Tuesday, 13 February 2018

What's in a name?

Once in a while I'm asked about the origins of the name 'Imaculum'.

Having heard that 'Kodak' was a word constructed by George Eastman, I decided to research its origins in a little more depth.

George Eastman liked the letter 'K' - he felt "it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter". Eastman then spent time creating words that started and ended with 'K'.

I've also heard that he wanted the word to be unique around the world, cannot be mispronounced, and could not be associated with anything other than the Kodak brand.

Using Eastman's naming process for inspiration, I set to work to create a name for the software I'd recently devised in my mind.

Imaculum has four core principles:

1. Ease of use for the photographer - no tech knowledge required.
2. Ease of use for the customer - no prior use of the software should be required to know how to use it.
3. Convenience for the photographer - automate as much of the image workflow as possible.
4. Convenience for the customer - enable them to find, view and purchase their images as quickly and easily as possible.

The forth principle meant that the idea of using face recognition processing to match a person's face with a face found in a photograph was built into Imaculum from the outset. This process can find photos which contain the customer's face from within a gallery of thousands of images in a matter of seconds. Other search mechanisms within the software are also available to help a customer find their images, but currently face matching remains unique to Imaculum.

So it was from this unique feature that a seed of an idea for the name was borne. Considering that I don't have a favourite letter, I needed a different reference point to progress with! My father had often attempted to translate latin mottos found on the coats of arms often seen in English National Trust homes, and this memory had stuck with me over the years.

Imaculum uses a camera to look at the customer and then in real time it matches their face with a face in a photo so, in relative terms, a customer would ultimately be looking at a mirror image of themselves.

The latin for image is: imago
The latin for mirror is: speculum

I think I drew up a list of about 15-20 variations of new word using these two latin words. Unfortunately I've lost the original list, but the variation 'Imaculum' stuck.

I feel it is hard to mispronounce (although I've seen it mis-spelt a few times as Immaculum), and time has shown it to be memorable.

Kodak went on to become a global brand by making photography accessible to a much wider range of people. Henwig's aim is that Imaculum makes event photography accessible to a much wider range of photographers.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

How Many Images Should I Capture To Maximise Revenue?

How many images should I capture to maximise revenue?

A general rule of thumb, to maximise sales opportunities, is to create as many different images of each person (or car, or animal, etc. depending on the subject matter!) as possible.

Ha! if only if were that simple...

It would be unwise to rush out and place your camera on the highest motor drive setting and fill a memory card as fast as you can. The number of images you capture should be tempered with:

1. The amount of time spent/available to photograph each subject.
2. The time taken for you to transfer, edit and place images on sale.
3. The time taken for each customer to find their image and choose their favourites to buy.
4. Time management. By agreeing to photograph the event, are you contractually obliged to photograph a particular activity even if you feel you will sell few of the images ? Frustrating if this time, in terms of maximising profit, could be better spent elsewhere.
5. Available resources. How many photographers do you have at your disposal to cover the variety of activities which may be occurring at the same time? Would a greater number of photographers and sales team members, despite the extra overhead costs of hiring them, generate greater profit? More photographers create more images for your customers to search through.
6. Your sales desk location and set up.

Okay, this week let’s consider point 1. in depth…

The more time you spend photographing a subject the more time you have to capture a wide variety of images and to capture one they are sure to like. The positive of this is that you maximise your opportunity of selling an image (or images) to them.

There is a flip side to the coin though. At a social event for example, if you have a queue of people waiting to be photographed it is the author's opinion that you are better off taking fewer images of each person/group and photographing as many people as possible as quickly as possible. In this scenario, maximising profit is a numbers game.

The majority of your customers will like their photos enough, or be in the position to buy, one, two and maybe three photos. Limit the number of images you take of each subject to 3-5 frames. Make each frame unique in appearance. For example, one frame showing the subject in full (from below their toes to above their head), another couple of frames can be cropped in closer and taken in portrait and landscape orientations, and another cropped even closer to just head and shoulders. Ask your subject to smile in some shots and not in others.

Only a very small percentage of your customers will choose to purchase more than three photos. It is more profitable to quickly photograph 100 subjects who all purchase 1-3 prints, than 30 subjects who you hope will each purchase four or more prints.

However, should you find you don’t have a queue of people waiting to be photographed, then by all means capture more images of a single subject as you wish. One effective method to boost sales, once you've photographed a couple together, is to photograph any lady wearing a ball gown on their own. Any male accompanying them will often be glad to step away. If a male asks for a photo on their own then by all means take the photo, but it is rare for these to sell. It is still recommended you limit the number of images you take though, for the following reasons:

Some people see having their photograph taken at an event as a form of entertainment. They may have little, to no, intention of actually purchasing an image from you. They are using you as a way to spend five minutes until their friend returns from the bar.

Some people are insecure about how they look (or incredibly vain). Try as you might to capture an image they like, and you may capture many in which you feel they look amazing, the subject will simply glance at the photos and say they don’t like them.

Sports events require a different approach, you frequently only have moments in which to capture the athlete as they move about. Depending on the sport, you may be able to predict their course (e.g. motor racing and equestrian events following a pre-determined route) meaning you can pick your moment to press the shutter - remember, the aim is to capture enough photographs of a saleable nature, but not too many to the detriment of the other aspects of your workflow. Sports with more randomised movement, such as ball games, may require a more liberal approach when firing the shutter, especially until sufficient experience and skill has been acquired by the photographer to acquire consistent and accurate focus, framing and exposure of a moving subject.

Selling montage prints, whereby the customer chooses several favourite images and the sales person places the multiple images into a layout to form one print, can be particularly effective sellers (especially at sports events). The customer can be charged a greater amount than a regular single image print costs, but they receive multiple prints at a lower cost compared to buying the images individually. Ideally the customer ends up spending more than they would have otherwise considered to purchase a montage compared to a single print.

Summary, TL : DR
Give yourself a target average sale value and shoot enough images so your customers have enough choice so you can achieve your target. Different events will have varying demands to achieve your target. Shoot too few images and your customers won’t be provided with enough images to reach your target. Shoot too many images and you may not photograph enough different subjects to achieve your target.

The final points will be discussed in following weeks.

Cheerio for now :)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Simple Methods To Boost Revenue

In a past position I was operations manager for a cruise ship photography company. A typical brief for me when visiting a vessel was to boost revenue, reduce costs and increase product quality. A cruise ship with 1500 passengers typically produces 10-15000 images a week and £8-18000 in revenue (there were a number of factors specific to the cruise industry which caused this variance in revenue, which I won’t go into here).

There were several factors which would consistently work to improve revenue up to 20% with no need for investment in new equipment.

Make sure you and your staff create an image as perfect as possible 'in camera'. Event photography (and revenue generated whilst at the event) is heavily dependant on speed of workflow: you need to photograph as many people as possible, and then very quickly place your images in front of your customers.

Ideally you don’t want to do any editing to your images before placing them on sale. This means you shoot jpeg - there is little to no time to process raw files at a typical event. Concentrate on your exposure and cropping at the time of capture – you don’t want to be correcting these on all your images before placing them on sale. This just eats up time! Instil the thought in your photographer's minds that ‘any image I capture CANNOT be fixed later on in Photoshop’. When you have several hundred or thousand images to place on sale within the next hour you simply don’t have the time to open each image and apply even the quickest of Photoshop fixes.

Quality of Product
You are expecting people to part with their money for a product. Poorly exposed images and poorly composed images don’t sell well. Your customers may not be photography literate, but they still know a good image when they see one.

We are surrounded by images on a daily basis: magazines, newspapers, online and billboards. All these influences combine to make people visually literate without them even realising.

Do strive to make it so your images far exceed the quality a member of the public can produce with a smartphone. An automated batch process (such as tweaks to saturation, contrast and sharpness) applied to pictures to make them really ‘pop’ out of the screen before placing them on sale can work wonders. Automation is the key word here, a computer can apply a pre-set adjustment to hundreds of images a minute.

Invest in a colour profiler for your display screens and printers. They are now really easy to use and are affordable, especially when compared to all the money already invested in cameras, computers and printers. Display screens showing people's faces with magenta, green or blue colour casts won’t help your sales at all and prints coming out with equally nasty colour casts will result in complaints.

Don’t Overshoot
Shoot as much as you need to get quality photos which fulfil your sales needs. Shooting too many photos takes more time to download and import, and it takes up more time for your customers to choose their favourite images. You want your sales desk to always be busy, but with a constant turnover of customers. One customer taking ages to buy suddenly causes a queue to form, causing frustration for you and other customers. Having more than one display showing your images is heavily recommended (our software, Imaculum, is designed to simplify connecting multiple computers).

If your aim is to on average sell two photos to each customer, take three or four images of them so they have a small amount of choice but not so much to overwhelm. Additionally, don’t undershoot, if you want to sell two photos, don’t just take two photos!

There are times when it is important to work fast, and times when you can take more time over your work. For example, at a social event, if you have a long queue of people waiting to have a portrait taken, work fast, use straight forward poses, only take 3 or 4 shots of each person. Make each crop different from the others - for example: full length, three quarters portrait, chest crop landscape. The three images look significantly different from one another, which speeds up the customer's choosing process. Several images which look similar will make customers take longer to choose.

Shoot as many couples as possible, you don’t want people to walk away without being photographed. You can’t sell anything to them if you’ve not captured an image of them. It is better better to sell one or two photos each to 100 couples than two (and maybe three) photos to 30 couples. When you have more time and the queue is shorter then by all means take more shots of each couple.

Make sure all promotions are clear and easily understood. Buy one get one half price, buy two get one free, and similar concepts are well know promotions and easily understood by the public. Make sure you have signs which clearly display your promotions, there is little point in having a promotion if your customers don't know about it.

A good promotion incentivises a person to spend more than they originally intended, not to give away your hard work cheap.

Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find their photos and to make a purchase. Searching for an image can be time consuming and frustrating, which can result in a customer walking away without making a purchase. Display your images in a logical, simple to understand manner. Instruct your staff to help if they see a customer struggling to find their photos.

Make it easy for your customers to pay, which includes accepting modern payment methods. The iZettle and PayPal Here smartphone compatible card devices are great. They have no monthly standing charge and they typically take about 3-4% commission of the sale value. Paying a small commission is better than loosing the sale completely because you don’t accept cards. The latest models of these card devices also accept contactless, Apple Pay and Android Pay payments.

Super Size Me
Every time a meal is ordered in McDonalds the customer is asked if they would like to supersize. It costs McDonalds a fraction of a pence to provide the extra fries and coke, but the customer is charged an extra 50 pence. Get your staff to do the same but with your prints. A phrase that works could be as simple as "Is that just the one copy?" You have done the hard work getting the customer to approach for a photograph, capture images of them, and generate the initial purchase. Taking a few moments to check if extra copies are required (they make a great Christmas gift!) is strongly recommended.

By placing the thought in your customer's head about getting a second print, they will frequently justify a reason themselves.

Ask for and listen to other peoples ideas and feedback (your staff’s and your customer’s). Depending on your workflow, many of you may be doing the photography and not so much at the sales desk. This isn’t by any means a bad thing and is certainly not meant as a criticism, but you may be taking lots of great photos which simply don’t sell that well. A manager may struggle to find time to assist at the sales desk, leaving the job to junior staff. Customers often give feedback to the sales desk staff regarding preferences, but this information is rarely passed on to the manager.

Embrace change. It is easy to say 'this is how it has always been done', but an improved method may be easily achieved with a little experimentation. Try different shots and analyse how well they sell, trial new promotions, consider refining your workflow.

Make changes depending on the specific requirements of an event. Consider the product preferences and purchasing ability of your customer. For example, a school prom will most likely require a different method for collecting revenue compared to a black tie charity ball - teenagers won't carry much cash, meaning a pre-pay method may work in your favour, whereas attendees at a charity ball will be expecting to spend to raise money for the charity.

Be clear with photographers working with you about how you expect images to look. Time spent early on during a shoot to ensure the images the photographer is capturing meet your needs is time well spent in the long run. Correcting mistakes late on during a shoot can be costly (in lost sales and in reputation) and stressful. Provide feedback on their images sooner rather than later.

Take care of your kit, it earns you your income. Replace kit which is malfunctioning. You rely on this kit, the cost of repair will likely be less than the accumulative loss in revenue a malfunctioning flashgun could cause week on week. Photographers often spend thousands on cameras, lenses, flashes, tripods and bags, but then scrimp on buying reliable radio triggers, cables, memory cards, card readers and wi-fi routers, and then also delay replacing them when they start to fail. These items need to work just as reliably as our camera equipment. You will save yourself so much pain by replacing a faulty USB cable as soon as you know it is becoming faulty.

Likewise, as photographers we frequently lust after new camera equipment but give little thought to the computing equipment (aka: the modern day version of a wet darkroom) we use to process and display these images with. Modern displays are incredibly sharp with vibrant colours full of contrast, thus showing off your images captured using the incredible cameras from Nikon, Canon and Sony to their utmost. An ageing monitor, with a low resolution and flat colours will not do your images any favours. Finally, give consideration to the larger files created by every new generation of DLSR, they require more processing power to modify and display. Using ageing computer hardware running contemporary software to process large files could considerably slow down your event workflow, causing frustrations for you, your staff and your customers and which could ultimately affect revenue.

Summary, TL : DR
Working smarter is a great long term investment for your business. When purchasing new kit, first analyse actually how is it going to increase revenue and the return it will provide with time. If it fulfils an urgent need you can’t currently meet, then fine, make the purchase (or hire if the need is a single occurrence). If the new lens focuses a fraction faster, and weighs a bit less than your existing lens, but costs £3k to buy then reconsider your need. The potential 20% extra revenue generated by working smarter at every event adds up quick, and will soon pay for the new lens which will enable you to capture new scenes that boost your revenue by a further 5%.