be ready when technology changes your industry Featured

9:59am EDT July 22, 2002

When Scott Pease bought $35,000 worth of digital photography equipment between August 1997 and April 1998, the Solon photographer wasn't buying technology for technology's sake. He was investing in his studio's survival.

Pease's business wasn't struggling when he began making purchases. He had a thriving business taking photographs for catalogs and sales literature for such high profile clients as Eaton Corp., The Step 2 Co., Pioneer Standard Electronics and The Mazel Co.

But Pease prides himself on being both an ardent follower of advancements in his industry and being articulate and knowledgeable about commercial photography in general. He'd read industry estimates that projected by the year 2000 that 80 percent of all commercial photo projects would be done digitally by 40 percent of the photographers-those who were capable of such projects.

"That only left 20 percent of the assignments being done conventionally by 60 percent of the photographers," explains Pease. "That means it's going to be a nightmare for the guys who aren't set up to do digital photography."

Rather than be left with the majority battling it out for a smaller share of the pie, Pease in May 1997 chose instead to integrate digital photography into his 13-year-old studio.

In addition to planning for the long term, Pease's investment has allowed him to maintain more creative control over his work, lower costs and save himself and his clients money and time.

By now, most people have seen digital cameras in stores. Those models let you take pictures, which are stored on disc and can be viewed instantly on your computer. Color copies can be printed out for use in almost anything. The professional process is similar, but much more complex-and costly.

First, Pease bought a new computer, scanner, CD burner and high-tech photography software. The basic combination gave him the capability to scan in conventional photos, make computer-assisted enhancements and transfer the finished product onto CD-ROMs to take to the printing labs.

In August, Pease took it one step further. He bought a film scanner. That allowed him to scan in negatives for digital processing. In November, he purchased a color printer so he could print color photos at his studio instead of at a lab.

Finally, in April 1998, Pease added the final piece-a professional model digital camera. That gave him the complete package. "It was a large chunk of change to put out," says Pease about the investment. He hopes to recover that investment over the next five years by being able to provide a broader range of work. The equipment, he says, should last about 10 years.

When it all was integrated, things began to happen. Pease says with each new piece of equipment, he gained more control over the photography process. There was less reliance on photo labs to do his studio's film processing. That translated into lower production costs, which he could pass on to his clients.

Processing labs cost him about $125 per hour for scanning in the film and outputting it into a file, says Pease. If a slide or negative were needed, it cost another $125. With the new technology, Pease was able to charge his customers less than $100 an hour to do the same processing work.

"They noticed," Pease says. "In fact, there were several clients who were already familiar with the digital process and had used it in-house to alter images on their computers. When they saw we were using digital photography as well, it opened up a lot of work for us."

That included more catalogs, sales literature and trade show displays. It was a direct result of the benefits of digital photography-one of which is the ability to make composites of two or three different images on one finished photo.

Such was the case when, in early 1998, one of Pease's clients needed an image of a child on one of its sleds sliding down a snow-covered hill in front of a country home.

Pease could have taken the shoot on the road and found such a backdrop to take the pictures. But that would have been exceedingly expensive. Instead, Pease shot the child on the sled in the studio, surrounded by fake snow. Then, he took pictures of the house and the snow-covered hill. He transposed the image of the child over the other image to create the illusion that the child was in front of the house. The final result was so good it was nearly impossible to tell it wasn't one photo.

Previously, Pease shot pictures and had the film developed in a lab. He'd go over the photos with his client's art directors, who would suggest changes. The photos would then be taken to a service bureau, where they were altered to the art director's specifications.

But the digital process allowed all that to be brought in house. "I can do a whole lot more in a lot less time," he says. And because his work is more efficient, clients seem more satisfied. Especially, Pease says, since they're able to view images much more quickly.

"It used to take up to three days to get film processed," he recalls. "No longer. It puts the image immediately into a client's hands. More work can be done in a shorter amount of time. And if changes need to be made, we can take the digital image and work on it right there."

While it's difficult to say exactly how much more efficient the integration of digital equipment has been, Pease says it's improved productivity for each project by between 100 and 200 percent. "It's all the same medium now," he explains. "Since it's in the computer, it's all part of the same loop-from the moment the photo's taken to the moment it's printed out."

So far, more than a third of Pease's regular clientele have taken advantage of the studio's digital abilities. "Once they see it used, they want to use it every time there's a shoot," he says. "The rest are catching on and getting on board slowly. It's quickly becoming the choice."