Sunday, March 15, 2009

Starting Off Part 5: The Product

Getting ready to wrap up the Starting Off series, I'd like to next focus on exactly what it is that you're going to sell: your products.

A quick side trip.

First, get rid of the notion that your product is tangible; you're not selling a print, album, or file: what you're really selling is your time, talent, and artistic vision, that is only being represented in a print, album, or file. Your real product is a form of intellectual property protected by the Copyright office of your country. Do not sell yourself short when performing a shoot or service, thinking that all you're really selling is a piece of paper with some ink on it: that's not the real product. And when (not if, but when) your customer claims that you're ripping him off as you're selling (for example) a 5"x7" print for $25 when he can get one printed at Sam's for $0.40. You need to have a game plan to defend yourself for this, but that's another story....

OK, you're really selling a service, but your customers really want to buy something they can hold in their hands (or view on a computer): a print, album, or file. Yes, I know I just said that this isn't what you're really selling, but to your customer, it is. So, that said, let's talk product.

Printing: Quality matters.

When it comes to prints, there really is a difference. If you have a print from a professional lab in one hand, and a print from a 1-hour corner store, you can tell the difference--and more importantly, so can your customers! It is true that if you hand one print to a customer from one source, and they don't have something physical in-hand to compare it to, they'll be hard-pressed to feel the difference. However, once they handle your prints, when they handle one from Target or *shiver* Walgreens, they'll feel a difference. But professional printing goes beyond the paper.

A lab does so much more than just print on professional paper. Color correction? Check. Increasing resolution ("up-rez" or "ripping")? Check. Drop-shipment with professional, high-quality packaging? Some do (but you will pay for it!).

Personally, I use only a few labs, and I can count on one hand the number of issues I've had with either. In fact, if I eliminate those issues that were caused by me (guilty as charged!), that number decreases to ZERO. In fact, my main lab will call me up if they even think there's an issue with either the file uploaded, the print, or the shipping. Case in point: I received a phone call yesterday from my lab on an order I was having drop-shipped to my customer. It seems they validated the address, and it came up invalid. Sure enough, I flubbed the street number when I entered it. Did they have to validate the address? Perhaps their software did it for them, but they could have chosen to ignore it and ship it anyway. Instead, they took the time to telephone and confirm.

I'm going to leave albums for another post (since I'm so late on this one as it is), but let me move on to files....

A Digital Revolution.

More and more of my customers are asking for digital files, and not just low-resolution web files, but full-resolution printable files. I hesitated for a while about this: selling a CD of photos means the printing is out of my control in both quality and quantity. No more should I expect to receive a reprint order, and who knows what the prints look like. Eventually, I gave in, and boy am I happy for it.

(Note: Selling digital files is not suitable for every photography business out there. I shoot mostly youth sporting events such as gymnastics meets, cheer-leading competitions, and field sports, where selling CDs are now the norm, and the parents expect it.)

At first, I sold only edited files on CD, cropped down to a 4x6 @ 300 dpi resolution, and touted it as a 4x6 CD. I noticed a few issues, though. First, I was spending way, WAY too much editing time, even if all I did was a noise-reduction, color correction, straighten, and crop. That just took too long. Second, 8x10 prints from these so-called 4x6 files were acceptable to my customers, so I wasn't limiting my print sales losses to 4x6 prints. Third, in order to justify the time, I had to charge more for the CD--and parents didn't like that.

So, I got rid of the edits (except for a batch noise-reduction for high-ISO shoots like gymnastics), burned full-resolution files to CD, and sold them for less. The results? Staggering. At a recent gymnastics meet, my CD sales represented over 80% of my on-site sales. I was able to convince parents (and rightly so!) who were going to spend $30 on a few prints to spend $50 for the CD. Not only did they get more photographs of their child, I spent less time editing and less on materials. I considered this a WIN-WIN for both of us. And the response? Very good would be an understatement.

However, don't think you can burn a CD with files and be done with it. I don't use those generic CD-R disks you can buy for $0.10 now-a-days. Instead, I purchase ink-jet printable CDs, and print on them with the photo information (in my case, the event, date, and location) as well as a photo print release right on the disk.

How the disk looks is part of the packaging of the products, which can be an entire post on its own.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Get a free bag from Think Tank Photo!

Think Tank Photo is one of the top manufacturer's of photography carrying equipment, meaning bags, roller bags, belt and carry systems, backpacks, you name it. And now, Think Tank Photo is giving away a free bag with any purchase over $50. How, you ask? Easy, click right on the icon below:

and then shop on their site. Your choices for the free bag include a Lens Changer 50, Lens Drop In, All The Other Stuff, or Bum Bag, all of which work with or without their belt system.

Personally, I own their Airport International v2.0, and absolutely love it, along with their Artificial Intelligence 15 notebook PC case that fits inside the International. I also own several of their "can't live without" Pixel Pocket Rockets to hold my CF cards and their Lightning Fast case. The build quality of these bags and cases are fabulous.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Useful Links #2

Another interruption of the Starting Off series before I start to wrap it up, and again, another Useful Links post. Here are some more links that I find very useful, and am sure you will, too.

First, I have Steven Frischling's (aka Fish) Flying with Fish blog. This blog is great for the photographer who's going to travel with her gear, even occasionally. This blog is great for non-photographers who travel frequently. Heck, this blog is great, period. This blog is on my RSS feed, so I catch every update. He's great at pointing out new space-saving or weight-saving gear, and has lots of insight on how you pack and carry your photography gear when traveling. Before I fly anywhere, I make sure I go back and read a few of his posts to familiarize myself with some great hints on how to survive airports.

Next, I'd like to present my favorite photography-based forum,, affectionately known as "FM" to its posters. It's very-much leaning more toward the professionals, semi-professionals, and advanced amateurs than "Suzy Soccermom" or "Steve Swimmingdad" who just got a dSLR and wants to know what gear to buy. Sure, there are the gear forums, but the specialty forums (such as Sports, Weddings, and People) are the best. And if you want to be blown away by some photos, take a look at the competitions. They have weekly and monthly competitions. And then there's the Review section and the Buy and Sell forums, which are also top-notch. If you read only one forum, I highly recommend

Lastly, we all need some humor in our lives, and What the Duck is the photographer's outlet. It's a great web-comic, and his t-shirts are pretty darn funny, too. You definitely need to check this out.