February 02, 2004

Photo Kiosks

Independent shops say
they still fill photo niche..."St. Germain has three digital photo kiosks in his shop now; soon, there will be five."

THE DOWNTOWN photo shop that caters mostly to memories may be changing, but it is not about to disappear.

Forty years ago, when Kodak was king, the wall behind a shops counter invariably had a large herringbone shelf, its slots crammed with colorful boxes that offered an array of film both daunting and challenging to the amateur photographer.

Walk through the door now and there are people sitting in booths, pushing buttons, picking photographic memories from digitized images.

I think the change from film to digital is bigger than was the change from black and white to color, said Steve Bedell, who owns a photo studio in Dover, writes for Shutter Bug magazine and is president of the New Hampshire Professional Photographers Association.

For 25 years, Bedell has made his living taking pictures. For the past three or so, hes done most of his work with digital equipment, which is what most of the pros are using now.

It is technically more difficult to shoot digital, Bedell said. You have to have basically a perfect exposure.

Film is more flexible and forgiving.

But amateurs are fascinated by the LCD screen on the back of the digital camera that instantly shows the image the shutters snap has captured on the cameras memory card.

For amateurs, who dont know if they got it half the time, that is a very big thing, Bedell said.

Kodak cuts exposure

Big enough that Eastman Kodak, the company that turned picture-taking into a hobby for the masses a century ago, plans to cut more than 12,000 jobs, about 25 percent of its work force, and stop selling reloadable film cameras as it struggles to make the transition from film to digital photography.

Worldwide last year, 53 million cameras that record snapshots on computer chips were sold, compared with 50 million traditional cameras. It was the first year that digital cameras outsold film cameras in the United States.

Thus the need for change at the retail photo shop.

Since 1924, photography in Laconia has been synonymous with the Achber Studio, 39 Canal Street. Tim Cameron, a professional with 25 years of experience, is in charge there now. Most of his work is done with digital equipment.

Weve been backing out of it for years, Cameron said of the retail, film-based amateur end of the market.

In the 70s, we had three racks of Kodak film. Now, I have one little shelf to continue to service clients. And Im not looking for any new ones because there arent any, Cameron said.

In my opinion, the photo shops we used to have on Main Street are either going to be service bureaus, where you take digital files and they print them and you get good quality images, or they are going to have to find another line of work, he said.

Photo shop owners do not disagree.

In fact, they say they have embraced the changes forced upon them by digital technology.

Shifting focus

Paul Soucy had almost 20 years in the retailing end of photography when he took over Photo World at the Northside Plaza in Manchester.

One of the first things we did was bring in new (digital processing) equipment because I know where its going, Soucy said.

At the Foto Factory on Main Street in Littleton, Art Tighe compared digitals effect on the retail photo market to what would happen if the automobile industry suddenly discovered a new method of propulsion.

The whole industry has turned around and people are buying into that. That is what digital has done for us, said Tighe.

Since he bought the shop five years ago, Tighe has invested heavily in digitally-compatible processing equipment. He still can develop film, but now he can transfer the image to a CD-Rom digital negative and make a quality print from that digitized image. His customers can sit at a digital photo kiosk, insert their digital cameras memory card, look at an image, crop it, remove red eye, press a button or two and produce a print on quality paper.

The counters on Tighes processing machines confirm he is developing fewer rolls of film, but he is making more prints because the kiosk customers are enthralled by their new-found freedom to pick out only the images they want to print.

The biggest complaint I get when it comes to film is that the picture is blurry or I didnt get back the picture I saw in the camera. Now, with digital, they are having success and theyre excited by that. Theyre walking around . . . taking pictures of everything because its so new. And its tangible: You know what you are going to get back. Its kind of awesome, Tighe said.

For the computer savvy, digital offers the option of in-home printing. You can invest in scanners and inkjet printers, store images in a computers memory, transfer them by e-mail. There are on-line services local shops and distant labs that process digital photo files delivered over the Internet and send the prints to you.

But Tighe said all of that has just reinforced the value of the local shop when it comes to servicing the amateur photographer.

Were stronger, he said.

There is a lot of hand holding, talking it through, showing them how to get good prints out of the computer. . . . Were educating the consumer again. When you get into new technology, thats when the specialty store wins.

Just down from the State House, at 29 North Main St. in Concord, is the Concord Camera Store, which marks its 100th birthday this year. Owner Michael R. St. Germain has 35 years in the business and serves as president of the Digital Imaging Marketing Association, a division of the 18,000-member Photo Marketing Association International.

St. Germain has watched the incredibly rapid evolution of digital photography for more than a decade.

The reality is that you have to try to adapt to it to make your business work if this is the business you want to stay in, he said. Its fascinating, scary and rewarding. Im constantly intrigued and wondering how I can get my customers to be as excited as I am.

St. Germain has three digital photo kiosks in his shop now; soon, there will be five.

The family album

Digital has drawn women into the hobby, he said. They are buying 50 percent of the digital cameras. They come in to use the kiosks and make prints from the digital images.

They are the keepers of the memories, St. Germain said.

Men are attracted by the cool digital technology. They enjoy taking the pictures, but often fail to follow through leaving billions of digital images in limbo on memory cards and in home computers because it takes time, skill and the right equipment to get good prints at home.

Surveys done by the Photo Marketing Association suggest that half the people using digital cameras arent aware that they can get high-quality prints at less cost and greater convenience than they did before (from their local camera shop), St. Germain said.

You cant share a picture if its still stuck in your computer. Could be well have a whole generation that thinks they were adopted because theyve never seen the pictures dad took when they were kids, he said with a wink.

And St. Germain said Concord Camera will continue to serve the needs of photographers who prefer film a medium whose demise is far from imminent.

The industry is saying 30 percent of the population will never own a computer. If thats the case, why as a merchant would you turn away from what amounts to 30 percent of your market?

The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News - 02-Feb-04 - Independent shops say
they still fill photo niche

Posted by Craig at February 2, 2004 06:52 PM