Each week from now until Christmas, we are running a rather fabulous contest over on our Facebook page as part of Farm Week 16. Ever since our first Farm Week way back in 2013, we have accepted sponsorship for the event from our industry friends. And we are hugely indebted to them as it just would not be the same without their support. However, now things have grown much bigger with Photography Farm those sponsors play an even more vital part. So I wanted to write about each one week by week to share with you why they are on board with Farm and how I personally use their product.

You see, photographers spend a lot of money. It's a simple fact. These days, the camera and a couple of lenses is very far from all that you need to run a photography business. So because you are so spendy, companies want to put themselves in front of you and get a slice of the pie. You only have to pop along to any trade show or industry event to get an idea of just how many there are. However, for every one company that we take on board in any capacity at Photography Farm, we turn down very many more. My rules are very simple.. do I currently or would I use this product in my own business? Are they nice people behind the company?

We have never been more spoilt for choice with the albums/software/cameras/products available so the heritage and the ethics behind them really matter to me. Many of our sponsors are family owned companies with as big a passion for photography as we have. We are extremely proud and grateful to present these companies to you and so alongside our contest where they are all donating fantastic prizes, I will write about why I think you should invest in their products.


 

The first sponsor in this series is Pixellu's SmartAlbums. This is universal album design software, that is now in it's second version and is currently Mac only.

Have you heard about it yet? I first heard the name at Farm Week last year from two of our mentors, Samm Blake and Matt Miller. Now I must admit I had long fallen out of love with designing albums. At the same time I very passionate about wanting all my clients to have one so up until now I'd been outsourcing the whole process. And although this worked really well in terms of my input and time management, it did have a couple of negative implications.

First up, it meant that I really didn't make any profit on albums. Secondly it meant that I didn't have much contact with the client after the files were delivered. I'm pretty time poor so this may have helped me cope better with my workflow but after a while I noticed a significant drop in client referrals happening. As I was not on their radar after the images were sent, I simply no longer existed to them. So I was missing a couple of tricks for sure. "I swear to you, it takes 30 minutes maximum to design an album" said Matt. In his workshop, he even spoke about how he sits down, churns out a few designs for clients that haven't come back for an album and generates some pretty good sales for very little effort. Could it really be that easy?

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Well, luckily SmartAlbums puts its money where its mouth is and let's you do a month long trial. So a while back, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Now I'm properly old school and I think this is why I'd fallen so out of love with designing albums. The lovely Jo Newman, UK rep for Queensberry came to see me a few weeks back and we were reminiscing about how album design used to be hand drawn rectangles on sheets of A4 with image numbers and instructions scribbled on them, which all got faxed off to New Zealand... I kid you not! Technology is great is many ways but a major pain in the butt in others and I found most systems for designing albums to be overly complicated. Hence the outsourcing.

So why is SmartAlbums fresh? Well it's just soooooooo friggin simple. Choose which album you want to make from their comprehensive list of albums available all over the world; Add in your image selection; Throw the images at the pages; If the first layout doesn't please you click through some more until you find one you do like; Click export to put it online and invite your client to view it and make any suggestions for changes; Export it as double or single pages and order it.

And it's also very easy to adapt to suit you. Personally I seem to nearly always like the first layout it produces on a spread, I do like simple layouts that let the images shine. However if you really get stuck then just create your own and save it to use again. You can favourite templates and delete the ones you don't like so after a while it kind of gets to know what you like, see 'Smart'! Put an image in a spread then realise it could do with a little tweak? No problem, you can zoom and reposition them within an aperture or right click to open in photoshop if needs be. Then just save in PS and the image automatically updates in SmartAlbums. 

The online proofing is genius too. Send the link to your client, they leave any comments needed and then you can update the design accordingly. SA even directs you to the right spreads. What happens if you send it over and they are so wowed that they want to make the whole thing bigger or even change the format? Before you would have had to start again but it's really simple to swap the size and even the format.

It takes no time at all to get your head around how it works and there are some nice short tutorials on their site to get you familiar with it all. I defy anyone to not be a master in no time at all and yes Matt Miller, you were right.. now instead of hours spent on an album it really does only take 20-30 minutes. I'm refreshing all my studio samples right now and ordering client albums from this summer. So I've designed several in SmartAlbums in the last fortnight and ordered them through Queensberry, Loxley, Folio and Bob Books. Some album companies will let you send over a PDF from SmartAlbums but I just went in and used their normal ordering systems dropping my SA jpg pages in as full page spreads. Boom Boom Boom!

It's $299 and then you get a year free with the optional proofing system. Albums can be a terrific extra source of income at this time of year and I want all my couples to have a book of images to hold, to handle and to look at for many years. Suddenly albums are fun again, albums are back!

And what about the people behind SmartAlbums? Well I met Daniel a couple of weeks ago at Way up North in Sweden. Like many of our sponsors, he's actually a brilliant wedding photographer himself (see for yourself on his Facebook page). He is very friendly and has been very supportive with Photography Farm. He is part of Pixellu that is working on other software for photographers. Whatever it is, if it's as useful as SmartAlbums I'll be all over it.

Head on over to our Facebook page to enter our contest to win a copy of SmartAlbums which has been very kindly donated by Pixellu. The contest runs from now until 5pm on Friday 06/11/16.