Shoot it, share it on the internet…and lose it!

This is a guest contribution by Georgia McCabe: Georgia spent 30 years as a Sr. Executive in the computer and photo industry at IBM, Eastman Kodak and Fujifilm. As a driving force in conceiving and executing breakthrough approaches to the photo printing, sharing and delivery market place, she literally “changed the rules” for a category undergoing massive technological change and re-invention. She is a certified social media strategist, and is a market and branding consultant helping businesses utilize the tools and power of social networking. Visit Georgia’s blog.

watermark proof image

Professional photographers have always had a love-hate relationship with proofs. Back in the day, we had no choice but to take the risk of giving paper proofs to the customer, but they were small and most were way too watermarked to be of any real use. Some even sold the proofs to customers for a minimal charge, since they were of little use to anyone else after the final sale.

As photographers we understand the special place that high quality photography enjoys and rely heavily on the fact that consumers don’t like to throw good pictures away. We often leverage this during the sales process with the not so subtle “oh doesn’t he look great here” or “I really like this one!” Lens and negative based package printers are ancient history, but many portrait photographers still try to up-sell by sticking to single pose pricing for print packages, ignoring the fact that digital printers really don’t care how many files are used to build an order.

In an “all digital” world, printed proofs have become antiques.  Most photographers create fully optimized yet relatively low resolution digital files and post them to online sales sites that allow access by the client. On balance, this is a tremendous improvement since it allows multiple family members to simultaneously browse through the available pictures without the need of passing around a proof book!

Web viewing is very appealing to both photographers as well as customers.  However as is the case with most opportunities, it also creates significant business risks. On any video monitor big always sells over small. Customers want to see images as close to actual printed size as possible and web photo proofing is no exception. In the past it only took a 400 pixel image to get a reasonable size, pleasing monitor display.

But that was then and this is now. Average screen resolutions today are closer to 1024 x 768 and many users are commonly browsing the web with 1280 x 800 flat panel monitors. Put a reasonably sized image on these screens and you are actually sending the user a reasonably printable file! Don’t fill the screen and you have a poor user experience and sales suffer.

You say that you aren’t sending the file. Of course you are…how else does it appear on the web page. From there it’s easy for the consumer to get the file. On most sites all they need to do is right click over the image and select “save image as” and voila, they now have it on their hard drive.  Oh, you use a Flash based site and think the user can’t do that. Although the “save image” option doesn’t work with Flash, that really doesn’t present much of a problem either. They can fill the screen with the image and use the faithful “PrtSc” key which simply and dutifully transfers the whole screen view to the clipboard.  Then just paste it into any image enabled application…even MS Word. Sure they get the whole browser window, but from there they can crop out the image and save it to the hard drive, or use MS Paint or hundreds of other free image manipulation packages, do a quick crop and Voila they have the file! Here, those high resolution monitors work best.

But what can they do with an 800 pixel image anyway. It won’t print bigger than 4 x 4 or so anyway, so it’s not a real alternative to your high quality prints. Think again. Today there are a growing number of consumers who are happy with just digital files anyway. There are literally millions of 600 or 700 pixel images shared daily on Facebook and other social networks.  Many consumers are quite comfortable with that. Who cares if it prints when they only look at it on a computer, Ipad or internet enabled television and share it on Facebook.

But what can we do?  If they can’t see it they won’t buy it. At the moment, the only real answer for these larger internet proofing files (and tech savvy consumers) is very aggressive watermarking. I am not talking about that cute little embossed studio logo that you are so proud of, unobtrusively positioned in the lower corner.  I am talking about a big semitransparent PROOF, just like we used with the paper proofs, prominently overlayed on every single image file. Sure it’s ugly, but it’s supposed to be!

I have seen some interesting new technology solutions that are currently being developed (movable magnifiers, etc), right now there is no other way to go!

Georgia-ProfileGuest post by Georgia McCabe follow her on Google+ – As an author, speaker, trainer and social media and photography evangelist, her perspectives on social media appear in print in her newest book entitled “SocialMorphosis – Transforming Your Business through Social Media”. Georgia is also a co-author of the book “The Relationship Age”, with social media guru Mari Smith. Georgia is a frequent guest blogger for our professional photography lab.

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