James C. Wong, Co-Founder & General Partner of Empowered Ideas
Since 2004, digital photography has dominated the marketplace, from consumer electronics to retail photo and image processing labs. Digital has all but killed traditional film as the world’s premier photography medium.
While the photography industry as a whole, is overly saturated with sub-par photographers, there is a sub-industry quickly gaining momentum… Virtual Labs.
Why Camera Platforms Matter
Every photographer has a preferred camera platform, whether it’s Nikon, Cannon, Sony, or one of a variety of other brands. However, all professional photographers will agree… if you’re going to shoot digital, it must be a Digital SLR (DSLR). If you’re working with a photographer with a simple $100-$300 “Point-and-Shoot” camera, you’re NOT working with a professional photographer. The easiest way to identify an DSLR from a point-and-shoot, is the simple fact that DSLR camera platforms come in two primary pieces: a camera body, and a camera lens. Different camera lenses provide different shooting capabilities, while filters added to a lens provides a level of fine-tuning to images shot through the filter.
The Digital Work-Flow
Photographers have traditionally both photographed subjects and events, while also personally handling the editing of the final photos — typically through a photo-editing software like Photoshop, or an equivalent software suite. However, due to the technical and bandwidth requirements of today’s fast-paced industry, clients are expecting faster turn-around, greater special effects and re-touching, and lower costs per project.
In an effort to remain in business, Photographers are forced to accept as many projects as possible, while not having the adequate amount of time needed to edit all the media they’re generating from their various projects. Therefore, some photographers have started outsourcing their digital editing workload to virtual labs which will crop, edit, and even print the finals — leaving the photographers to do what they do best, capture memorable moments.
The Professionals Behind-the Scenes
Virtual Labs are becoming popular world-wide, as photographers and photo-production specialists begin to integrate their work-flows in an effort to increase production. While most serious photographers remain the sole individual from the photo shoot to editing to printing, a growing number of photographers have begun to opt into work-flow agreements with digital labs, also known as virtual labs. These labs are typically staffed with professional photographers who have gravitated more toward digital re-touching verses the actual taking of the photos. With their experience in the field, as well as in the lab, these individuals are the perfect creative channel to have your work processed through.
However, with that being said, this type of work-flow should only be used if you trust the individuals at the digital lab you’ve chosen. Not all photo-production specialists have the same background, and each of them have different variations in creative license. The biggest draw-back with using digital or virtual labs, is the loss of creative license by the photographer.
Remember, if you’re a photographer, every photo that you put your watermark on, is a direct and everlasting digital representation of your brand and your personal work. Photographers must seriously consider all of the ramifications before deciding to outsource their post-production to assistants and/or digital labs. On the bright-side, if you find a lab that provides the level of quality and production value that your clients expect, you could ultimately increase the performance of your studio exponentially.
Find the Right Pro for Your Project
If you’re a potential client looking for a photographer for your next big event, there are a few things you should ask your candidates:
- What camera platform are they using? 35mm film or a Digital DSLR?
- If your project requires special lighting or a studio environment, what equipment do they have available?
- Do they manage their digtal post-production (photo-editing) in-house, or do they outsource?
- Ask for samples of their work, either digitally or via prints (Pre and Post-Editing).