School Daze

Photographer Spotlight: Sport Pics

Founded a little over six years ago (although the company was created from another pair of companies over 30 years old), New Berlin, Wisconsin’s, Sport Pics, has become a case-study in how to be a ‘player’ (pun intended) in school and sport (team and individual) photography by steadily increasing the number of clients in the double digits year after year.

With more than 100 school projects this fall, we thought we should get in touch with our friends at Sports Pics before they get too busy.

Bob Fredrick is the data services manager and has been facilitating the company’s workflow systems. He researched and recommended DARKROOM Assembly Edition for Sport Pics in 2006 and has recently upgraded his entire team to Version 9.1.

DARKROOM: Bob, thanks for taking your time out today. Can you tell us a little bit about what Sport Pics will be doing this upcoming school season?

Bob Fredrick: Thanks for asking me. Sport Pics will be shooting a little over 100 schools this upcoming fall. We will be sending out all of our 15 photography teams during our busiest days and each team consists of a DARKROOM Assembly Field Station, a laptop, a photographer and an assistant. Some of our larger schools, of course, will have more than one photography team. We keep an Assembly Base Station in the office where all of the photos from all of the Field stations are loaded at the end of each day.

DARKROOM: How many students will you shoot this fall?


Bob Fredrick: To be honest, I have no idea. A lot. Some schools are small with fewer than 200 students, and some arelargewhere we are expecting thousands ofstudents. I don’t think we think about it in terms of head count.

DARKROOM: So you are expecting thousands and thousands of photos at a time, care to share your workflow process… whichI am sure may be a coveted secret?

Bob Fredrick: I have no problem sharing if you have no problem with me being super honest (laughs). As mentioned, on any given day in the fall, we will have teams shoot with Assembly Field and then load the photos in our Assembly Base.

DARKROOM excels at capturing — which is why we upgraded to Version 9.1 — because DARKROOM has always excelled in its capture features. From there we use a database system to scrub the files for duplicates and archiving and after everything is set and ready, we print using an entirely different system. We use three different technology systems, two of which we license each year, but DARKROOM is the only one we don’t have to and, well, it does its part of the process very well.

DARKROOM: So is that the key to your success? Using different technologies for different functions?

Bob Fredrick: By success you mean?

DARKROOM: Well, you compete head-to-head with some of the juggernauts in the industry and often win contracts and repeat business despite them.

Bob Fredrick: Well, there are a couple of answers to that. Yes. I will say that we are pretty darn automated and we know that some, if not all, of those huge companies use DARKROOM too. Over the years, we have made an effort to segment our workflow into three systems that would best serve those people using that system. So, for example, using DARKROOM Assembly for capture is perfect because it is really easy to train our photographers and assistants to use the interface – but they don’t need to work in the database ever, so we found a different database system that works perfectly for our data people. It has taken a lot of research and effort to get where we are now because the learning curve on these technologies is intense, and well, the investment is also.

As for us winning business year after year, I really think that is because of our customer service policies. The bigger companies certainly do have good customer service, but I will tell you that we have great customer service. We don’t haggle over mistakes or lost pictures and we make it really clear that when you reach out to us, you are working with a local company that just happen to be great photographers. Do we end up giving away some pictures because we are trusting? Sure. But we make up for it in so many other ways and I am pretty sure that is why we stand out.

DARKROOM: What about your sales process? Can you say Sport Pics does anything special about how you get business or sell more pictures?

Bob Fredrick: I think it is pretty straight forward. To get sales, we have three sales people and that’s their job. I know a lot of smaller companies do not have that luxury, but we do and it is most certainly an asset. As for what pictures we sell the most of; honestly, nothing has really changed over the years. The mid-price-range 3-sheet or 5-sheet package is and will likely always be best sellers.

DARKROOM: Do you sell your school portrait and sports options together to schools?

Bob Fredrick: No. We describe both and sell them separately. Honestly they are two completely different animals. With schools the questions and contracts define when you are in and when you are out. It’s about speed and quality. Plus we have to shoot every kid (for the yearbook). Team sports photography is totally different: You only shoot those that pre-paid, you take your time, you take more pictures, you offer more products.

DARKROOM: Does that mean your workflow for team sports is different?

Bob Fredrick: Most definitely. For our sports projects we use DARKROOM Assembly exclusively. We build unique templates and products; coaches plaques, for example. When you are talking about 500 to 1,000 pictures – DARKROOM works great all by itself as there is no need for a database person and the templates going to the printer need to specified; so using other software technologies would just take too much time and be overkill.

DARKROOM: You mentioned your experience over the years. Have you seen any new trends recently in your line of work?

Bob Fredrick: Hmmm. Obviously there are more and more parents with good cameras. It’s not that they are taking good pictures, but they most certainly know what a good picture looks like and I have learned that they have pretty high expectations. We try and meet those expectations to every extent we can – given the environment, the child and the rapid succession of pictures in the school portrait environment.

DARKROOM: Anything that hasn’t changed?

Bob Fredrick: Nothing is worse than taking a picture of a kid that does not want their picture taken. Also, ultimately you have zero chance of pleasing everyone on price. This day and age, people go to Walmart, get pictures and pay Walmart prices. What they don’t factor in for school pictures is that they didn’t have to lug the kid to the store, they are getting quality print paper, and a record of their child year after year. Their packages are mailed to them with a guarantee. If big chains had to do all of that, their prices would be higher than ours.

DARKROOM: This is great stuff. Do you have any other tips you want to share with our readers?

Bob Fredrick: Knowing your equipment and what it can do really helps. A lot of people are trying to break into this industry with a digital camera and some nice toys (even DARKROOM) and think they know what they are doing. But really, they don’t. So, for the professionals out there; I would capitalize on that in your portfolios and in explaining what you bring to the table.

Oh. And, school photography, in particular, requires a lot of patience. Tons of patience. I definitely don’t think everyone can do it. There are at least three people in your ear. It’s loud. Kids can be awful. Parents can be worse. It’s not a studio environment where you are working one on one for an hour. Schools, you get 15 seconds – they want you in and out, but they want you to do a great job. It’s really not like any other kind of photography and, well, if you can’t stand the heat, you’ll get pushed out of the kitchen.

DARKROOM: Thanks again Bob for all of this great advice and for using DARKROOM. Good luck this year!

Bob Fredrick: Thank you and to the new owners of DARKROOM. Already, the improvements to customer service and Assembly Edition are really encouraging; we’re more excited now more than ever to be using your software.

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