Your customers know how to “capture the memories” now, but what about helping them insure those images are around later?
Early Spring is a great time to get organized, with the temperature still too cold to completely fling yourself into the great outdoors, and that’s what I’ve been doing in my so-called free time in the last month. Being an avid photographer my efforts have been dedicated to getting my photo collection in order (once again), which means corralling in prints, slides, negatives and a heck of a lot of digital images. Unlike some of your customers I have just as many film and print images as digital. This poses a dilemma that is not foreign to baby boomers and surrounding generations—how to meld the two into a cohesive and secure collection. As I worked I began to think about scenarios that could be translated into opportunities for photo dealers and how the industry might foster an awareness of image housekeeping. I believe the dealer is where much of this effort must begin—it’s using your expertise and relationship with your customer to help insure that their precious images are kept safe and secure for future generations to enjoy.
The fi rst challenge is prints. Lacking a review button on their fi lm cameras, many photographers tended to save every shot from a 36-exposure roll of film, unless of course they were the rare bird who actually edited down to the best of the take. Many have every stagger of baby’s fi rst steps, or six of the same group shots made to insure that everyone’s eyes were open and smiles bright (lacking Smile Shot or similar mode.) Even those without total coverage and who haven’t saved every print eventually get print overload, and might need to edit down to defi nite “keepers.”
But there’s something more about prints that needs mentioning, and that’s their fragility when not kept in optimal storage systems. Henry Wilhelm, in his seminal work, “The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs” documents the fade characteristics of many types of color paper and film. This inherent fl aw of older color prints becomes exponential when prints are stored in high heat and humidity conditions, are exposed to daylight (as in frames in sunny rooms) and when stored in poor quality containers or albums. Not only does the color fade, but the surface of the print itself becomes ravaged over time, which causes loss of the emulsion and severe deterioration of the image. Upon inspection your customer might even see pits and the growth of odd bits of fungus, which eventually do their destructive worst with paper and especially plastic base (resin-coated) prints.
I am not about to suggest that every print be scanned—for many that would be prohibitive in terms of time and energy. And prints per se are a great way to keep and share images. What I do suggest is that you make every effort to encourage your customers to get their precious prints out of those destructive environments as quickly as possible, even if they do not see any evidence of deterioration today. If they have prints in those notorious “magnetic” albums, or in boxes put together with glue or adhesive, or if the bindings and page edges on their albums are beginning to turn even a hint of yellow, their prints are at severe risk.
Here’s how you can do your part. First, do not sell or stock any albums or containers that are not “archival”, that is, those albums having glue, magnetic type pages or contain materials that can attack an image. Yes, those better products can be more expensive, but how do you put the extra dollars spent up against the potential destructive qualities of poorly made materials? Work with your suppliers to create signage and promotions based on the archival theme, and help educate your customers about why they should consider that route. Show you care about their pictures and they will thank you for it. Most importantly, edu- cate yourself about picture permanence so that you can talk the talk in your sales and presenta- tion of those products. If enough dealers demand better quality materials and do not buy the po- tentially destructive albums and containers, the industry will surely follow.
The Service Side
What about prints that have begun to fade or self-destruct? Their only salvation is to make copies and to stop and even reverse any destruction that may have already occurred. That calls for creating a scanning and restoration service that is affordable, or selling scanners with restoration software for those who want to tackle the job themselves. Flatbed scanners are quite inexpensive, and very easy to use these days. There are even “all-in-ones” that will scan, create a digital image fi le, restore color and even make a print with just the touch of a button. Yes, that is labor intensive and not everyone will have the ability to tackle the job, but the alternative is loss of precious images down the road. You might even consider a “scan and restore workshop” event for your customers, or at the least a strong display showing the benefi ts of using simple scanners and image restoration software, the latter being found inside many image editing programs. (For example, the Auto Color and Auto Levels or Contrast button in Adobe Elements.) You can even show them how they can copy and salvage images using your in-store photo kiosk, many of which now have that software built in.
What about color negatives? Here the scanning process is even more daunting, calling for monitor calibration and profi ling the myriad and confusing range of color negative emulsions. It might mean being able to bring back true color to those negatives that have also been attacked by outside elements or have begun to fade due to their own inherent, self-destructive forces. Home scanning of negative by negative is a truly laborious task, not to say near-impossible with formats such as APS. In addition, even if your customers have winnowed down their prints to a select bunch they might have tended to save the full roll of negatives along with the lesser number of prints.
One suggestion I have for that is bringing back our old friend—reprints. Yes, once the images are made into prints they have at least a generation to stave off further problems, and then those prints can be scanned later, etc. And because just about every negative in the reprint process is scanned anyway, offering a CD or DVD with image fi les adds another tick onto the order envelope. Why not create a reprint special, or fi ll those slow times of the year with a month-long reprint special, geared toward those who can be educated as to the benefi t of saving images that reside only on negative stock? Work with your lab or your own lab personnel to create promotions to “bring out your negatives”, with special incentives for those who are, like me, going through very old negs and trying to fi gure the best way to preserve the images on them.
Of course, this admits that those fi lm images won’t last forever, or that they may be going into the big fade, but that will become self-evident down the road anyway. In years past this would be a nightmare challenge for a lab, to balance color on hundreds of different types of fi lm stock (Agfa fi lm, anyone?), but the technology in printing these days can be exploited to get quite good results from even the most unique emulsion. And of course those negatives should be returned in archival quality sleeves, with perhaps even a brochure explaining proper storage housekeeping. On that score every manufacturer who sells film should create a brochure packed with every order explaining how to store and preserve those valuable image records.
Scanning the Industry
Slides present their own challenge and require the home scanner to know his or her stuff, and have a more advanced tech scanner as well. And while prints from slides can be made they are not as easy as from negatives, and more costly besides. Quite frankly the only emulsion that has lasted through the ravages of time, and I am talking the 1960’s in my experience, is Kodachrome. And while customers can still buy that fi lm there’s only one lab in the US that handles it––Dwayne’s, in Kansas. In fact, Kodak recently announced the closing of the only European Kodachrome processing facility, and, believe it or not, has the fi lm trans-shipped to Kansas from there. True, more modern films are better in the longevity department, but even with care I have noticed early films from all makers starting to slip away. And that’s almost criminal.
My best advice is to offer scanning services, again explaining the benefi ts of at least preserving what’s still on the fi lm. Along with that there are storage procedures and materials that will hold off the eventual fade. Some slide sheets, mainly the “hard” plastic types, have been known to foster an environment, especially when not in “museum” conditions (and who can do that at home?) that virtually attacks the slide emulsion.
When it comes to scanning you owe it to your customers to explain the image fi le size you are offering. Too many times I have had readers and students say they have taken their slides to a lab for scanning and come away with a 24-bit, 3MB fi le, or something close to that. And while that’s fi ne for Web and small prints, it isn’t capturing anything close to the full potential of the image. When they realize what’s happened they feel ripped off, not something you ever want your customers to feel.
Good Digital Housekeeping
I have discussed digital image backup and housekeeping numerous times in this column, and the need for the industry to foster an awareness of the importance of copying digital fi les. New developments, including solid state “drives” and new online backup services will be all the rage this year and next, and we’ll report on those exciting developments in a future column. But suffi ce it to say that digital users are not immune from the need to understand and practice good safekeeping of their image fi les.
What to do with all those images from all manner of media? I have become a strong believer in photo books, compilations of images from many years placed in a bound volume, akin to a traditional album but created from digital fi les. These books force the consumer to edit down and pick those images that are of most importance, and help them focus on themes, events and family in their selections. We have seen and will see more of these products in the future, and in themselves they offer great opportunities for everyone from dealer to lab to book compilers and software companies. ??