Digital imaging has impacted every aspect of photography, from how pictures are being taken to how they are manipulated and how they are generated. It’s no longer just a subset of photography: it is photography. All too often, though, consumers have an incomplete picture of what’s involved in taking, working with and outputting electronic images.
For too many consumers the digital imaging experience is limited to taking pictures. When their memory cards are full, they take them to their local retailers to have the images printed out, much the same way they might have taken in film to be processed and printed before the digital imaging revolution. Even after all these years of being able to manipulate images on the computer and being able to generate prints at home, at a very reasonable cost, it’s amazing just how many photographers still rely on processing facilities to optimize and output their pictures.
There are lots of casual photographers out there who take their cards into a local photo retailer, drug store or discount outlet and have the person at the counter download the images, burn them to a CD and print out snapshots. They never download them to a computer. They don’t manipulate them and they don’t print them at home. That’s a tremendously large market segment.
It’s such a large market that SanDisk introduced a special line of inexpensive memory cards just for those photographers. These cards are meant to serve as a storage option for photographers who don’t have a computer or don’t know how to use one. These cards are inexpensive enough so that consumers can use them only one time, and then store them away with all the captured images on them, just as they might have done with their negatives. If they need reprints or enlargements, they just take the card back in to the local outlet.
There are lots of reasons why many casual photographers prefer to bring their pictures into a store for output. One reason that many people haven’t moved towards image manipulation and output at home is that they have technophobia. They simply shut down mentally when they’re faced with the technical challenges that digital imaging presents.
In spite of the fact that most households now have computers installed, many consumers are still not comfortable working with images on them. There may be a computer installed at home for the kids to use, but many parents may not feel comfortable using one. Even people who regularly use their computers for things like word processing, on-line banking and e-mailing can be overwhelmed with megabytes, megapixels, output resolutions and the other technical considerations of digital imaging. They know that there’s more to digital imaging than what they’re doing with their pictures but they don’t want to take that next step, because they don’t want to get in over their head.
Most photo retailers aren’t particularly effective at explaining the total imaging experience to their customers. They go into great detail about the photographic aspects, but brush over computer considerations, if they’re discussed at all.
An unscientific survey of a dozen or so photo retailers around the country came up with one common response: the topic of computers just didn’t come up when talking to customers. Photo retailers targeting consumers just didn’t see the need to bring up the subjects: it might just confuse the customers. Photo outlets targeting professional photographers didn’t bring them up either. They figured that most of their customers probably knew more about computers than they did. Even a photo retailer who’s an authorized Mac dealer said computers just didn’t come up all that often in conversations with amateur or professional photographers.
But computers are an integral part of digital imaging, and leaving them out of the equation is a disservice to customers, even if the motivation to do so, to keep the process as simple as possible for neophyte photographers, might be valid.
Much like a photographer from an earlier age who sees a latent image come up in a photo processing tray in the darkroom for the first time, consumers who see their photos printed, right on the desktop, are generally amazed at what they’re able to do. They can make all the creative changes to their photographs they want, with very little effort. What once took considerable effort and expertise in the darkroom now takes minimal time and skill on the computer.
With the right software, photographers can change colors, erase compositional elements within a frame, photo-composite multiple images and see the results right away. They can print any size or type of photo they need. They can produce their own calendars, posters, scrapbooks, and a myriad of other products, without having to go to a photo outlet every time they need to print something. Being able to do all those things can really motivate a fledgling photographer to get more heavily involved in the photographic process.
Missing the Big Picture
But most photo outlets just don’t do a good job at presenting the total digital imaging experience to their customers. There’s always been a slight tendency for photo sales people to make the cameras they’re selling sound a little more sophisticated than they might actually be. That increases the perceived value of the purchase, and it’s sometimes done to demonstrate the salesperson’s photographic expertise.
That’s even more the case with computer products. Rather than trying to get their customers involved a little deeper in digital imaging and put them at ease with the computer end of the process, all too often, particularly if they don’t carry computer hardware and software, camera sales personnel present such a complicated digital imaging process that it scares people away.
Even if the outlet sells computer products, they don’t do a particularly good job presenting the digital imaging process as a whole. Sales personnel will generally overstate a consumer’s requirements. I’ve seen salespeople trying to convince customers that their couple-of-year-old computer system just wouldn’t do for the latest digital cameras being sold.
Similarly, rather than trying to explain how best to use the software that comes bundled with the cameras consumers are buying or explaining one of the lower-end, project-type, software packages that are out there, there’s a push to sell high-end packages like Adobe Photoshop. The profit margins, and commissions, are higher on the high-end packages so those are the ones being sold, even though they’re much more powerful than most consumers would ever need. In the vast majority of cases, casual photographers are much better off with less expensive, and less complicated packages.
Show & Tell
Many photo retail locations offer classes and seminars. They can be very helpful for customers. Unfortunately, the customers who need the help the most are the ones least likely to sign up for the classes. But there are steps that managers can take to help their sales staff improve the digital imaging experience of their customers.
One of the most important steps is to set up a demonstration imaging station using a desktop PC. Having a computer/kiosk that serves as a front end to a processing system on the counter top isn’t enough. This “station” could be used to demonstrate some imaging techniques, such as changing colors and adding text, but to really be effective, the demonstration system has to be representative of the digital imaging experience they would have at home.
It’s important that sales personnel are proficient with the computer hardware and software required for imaging. They need to know how the various programs differ and how those differences might be important to different types of photographers. And there has to be a change of attitude on management’s part to let sales personnel take the time and make the effort to explain the entire process. yy