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When Does It Make Sense to Outsource Your Post-Processing

April 16th, 2012

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of readers point out to me that there are some sites available now that will do some aspects of your post processing for real estate photographers. The two specific sites that were pointed out were exposiohdr.com (HDR processing) and pre-view.org (360 stitching). I haven’t tried either of these sites and my whole point here is not about these particular services. These are just examples of services that will do you HDR processing or stitch your spherical 360 images. The point I want to make is more about the philosophy of when it makes sense to outsource some part of your process like this.

My initial reaction to outsourcing post-processing is negative and it’s taken me a while to think about why I feel this way. Here are some of the reasons it doesn’t feel right for me:

  1. It seems like a core part of any great business needs to be always looking for ways to continually improve your business process. If you outsource a piece of it, that’s one part you have less control over and are not likely to improve.
  2. For people new in this business it seems like post-processing is a part of the business where you want to be in total control and totally involved because there are plenty of opportunities to learn and improve.
  3. One of the reasons I got into real estate photography was that my wife was using bamboo.com (a 360 virtual tour vendor in the mid-1990’s) That was taking several days to schedule and shoot 360 virtual tours and I found I could cut that part of our process down to less than a day if I did it. My wife wanted to be able to commit to our listing customers exactly when their home would be on the market. The more people/companies we had in the loop to get a listing on the market the less we could predict how long the process took.
  4. Admittedly post=processing is a part of the process I enjoy and am pretty good at so it’s not in my nature to give it away to someone else and let them have all the fun.
  5. Post is frequently where you can give your work it’s own unique look and feel. You loose that if you have someone else do it.

Despite all these objections to outsourcing I realize there are some situations where if you are shooting 4 or 5 properties a day at some point in an effort to have a life, outsourcing some piece of your process to a competent vendor can be an economic benefit.  To me this is the only excuse and even then I’d rather train someone in the family or an assistant to help out full or part time.

What do others think about outsourcing post? Does it make sense for you?

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14 Responses to “When Does It Make Sense to Outsource Your Post-Processing”

  • Hi Larry,

    I’ve been Outsourcing all my post processing for the past 5 years and it’s an invaluable part of my business process…and my wife appreciates we can have a life in the evening!

    I look at it this way: any successful business needs a process, the process is what makes you have a business and not own your job. I constantly strive to develop process with the idea that anyone should be able to step in and do it from a simple sheet of instructions. My post processing was one of the first things I did that with. I learned what I liked in post and then wrote out all the instructions – my outsourcing company then follows my instructions. I have since grown their role…they now handle:

    1. Post processing
    2. Email my clients their completed images
    3. Add the images to whatever tour system (we’re just learning PFREtour now!)
    4. Email the tour link to my clients

    My clients have their images and tours waiting for them when they wake up the next morning, and are thrilled with the turn around time, and I never get any complaints on the quality. I always get asked “When Do You Sleep?”

    For me this has been a life saver…I regularily shoot 6 to 10 houses a day (30 to 40 houses a week) where I am, so I need it, but I think the more important part the lesson is establishing process in your business – if you ever want to sell your business, or take a holiday and have someone fill in, it’s a must!

  • Hi Larry,

    Since we started our business we actually outsourced from day one, it’s off course important to find a vendor that understands your needs and turnaround time.
    For us consistency, quality and a quick turnaround is key and that’s exactly what it does for us. Now, coming down to pricing, you might not be competitive with local freelancer that want a little share of the PFRE market, they are way cheaper, but as you mention, they work 24/7 to keep up with the editing and delivery, we know since we have actually spoken to some of the locals.
    Outsourcing doesn’t necessarily compromise the art of photography, we have biweekly meetings with the vendor to make sure everything is done correctly, we do not have anything done that we can’t do ourselves, which actually puts down the standard of our photography.
    It helps freeing up time for family and for growing a decent business and furthermore we get the opportunity to serve floor plans for agents as well at a decent price to.

    We love it and have no plans on changing anything in that direction and can highly recommend it, and I would bet when someone are going from self editing to outsourcing it’s hard to come back, especially if you have a good vendor.

    Kris

  • Would any of you like to share the post processing companies you are currently using?

  • Larry’s arguments about keeping that process in-house to allow for improvement are valid, but I think this represents only one viewpoint. This process is actually called vertical integration and sometimes it’s beneficial to do this (think Apple) and sometimes it is not.

    Vertical integration is best when technology is fast-moving and you can always stay ahead of the competition by doing it yourself, because you can integrate the latest & greatest before your competitors. Outsourcing is better for discrete, commodity work that can be done for less because another company can aggregate demand and be more cost-effective.

    Thus I think processing in-house is better when you are on the bleeding edge (think like what VHT does, but it will be commoditized some day). However for some or all of your business that’s very cookie-cutter and there’s no value-add by using the latest & greatest techniques, you can deliver more consistent results at a lower price (and/or higher profits) if you outsource the processing.

    Just my 2 cents…

  • Larry,

    Nice to see this come up again, but I have to disagree with a few of your assumptions. As a post-processor, I can provide feedback from the other side of the picture.

    1. Yes, businesses should improve the business, but outsourcing does not necessarily worsen the process, nor lessen the control. If someone’s a better photographer than retoucher, hiring a good retoucher improves the product. The retoucher may have a lot of experience with handing difficult situations and tapping into that experience can be a benefit to the business. I also don’t think that outsourcing gives up any control. Each of my customers have different preferences, and after a few rounds of feedback, I can dial in to provide exactly what they want and don’t try to conform everyone to my tastes.

    2. Post-processing is part of the business, but see my #1 about still being in control and involved. It takes a lot of work and time to become really good at post-processing, so why not focus on the photography and growing the business?

    3. That is a good business reason to make the change you did. A reputable processing service should not affect the turn-around predictability. If my customers loose business, then I loose business, so their customers are also my customers.

    4. I agree with you 100% here. If you enjoy it and are good at it, by all means, do it yourself. I have some customers that are like that, but call me to help with overload.

    5. 100% disagree here. My results are based upon their preferences, so it is their look and feel, not mine.

    The key factor to me is whether or not it makes financial sense to outsource. Some people don’t charge enough to include the cost of outsourcing post. Some only charge enough to afford overseas processing companies. I’m not as cheap as going overseas, but every one of my customers has tried overseas and because of inconsistencies, they now have me do their processing.

    I always tell people to do the math. Compare the number of jobs you can do per day x the amount you charge doing your own processing and compare that to the increased number of jobs x the amount – processing cost (accounting for that the fee is tax deductible which lowers the net cost). Also consider that if your photos look better (if the processor is better than you are), would your business grow faster or would you be able to go after higher paying clients? Some offer my services as an add-on to higher-end clients or commercial clients that are willing to pay a little more for top quality.

    These are some of the circumstances that my customers typically have –
    – Too many jobs to also have time to process. This can be on-going, a seasonal basis or just as needed.
    – Bad experience with overseas processors.
    – A difficult shot that they don’t know how to handle.
    – Prefer to be shooting than processing.
    – Don’t know Photoshop well and find it difficult to learn.

    Thank again Larry for everything you do.

  • Larry,

    What company do you represent?

    Thanks,
    Dave

  • In my opinion, the post production on a photo is just as much a part of the artistic processes as taking the photo.

    I respect the “assembly-line” business model. Most agents don’t notice the details and have no idea what a good image looks like. If these agents are your target market, then that’s fine. There’s a lot of money to be made there.

    There’s also a lot of money to be made taking an artistic “boutique” approach where every image is conceived and created by the photographer. I find this to be much more rewarding. They are very different business models.

    While I send a lot of my low end shoots to a local family member for basic processing, I couldn’t imagine sending my images overseas. It’s too impersonal, and quality inevitably suffers.

  • I’d like to add that it’s not as easy as just sending over some images and saying “post process these”. My experience with outsourcing was very frustrating at first, I tried several companies and got terrible results back. What I learned was that most outsource compaines are very eager for business and will do anything to please, but they require VERY specific instructions on what you like and don’t like…every detail must be communicated. Basically, the idea you have in head needs to come out in instructions…in my opinion this is the only way to have success with outsourcing.

    Dave, the company I use is http://www.outsource-infotech.com/ the owner is Abdul Gaffar. I went to India to meet them this past January after working with them for almost 5 years…a great group and they treat their employees very well…and i’d highly recommend visiting India!

  • It sounds like a great idea but what happens when your internet connection dies and you can’t upload your images to be processed?

    If I can’t have total control of the final image then it is not for me, I shoot 20+ houses a week and most of my clients get their images back same day so this is simply not an option for me. Having your hand in the process 100% of the time will enable you to justify your costs better, at some point your clients will find out you outsource your processing and then you might have issues. When I first heard of the option to outsource PP I was excited but in my market, the personal touch makes a huge difference. If a client rings me and asks me to remove an object from an image or green up the grass etc, they want it done immediately, being out of touch with PP could affect my ability to do this for my clients.

    Just my 2c

  • Larry
    Your post was timed well for me. I shoot video and my wife and one other editor handle all the editing. This allows us each to specialize and the final product is better. We are now looking at bringing in a photography editor to free up even more of my time to shoot. We want to do this in house so it will probably cost more but we can hopefully be more hands on and deliver faster.

  • I think Matt summed it up well. Outsourcing would make sense if you’re producing a commodity to be sold at a profit, and the goal is more volume, more volume, more volume. It’s a viable business plan, at least for the time being. But sounds like a pretty boring job, to me!
    For me, it’s important to produce something I’m really proud of. I also HATE post-processing, so I prefer to spend my time in the field capturing it in the camera, rather than trying to render something later on in photoshop. I just love photography. My solution is to shoot well, and do almost no post.

    For my architectural work, I sometimes send images out for stuff that I’m just not competent (to too busy) to do, like complex masking or removing objects. But that’s all directly billable, and there’s a detailed conversation that takes place about the specifics of what we’re doing to the image.

  • I would like to know who people are using to outsource the post-process and why? Thank you!

    Fayth

  • I like the post production work. In some ways I like it more then the actual process of shooting. I also feel like my post processing skills are above and beyond what you would get from most places you would outsource your images to. I personally feel like it is a selling point for me that I process all my own work. That thing about never being able to improve something you don’t have controle over is the real kicker. Every time I sit down to edit a photograph I improve over the last time. I love doing my own post. If I get so busy I can’t handle the work load and do post I will look into other options. I would rather raise my prices so I could accommodate the extra editing time then outsource my work.

  • While I get lamblasted with “offers” of post processing with the sales pitch of improved efficiency and profits, etc, I have tried a couple, and just have not been satisfied. Granted the product was puched to me, not something I specifically researched but doubt if the outcome would be different. It is not that the finished product wasn’t up to standard. It was more my strong bias for DIY…and my brain saying I could do better and cheaper -even if I couldn’t. The reality is, that it just didn’t reflect me. Further, by outsourcing I sacrificed the learning/improvemment curve as the concepts of minimizing post are never identified, much less adapted, into a shooting routine.

    Add to that, I have gained several clients this year by directed marketing educaing Realtors of the lack of quality they are getting. Specifically, tour companies that pay the run-n-gun shooter $40 for files then do all post with poor results. The shooter ever learns as they are not doing post which instills the desire to improve. It’s just a job, another $40…quantity, quantity, quantity, send more. The tour company relies more on the image their marketing has built and the efficiencies of scale rather than photographic quality. It is really easy to educate the Realtor on basics such as verticals, color balance etc and contrast with the output they purchased and posted.

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