impressions of each module.
Browse—New to version 8, Browse allows you to locate images easily from your computer or Internet cloud sources such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Photo Stream, and Sky Drive. You can view thumbnails or an individual image, search files, view metadata, and add or create “favorite” folders to access your files quickly.
Layers—When you open an image to edit, you can choose to edit a copy, edit the original, or add edits as a layer. Within this module, you can composite images, swap heads, and create layouts (using backgrounds, borders, edges).
Enhance—The basic editing module allows you to make most enhancements needed for a typical image. You can crop; adjust color, tone, and detail; spot-heal; or use content-aware fill to remove objects. There are also enhancement presets you can apply to your images, such as High Contrast and Magic Landscape. I’ll mention that there’s a red-eye removal function, but I hope that would never be necessary for most professional photographers. I tried out the Perfect Brush, which samples the color from the center of your brush and adjusts the edges accordingly. It’s helpful for working around complicated edges.
Portrait—The Portrait module had the most draw for me, as it can be used to automate facial retouching. Features include the ability to improve skin texture and color; enhance eyes, teeth, and lips; and remove blemishes. You can choose to apply effects to the entire body or just to the face. In the first screenshot below, you’ll see how you can adjust eye and mouth control points. For portraits featuring more than one subject, you can work on multiple faces individually within a single image. One other nice feature for skin color correction is the ability to select your subject’s ethnicity in a dropdown menu, which helps the software make appropriate automatic adjustments to the skin tone.
Effects—The Effects module allows you to apply filters and presets to change the look of your image with effects such as cross processing, HDR, photo filters, and more. You can create your own customizations to the effects, layer multiple filters on top of each other, and use masking tools to apply the effects where you want and nowhere else. Or, if you’d prefer, just use the effects as an overall adjustment to your image.
B&W—From the B&W Module, you can apply presets or adjust the tone, color response, and other variables to create a very customized look. Tools you can use include dodge/burn, adjusting shadow/mid-tones/highlights, vignettes, and edge/border effects. As with the other modules, you can also choose to simply apply a preset to the entire image rather than doing detailed adjustments.
Mask—The screenshot I’ve chosen for this module shows a manual brush mask being painted over the sky. You can be very broad and general in creating masks, or make a very detailed mask if desired. If you want to use the module’s masking technology, you can make a rough mask, as I’ve done here, then use the software to fine tune around hair, trees, or other complicated edges. There’s also an option to mask areas based on color range.
Resize—When it’s time to get your images ready for print, you can either save your edited files from any module of Perfect Photo Suite 8, or you can use the Resize Module to get your images print ready. This module uses Genuine Fractals technology to create better enlargements (the company claims you can “enlarge images up to 1000% without sacrificing quality“). There are a number of resizing presets available, based on output media type, lab print size, and the like. You can also create your own presets.
Within any of these modules you’ll have access to a navigator menu that looks something like this one below. Here I’ve stacked a number of filters to change the image and created a mask for each of those layers as well.
By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
As my website has evolved, I’ve become ever more fond of Wordpress as an operating platform. It’s simple to use, easy to update, and hassle-free. Well, it was until I wanted to create a fully integrated client ordering gallery. My search for a Wordpress gallery plug-in that would allow me to sell specific sets of images to clients led me through a muddle of free and paid Wordpress plug-ins. Then I found Sunshine Photo Cart.
Sunshine Photo Cart has a clean and simple ordering gallery interface that I preferred over the other options I’d experimented with. The cart is not standalone software but rather runs as a plug-in from within Wordpress. This means you can take advantage of your existing theme, settings, and database—no need to go reinventing the wheel. I’ve had to try and duplicate, or match my site’s theme in the past when using standalone cart systems, and it’s a big pain.
Installation is easy; I had it installed and running on my site in less than five minutes, as claimed by the company. Of course, if you want to add a huge selection of products and create a number of galleries, that will take additional time; the setup itself, though, is very simple. Here’s a view of the default client gallery view, after I had completed the setup, but before adding any galleries.
And the same gallery view, once I changed the theme customization to match my current Wordpress theme and added several galleries. You’ll notice that some are password protected (designated by the lock icon to the left of the gallery name/link).
I installed Sunshine Photo Cart via the Wordpress dashboard (Plugins > Add New). You need to install Wordpress plug-ins in ZIP format, so if you’re not sure how to do that, there are instructions contained within the file you download from Sunshine Photo Cart.
After installing the plug-in within Wordpress, you’ll need to activate Sunshine Photo Cart by entering a valid license key. You’ll also need to enable user registration so that your clients can register, save favorites, and submit their orders (directions included, as seen below).
Sunshine Photo Cart automatically creates several pages within your Wordpress site so that the galleries and carts can work properly. You can use the defaults, or select your own alternate pages if the plug-in wasn’t able to create them.
Here’s a view of the pages that were automatically added when the plug-in installed:
You’ll find a Sunshine tab on your Wordpress Admin panel that allows you to access the dashboard, settings, galleries, product categories, price levels, products, orders, discounts, and system info.
The Sunshine dashboard summarizes recent orders, sales totals, galleries with sales, a list of which users have logged in (if you require clients to log in prior to viewing a gallery), a pie chart of popular items purchased, and a list of the most popular images purchased.
From the products submenu (Sunshine > products), you can add products individually or in bulk. Each product will have a name, a category that groups them for ordering purposes, a price level, indications on whether it is taxable or downloadable, and the cost. I made two categories prior to adding my items so that I could group smaller prints separately from wall prints.
When you create a gallery (Sunshine > Galleries), you have the option to upload images through the Wordpress Media Library, or you can upload a folder via FTP to your server, which Sunshine Photo Cart will automatically detect and import for you. The benefit of the FTP method is that it allows for downloadable files as well as the web versions.
The gallery options box below appears on every gallery page. You can require users to create an account before viewing the gallery. You can disable ordering (and just have it be a viewing gallery). Finally, there are two folders options: Images and Download. The former is for the Web viewing size, and the latter is if you want to enable the high-res file purchase or download. Assuming you’ve already uploaded your folder of images via FTP, it will be listed as one of the options to select from the drop-down menu, which also lists how many images are in the folder.
Each gallery thumbnail can be favorited, added to cart, or clicked on to enlarge to full web viewing size.
Once you click on an image, the ordering options will be available. In this instance I clicked on gift prints and the corresponding products from which I could make a selection and then add to the cart were displayed.
You can view the cart at any time, and the images are identified by filename, product type, and quantity; client notes are visible, too. Your client can add a discount code if you’ve supplied one to adjust the price before finalizing the order.
The checkout phase will capture your client’s billing and shipping information. You can provide options to pay by check (through the mail), Paypal, or if you have a pro account, two other methods as well. Shipping can be calculated on a flat-rate basis, or scaled according to your needs.
Once the order is submitted, both you and your client will receive an email confirming the order. It looks similar to the cart detail page, as you’ll see below. This is the client’s email; the one received by the studio will be slightly different.
Sunshine support, when I needed it, was efficient and helpful. There are help articles and documentation, support forums, and a priority support system (below). When you submit a support request, you have the option to give the developer access to your Wordpress admin dashboard by providing a username and password. This makes it easier for them to locate a solution to your problem.
I ended up submitting several support tickets, and each was resolved in a timely manner.
A couple of the issues were bugs in the software that the developer fixed upon discovery, while some issues arose from my use of a non-standard Wordpress theme (and desire to have the seamless theme integration). I was in the process of redoing my website anyway, so I switched to a theme that was properly coded, and then all of those issues were promptly resolved.
Overall I was very pleased with the installation and implementation of Sunshine Photo Cart. It smoothly integrated with my theme (once I switched to a properly coded theme), and the gallery creation process has been a breeze. I appreciate that there is no additional login information to remember, as with ordering systems I’ve used in the past, and the one-on-one support I’ve received has been phenomenal. I am nothing but pleased with this product, and if you use Wordpress to run your site, I think you will find this a great option for your Web cart ordering too.
Sunshine Photo Cart is available for $99, and the Pro version with enhanced support and additional features is $249. Both versions include unlimited galleries, photos, products, no transaction fees, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. A full features comparison list can be viewed at sunshinephotocart.com/pricing.
Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP is a portrait artist in Michigan. Her website is BPhotoArt.com.