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Questions about Retouching Businesses

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  • Questions about Retouching Businesses

    First off, hello. I'm new to this board, though I've been to the site a few times before.

    I'm interested in finding out what kind of people are doing restorations. Are you doing them for a hobby or for work? If you are doing them for work, is it the main part of your business or something you do on the side? How many orders do you average a month? What is your pricing like?

    My background:

    I've been playing around in Photoshop for about 5 years now. I first picked it up in a digital imaging class in college. I did a lot of work that leaned towards digital art the first few years and the last few years most of my PS work has been to edit my photos (I'm an aspiring photographer) and do graphics for the web. I did the occasional restoration here and there, mostly for fun or for a challenge. When I started working at a custom lab I was less than impressed by the copy neg work we were sending out or the restorations that came back from Kodak. I brought it to my boss's attention that I knew Photoshop and I took over the restoration orders. So now they all go to me, and not Kodak. It works out nicely this way because I have a nice base to work from, rather than having to solicit clients on my own. I charge roughly the same as Kodak, but produce better results. I do this work on a contract basis and get 70% of the cost of the order.

    So here are some questions:

    1.) Should I be charging more?
    Am I underselling my work? Do freelancers normally charge more than Kodak? Right now light restorations are about $50-$60, heavy are $100-$120, and really really bad ones are like $150-$200.

    2.) How long does an order typically take you? Are there some you lose money on? Most of mine can be done in a few hours, but I've had one or two that took ages and I didn't really make enough to make it worth the time I put in.

    3.) How do you present the final product? Do you just supply a cd or do you just give them a print or both? Right now I supply a cd and a 5x7 silver halide print.

    I have no formal training in Photoshop. I am pretty much self-taught, mostly from trial and error and a bit from reading books and tutorials. I have a great book on restorations and a Photoshop Bible, but is there anything else I should look into that could help me do things faster? Right now I can pretty much tackle any order thrown at me, but some may take me longer than maybe they should if I used a more efficient method to clean them up.

    Sorry this is so long, I'm a really long-winded girl.

  • #2
    Oppps, I guess I should have posted this in the business/work forum. My mistake. I didn't even realize there was a business/work forum until a few minutes ago. Sorry!


    • #3
      Hello Alceria,

      Welcome to RP. You're right -- this should have been posted in the work/jobs forum, where I expect it will wind up. There have been many posts that will provide information on many of the questions you asked. You should probably check out the posts in that forum, and not only the new ones, because there is probably more of the type of info you're looking for in the older posts. So check them out, then if you have any unanswered questions, post away. There are quite a few people to answer questions. Answers are free, but correct answers are $1.50.



      • #4
        Hi alceria, I am fairly new to this forum also and I can't help you with what free-lancers do, but I would like to insert some thoughts on pricing. Very quickly, my background, so that you know where these thoughts are coming from; I ran a small black & white darkroom in a camera store for 14 years, lots of printing and copy work, for the last 14 years I have owned a small portrait studio, we do quite a bit of copy & restoration work along with family, children, wedding and pet photography. We have done restoration work by hand the whole time and have incorparated digital in our work for 2+ years. We have struggled with the nuances of pricing the whole time...

        Pricing, some of what we do - and some philosophy;

        We don't charge by the hour - if you learn a technique that cuts your time in half, is the service you are providing worth half as much? Remember that you are providing a service, not a product, I know this sounds wierd but the value you have is in your ability and the trust that you develop with your customer, that is the difference in whether you will get the job or not, the restoration is a by-product of the service that you provide - your are special - YOU are actually doing the work for them.

        People judge price by comparrison - all of the prices of your different products / services need to support each other. If you want to charge more than the competition; some won't shop around so you will get those anyway, if you want to keep the one's that do shop around figure out how to present what you do (pricing, options, benifits, etc.) in a different way so that it is apples and oranges if they try to compare. We have a price list that has a frequently asked questions section along with a number of paper choices, traditional and digital with a rated life expectancy of the paper categories. All of our samples are very impressive and rememberable to name a few of ours.

        Prices go down as the quantity goes up on the production parts of the job; i.e. scanning and printing. For instance for scanning, 1 original is $30, 2 to 5 is $27, 6 to 9 originals are $24 each, etc. Restoraion work is quotd by the type of damage and section, kind of as follows: per head, miner to major $25, $50, $75, or $100. a family of 3 with the same damage on all thee people is 3 times the amount. This logic extends to per clothing section or groups of clothing, per body part , background, removing salt & pepper spots from original, etc. Overall optimization is included in the scan charge and is presented as a step and as a service.

        We are proactive - we ask people what there goals are; a record of the people in the photo to share with family - or want it perfect for framing, how large they would like to go, etc.. As you know when an image is optimized the damage becomes easier to see - we offer the opportunity to do the job in steps so that the customer can see what the damage really looks like, they will be more willing to pay for it and will appreciate your help, especially if you are presenting the opportunity to view the interim results because "they may love it when it is easier to see and not care about the damage". Any time you are working on their side to help figure out what is best for them money stops being an issue. We also activly look through and then hand the customer a very good lupe so that they can really see the damage / lack of focus magnified on the original. It makes a huge difference. When there is a small original, we don't ask them if they want to look, we hand it to them ...

        Time is value - we actually talk about restorations in terms of the time it takes. This was a 4 week restoration job, this was a six month restoration job, etc. From a retail view, to say that we can whip out thier job actually cheapens it. Also, some of the hardest restorations need "simmer" time, do some - let it rest a couple of days and come back wth fresh eyes - we can charge more because thier work gets that kind of personal attention from us. If they need the work done quicker than we think it will take, we discus trade-offs in quality (we don't just cave in and say sure, kind of like tough love, we keep our value)- what corners will we cut (and yes we will charge less if we are not doing the same work) - example - turning the image into an oval and thus cropping the offending damage. We explain that we do the work ourselves and we are busy (even if we are not busy) - it becomes a decision of what job to put them in front of, we will do wht we can - if they need a guarentee we charge rush charges - not a percentage but set amounts ($50, $100), etc.

        Deposits are always one half of the total no matter how much it is or how long it will take.

        Always quote longer than you think it will take - you want to be early, never late. Always promise less than you deliver in terms of quality also. People are happy not because of the quality of the job but as compared to their expectations.

        This stuff is my passion, it is the difference between everyone being estatic about you - or not. Hope some of it helps.

        Roger (Also long winded)


        • #5
          It was good to read the input from both of you, Alceria and Roger. I'm new in the "business" also - just don't have business generated yet! Any ideas as to what is the best way to get a restoration business started from your home?

          A question to you, Roger: If I'm charging a certain amount to a client for restoration, and then have the same type of restoration through a photographer for his client, how much less do I charge the photographer - versus the "client off the street"...since the photographer will want to make something on the restoration too? Would that be considered "wholesale" to the photographer if he supplies the work?

          I really want to get started but sometimes feel overwhelmed with what I should actually know before I get my first client...or maybe I'm procrastinating! Things like - should I have my website up first; who do I use to host and create my site; how to take payments; what kind of printer I should be using; what kind of paper; where to go to get larger prints made, etc. etc. WOW...there's a lot of stuff to do!

          This site is going to be a blessing.....I can feel it!

          Kathie...another "newbie"


          • #6

            I suggest trying something similar to what I am doing. Approach some independent photo labs (because I'm guessing the chain stores will flat out tell you no) and ask them if they might be interested in giving you their restoration work rather than Kodak or whatever big company they are sending their stuff out to. This is of course assuming that they aren't doing their restorations in house. I would have some before and after samples ready for them to inspect. Offer them a lower rate than what Kodak charges and they will probably agree because they can make more of a profit.

            You may also try putting a small ad in your local paper or putting ads in local trade publications geared towards professional photographers. I haven't tried that yet, mainly because right now I have more work than I can handle coming to me through my store. But I'm sure that would probably bring in some clients as well.

            As for the web, I think it's probably a good idea to have a web presence eventually, but I doubt it will bring in a lot of work on its own. It would probably be helpful to have an online portfolio of your work when you already have some customers, that way they can refer others to your website as a way of getting a hold of you, but I doubt the website alone would bring in much people. (Someone correct me if I'm mistaken here!)

            As for printing, I would advise against doing your own printing unless you have some super expensive printer that can really produce outstanding results. I have a photo quality printer that can't produce stuff that looks as good as what I can print in the lab. Some of the new commercial enlargers can make geniune silver halide prints from digital files. I would suggest finding a lab around you that has this kind of machine. If you do restoration business with this lab they will probably give you a deal on the prints or not expect you to supply the print because they can do it themselves.

            As for knowing if you are ready or not for doing stuff on your own, you can always tell people that you will do light to medium work and consider "heavy restoration" jobs. I think the best thing is just to jump in and give it a try. So far I haven't had any jobs that I've found totally's just a matter of how long it takes me. I'm sure there are some jobs that I could have done in much less time, but as I become more experienced and learn more I'll find faster and better ways of doing things. I'm pretty much self-taught in photoshop so there are a lot of techniques I never bothered learning. I usually will start a project with a game plan in hand, but I'll also look up the problem in my Photoshop Retouching & Restoration book and see what it has to say about tackling the problem. Then I'll usually use a combination of methods to handle it. So I'm learning new techniques as I go, which I enjoy.

            One last thought - the nice thing about getting your work from the lab rather than finding customers on my own is that you have a place where the customers can be dealt with. You can tell the staff how you want the orders handled and they can deal with the customer. That way the customer can come in whenever the store is open and you don't have to worry about driving around to a bunch of different places just to give estimates that may or may not lead to an order. You also don't have to open your house up to strangers either. And if the store has been there awhile it will have a much larger customer base to draw from. Also people feel more comfortable dealing with a store than trusting an individual with the work. Sure, I would make a little more money going solo, but the convienence of working with the store makes it worth it to me right now.

            Also, if you think you want to turn this into a full time business this is a great way to get your feet wet w/o a lot of commitment.


            • #7
              Welcome to retouch pro

              I just thought I would jump in and make a point about web sites - I have had mine up for about 2 months now and have done loads of hours of getting my name in web rings etc. The counter on my site is acurate - and even though I have had many visiters I still haven't had a huge quantity of enquirys from it.

              I would concerntrate more on local advertising and while waiting for the work to come in work on your web site then - business is bound to be slow to begin with until people know who you are so this is an ideal opportunity to get the site up and running.

              Hope this makes sence - its a little bit late here!!



              • #8
                Thank you, Clare, for the insight...I was close to putting up almost $500 to have someone design a site for me...she said that I "need a web presence" !

                You saved me a lot of money...I'm going to hold off for now.



                • #9
                  I've just tried another form of advertising. I was asked to donate a prize for a fundraier for a local sporting club so I supplied 2 gift vouchers. I was going to give one for $100 but decided that two $50 gift vouchers would be better as two people would win them and they would hopefully have friends who would see the results of the restorations done. Therefore hopfully getting my name out to more people. I don't suggest giving too many freebies out but sometimes it's worthwhile to give away a couple. I'm considering giving a gift voucher to the local historical society for their fundraising , hopfully that will be another free advertizing opportunity.


                  • #10
                    I'm rather curious now! Those of you who do have websites for a restoration business...has the website provided business for you, or does it serve mainly as a "portfolio" to be seen by potential local clients?



                    • #11
                      Thanks Sandra...good idea!


                      • #12
                        Why does my full name keep showing up at the end of my posts? It's annoying! How do I change it?


                        • #13
                          Kathie: You must have entered your name as your signature (or "sig") in your options. You can have it say anything you like (mine is a list forum of links). When you change it, every post you've ever made will show whatever you changed it to.

                          As for business from the internet, I get a little, but I've found the vast majority of people are not comfortable shippng their precious old originals, and those that know enough to scan and email a file probably know the basics of restoration (maybe from this site ).

                          There are a couple of good threads on this subject. As I recall, yellow pages listings seemed to be the concensus for getting local business.
                          Learn by teaching
                          Take responsibility for learning


                          • #14
                            Welcome Kathie,

                            I don't know what your markup should be comparing wholesale to retail, I think the range would be 30 to 50 percent of retail for the wholsale, it will depend on how high your retail prices are, how loyal you want the photographers to be, how much you value the convienience of working wholesale and how much you would prefer not to deal directly with the customers. If the photographer or retail outlet is not saying who is doing the work you can also use different pricing systems for each...

                            Here are some marketing ideas;

                            -Yellow pages is very good.

                            -Local neighberhood newspapers

                            -Donating to a raffle was mentioned, when I donate to a raffle I donate a dollar amount (usually $150) that is impressive enough to feel like you can get something without an additional purchase if you wished (I have a pet peeve, I think it is rude to win a discount!). I know some people, and I think this is a good idea, that instruct the people running the raffle or auction that after the item is raffled to announce that the business has also donated - to help the cause and for those that missed out - a certain number of whatevers - 100% of the money paid for the whatevers go to the organization. In your case that might be scan, optimize and archive 10 images, normally a $50 value, but for a $25 donation to the organization.

                            -Fund raising, the organization gets a percent of all receipts. Target non-profits that deal largely with the older community, cultural associations and historical societies, geneology clubs and associations, and deffinently churches. You can find all of the choices through the phone book, and you can go to the meeting place on the scheduled "Old photos restored" day, or whatever you want to call it.

                            Also, if you charge too little at the beginning you will run into trouble later, if you raise your prices too quickly too compensate you will find very few customers and referrals staying with you (it is too different from wht they expected - price is part of your image and reputation). One way to get around this is to say that you are new to the industry and are building your portfolio, so a very special one time discount will be given to the first ten, or whatever number you decide on, customers to get your business "ball" rolling. Then people will expect to pay more the next ime they come to you.

                            Hope this helps, Roger


                            • #15
                              You guys are great! Thanks so much for all the valuable information.

                              The Yellow Pages sounds like a better way to invest my money; however, we recently moved to NC from CA, and we are renting for a few months until we decide where we want to live. That means I don't have a permanent phone number or address to use for the YP...and I think the deadline is coming up real soon. So, there goes that idea until the following year!

                              I liked the earlier idea of putting a magnetic sign on the car... I think I'll look into that.

                              Some great ideas to help get me started - thanks again.

                              By the way, Doug, I went to my profile page and then to "user options" and a msg came up saying I didn't have permission to access that page. Is this not where I would change my "options"?


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