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Friday, December 19, 2008

Post-Production and Outsourcing

I love it when I don’t have to come up with ideas for my blog. Sometimes, they just fall into my lap.

Here is an abridged thread from a discussion currently taking place on the [b] school.

The original question: “Ok do any of you guys outsource your photoshop work? If so who do you use? Do you like, love or hate them? …”

Some responses:

“I do not outsource anything, I do not feel ok with it...I want to do everything, I want creative control over it and when you out source I believe that you lose that control.

I know a lot of photographers who outsource the processing and the album design...if you want to do that, they should just get in touch with many of the affiliate/assiociate studios and just do shoot and burns for them, get a decent amount of money and not have to worry about anything else...

With that said, I have heard good things bout ShootDotEdit …”

-- From Brandon Perron


“Your business is like being the captain of your own ship. You have a variety of duties above and below the main deck. So if you are in the engine room or mopping floors you can't navigate your ship! Whoooo...that was deep. ;) Im a firm beliver in outsoucing to other professionals! People who are better then I am and like doing that stuff! You should work ON your business and not so much IN your business.
Of course you need to be comepletely comfortable with who you outsource to! It may take a while to "let go" of certain duties but it will be worth it in the end.

“Ive been using ShootDotEdit for 2 years now! Love them! Are are a bit pricey but believe they are worth it! I recently had a chance to sit down with one of the owners during my San Diego trip and chit chat. He is one hell of a guy and believes in what they are doing. “

-- from Rob Nicholson

OK, so we have two different views on whether to outsource post-production or not. In case you aren’t familiar with the [b] school, it is, among other things, a social network for professional photographers, at all different levels in their business careers, but primarily concentrating on weddings.

So, here’s my take – and since, I believe, the original question was asked in a business context, that’s how I will approach.

First, some personal history: My first paid job, in photography, was as a darkroom tech, back in 1970. From there, I began teaching the darkroom process (developing and printing). Over time, I added classes in basic photography – how to get the most out of your SLR.

For the first 30+ years, I rarely made a full-time job out of photography, but still managed to rack up about 600 weddings, all on film, prior to converting to digital, in the early 2000s.

Toward the end of the 1990s, I closed the small advertising agency where I was managing partner. The agency had a camera room/studio and I did a fair share of commercial photography, but it was not a full-time job.

Faced with, one more time, needing to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I turned to my standard fall-back position: Wedding photography.

Wedding photography had several ‘advantages’, in my mind. First, I didn’t have to have the overhead of an office, conference room, studio – reasoning that very few people dream of getting married in a studio. Having a studio seemed to indicate that I’d need ‘business hours’ and that might mean having a full-time receptionist. OK, so that might not be valid, but coming from the ad agency world, that was my thinking. Second, working directly with brides seemed a lot simpler than dealing with corporate clients, account executives, art directors, stylists, etc.

At the same time as I was considering shooting weddings full-time, the world was changing – digital had arrived. Coffee table, art book style albums where getting very popular. The mat/print, thick leather album was taking a back seat, and many of the old standard album binderies had not caught up.

All of that meant the workflow was changing. No longer did I set the canister on the counter, go back the next day, and retrieve the work of the lab tech. Also, designing an album was not as simple as selecting mats and sending in the prints.

This was going to take a new business model. Wedding photography, if it wasn’t going to rule my life, was going to have to fit into a more streamlined process.

I began to think back to my first days in the ad agency. When we started, my partner handled sales – getting the accounts. I did the rest – accounting, design, copywriting. Then, one day, he ‘sold’ a TV commercial. Holy crap! I couldn’t even draw storyboards. We had to contract with a ‘producer’. I learned a lot from the producer – he hired and coordinated all the people that needed to be involved in the production.

As we grew, and got larger jobs and bigger contracts, I became a ‘producer’. We would have died, very early on, if my partner and I had to do everything – even if we knew how to cast actors, run cameras and editing suites, schedule TV commercials, blah, blah ….

What I learned was simple: If you want to be successful in business, do what you know and enjoy – but more importantly, do only those things that no one else can do for you – then outsource everything else.

When I was doing a dozen weddings a year, it was no big deal. By the time I was shooting 40 weddings a year, I would have had no life if I were still trying to do everything.

I couldn’t outsource the photography – that, I had to do. (Yes, I realize there are agencies like Bella Pictures, or Jim Kennedy in Huntington Beach – we’ll have an interview with Jim, next month).

I also enjoyed the Photoshop work and album design, so I tried to do that for a long time. Eventually, I realized that, if I was going to still enjoy the photography, I had to get some help with the post-production. We averaged 40 weddings a year, along with model portfolios, portraits, corporate events, and a smattering of commercials jobs. For a while, my wife was a big help, but her heart wasn’t in it, so that wasn’t a permanent option for me (I envy those husband & wife teams who can do this business, together).

After more than five years, I experienced several minor strokes – not from the workload – probably from bad wedding cake :-).

Fortunately, I had a couple really good interns and second shooters and we never missed a beat, but I decided to go into semi-retirement. Now, I shoot just a few wedding and do a lot more sunsets and little league baseball games (still love the model portfolios!!!).

I love having full creative control. However, as a business case decision, it is not so wise. Do what only you can do. Maybe add a few other things that you enjoy. After that, outsource the things that someone else can do. Otherwise, your business cannot grow – or your personal life will suffer.

For another opinion of this, check out Dane Sanders and Fast Track photographer (interview with Dane also coming in January).

If you'd like to see the full discussion, come join us at the [b] school.

1 comment:

  1. This is great advice. Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions so carefully here for us newbies. :-)

    (from the [B] School)