Photo Images of Jackson has embraced technology to move from traditional photography into the digital imaging age. The owners, Don VanLandingham and Ben Nichols, are great friends who have also evolved with emerging technology to keep the business relevant and successful.
From 1999 through 2002, 40% of the small photography labs in the country went out of business or were gobbled up by large labs. “They weren’t willing to change,” VanLandingham said. “We had to change to survive.”
Both have long photography backgrounds but from different perspectives. When VanLandingham was in high school and needed a summer job, the obvious workplace was School Pictures where 11 members of his family worked. That part-time beginning led to a 27-year career with the company that included working in every phase of the operation.
Nichols joined School Pictures in 1994 after studying physics at Millsaps College and working in the astronomical community. He explains that photography was all about science and a branch of physics in his college days. He built cameras and used them to record astronomical images.
VanLandingham became vice president and general manager of Mississippi for School Pictures and Nichols was vice president of research and development. In 2003, the duo joined together to purchase Photo Images, a business founded in 1981 by Chip Bowman, a classmate of Nichols at Millsaps.
“I think a great part of this story is that Ben brought a large amount of knowledge to the business, and we were able to automate based on what he knew,” VanLandingham said. “We can give him a problem and he will find a solution. We are now doing things that we dreamed about.”
When they bought Photo Images, it was a commercial lab capable of taking digital files and outputting large negatives. Those negatives were primarily for advertising and could be enhanced and improved. With the purchase of a Light Jet, they were one of the first photo labs in the area to convert to digital output.
“In the early 2000s, the market was changing quickly. People were doing printing on desktops,” Nichols says. “We found a camera and software to be able to provide school photography in a way we’d never had before.”
The partners bought two studios in Kosciusko and Brandon and the cameras that allowed them to capture images digitally to completely serve the school market for all needs including yearbooks. They can also provide the business community with portraits and directories such as the composites they recently did for the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives. It’s the first time the two groups have had that type of photography. Another example is the directory they did for the Department of Public Safety consisting of photos of 1,600 people and the first time the directory was done by a Mississippi company.
“We manipulate and output images into whatever format clients want and provide database management of photographic images and text,” Nichols said.
Keeping up with rapidly-changing technology is a daily ritual for the partners. “Yesterday, we were offered an opportunity to expand on a new marketing package for sports that we just started using a few days ago,” VanLandingham said. “We keep up by using currently available software and applying it to new markets. We operate on the basis of throwing everything on the wall and seeing what sticks.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.
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