So You Wanna Be a School Photographer?

Start by checking out “All About Schools” at WPPI in Las Vegas.  Click here to find out more.

A franchise is a good way to get started in school photography, but it requires some up front cash.   The advantage to a franchise is that they give you a “turn key” solution.  They also provide training and counseling along the way.  This one is run by a friend of mine, Mike Oakley.  If you call him, tell him I sent ya… (I get nothing but brownie points if you do).

PhotoLynx will be happy to be your coach and give you some ideas for marketing materials.  But, we can’t spend nearly the time with you as a franchise such as Mike’s can.  Another good source for “pre-fab” marketing materials is Marathon Press.

Like they say about almost any business, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”.  Unless you are a great salesman, I think it’s really hard to walk into a school “cold” and ask them to let you be their photographer.  In today’s market, schools are looking for way than just a good local photographer.  They want to know what you will give them back for the business.  In some areas of the country, it’s all about money.  You give the school back a commission, based on your sales.  In other areas it’s about services, such as free ID cards, yearbook CD’s, mugbooks and candid dates for the yearbooks.  It’s important that you know your sales area so you can be prepare to “wow” the school with what they are looking for.  It may be a good idea to go to work for a school photographer in the area to see the ins & outs for a season.  Some companies keep what they give the schools a close guarded secret from their employees, unless they are in sales for the company.

Another very important thing to consider is a good school lab.  They will often times give you a hand in helping you with your schools to.  You can visit the PhotoLynx website for a list of volume school photography labs.

School photography can be very lucrative, if done correctly.  It’s a great way to supplement any type of photography business.  Some high end wedding and studio photographers do school photography because it is a “cash cow”, but a lot of times they keep that in the closet, as it isn’t always regarded as “real” photography.

Will Windows 7 Eclipse Vista?

Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP…. Just taking a look at the name of each version of Windows, one can see that historically there has only been a 2-3 year span between each version. Yet, there was a 6 year gap between Windows XP and Vista. Maybe that is why so much was expected out of Vista, yet universally it seems to be a flop.

Tim & Tawnya are the only 2 people in the PhotoLynx office running Windows Vista on their work computers. In speaking with them yesterday, they both said they like Vista. I run Vista as a second operating system on my Macbook through bootcamp, so I have some experience with it myself, but I can’t say I like it so much. In fact, since I got my Macbook last November, I find myself using the Mac OS X on my personal time, much more then windows. Everything on a Mac just seems to run so quick and easily. I never have problems connecting to my wireless router, like I did even in Windows XP. I can even connect to my Windows Home Server easier through my Mac then through a tethered Windows computer.

‘Nuff about the Mac…. my real thought behind this post is that Windows 7, also dubbed as Vienna is in the works. In fact, I recently heard rumor that it’s release is being pushed up for release in 2009. I wonder if this is because Vista has so many mixed reviews… or is it because Microsoft is getting back on track with it’s 2-3 year OS release cycle?… or like with Vista, Micorosft is leaking rumors about the next OS, but we’ll have to wait for 6 years?

What we know for sure is that Windows XP is scheduled to no longer be available for sale in June of 2008. So, if you are using legacy hardware, such as a camera like the Nikon D1X or card printers, such as the Eltron P310, you better run out and buy your XP computers today. It appears that their will never be drivers for some of the older hardware for that will work on Windows Vista. Although, you’ll probably be able to pick up a copy of Windows XP for years to come on Ebay.

For Windows XP, Microsoft just rolled out Service Pack 3. This service pack is basically a roll up of service packs 1 & 2 and all of the updates and hotfixes released by since the release of SP2. For those using Vista, Microsoft is releasing the first service pack (SP1) this month.

All of these things are important to us at PhotoLynx, because they can effect how PhotoLynx runs on your computer. It has been more then once that Microsoft pushed out an update since I worked here that the effected how the software worked. I try to keep on top of these release so that we can remain ahead of the curve, to prevent problems before they come up.

For more information on Windows 7 or the Service Packs I mention here, click on the links in this entry, or drop me an email.

Frosty the No Man….

Although I was glad to get home on Friday, I was sad to see the snow all already gone monday. I think this picture says it all.

poor_frosty2.jpg

The Day PhotoLynx Freezes Over

I’m sitting here tonight at the PhotoLynx office, because I’M STUCK! For the first time in three years since I worked here, we received enough snow that my car could not make it through the hills to get out of here. To make matters worse, it’s Valentines Day…

We received around 6 inches of snow today. Our internet is provided to us by satellite. In order to keep getting your emails and send out activations, we had to go outside with a broom every hour or so and sweep the snow off of the satellite dish.

Snow Men

I built these snow people after work today. This was one of the first times in a while that I actually took some time to really enjoy myself.

Trish, Me, & Frosty

This is a picture of Trish & I standing next to “Frosty”.

More About Zigview Viewfinders

I’ve received many questions about Zigview lately. Zigview attaches to the eyepiece of most any digital or film SLR and displays the image in real time on a 2.5 inch color display. It also has an additional output that will allow it to be viewed on any video monitor. The Display flips around and up and down for easy viewing, without bending over to look through the display. It can also be detached and viewed away from the camera.

Here is a list of camera Models that the Zigview will fit to:

I feel this would be perfect for school photographers as it will better able the photographer to frame and crop the students without having to bend over and look through the viewfinder each time. Much like in the days of long roll cameras such as the Camerz Classics, ZII, & ZIII. You can also just tape a camera mask on the screen for verifying head size and crop. This will save a lot of time in ImageMatch doing head-sizing. You won’t have to send your camera in to have the viewing screen etched.

You can purchase the Zigview finders online at most of the big camera stores. It appears to be going right now for $399.00 at B&H Photo. The previous generation, which doesn’t swivel or detach is going for about $279.00 online.

The Lost PhotoLynx Manual

In my news letter that I sent out last week, I forgot to put the link to “The Lost Manual“, so here it is. This manual was handed out at our user’s meeting we had in early January. It pretty much covers many of the new features that were added into the software since the June 2007 release. I say pretty much, because there were a few things that weren’t in the manual that we discussed at the user’s group meeting that were exciting and new. But, I’ll make you work for that information….to get what you missed…. Attend next year’s user group…. 0r email me :0)

Continuing the Quest for perfect Green Screen

After some delay, the Engineering team got a preview of the new green screen out to Tim & I to take a look at. The way the software drops out the green is phenomenal. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any touching of some images, but far less then in our previous version. The best part is the tools are built right into the ImageMatch to allow the user to fix the ones that aren’t quite up to snuff. From our initial testing yesterday afternoon, the problem doesn’t appear to be too much green in the hair. The problem was, what if someone is wearing green? The tools built into ImageMatch make it easy to add the green in the clothing right back in. We tested it on a subject with an identical colored shirt as the background. The tools worked really cool.

The real key, still, is photographing the subjects properly in the first place. I get phone calls at least a couple of times a week about this. I have seen it done so many ways, and they all work. Here are the key things I always suggest to make the least amount of work:

  1. Light the background evenly (No background light is fine)
  2. No wrinkles in the background (Those flip out backgrounds work well, but cloth works fine too, or even old backgrounds repainted)
  3. Smaller the F-stop the better (F 8 or lower)
  4. Proper exposure of the subject is crucial (Mr. Gray anyone?)
  5. The further the subject is from the background the better (at least 6 feet)
  6. No Shadows on the background
  7. Forget about artistic lighting, the flatter the better.

Kranz, who I mentioned in my last entry, uses one light. Just one light, with a big soft umbrella, up directly behind the photographer, as high as it can go, pointed downward to drop the shadows out of the image. When I first started playing with Green Screen (Chroma Key) about five years ago, I went by these suggestions from Owen’s Originals backgrounds. As I said, there are more then one way that works.

Again, like I said before, what really sets PhotoLynx aside from software like Tri-prism, Vertus, or Primatte Chroma Key is our workflow. We make it easy to automate outputting thousands of images all with separate back grounds based on the user’s choice. On an average job, only a small percentage of the images need to be touched, thereby taking what literally would take days to drop out and replace backgrounds in other softwares for one school, sports, or event job, to probably an hour or so in PhotoLynx. The only exception would be if you are photographing a school that has a lot of green in their clothing, such as found in some school uniforms, you will still have to touch every image. But, the tools are in place to help the user handle that.

The new green screen in the PhotoLynx software won’t be available for a bit yet. It is going out to some Beta-Testers right now. But keep watching my newsletter! If you don’t get my newsletter, you should. Drop me an email at Michael@PhotoLynx.com.

Quest for the Perfect Green Screen

One of our users, Portraits by Kranz, in Los Angeles, California, has used the green screen in PhotoLynx for the past two school seasons. They have output about 300,000 fall packages, and roughly 200,000 spring packages using the green screen automation in PhotoLynx. They have been using our current green screen technology to output all of these packages.

It’s our workflow that sets us apart from any other green screen technology. We make it easy to handle replacing the green screen background with any other image in volume. The background can be replaced in mass with the same background, such as needed for yearbooks and replaced based on the package, as selected by the customer who was photographed. We make it easy to enter the data required for the automation to produce packages and CDs for the school upon output through PhotoLynx software.

However, many images still need some special treatment to make the green screen look good. We have been spending a lot of time, money, and energy in trying to find solutions to make the process even more handsfree. Our studies have shown, that even in the best case scenario, there will always be about 10% of the images that will need to be hand held to achieve a good look.

Today is the not so general release of the “new” PhotoLynx green screen technology. We have had Green Screen technology in our software for many years now. It was last updated about 3 years ago now. This is the third update done to the green screen since I’ve known and/or worked for PhotoLynx. With this release, not only will our unique workflow still be in tact, but we will be reducing the number of images that will need special attention to fully drop out the green. It is being released to a hand full of clients for testing and then released to the general user base in 1-2 months.

That is one cool thing about PhotoLynx. We aren’t going to charge anything more for the green screen technology in the software. It is included with the price that labs and photographers have already paid. Yet, the green screen technology can provide another revenue stream for any school lab or photographer. As green screen images can be priced by a lab back to the photographer at a premium. A photographer can charge extra for backgrounds, other then the traditional school portrait background.

When the update is available to the general user base, the link will be included in the PhotoLynx monthly newsletter.

PMA was a BIG hit!

Just got home from the PMA last night. It was a long week, as the PhotoLynx gang arrived the weekend before PMA to speak at Walter’s Publishing about green screen and then attend PSPA and set up the booth for PMA. My speech on green screen last Tuesday, although generic, went over pretty well. I ended up with some extra time, so I concluded, before we broke for lunch, with about 15 minutes of information on the Fujifilm S5 camera and how it interfaced so well with ImageMatch. Darin Pepple from Fuji spoke about the camera itself after lunch.

On Wednesday, Christian and I set up the booth. This never goes as planned. We pay for someone to set up our booth and deliver the computers. All we should have to do is install our software and make sure everything is set up right. We get to the convention center and one of our booths are missing. This means the computer guys have nowhere to set the computers up. GES, who provides the labor to set things up at most trade shows, had instructions to do electrical for one booth, but not the other. When the electrician showed up to do one of the booths, we asked him about the other. Just like a typical union worker, he tells us that he can’t because he doesn’t have any paperwork to do so. We called GES and eventually a separate team come over. All they have to do is run an extension cord under the carpet, but it took two of them about 30 minutes to plan out how they were going to accomplish this. After they seemed to come to an agreement, they take their Thermoses and leave for a break. I just had to chuckle.

This year, the PMA pushed the dates back, because of Super Bowl weekend. This was a good thing, because it meant that the trade show didn’t go on until Sunday. PhotoLynx has a policy to not work on Sunday’s so we can spend time with our families. This also, meant that the school photographer’s meeting (PSPA) overlapped the trade show. Normally this doesn’t happen, one goes into the next. So Tawnya, Tim, Paul, and Mary Jean spent Tuesday over at PSPA while Christian and I set up the booth. Each morning they were at PSPA while Christian, Mary-Anne (from Christmas City Studios), and I went to the trade show. Mary-Anne was there to help demonstrate TrackLynx, one of our newer pieces of software used for reorders.All 7 of us from PhotoLynx stayed in a house we rented for the week.

Everyone took clients and prospects out to dinner. I had some meetings set up in the evenings, but both groups I was set up to meet with ended up making other arrangements and had to cancel. That was OK by me, as it gave me a chance to prepare for the next day and answer questions by email that came up during the day.

I never had a chance to really walk around the trade show. I’m fairly sure that it is mostly the same old stuff that I have seen before. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to walk around to see if there is anything new. One thing that I thought was really cool, was brought to my attention by my friend and client, Ron Rock from Rock Photography is the Zigview. The Zigview is a live monitor that attaches to the viewfinder your 35mm camera. While photographing school children, you can look at it like in the olden days of the Camerez Cameras. No more need for bending over to look directly through the viewfinder.

ZigView Image

The PhotoLynx booth was constantly over flowing with people. Hopefully nobody shied away because we were all to busy to help them. I got a lot of questions about PC Pro. It turns out that there is quite a following for this software and everyone that came by mostly only had cosmetic changes that they wanted to see.

This week I’ll be back at the office. It’s been raining all day, so it will make for an interesting drive. On my drive to and from Las Vegas, I listened to a book on tape by Steve Wozniac, the inventor of the Apple computer. I have more of the book to go, I’ll take the drive slow and careful, which will give me more time to listen to my book.