A Lab Perspective

by / Tuesday, 23 March 2010 / Published in Newsletter Articles, Tips & Tricks Interview

Photographer Spotlight: Ted Bullard & Richmond Pro Lab

Over the course of the past two months, prominent surveyors such as InfoTrends, In-Stat and PMA have published reports on the state of the industry and we found ourselves wondering "are these findings are really impacting the pro market?"

To get to the bottom of this, we turn to Ted Bullard, owner and operator of Richmond Pro Lab, as a very popular and independent provider to our PhotoReflect users, whom we also recognize as our Labtricity Lab of the Year award recipient for 2008 and 2007. We ask, on point, which of these trends seem real and which may be anomalies of 2009.

The first theme we talk about is the bourgeoning competition from transitioning enthusiasts. According to an article from Crain’s Business Chicago (sorry, the link is now down), the most relevant competition to the professional photography industry is coming from the non-professional market; individuals with relatively pro equipment undercutting portrait professionals to develop their portfolios and determine their interest in the actual business of professional picture taking. Another way "non-pros" are entering the market are not by taking pictures but printing themselves by either owning digital copies and sending to reputable labs themselves and/or printing works themselves with decent quality but very cheap 8×10 and smaller printers.

When we asked Ted if he has encountered this "new wave" of photographers he explains:

"Oh, yes, definitely. The high quality image capture of even a high-end point and shoot does provide an increased challenge to the traditional professional photographer. Consequently, the traditional professional has either changed or suffered. First and foremost, the professional has had to call on his or her true skill to produce an image that the amateur could not. The potential for quality of the professional is at an all time high.

"For example, the use of studio-type lighting in a white tent at a youth sports event to provide controlled, perfect light is one way to maximize potential. The use of greenscreen technology to make the setting, and the quick and easy integration of high quality graphics is also another way. The wedding photographer with the forethought to find the setting that creates the image to record the spirit of the couple and set the mood with the lighting perfected like only a real professional knows. The portrait photographer who understands not only the camera, lighting, and equipment, but cares to know and understand the client well enough to portray the character and personality of the person whose image they are capturing.

"At the end of the day, the quality of the professional’s product will not be equaled or replaced by the amateur’s best efforts."

Ted’s response brings us to another topic: Photo products. Almost as if the opposite of the phenomenon above, their popularity is reversed in that consumer groups have had the product options for a very long time, while online and software pro opportunities are catching up. According to research (elaborated upon here) digital photo frames sales have doubled between 2007 and 2008, photobook demand has increased but not as much as previously forecasted, while photo merchandise (be it mousepads, t-shirts, mugs, and etc.) is fast becoming the most relevant and strongest area for photographers to grow their business.

Ted sees these statistics in a very positive way:

"Although it is only assumed that the consumer market has driven the popularity of photography products, the variety continues to grow and become so diverse quickly because of the professional influence. Take items once considered ‘sports products’ which are now finding their way into school, work, and even a mug with the bride and groom’s picture on the table at the reception. The high-end press printing, gallery wraps and fine art printing, complimented by templates and painter applications, are enhancing a professional’s images, further complicating the amateur’s opportunity to compete. Because professionals are inherently creative people, there is a competitive advantage here."

To follow up, we ask about these popular products and who he thinks are the main purchasers. The reason we ask is that two recent reports mention that "young adults" (people aged 18 to 24) and "mothers" (women with children younger than 12) represent the largest population of pro photography product owners.

"Well, certainly the 18-24 year-old female has been the target sale for most photography. The new mom is a sure sale, with many possibilities to creatively showcase her newborn. To this statistic, we have found a recent trend of a broader acceptability of other photo items as the quality and variety has increased, but I cannot say if any demographic has been the primary purchasers. I will say, because of the ‘mothers’ familiarity of the photo product process, they could easily be the driving force."

And finally, we ask if he is seeing an increase of photography marketing pieces. During this tough economy, photographers are getting clever on how to market their services by printing their work on thank you cards and developing higher quality collateral pieces. We ask Ted if he has seen any difference from last year on printing these types of pieces, if any of these pieces at all:

"The frequency and quality of marketing for our professional clients is increasing, especially as the variety of printing options has grown. That and the ability to offer quality at pretty good prices (as technology improves) they can send more pieces more often or more varieties more often. Yes, there has been an increase for sure, but you’re right in that these pieces are also more clever and interesting from my vantage point."

The results of this simple research on our part with incredible insight from the owner of Richmond Pro Lab allow us these quick words of wisdom. It is pretty clear that the professional marketplace is getting a bit crowded. Richmond Pro Lab has used their insight to clear out some of the hype offered by mainstream media by encouraging creative, clever and skilled photographers to keep up the good work… because that is where the pros are unrivaled.

If you would like to learn more about Richmond Pro Lab visit them online at www.rcprolab.com or review their rates via your Labtricity providers in the ProServices tab of your DARKROOM software.

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