Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Office Cameras

April 2005

By Mike Gould

I read an interesting article last week about an auto repair store that was using a digital camera to document the before and after of their various repairs. A client would be able to view the state of their muffler bearing as it appeared when the car arrived in the shop, a close-up of the damaged part (muffler bearings can take a beating in Michigan winters), and a shot of the shiny new part in its new home after the repair.

The client could view the shots on a monitor in the repair shop's office, or see them on the web. No more arguments over exactly what was done, a print-out is available for insurance purposes (or for framing over that bench with the hammers on it in your garage), and the shop impresses the client with their technical expertise. Genius. Sheer genius.

I've written before on digital photography, but the last time was Oct. 2003 ("Digital SLR", available for review here: http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.68.shtml). So it's probably time for a new focus, a fresh look at the big picture, a snapshot of the state of that other single-click -the one you do with your camera.

I Shutter to Think
That got me thinking about other business uses of digital cameras. Some are obvious: in the publishing trenches here at J&J, Jim is on the job taking pictures to accompany articles. In my web work, I shoot clients' products for on-line shopping. And cosmetic surgeons and dentists now take before and after shots for their records and marketing. But what about other sorts of businesses?

Before we get into this, let's review the procedural aspects of digital photography. By now, this should be routine to most people, given that over half of the cameras sold last year were digital. You take your shot, you see it immediately on your little screen, you make corrections if necessary, you take several shots from different angles, you dump them into your computer, and you tweak them. Then you print them out or put them on your web site or email them to a client, customer, or insurance company.

So who needs a camera on their desk next to the stapler and the latte? Here are some suggestions:

Shipping and Receiving - In my spent youth I used to work as warehouse manager and shipping guy for a professional audio company. Periodically we would receive a piece of expensive gear that had suffered some form of mangle-ment, and would have to go through a lot of hassle with UPS or whoever to get the matter straightened out. These days, one could shoot closeups of the damage, including some shipping paperwork in the shot. That way you could track the shipping number with the picture of the dented casing, or whatever. The damage guy/gal shows up (probably with his/her own camera), you hand over the printout; life is easier. If you were shipping out some complicated piece of gear in a custom crate, you could document the packing procedure in case there was a subsequent claim against your company.

Documenting meetings and visitors - In my job as photographer at the UM School of Education, I am called upon to document important meetings, such as with visiting dignitaries. I once photographed a group of visiting Chinese scholars to our school, posing them with the Dean and other members of the welcoming committee. While they were having lunch, I printed out the group shot and was able give a print to each visitor before they left as a souvenir of their time with us. They loved it. You may not have a photographer on staff, but if you grab your office camera and take some photos the next time the CEO visits your local office, you will have something to contribute to the next company magazine or quarterly report.

Outstanding in Their Depth of Field
I would think that any house painting company would be into this. You visit the work site, and take pictures of the house as it is. Then you bring it up on your computer back at the office, and open it up in Photoshop Elements. Then you mess with the color settings and print out several different prints of the house shown in different colors. The client picks the color, you paint the house, and take pictures for your before and after gallery.

If I was a car dealer, I would take a picture of each new car buyer standing next to their purchase. I would then give them an 8 X 10 at the closing as a goodwill gesture. Ditto real estate home sales and boat sales. Give the customer something to remember the event; since all the costs are minimal, you are creating good will very inexpensively. And of course, you put your business card information at the bottom of the picture.

If I was a retail outlet, I would document each change of window display or special in-house promotional activity. This would serve as a record of past efforts, and could be annotated as to how successful a given promotion was. Then, the next time someone proposes stacking up that big pile of olive oil bottles in the middle of the sales floor, you can haul out the picture of the subsequent collapse and deter further similar efforts.

A final thought involves keeping your employees happy. Take regular pictures at get-togethers and such, and post them in the lunchroom. Put them in your flyers and reports. Take candids of everyday activities at your company and have a funny caption contest.

Whatever you do photographically, be sure to back it up from your computer. Digital pictures are easily stored, and, like all other forms of data, need to be in at least 2 places: on your hard drive and on some other form of media. CDs or DVDs are recommended.

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler and digital photographer for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes visitors to his website at www.mondodyne.com.

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