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Work Smarter, Boost Your Income

For many freelances these days, it’s a case of work harder for less. But there is an alternative. How about working smarter? In practice, this means seeking out solutions that increase the time you spend taking pictures and earning money, by streamlining workflow, minimising tedious office admin, and maximising the efficiency of your business as a whole. With a host of productivity boosting software packages and online solutions available, help is readily at hand. And, from talking to freelances for this feature, it seems that, if you choose your system of support wisely, working smarter rather than harder doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice that personal touch.

 

Portrait Professional

With over 250,000 copies sold worldwide, Portrait Professional owes its origins to a National Film and Television School project developing face recognition technology for Vodafone. By comparing a given portrait with a databank of ‘ideal’ human faces, the package automatically corrects blemishes, speeding workflow and saving freelances many hours of painstaking Photoshop work.

“There’s massive timesaving involved”, says Andrew Berend, CEO of Anthropics Technology, the company behind Portrait Professional. “Photoshop is a very powerful tool, but it has no intelligence, in that it doesn’t know if you’re working on a photo of a face or a chair. What we’ve done with Portrait Professional is trained it, using thousands of photographs of people. And then, using a clever statistical technique, the software has learnt what is attractive in faces.“Its tools do different things depending on the face. For example, the jaw slider can correct for double chins automatically. All the tools customise themselves to the face, which means it’s massively faster to use than Photoshop and, because the software will analyse a particular face and try and move it toward beauty without losing identity, it doesn’t require much skill.

”The program, now in version 10, is currently available at 50% off its regular price. The standalone Standard program costs £29.95, while the Studio version, a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom which can do batch processing, costs £49.95. A further 10% off these prices is available for f2 readers who purchase online, quoting the code F2F312s. Says Keith Thompson, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers’ convention, “We mostly use Portrait Professional for batch processing, to speed things along. It’s one of our unique selling points, and it’s very popular with clients. We show what we can do to help them look even better, and it helps to get the bookings.”Thompson believes that couples today are looking to have a set of photos made that resemble the pictures in glossy magazines.

“Because now there is much more awareness of the tools available, people are looking for that, and almost expect too much sometimes”, he says. “A lot of girls want to look really glamorous, and if they can’t look glamorous on their wedding day, when can they? They’ve spent a fortune on the dress, hair, makeup and shoes, and obviously want to go over the top, so we just do that last little bit for them.

“Through using Portrait Professional for so long, we’ve found out its little quirks, like how it actually works better if you’re not so precise about where you put the positional markers on the face. You can work much faster with it the more you use it.” As regards digital retouching, Thompson is happy to go the whole hog, pinching waistlines and lengthening legs to keep his clients happy.

“It’s not only weddings”, he says. “We do portraits and makeovers too, where we go even further. There are so many photographers these days, it’s about keeping ahead of the field. If you can offer something inclusive that maybe another photographer would charge for, or not offer, you’ve got a bit of an edge.” 

Martin Sellars has been using Portrait Professional for the past five years. “I don’t use it for weddings, because the heads tend to be so small in group shots that you don’t notice its effect”, he says. “And also, these days they’ll be done up to the nines by a professional makeup artist. We do use it extensively for studio portraits though, and it’s certainly quick. We do a little bit extra in Photoshop, but it doesn’t require much. The other thing we’ve found is that you can use it for babies; if they’ve got severe eczema, it’s a tremendous boost.

”Echoing Thompson’s experience of client expectation, he says, “We did charge a bit extra when we first started using it, but as time’s gone on they now expect it. It’s been wonderful for the business, and there’s no question it’s increased productivity. To do what Portrait Professional does in a couple of minutes, you’re talking at least half an hour in Photoshop. And the good thing about it is, although it will do quite a heavy retouch, it retains all the pores, so the skin doesn’t look like plastic.

“I would recommend it to anybody, simply for its speed. And I’ve never had a client that didn’t like the result, or felt they looked over-retouched.” 

 

Sim2000 and Simlab

Sim2000’s free-to-download SimWare album creation software is another timesaver for social photographers. “Customers are able to create their own templates and layouts, and save them within the software so they can be reused”, says Sim2000’s MD Lee Simpson. “And we deliver a finished product ready to give to the customer - there’s no self assembly involved.” Simpson adds that the software is a work-in-progress, and users receive notifications of the latest updates and products.

“To see the pricing on our products”, he says, “you need to register with an email address and a website to get approved, because we deal a lot with wedding photographers, and we sometimes get brides trying to log on to see our prices.”There is the facility to track orders within each photographer’s account, with the latest feature being the ability to store payment details alongside order history, so payments can be deducted direct from whichever credit card is registered. Technical information, including colour profiles, is also provided. Sim2000 primarily deals with the fulfilment of album orders, while parallel business Simlab fulfils standalone print orders. “Delivery times are very quick and pricing is competitive”, says Simpson, “with available print sizes from 5x4 - 30x24ins.

”Having used Sim2000 for the past 10 years, Aberdeen-based wedding and portrait photographer Martin Leckie was one of its first customers. “It’s so easy to use”, he says. “You plug it all in and it automatically FTPs to the server. Simlab is good as well. Even though I’m 15 miles west of Aberdeen, if I order something in the afternoon, I’ve got it up here the next morning.”

“With a 5x4 print from Simlab costing 12p, it’s not actually worth me doing my own printing any more. That’s another way to streamline your business - purely by farming out your print orders. I do my own wedding design work. Because most of my clients live abroad, I find the ability to provide online proofing very useful. The quality of Sim’s product is very good, and it’s one of the few companies where, if you ring up, you can actually speak with the guy who owns the company!” 

 

theimagefile

Offering internet solutions for the freelance photographer - or to put it more directly, an entire web strategy in a virtual box - theimagefile offers time saving templates with which to create your own online shop window. According to MD Howard Butterfield, theimagefile provides the ability to sell, proof and distribute images in as many painless ways as possible, in up to three currencies. In so doing, it can make your one-man band seem a bigger concern to potential clients, with all the benefits this might entail. As well as saving time and boosting your profile, it also offers the potential to save money. theimagefile has negotiated discounts with prolabs including Sim2000 and Loxley Colour, and offers a free service whereby prints can be shipped direct to your clients under your own branding.

Alternatively, to generate more revenue easily, you can sell your pictures electronically via your own site, or via theimagefile’s image library.You can trial theimagefile for a £1 fee, with a monthly fee payable thereafter. The service renews a month at a time, so freelances aren’t tied into a 12-month contract as with some rivals, plus there’s a round the clock helpdesk accessible.

Butterfield maintains that his company’s USP is that it can offer freelances ‘the whole package’. It’s not just about creating an effective website and e-commerce facility, but creating an entire business strategy for its customers. “We do the whole thing from beginning to end, and take responsibility as well”, says Butterfield.

“I started wading through options that would bolt on to an existing website”, says social and commercial photographer Michael Cockerham. “But I was swayed by the fact that you could try the service out for £1, and then have a contract on a rolling basis with no obligations. “It seemed there was an enormous amount to get my head around at first, until I stopped trying to compare it to other software. It’s actually very photographer friendly. I liked the way I could combine it with my existing PayPal arrangements, so that payments come directly to me rather than through a third party, although there are other payment options and incentives.

“Virtually anything you could think you might want to do already exists within theimagefile, probably in three different ways. So there is a great deal to be gained from playing around with all the options. And even with the level of understanding I have of it, there are still things that I’ve never even looked at.

“It’s an e-commerce solution, but it’s more than that. I wanted the experience to be seamless, so that when my customers go into the client area, which is part of theimagefile, they’re under the impression they’re still in my website. This was the first thing I talked to theimagefile’s technical department about, which is calming, knowledgeable and capable. Nothing is too much trouble, plus it’s done instantly. I had theimagefile part of my site tailored to match the rest very quickly.

“And unlike other client area solutions, with theimagefile I can have different pricing structures depending on the nature of the client, so prices for schools’ clients are different to those for my wedding customers. I can set shipping prices differently, and calculate the price by weight and size automatically depending on where it’s going to in the world, plus there’s the option to give clients digital download facilities, which will price and provide the product without any intervention from me.”

Cockerham adds that theimagefile is proactive about putting more usability in the hands of its photographer clients. “It’s like you feel these guys are working there just for you”, he says. “It costs me around £35 a month, but I don’t begrudge it at all. It’s all tax deductible, and completely worth it.”

 

Light Blue

When not taking photos, a large part of a freelance’s life can be swallowed up with managing the business and protecting assets. Just how large a part depends on how well organised you are, and this is another area in which a paid-for solution could prove to be worth its weight in gold.

Designed for all types of photographers, from one-person businesses to studios with several staff, Light Blue is a flexible piece of business management software that lets you keep on top of shoots, orders and contacts.

Bursting with clever features, it makes it easy to manage your image files, publish them in web galleries, and profit from them. Pitched as the management software equivalent of Photoshop, it is available for PC and Mac. Currently in Version 3.3, Light Blue intends to keep you on top of the virtual paperwork, streamlining the day-to-day jobs.

With a 30 day free trial of a full working package offered so that freelances can assess its worth, Light Blue can be bought outright for £295 + VAT, an investment that could easily be recouped after a single client booking or commission.

“I use Light Blue for just about everything”, says portrait and wedding photographer Louise Beattie. “I turn to it every day, putting all my enquiries straight into it. It provides you with a home page with four main areas. One is for statistics; one is for enquiries; there’s a ‘to do’ section; and then there’s a list of all your current shoots. So you can see where you are, and what you need to action, straight away.

“I recommend setting up an enquiries workflow. You can set it up to work from a wedding date, for example, so that a month before you can check you’ve been paid. Because you can automate a lot of things with it, Light Blue takes away a lot of the work. You can even set up a standard photograph list for weddings, and import that into the schedules for a typical wedding day.”Having used the software for the past two years, Beattie describes the initial setup as user friendly, saying she ‘clicked’ with it pretty quickly.

“It’s intuitive, plus there’s a full help manual”, she says, adding that using Light Blue is like having a virtual assistant or secretary. “All my bookkeeping is done within Light Blue, and my bookkeeper can go into it remotely”, she says. “All my client management is in it, so I can send out mass emails if I’ve got an announcement to make. I don’t use it for web galleries, but there’s that facility as well, plus PayPal, so people can order direct from a website.

”Discussing how Light Blue has affected her working life, Beattie says that life is so much simpler now she has everything in one place. “I recommend using it sooner rather than later”, she adds, “because as you get further into your business, there’s probably more data to go back and input. Light Blue is proactive in terms of answering queries and making updates. Support is superb. I can access it from iPad, iPhone and laptop. There’s an additional monthly charge, but for that convenience it’s definitely worth it. And you can tweak the program a little bit if you want to - it’s always nice to personalise it.”

That every freelance photographer should have a website meanwhile is a given. But some don’t utilise theirs to their full advantage. While they can of course function simply as a showcase, you can utilise the creative and technological potential of the web to improve your bottom line, and increase your efficiency. 

 

Amazing Internet

Amazing Internet specialises in web services for photographers and the arts sector. Talking about its Pro Series of websites, Marketing Manager Tom Hardy says, “They’re aimed at freelances who need to upgrade from a template service to a cutting-edge custom style site, but without the custom price tag. With a full custom site, we start from scratch and build the site according to unique client requirements, whereas with the Pro Series, we’ve created some designs and layouts that take the client a lot closer to the finished site much faster. With a template site, the code is shared across all similar sites, but with Pro series it’s a unique build, so the client can have options that are not possible in a template build.

“A website is still the first point of contact for many clients, and being able to rapidly get the information is vital. A website that works fast, is easy to navigate, and works in all browsers and all devices (especially avoiding Flash which doesn’t work on iPad or iPhone) and which gets a viewer to stunning images in seconds, is still the best guarantee that viewers will engage with your work and pick up the phone or make contact.

Karen Julia shoots about 50 weddings a year. “I based myself in Manchester because of the number of people living in the area”, she says. “There are 5 million + people within commuting distance, which is more than the population of Scotland.”

Karen Julia has been with Amazing Internet since she set up her business in 2005. She started out using its standard template service, the idea initially being that this was going to be a temporary step, prior to building her own site. But she had so much good feedback from customers, as it was so simple to use, clean and straightforward, that she decided to stick with it. “

The reason why Amazing Internet is so good is because it’s simple, and doesn’t get caught up in being fancy”, she says. “It is also really easy for my customers to access information. In this case, less is definitely more.”

Recently upgrading her site to Amazing Internet’s Pro Series, she says, “It provides a balance between a customised website and a template. It’s simple and quick, yet you can put your own branding on it. With custom built websites, there is a lot of time and effort involved, when really you want to be out there earning money and not designing a website. I said to Amazing Internet, “Here is what I want. That’s what I like and that’s what I don’t like. Go play.” Karen Julia’s website and blog work in harmony, coming high up in different searches. “The website comes up higher if you put in the area”, she says, “while the blog works more with venue searches.”

She uses Facebook, finding it more effective with customers that have already booked than with new ones, as they can go on and post questions about their day, and so on. “You can use it to build a connection with customers”, she says, “forming a virtual network.”  

 

Clikpic

“Many clients use our templates as a starting point to create their own unique site without any web programming knowledge”, says Clikpic’s Thomas Peer. “Our customisation options are hugely popular - almost all our clients have had a try at customising their styling in some way or other. We’ve also seen lots of customers adding in Facebook ‘like’ buttons, and other social media tags. This is all now much easier with our new release.

“Search engine optimisation is as important as ever, and we’ve introduced a raft of features for fine-tuning a Clikpic site, including editable meta tags, file name control, and site maps. Our clients have always been able to include movies and other external media on our sites, using the embed code you find on sites like YouTube. Flash remains the best option for the widest audience, but you’ll have to use Quicktime for iPads.

“With the range of sites available from us, and our competitors, there’s no reason a freelance should be thinking about developing their own site. You could spend thousands, and still not achieve the level of functionality available in a £40/year hosted package. The place to spend money is on the look and feel, which a graphic designer can provide as part of a general visual identity. For a total package including a logo, stationery designs, and graphics for your website, you should be budgeting around £400-600.”

Jonathan Chritchley has two websites hosted by Clikpic, a portfolio site at www.jonathanchritchley.net, and a site for his workshops and courses at www.oceancapture.com. He started out as a photographer, then moved onto other things, like watersports and sailing, before getting back into photography about five years ago.

“At that point, I launched myself as a fine art photographer”, he says, “offering black and white photographs of the sea and sailing boats, so there was a unification of my two passions: photography and water.  “I discovered Clikpic when I Googled to see what was available, because I didn’t have the money to spend £2000 on a custom built site. It offered a free trial. I was pleased with the way it worked out, and so I started an initial site with Clikpic.

”Using any way he could to get his name out there - marketing, search engine optimisation, Facebook, magazine features - Chritchley quickly reached the point where his site was getting about 1000 visits a week, and began looking for ways to turn that into something else.“We were based in France, and my wife was pregnant with twins”, he says. “I needed to get myself up and running as quickly as I could, because I knew that as soon as you have kids, there’s going to be a hole in the wallet.

“I needed to make the business work. It was a dream, but it had to be a reality if I wanted to pay the mortgage, so I looked at every possible way to make it happen. Developing and building my portfolio was important to that process, and a website gallery was a logical step.

“Some of the visitors to my site were very kind about my work, and some suggested I try offering workshops, as I live in a nice part of the world, and that’s how I ended up formulating the plan behind Ocean Capture, the company I went on to form.

“The first few months, it was just me running a few workshops in south west France. Very quickly, that progressed to the point where it was still only me, but now running tours in places like Iceland, China and Africa. Then lately, I decided to expand the business by bringing in other like-minded photographers and guides.

“Clikpic has been very good. Realising that I was perhaps coming at it from a different angle, it has used my website homepage for its advertising from early on, in pretty much every photographic magazine in the UK. That obviously gave a big boost to my site.

“I find that most people compliment my websites for their simplicity, speed and the way they’re laid out, so that’s a compliment to Clikpic as well as to me.

“I use one of the very simple templates for both my websites, although I’ve adapted them quite a lot through my basic knowledge of HTML, which I picked up online, changing the banners, the colours of the background, where the menus are - all that kind of stuff, which is very much possible with Clikpic, and I’ve found very useful.”

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This article is taken from Vol 6 No 2. THE BUSINESS 24. Work Smarter, Not Harder.