Sunday, June 29, 2003

Photo studio focused on high-tech imaging

Enterprise insight

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Ron Shuller, owner of Ron Shuller's Creative Images in Reading, has been shooting weddings for the past 30 years.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
READING - Physically improbable as it may seem, Ron Shuller operates his Creative Images photography studio with one eye to the camera viewfinder and one ear to the ground. It has enabled him to stress image quality while moving quickly to new technologies before many of his competitors do.

Shuller, who specializes in wedding and event photography, founded his studio 30 years ago. In those days, he lugged his Hasselblad camera to weddings and other events to capture high-resolution formal poses. The client selected photos by sorting through paper proofs, and then sent the proofs along to anyone else in the family who might like to order a photograph or two. The process was painfully slow, since prints could be ordered only through the bridal couple or other central person.

Step by step, Shuller has freed his business from the constraints of film and paper proofs by embracing electronic and digital technology.

Almost 15 years ago, the entrepreneur adopted video proofing, which allowed clients to come into the studio and view images on screen. Videos could be sent to out-of-town relatives for their review. A year later, Shuller meshed video technology and computer software to enable his clients to plan their wedding albums on screen instead of on paper.

"The couple could actually see the album as they created it, which saved considerable time and guesswork," said Shuller's wife, Arlene, who is the firm's director of marketing.

Shuller then moved to the Web, creating his own Web site through which clients could see and select shots. He said that his was one of the first studios in the entire country to offer on-line proofing and on-line ordering of wedding and portrait photography. Two years ago, Creative Images' electronic imaging process was still novel enough to be featured in the trade publication Photo Marketing.

"Wedding and portrait proofs could be viewed and ordered by family and friends from anywhere in the world and actually paid for online," explained Arlene Shuller.

"We've not only worked with him but I'm a customer myself," said Andy Star, an owner of Bridal and Formal in Reading. "I just used Ron for my son's bar mitzvah. Family members all over the country could go online and order. He sent me the images on a disk really quickly."

Another advance was the purchase of software that allowed the studio to display complete album layouts online. That capability proved an enormous boon to Creative Images' business because potential clients could see a finished product and choose from about 15 album formats to showcase their own photos.

When clients began requesting it, Creative Images moved to offer photo-journalistic photography of weddings alongside traditional posed shots.

"Photojournalism has added a storytelling aspect to wedding photography," Shuller said. "You don't miss things going on at the same time, or things going on in the background."

A dual approach

While some clients still prefer the traditional approach only, more and more choose to hire a team of two photographers, one capturing the participants in flattering poses while the other, working with a 35 mm camera and an eye for memorable details, records the event as a piece of history.

Capturing a wedding or other event from two perspectives has created new excitement in the field and has given studios new opportunities for revenue. But it also loosed a flood of photographers armed only with 35mm cameras into the wedding photography market.

"The pie is being cut into so many additional pieces," Shuller said. "To keep up with that competition, which was tremendous, I've had to do all these things. But I love it; it's challenging."

He said that each advance in process or approach has streamlined the studio's ability to deliver its products quickly without compromising image quality. But the biggest revolution, according to Shuller, has been his switch to all-digital equipment.

"With digital you can change an image from color to black-and-white," he explained. "You can do selective color removal, which allows a particular area of the photo to stand out. Even poses are done more naturally, casually. Digital has made photography exciting again: we snap the shutter, look at the picture and know if we've got it.

"It excites the couple, too. You can turn the camera around and let the bride and groom see the same neat things."

More choices available

Shuller said that digital photography has allowed Creative Images to take many more shots at an event because there's not the expense of buying, developing and printing the film. Where a typical wedding package used to include a selection of perhaps 300 shots from which to choose, a two-photographer wedding now generates 600 to 1200 images. And those images are up on the web site within 10 days. When clients have selected the shots they want, the studio transmits the images electronically or via CD to the laboratory.

Digital technology has also spawned the "montage" album, with images printed directly onto the page. These products are usually designed by a graphic artist and combine traditional with candid shots, conventional with unconventional layouts. Sometimes images are screened onto the page as a backdrop against which photos are placed.

"Ron is the best of the best," Star said. "He is the only photographer we recommend, and we get feedback from our clients. We've never heard a complaint. We have a lot of progressive customers who want this high-end technology."

Through the lens

When Ron Shuller opened his business in 1973, he was its sole employee. Now there are 14 photographers on staff, about half of whom are women.

The company photographs about 200 weddings every year, and is now snapping brides whose mothers were clients years ago. Because of its move to the Internet, the company now gets most of its inquiries and contracts through the Web, although word of mouth and referrals from bridal shops and bridal shows are still important.

The company's services range in price from $1,395 for a traditional, one-photographer package to $1,795 for an all-digital, two-photographer package.

Shuller's next foray into wedding photo presentation will be the introduction of magazine format albums, which integrate design and fashion elements into some poses.

"What bride wouldn't like to be the subject of a fashion magazine?" Shuller asked.

Creative Images Photography is at 8423 Reading Road, Reading. Information: 948-1717 or Web site.


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