It seems another analog tower will fall in 2003: The Photo Marketing Association expects sales of digital cameras to surpass sales of traditional, film-based cameras this year. In fact, 20 percent of American households already have a digital camera -- and a growing number of lawyers also are using digital cameras in their practices. What many users may not know, however, is that there are a number of ways to extend your camera's functionality online.
From Promoting Your Firm to Snapping Your Evidence
First off, some might wonder how a law firm can benefit from using a digital camera. It can be helpful in a variety of tasks, not the least of which is your marketing efforts. For example, whether you add digital photos of your lawyers to your firm's Web site or include headshots with e-mail press releases, the promotional benefits of letting others associate an image with your marketing information are considerable.
In addition, practitioners can see a more immediate benefit in handling cases. Digital cameras eliminate the need to develop pictures and can instantly transmit those images to your computer -- which means that you'll take far less time when snapping pictures for evidentiary reasons. Rather than waiting to see how the film develops, you instantly see whether the photos capture what you're looking for. And, of course, you can load them into your case database without having to run them through a scanner. Moreover, if it's important to share the image with others (such as co-counsel, clients and experts), getting the image to them is just a matter of attaching it to an e-mail message.
Cost factors into the discussion as well. If you use a camera frequently in your practice, for whatever reasons, you're accustomed to spending $10 to $15 per roll for film development. Digital cameras require no development costs -- and the money saved by not developing rolls of film could add up to hundreds of dollars or more a year, which more than pays for the camera itself.
Now, to really maximize the bang for your bucks, you want to take advantage of some great tools for efficiently handling and distributing your digital photos.
E-mail That Photo: Shrinking Images
By far, Microsoft Windows XP's most underpublicized feature is its face-saving, bandwidth-friendly picture shrinker. Don't know what I'm talking about? As digital cameras increase their pixel size ("17 gigapixels!"), the file sizes of those digital prints necessarily get bigger. With 3 and 4 megapixel cameras becoming the norm, many digital pictures can be anywhere from 1 to 2 megabytes in file size.
E-mailing eight 1-plus megabyte photos to someone who's linked to the Internet by dial-up modem is enough to earn a card in the recipient's deck of 52 most-hated correspondents. XP makes this a far more pleasant experience by offering to shrink the photo to a more friendly size -- often shrinking a 1.5MB file to around 50k (or more than 96 percent). This lets your e-mails go out faster and makes your recipients much happier.
To invoke this feature, right-click on an image and select Send To-Mail Recipient. XP will prompt you to select whether you want to shrink the image or keep the file size.
There's no need to despair if you're not an XP user. Mac OS X offers a similar feature with its iPhoto application. In addition, numerous photo-editing programs will do this for you, too.
Photo Management: Organizing with Picasa
Starting with Windows 98, Microsoft sensed the growing digital camera trend and created a system folder called My Pictures. Putting all your digital images into My Pictures is like putting all your client folders into a drawer labeled My Clients -- not exactly wrong, but not particularly efficient either.
By far the most impressive program I've seen for organizing your images is Picasa, at www.lifescapeinc.com/picasa. (Credit for finding this product goes to Ernie Svenson, aka Ernie the Attorney, whose write-up at http://radio.weblogs.com/0104634/sto ries/2002/12/17/photoDisplaySoftware.html does a great job of explaining Picasa's strengths.)
Picasa will locate pictures that are already on your hard drive, then organize them, and also capture new ones as you add them from your camera. Where it excels is in providing a browsable album of all photos, along with tools to manipulate the images-including red-eye reduction, cropping and contrast enhancement. (Unlike Svenson, I had surprising success when using the "Enhance" button on dark images. In some cases, it was as if someone had turned on a light in a murky room.)
For distribution purposes, Picasa includes one-click e-mailing, as well as exporting-which allows you to automatically resize all images, a handy trick when trying to fit a bunch of photos onto one disc. It also includes the ability to order prints from Picasa's Web site. (Prices range from $0.29 for a 3.5 x 5-inch print to $3.99 for an 8 x 10.) Picasa is free for a 15-day trial period and costs $30.
The Web Sites: Sharing Your Shots
If you find that you need to share large numbers of photos with parties outside of your firm, it may make sense to use one of the numerous online photo sites. These are free to use, though you will pay to order prints. Here are sites worth checking out:
I've been a Shutterfly customer for several years and find it an excellent way to share photos online. You upload your photos to Shutterfly's site and then type in the e-mail addresses of the people with whom you'd like to share your albums. Shutterfly sends them a URL that then allows them to view a slide show of all images. Other services listed above operate in much the same way-though at least one review gave a nod to Ofoto's superior print quality.
There are numerous advantages to sharing images in this way. Among them, you're not attaching dozens of pictures to an e-mail message (which, even if the pictures are small, makes life difficult for your recipient), and your recipients can order their own prints directly from the Web site.
A couple of things to note, though, about using these sites: Having a high-speed connection will make things much easier. Uploading 100 images on a dial-up connection could easily take four or five hours. That's a lot of hourglass watching. Also, it's a good idea to keep backups of your images. Two years ago, the online photo site PhotoPoint went bankrupt and left more than 1 million of its customers without access to their pictures.
Annotating with Fotonotes
Images that are more than a few months old have a way of containing faces you can't quite recall. Fotonotes, at www.fotonotes.net, is a new application developed by Greg Elin that aims to change that by letting you annotate photos, or creating "fotonotes" on the images. Basically, you drag a square around someone's face and type in the person's name. Or, drag an outline around a building and insert its name. Fotonotes stores all that information in a searchable archive that makes rapid retrieval of a particular image a relatively simple process.
Plus, once the notes are added to an image, they become clickable. When you mouse over an area of the photo that has a note associated with it, the image grays out and highlights the note area with the note displayed as well. The result is a compelling coupling of images with their text counterparts.
The energy to make Fotonotes useful may be too much to ask from a casual shutterbug. On the other hand, for a lawyer trying to maintain a vast database of images pertaining to a case, it may be the best tool for storing both the images and the explanations that demonstrate what's relevant about each image.
Fotonotes includes both a Web-based version and a Java-based client application that will run on any operating system. As of this writing, it is in beta and free for evaluation.
Getting More for Less
Prices for digital cameras continue to fall. These days, 4 megapixel cameras can be had for less than $400. When you consider the various ways to put these devices to use in your practice, it's increasingly easy to justify the investment. Once you make the investment, though, make sure you give some thought to how to get the most out of it-use the tools that allow you to work with the photos more effectively.
Rick Klau ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is VicePresident of Vertical Markets at Interface Software, Inc., and a coauthor of the ABA LPM book The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet (2nd edition). His blog is at www.rklau.com/tins.