Photo proofs are the Trojan Horse of a photographer's profit making arsenal--they infiltrate the sanctuary of a client's home and out pour the memories. But whether those memories catalyze reprints hinges greatly on how they are relived. The emergence of online and DVD proofing solutions have given photographers greater control over the client's proof-viewing experience, taking them from page to screen and from passive to interactive. To gauge the relative merits of each, we spoke with several professionals, to hear about their experiences with a range of solutions.
Photographer Raymond Fosdick of Houston, TX-based Shutterfly Productions, has been using ImageQuix's online proofing service for roughly a year and a half. Since beginning use of the service, he as enjoyed a whopping 400 percent increase in reprint orders.
The service also allows him to make changes from anywhere, at anytime. "It gives you all the tools at your fingertips. From my iPhone in Nigeria I could change the entire price list of an order," he said.
Fosdick has gleaned one key customer insight from online proofing--consumers procrastinate. His policy is to keep event proofs online for sixty days. "I send my clients three emails. The first tells them that the photos are online." The second email comes at the 30-day mark, and the final email warns customers that they have 10 days left to enjoy the photos online. "All the reprints come in after that last email," Fosdick said.
Though Fosdick studied the DVD proofing options, he said that he "wanted to be able to hit the most amount of people with the least amount of work and expense." Only the internet could deliver such extended reach. The viral nature of the internet--with clients sending links far and wide--helps spur additional sales. Fosdick still offers a proof book containing 1.5x2-inch photos, so the client can order reprints five or ten years down the road.
Before adding PickPic's online proofing service to his studio, Joe Mikos of Joe Mikos Photography, in Oak Bluffs, MA, was laboring with a basic e-commerce program. The switch, made roughly three years ago, "has been a phenomenal experience." Mikos was an early adopter of online proofing. "I knew I wanted to control the viewing experience within my site."
DVD solutions throw too many obstacles in the way of customer ordering, and limits the number of people that can view the photos, Mikos said. "There's a tech support issue too--will it play in the computer or the TV? I don't have time to troubleshoot problems." Besides, "if I just offer them low-res JPEGs, they would make the prints themselves."
Though he continues to offer a proof book, Mikos thinks the immediacy of internet proofing plus the client's ability to share images has resonated with customers. Despite the popularity of the internet, Mikos doesn't see an end to the printed proof. "As much as I want to get rid of the proof book I don't know if I can because my clients enjoy it so much. Parents and grandparents too, are not computer savvy.
As with his peers, Chris Genovese from Baton Rouge, LA-based Genovese Photography, sought an online solution to reach more people. He chose Collages.net, saying it has "absolutely helped the bottom line." Particularly helpful is the service's marketing. "The holidays are big for us and we don't have to do any of the marketing. It saves me a huge amount of time."
Most of his clients ask for digital proofs instead of a printed book, however Genovese does not see the traditional proof book going away. Most clients like the security of having the images and the book; and unlike a DVD, is harder to duplicate and reprint on their own, he said.
Online proofing can market not simply an event, but a photographer, observed Dane Sanders, from Costa Mesa, CA. A Pictage user since 2003, Sanders said that shared galleries has been a huge driver of word-of-mouth business.
The linkage between the online interface and lab meant that Sanders could outsource the process and use the free time to drive more business. "It's helpful for me, because I don't have to think about it. I just get a check in the mail." Sanders said that he toyed with the idea of offering DVD proofs, but was worried that DVD as a data format would be eclipsed by emerging technologies, while the internet was ubiquitous.
If the internet is viral, the DVD is tangible and in photography, that still counts for something. Online proofing is still limited to the size of a computer monitor that the images are viewed on, but DVDs can take event photos to the big screen of the television, and in the more relaxing environment of the living room.
Pierre Stephenson of Madison, WI-based Pierre's Portrait Art Company, adopted Emotion Media's DVD proofing solution in the fall of 2007and just finished his first full summer using it for two thirds of all his proofs. Stephenson came to DVD proofing from the old fashion proof book after one of his photographers came back from a trade show raving about it. "I wasn't looking for an alternative to proof books. I thought our system was working," Stephenson admitted. However, once he saw the "professional look and ease of use" of Emotion Media he changed his mind. Now, the DVD is standard and the proof book is an extra.
Stephenson said he came to realize that "by delivering paper proofs we cut into our reorders." Emotion, on the other hand, "had a very big impact on our reorders." Stephenson had just come off his busiest Christmas ever, despite doing fewer weddings last year.
He does maintain an online gallery of weddings, but not for proofing. "The sheer volume of images would overwhelm people and make it difficult for them to choose." Besides, he said, putting everything online might facilitate sharing and viewing, but not ordering.
Geography matters too. Many of Kevin Dooley's New Mexican customers (or their families) don't have broadband internet access. "They may not even own a computer, but they definitely have a DVD player," Dooley said. He uses Lustre Color's DVD proofing service for close to 75 percent of all his wedding proofs. "We've been promoting it aggressively because it's really cost-effective for us."
Dooley said he preferred the DVD solution to online options because it brings photos into the living room, onto the big screen, but also because it will stay with the client long after an online show has been pulled down.
"My philosophy is full service," said Marc Benjamin of Kickstep Photography, in Suisan, CA. "It's not either/or" when it comes to online proofing vs. DVD. "It's both." Benjamin, who uses Photodex's Proshow Producer, likes the ability to output a slideshow to a variety of formats. Unlike online solutions, which are tied to a monitor, a Photodex slideshow can be output to Blu-ray discs for viewing on a high definition television or Flash for the Web.