It is almost 18 years since I went independent and established myself as an independent operator – with all the financial uncertainty this entails. Since then, I have probably made the same mistakes as everyone else – and hopefully learned from some of them.
One of the classic mistakes I have seen many independents make, myself included, is trying to do too many things that are not part of the core business, yourself. In the beginning, when orders – and thus money – are scarce, it might make sense to some extent. But once business picks up, and there is enough to do using your specialised talents, it would be wise to start thinking about which areas should to be out-sourced.
These include wages, accounting, call handling, telemarketing, promotional materials, websites, cleaning, decor, photography :-), IT operations, property management and so on. Depending, obviously, on the nature of your business and your area of expertise.
In our multibillion empire 😉 we very soon entrusted these activities to others. Strangely enough, I made the abovementioned mistake yet again with the photography side of the business, which is probably a combination of my countryside thriftiness combined with solid professional stubbornness.
Over the years I have optimised my workflow considerably – from ideas to photographing, finishing and the necessary paperwork. There are two tasks which are obvious areas for outsourcing:
When images are sold as stock photos, whether you do it yourself or through photo bureaux, keywording is essential. Broadly speaking, each image must include a title, description and 30-50 keywords that describe the image content, and will ensure that it will be picked up in a search of photo databases.
Over the years I have done a lot to simplify this task. Among other improvements, basic keywords are automatically assigned based on the model and overall themes. I also have a comprehensive listing of all the common keywords that I use for different themes. But each and every shot still needs individual treatment regarding the title, description and the unique keywords that apply to just that image. This process is time consuming and not exactly the most exciting for a photographer.
Keywording services are offered by several companies around the world, with prices in the region of 50c – US$1 dollar per picture, so I can’t afford to spend many minutes on the task. I have assigned my very last keyword to a picture!
To a photographer, the finishing of the image is at least as important as its capture. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it represents half the finished product.
Finishing entails giving the picture the prominence and radiance you are seeking, and often getting the characters in the picture to look attractive. The latter includes things like removing skin imperfections (pimples, scars, birthmarks, etc.), smoothing out the skin, turning the eyes and mouth slightly, whitening teeth, moving the chin and/or cheeks a little and generally whatever it takes to make it all look just that much better.
The image’s overall appearance is undoubtedly the job of the photographer – it’s as much a part of my style as the composition, lighting, background and characters.
An individuals’ physical appearance is however very much a question of having an eye for what looks good and good old-fashioned Photoshop talent – that is to say, apart from the things which are best dealt with with make-up and powder puff BEFORE taking the picture. With only a limited number of hours available per year for the production of images, one should therefore weigh up what proportion of these hours you want to use in front of the screen with Photoshop – or if you prefer to spend more hours behind the camera instead. Regarding the latter – facial retouching – this is a task which can be relatively easily outsourced to specialists – and who might happen to live in countries where labour rates are more reasonable.
With prices of around 30-35 dollars for ordinary retouching there is a limit to the amount of time I can afford to spend on Photoshop with this time-consuming work.
I should probably also admit, hand on heart, that when it comes to facial retouching, I’m probably just too involved in technicalities and documentation. It pains me to violate reality in order to falsify a character into something he/she is not. Despite the fact that I know how important it is for the finished product, I don’t go the extra mile, where I perhaps should. So paying others to inflict the violence could even perhaps give things the extra oomph they deserve.
I’m currently in the process of testing several external suppliers of retouching services and so far it looks very promising. An update will follow.
Later I will be writing more about the technical aspects I have chosen to out-source – even though I am capable of doing them myself.