June 09, 2008

Picture a digital world

How digital continues to change the photo industry and especially for the smaller photo stores with their new digital printing lounges.

Picture a digital world


Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Even Ansel Adams might be stunned.

If alive today, the celebrated photographer of the American West, who mostly shot his crisp, black-and-white scenics with a large-format view camera, might be blown away by the digital-camera revolution.

Since the early 1990s, camera technology has zoomed. Digital imagery has swept across film-based photo industries, leveling the playing field between pros and amateurs.

"It's probably one of the biggest changes we've seen in the last 30 years," John Goodine of Elm City Photo in Waterville, said of the digital-image takeover.

Today, anyone with a decent "point and shoot" can take a good snapshot, instantly view the picture, edit it and reshoot and/or print out selected images. People can photo-swap online at Web sites such as Shutterfly.com and Wal-mart.com. And, get a print made for under $5.

How do photo/camera shops and professional photographers stay in business? Against all odds, they are thriving -- if they are adaptable and smart enough to learn rapidly changing systems.

For Goodine, surviving meant seeing the digital wave coming. In the early 1990s, he took a two-week intensive workshop to learn how the new imaging systems could be interfaced with conventional photo processing. For him, the mid-'90s marked a tough transition, as he paid off old equipment and bought new.

"We had to adapt or die," he said, of the family photo shop begun in 1946 by his parents, Leroy and Dorothy Goodine of Waterville.

"Today, our store has a conventional photo lab, where we process film, and also equipment to process digital imaging. We have developed a digital-printing lounge, called Cafe Click. Customers can come to the cafe, sit at a kiosk -- a touch-screen computer -- have tea or coffee, and print their pictures. We have two learning stations and five kiosks," he said.

Recently, the business installed a remote digital kiosk at People's Hair Design in Waterville. All the kiosks are linked by a land line or via the Internet to his photo lab, where he uses the interpretive software, Lab50.

"The kiosks are showing a 10 percent increase since last spring," he said.

The store also accepts photos through its Web site, ElmCityPhoto.com. Customers can upload pictures stored on their home computer, images that come into the store's Lab50 system. And, they can order and pay for photos online. A trained employee at the photo shop does manual color corrections on each print that comes across, Goodine said.

The store also maintains an active portrait studio. Two large-format printers can create poster-sized prints on archival paper. And, the shop strives to keep prices competitive, by networking their purchase power with other independent labs.

"We have a network of customers from all over the world. ... We're not restricted to customers in Waterville. People (U.S. soldiers) have sent us photos from Iraq," he said.

He also keeps a sharp eye out for "the Achilles heel" in business. "And that is good customer service. And producing a better product," he said.

Moreover, the store offers workshops, such as, "I've Got My Digital Camera. Now What?," for the technologically challenged "who don't know how to double-click a mouse. We help people trouble-shoot their imaging problems," he said.

He also knows his prime customers.

"Eighty-three percent are women. Women are spearheading the digital revolution, making the decisions about digital cameras," he said.

Coping with 'Uncle Bob'

For professional wedding photographers like Samantha Depoy-Warren of Farmington, who owns and operates, I Do Click Wedding Photography, the digital age is a boon.

"I'm surviving quite well," Depoy-Warren, 25, said, of her growing business, which she has been running for more than two years.

Her background in news reporting and photojournalism helped her carve out a niche in photojournalist-style wedding shots.

"It's not all 'smile and cut the cake,'" she said. Instead, like a fly on the wall, she aims for photos that tell a story and leave an imprint of intimate emotion, like the bride's mom wiping a tear away from the father's face or the groom playing boccie on a beach in York with his buddies, the morning before the wedding.

"It's important not to draw attention to myself. I don't carry tripods or reflectors. I use the smaller, quieter cameras," she said, of her D50 Nikon single-lens reflex and D80, a semi-pro model. She saves the big gun, the D2 professional, for special shots. Her prices have grown with her reputation, she said, from $900 a wedding to $3,000 to $6,000 and more.

But there are snags.

"I call them 'Uncle Bobs.' They're a huge issue in the industry," she said, referring to wedding guests who come with the same camera equipment that she has, or better.

"Some photographers have it in their contracts not to allow other cameras on the scene. I would never do that. While it is frustrating when guests stand in the way or try to give directions, part of my job as a professional is handling these situations with tact and grace, while still capturing the moments I see," she said.

Soon, she will be "rebranding" the name of her business to Samantha Warren Weddings. Her new Web site will be coming online this summer.

"I have never expected myself to be as successful as I am and to grow as a businesswoman so quickly," she said.

Image snatching

Charlie "Chuck Fox" Cabaniss of Fox Photography Services in Vassalboro waited until 2004 before he retooled and went digital, he said.

"It is probably one of the best moves I made in my business. My quality of work increased 50 percent, because of the creativity aspect, in which I can do all my own editing and printing. I enjoy it more," he said.

Cabaniss, 53, who has a home studio, takes weddings, individual, family and senior portraits, boudoir photos (sensual pictures of women) and "traditional glamour" or nude shots and aerial photography.

He doesn't feel threatened by lots of people running around snapping their point and shoots.

"A person can pick up a scalpel, but that doesn't make them a surgeon. It comes down to talent and ability," he said.

What is old is new again

But there is a downside to digital, he noted.

"The only way I've been hurt is by people who steal images. Some people buy a print and turn around and don't pay for the right to publish or use it. It happens a lot to professional photographers. I put my logo on each print, when I provide wedding preview discs," he said.

Despite image-stealers, his business has grown every year, he said.

"But I would be making a much better living without that problem" of stolen images. "That is the only drawback to the digital age," he said.

Meanwhile, now that everyone is going digital, what's happened to those beautiful cameras that people purchased in the '70s, '80s -- the Canons, Nikons and Minoltas with the great lenses?

Goodine of Elm City Photo is seeing a resurgence in film.

"People are rediscovering those beautiful old cameras. Uncles and fathers are giving them to their kids. . . . . if you bring in a roll of film, we put the images on a CD.

"I have a 1938 vintage Zeiss-Ikon, a German camera. I bought it at a yard sale for $5 and still use it," he said.

Lynn Ascrizzi -- 861-9245

[email protected]

Posted by staff at June 9, 2008 09:04 AM