Text by Diane Berkenfeld
Digital Brings New Products & Challenges to Labs
From photographers to | their labs to the manufacturers of all the great digital equipment, digital imaging has brought great opportunities as well as challenges. Some photographers have found digital imaging to be a blessing, affording them greater creativity, control, and image management. Others have not wonted to leave the film they've inhabited so long.
Professional labs, like photographers, have had to learn a whole new workflow as well. Steve Troup, president and CEO of BUCKEYE COLOR LAB (www.buckeyecolorlab.com) admits, "We're [labs] learning at the same time as our customers. At Buckeye Color Labs, we're doing all we can to help our customers in this transition. We've taken on a bigger role," because the lab not only provides the products and services they always have -such as processing, proofing, enlargement printing etc.but now education has become just as important.
"Throughout the transition, Buckeye has maintained a high-quality product with quick turnaround," Troup says.
Felix Cartagena, director of marketing and sales for PPS LAB (www.ppslab.com), also sees the lab's role expanding. "Professional portrait and wedding labs are becoming more of a service bureau than just a lab."
PPS has begun offering a la carte services, as opposed to the package services most labs were known for. Cartagena explains that PPS has created a variety of new services for its digital shooters, including a digital proof book, a spiral bound book of thumbnail images from a shoot, online ordering, and proofs with special effects, like sloppy edges. One of the products PPS customers aren't asking for anymore: preview slides from negatives. Photographers are previewing images by computer rather than slide projectors these days.
Buckeye's Troup is excited about digital, because his lab now offers more and varied products to their customers, as the needs of the customers have changed.
Processing and proofing orders are down slightly, but Buckeye and other labs have seen an increase in digital proofing as their customers make the switch to digital capture.
Photographers often want to offer newer and different products than other photographers they are competing with for business. "To survive in the marketplace, studios and labs alike are going to have to find new ways to compete," Troup says. The company is addressing its staffing and equipment needs to accomplish just that.
FILM, DIGITAL,AND HYBRID SHOOTERS
Cartagena says about 80 percent of his customers are hybrid, shooting film that PPS scans, and prints digitally. Troup said he expects film captured images to become less a part of the business, but there will always be some people using it.
Pamela Crist and Katherine Watlington own DALMATION LAB (www.dalmatianlab.com), a custom B&W lab. They do both traditional B&W processing and printing, as well as digital and Giclee printing. Crist says customers are happy coming to them for the high-end B&W work and going elsewhere for their color needs, which works, since many Dalmatian customers utilize a mix of color and B&W in their work.
The lab has seen a drop in proofing but its main focus is quality, archival custom enlargements. According to Crist, most of the printers she and Watlington hire are photographers, because they can relate better to the customer.
Ann Savickas and John Garcia own COLORART INC, a custom color lab whose customers are mostly all shooting film. "We still have a lot of work coming in, in negatives. It's what the photographers are comfortable with," Savickas says. Colorart is a small, quality lab, that only prints enlargements, up to 16x20-inches. Their customers are perfectly happy to have Colorart print their enlargements and go elsewhere for their other needs, such as B&W printing.
Savickas says she and Garcia will let their customers dictate when they should make the transition to digital. They have been educating themselves with regards to digital, but are kept quite busy with film presently.
"The trick," Savickas says, regarding the transition from film to digital, "is just like any other business: doing what you're doing and preparing yourself for the future."