December 2013 update: I'm no longer working as a photographer

In 2009, I launched a company that makes business software for photographers, and now that company is so successful that I've regretfully had to put my photography business on hold indefinitely. You can find out more about this change on my blog.

If you're looking for a photographer, I'm still in touch with many amazing photographers and would be delighted to recommend them to you if you contact me.

Photoblog

Light Blue 6 (AKA "What I did in 2015")

Posted in Light Blue Software at 12:00 on 24/11/2015

Today is a big day for me. My little software company is releasing its first major update in almost two years, Light Blue 6.

There's going to be lots of official company stuff going out to our customers over the next couple of weeks, but since this is my personal site and I haven't quite worked out what to do with it since I stopped working as a photographer I thought I'd experiment with sharing a few personal feelings about Light Blue 6. Hamish's thoughts will almost certainly vary from mine, and this probably requires some kind of "all opinions expressed are my own personal ramblings" disclaimer.

Hamish and I have been working on this update for most of the year, and it includes thousands of updates and changes. In our project management system, I can see that there were 492 individual cases that went into Light Blue 6, and most of those would have included several smaller changes. Talking about all of them would be ridiculous and boring, so I'm going to pick out the three new features that I'm most pleased with.

Where am I? And where have my records gone?

Working out how to let photographers use a database without them needing to either know or care that they're doing so is often challenging. Light Blue's database is the core of its functionality and, once you get beyond simple sample data or the very beginnings of a photography business with real data, at some point you're going to have to start doing more than simply presenting them with a list of all of their shoots, clients, etc.

We've seen time and again that the quick queries in Light Blue are enormously helpful for customers who get the concept of looking at a subset of their data. It's a concept that's easy to teach and users almost always instantly get it, but we occasionally get queries from new customers along the lines of "where did all of my data go?" that show that not everyone gets it straight away.

I'd been thinking about this for more than 18 months before we started work on Light Blue 6's redesign, and what I came up with was a clearer hierarchy that flows across the the app's main window. On the left edge, we have our list of sections. Click into one of those sections, and our use of colour clearly shows that the quick queries in the second column belong to that section. From there, the selected query is clearly linked to the current list of records.

The initial feedback from corridor testing and our beta testers has been really positive about this change, but the real test going to be when new customers get their hands on Light Blue 6 and whether we've managed to eliminate the confusion that the old design caused for some new customers.

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Online forms

Five years ago, Hamish and I set out to rebuild Light Blue from the ground up (which is something that software developers are told they must never, ever do). One of our key objectives was combining the power of desktop apps (i.e. you can work offline or with a crappy internet connection, and do clever things that are only possible if you've got all of your data stored locally) with the usefulness of web-based software (e.g. working across multiple computers or mobile devices, collaborating with other people in your company, working with other online services). Three years ago, we released that rewritten version as Light Blue 4, and it gave us a great foundation upon which we've been able to build new features that make it easier for photographers to run their businesses.

Our new online forms are a good example of that. Photographers can set up form templates in Light Blue, and either link to those forms from their own website or embed the form into an existing web page. When the form is filled in, they receive an email and it appears in Light Blue's Inbox, from where they can create a new enquiry without needing to re-enter any information.

So far, so good, but not much more helpful than what you could already achieve with the Light Blue API (although much easier for non-technical users to set up).

Where this gets really interesting is when you link a form to a shoot or online contract. This gives you a really elegant way of getting all of the information you need from your client: contact details, the names of anyone else involved in the shoot, a list of requests (e.g. group photos for a wedding), etc. Everything that your client enters can be used to update your database in just two clicks from the Inbox. No more sending printed or PDF booking forms to your clients, and no more manual typing in of information: a big win for photographers.

That's all very well, and would have been a great new feature if we left it at that. But many of our customers are lucky enough to have loyal clients who come back to them time and again, and the idea of making them type in all of their details every single time sounds horribly tedious: it would be like punishing your best clients. So what we've done is include all of the information the you already know about the shoot and your clients in the form when it's published, so all your client has to do is double-check the details they've given you and fill in the blanks.

That final detail is something I'm especially proud of: it turns a new feature that already makes life easier for photographers into one that also makes it easier for their clients to work with them. The feedback from our testers (and especially Helen, who doesn't seem to have had a client in the last two months who hasn't given her positive feedback about her new booking process) has been wonderful, and I'm very excited about getting this out there and changing more photography businesses for the better. Which leads me onto…

Online invoice payment

The final feature that I want to highlight is another that makes helps photographers by making it easier for their clients to work with them. When we released our online contract signing service in Light Blue 5.5, we made it possible to collect payment for a booking fee / session fee / retainer as part of the contract signing process. Clients could pay you by debit or credit card (via the wonderful Stripe, who make dealing with card payments simple and elegant for both businesses and their customers) or PayPal, the payment would pop up in Light Blue's Inbox and you could accept it directly from there.

In Light Blue 6, we've extended that to all invoices: any invoice can be published to a photographer's client portal, your client gets an email with a link to the invoice, and pays online. They don't have to fiddle around with setting up a new payee to make a bank transfer, or dig out that dusty chequebook. Again, it's all about providing tools that improve the way that both photographers and their clients work.

So that's my personal take on a few things that I'm particularly proud of. There's a busy schedule of newsletters and webinars that will be promoting Light Blue 6 over the coming weeks but, in the meantime, you can find a less personal take on the new release on our website.

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