Portrait Photographer Profits by Chuck Hamilton
From Wide-Format Printing
This is the first in a series of articles chronicling the paths three
professional photographers took to improve the productivity and
profitability of their businesses through the use of wide-format
inkjet printers. For all three, the impetus for change was the same:
the arrival of the digital camera and the growth of the digital imaging
process. The door of opportunity was open for those who
recognized, then seized it.
The past decade has seen the digital age change the face of professional
photography, thanks in part to
entrepreneurial professionals like these
We start with a visit to studio owner,
J.R. vanLienden. [Editor’s note: Since this
piece was written, J.R. has purchased
a 17,000-square-foot schoolhouse on
five acres of land outside Cherokee,
North Carolina. He is in the process
of remodeling it as a seminar center
for graphic artists and photographers
who want to learn advanced digital
techniques and photography skills for
their respective businesses.] In business
since 1992, J.R. realized early on the
promise the digital camera held for the
professional photographer, but it wasn’t until 1997 that he seriously
focused his attention on wide-format inkjet printers. Although he
had used a desktop inkjet printer for some time, he wasn’t all that
knowledgeable about wide-format printers and the opportunities
they afforded, outside of the fact he couldn’t afford one. But he soon
found that he couldn’t afford to be without one if his business was to
achieve the success he had in mind.
Like many photographers who switched from film to digital, J.R.
was having difficulty getting his digital
images processed through his primary
source, the film-processing lab. Many
of the traditional labs were slow to
adapt to digital technology, and in J.R.’s
estimation, the color quality of their
finished prints often suffered, which
meant expensive additional trips to the
lab and frustrating delays in processing.
These frustrations are what drove J.R.
into the world of wide-format inkjet
printing. His challenge was to select a
printer that met his requirements—affordability,
yet capable of consistently
reliable production of the photographic
color fidelity and archival quality he
demanded. At that time, most photographers
were using the smaller desktop inkjet printers to proof their digital prints and felt that the costs associated
with wide-format printers were prohibitive. But J.R. felt the
initial costs could be recouped quickly.
His search for a printer took time and persistence. However, it
wasn’t long before he had a stroke of good fortune: He came across
OmniGraphics, a Fort Lauderdale Roland dealer that had the printer
J.R. was looking for. His good fortune was the fact that OmniGraphics
did a lot more than just sell wide-format printers. They were
actually a service bureau in the business of producing inkjet wideformat
printing for a variety of institutions and businesses. And, as
it turned out, the owners, DuWayne and
Denise Rocus, became both mentors
and friends to J.R.—a big plus for an
ambitious young portrait photographer
eager to learn and try new ways to improve
his efficiency and productivity.
“They were an absolute goldmine of
information, easing my concerns and
helping me explore the many different
ways I could use my printer other than
for reproducing prints of my own work,”
J.R. enthuses. DuWayne and Denise
showed J.R. he could make money more
ways with a wide-format printer than he
could “shake a stick at.”
As J.R. discovered the printer’s versatility and its potential as a new
revenue stream, it didn’t take long for him to start “shaking the stick.”
Now, J.R. not only prints his customers’ work, but also prints his
own business cards, advertising pieces and posters. He even makes
banners and displays for bridal home shows and other events—all
for a fraction of the cost it would take to have others produce them.
Other photographers even “farm out” work to him.
Learning the technicalities involved with operating a wide-format
inkjet printer wasn’t as intimidating as J.R. first imagined; learning
what worked best among the confusing array of color-matching
software took a lot more doing. But he did it the old-fashioned
way—hours of study coupled with on-the-job trial and error. With
mentoring from renowned professionals such as photographer Bill
Atkinson, J.R. has become so proficient on the subject of colormatching
profiles that he travels around the country giving seminars
to his peers in the business.
After buying the Roland Hi-Fi, J.R. downloaded a $44 layout program
called Qimage from DDI Software to organize his prints for
printing on roll paper.
Using free profiles from Bill Atkinson, he then developed a production
routine that made it possible to print straight from his work
files. He almost never has to adjust the color. As a result, the Qimage
program has considerably reduced production time and made life
“easier and better,” he says.
The results produced by this production routine, he exclaims, “are
incredible” when used with his Epson 7600 printer and either Epson
or Ilford paper.
One question J.R. is frequently asked at his seminars is how does
one with little money get all the “toys,”
as he calls them, required to support
wide-format printing. His answer is to
take advantage of equipment leasing to
acquire what you need. “We’ve leased
our equipment from day one. It’s been
painless and has kept our cash flow
much higher,” he says.
J.R.’s indispensable “toys” include a
GBC Arctic Titan cold laminator that
can handle a 60-inch roll; a 40x60 hot
press dry-mount vacuum table; and, of
course, his prize printer, an Epson 7600,
through which he runs about 90% of his
portrait work. He saves additional money on paper by keeping an
eye out for “best buys” on the best papers, and then he buys in bulk.
When he does buy, he buys only the best quality paper. “I use
Epson papers, but for my finest quality I’ve found Ilford’s Pearl
produces the consistently reliable reproduction I look for. There are
many good inkjet papers out there, but finding the right one is extremely
important to the success of any professional photographer
with a wide-format printer. You can do that only by experimenting
with various papers over time,” he says.
If you have any questions for J.R., you can reach him at his new site
in North Carolina at (828) 497-3637. You might want to check out
his web site: www.masterpiece-portraits.com. And, keep an eye out
for one of his seminars in your area.
Charles Hamilton is a former Chicago-area advertising agency owner. Currently
living in Venice, Florida, he owns Vista Business Communications, a creative services
firm. With more than 30 years in the advertising business, Hamilton naturally
developed close working relationships with professional photographers along with
an appreciation of the business challenges they face. His work has appeared in
Rangefinder and Health Management Technology. Readers can contact him at