Step into the world of top-notch photographic printing with Jan-Ole Schmidt from the award-winning European photo lab, WhiteWall, as he pulls back the curtain on the company's evolution, from its humble beginnings to an international operation delivering gallery-grade images to more than 50 countries. Schmidt tells Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society how WhiteWall has maintained the essence of a photo lab, blending traditional silver halide printing with Ultra HD prints, and their unique collaboration with LUMAS enables the offering of limited editions at affordable prices, without sacrificing quality.
Then, Schmidt breaks down WhiteWall's multi-channel approach. Hear how they utilize physical stores, galleries, and sample sets to replicate the in-person experience for their customers and the swift delivery process all the way from Germany. He shares his insights on the importance of physical photos in this digital era.
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Hosted and produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning
Welcome to the Dead Pixel Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau. The Dead Pixel Society podcast is brought to you by MediaClip, Advertek Printing and IP Labs.Gary Pageau:
Hello again and welcome to the Dead Pixel Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau, and today we're joined by Jan-Ole Schmidt, who's in product management at leading photo lab White Wall, and he's coming to us from Cologne, Germany. Hi Jan-Ole, how are you today?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Hi, Gary, i'm fine.Gary Pageau:
It's summer here and in Germany and, yeah, all is good, all is good And all is good at we've been getting a lot of product announcements and news of innovations coming from the company. We're going to talk about that in a few minutes. First, can you kind of talk about the history of White Wall for those few people who don't know about the company?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, sure. So has been founded roughly 15 years ago, in 2007, by Alexander Nyswand, who's our CEO. He's still in the company and he's a professional photographer. And then he started his own photo lab, which was, and we were producing gallery-grade images for Lumas, for example, for Lumas galleries, but also for other photographers. And then the company grew over time and we moved over to a new production facility here and we got larger And today we have about 200 colleagues.Gary Pageau:
And you're international, you're not just Germany, you've expanded, actually over here across the pond too.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, that's true. So we are based in Cologne and our production facility, our lab, is in Cologne, but we ship in over 50 countries in the world, so we've expanded over the whole planet, basically.Gary Pageau:
So one of the things that I think differentiates at White Wall from some of the other output providers is the emphasis on like gallery quality, because the quality of the finishing and the output can hang in an art gallery as well as a living room. Can you talk a little bit about like? when the company started, was always the objective Was to bring that to everybody, or was it just to work in art galleries?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
No, it was always the plan to combine basically both worlds, so the professional world, where photographers are at home, and the world of, yeah, the hobby artists or who the asked photographers, so the non-professional ones, basically. But for all these customers we wanted to offer gallery great prints and frames and all the products that we offer. So, yes, that was the initial plan.Gary Pageau:
Can you explain the relationship with LUMAS, I'm not a fine art aficionado so I'm not really aware of? I mean, i've heard of the name, but what is their position in that market?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
So Lumas is? obviously it's a gallery you can go to and buy art, and the idea behind Lumas was not to have editions of a few copies at high prices, but instead to have a larger amount of copies and lower the price, but still it's limited editions in most cases And, of course, the focus was on quality, because you spend, even if it's not that expensive as it might be in traditional art galleries, but it's still some money that you spend, so you expect good quality, and that was, yeah, that's what is the idea of Lumas.Gary Pageau:
Now, one of the things that makes an old timer like me feel warm and fuzzy towards WhiteW all, as you still call yourself a photo lab And you actually print on silver halide media. As for a lot of the stuff you're doing for some of your large prints that are mounted and finished in just a exquisite way, the way the final product is done, can you talk a little bit about that process where you're digital/ the digital analog process with silver halide media, with the acrylic and some of the other media that is put with it to make it durable and long lasting?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yes, so it's true, We still call ourselves a photo lab. We are not only a photo lab, of course. Of course We are at home and again both worlds, but we print on classic silver halide paper, which is a Fuji paper for color images and it's Ilford paper for black and white Also, it's one of our special things that we have to offer is these pure black and white, Ilford prints, which is also see print, and what you can do is you can have them mounted on aluminum and debond, you can face-mounted them under acrylic and you can also have them framed, which is quite a large range of products that we have. And, yeah, there's a lot we do with these photo prints, with these classic seed prints. So that's why we call us a photo lab.Gary Pageau:
It's just kind of interesting because so many of the labs now they've gone mostly digital. Nothing wrong with mostly digital, right I mean but obviously for a lot of the market I'm sure you deal with the fine art market and some of those They really want that photographic look or feel or whatnot.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
So I mean, you could call it a bit like the old word, but it's still high quality. And what we also did is I don't know if you heard about the Ultra HD prints that we introduced in 2016 at Photokina in Cologne here, which was this print with a higher resolution than what was possible before. We have new machines to print them, and also we're using the new and I'm still using, of course, the new Fuji Crystal Maxima paper, which Fuji was improving, and it's not something that we still do, but don't love it, or so It's what we focus on and we still want to improve this the C prints.Gary Pageau:
So and also you do kind of some of the old school things like providing ICC profiles and test prints for people, which I'm sure you don't do that much for the amateur market, but I'm sure there's a lot of enthusiasts, photographers, who appreciate that.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, that's true. I mean, if you spend a lot of time on editing your images and of course, also before that, you'd spend a lot of time on taking the photo right And you want it exactly the way to look, the way that you have in mind. That's why we still offer your ICC profiles for almost all media that we have, so that you can do the soft proofing and Photoshop, for example, and also we have this test print, which get a watermark, and then you get a discount on the price so that you can try different papers with your own image And for the color reproduction, for resolution and also the surfaces, of course. So we offer quite large sizes and frames. So we are, or we have products, and now I range that costs some money, so you don't just buy a print with a frame for like $400 and you hope that you're lucky with the colors. Exactly. That's why we are doing that. Yeah, and it's for the professionals and also for some of the enthusiasts, because I mean, as you know, they are also quite involved in the technical stuff.Gary Pageau:
So let's talk a little bit about the framing, because that's an interesting offering for this, because obviously in the gallery world you offer a frame but you offer the same quality framing and the same quality variety of choices that you do. So can talk about that process, because that's sort of a challenge, i think, to represent on a website what a frame is going to look like, what that feel is going to be.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
As you mentioned, it's not that easy to show what the frame will look like on the website. So that's why we invested a lot recently in creating a new online configuration process and the 3D preview, which I would say is the best that you can have in the market currently, which is really based on 3D models of the frames and also of the products themselves, so you can see what the product would look like quite well and see the colors in combination with your image, which is, by the way, also great fun to just upload your own image that you took the other day and then are proud of, hopefully, and then just flip through the products that we have And it's great fun and it looks good and great. And we know that we have to do everything that's possible to make decisions easier for customers, because roughly 100 different frames that we offer which is, of course, yeah, it's a large number to decide between And yeah, so that's why we know it's and then you add that, on top of all the possible print size combinations, you have And you're talking thousands of iterations of possible products that you might offer through one picture. Yeah, exactly, you can have different sizes, different paper types. You can have matted frames print the frameless acrylic prints and all the stuff. So yeah, there's quite a large amount of different options.Gary Pageau:
I encourage people go obviously to WhiteWall and check out the configurator. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience is like for the end user? They upload their image and then they can actually see it on a representative wall. It's not a wall of their own home yet.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, true, yeah, exactly. You upload your image and then you start in the configuration process with some default settings or with the product that you have chosen before, and depends a bit on where you start the process. But then you have an image, your image on the wall. It could be framed or not, or whatever the settings are. And, yeah, it's an example wall, just more or less for size reference, so that you can because that's also something that's quite hard for customers to decide on the size Right, or if you do multiple prints.Gary Pageau:
They want to see how they're arranged.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, true, so that's why we did this, and if you want to switch to 3D, you can simply click on the image that's on the wall in the configuration process And then you turn it a bit and then the wall disappears and you can rotate the product So you can see how glossy the surface is And you can also see what the wall mounts on the back look like.Gary Pageau:
Yeah, that's super important in our hanging. these, yeah, i mean, some of these prints can be very heavy, these acrylic prints, oh my god, yeah, exactly. Um, it can be heavy, and so if you can see, before you place the order, how the Walmart looks, then you can figure out how to mount it to the wall so one of the things that i think makes again sets WhiteWall apart from other photo labs is the fact you do have physical places where you can go experience, see WhiteWall prints you've got. Obviously, if you go to a Lumas gallery you can go see what other people's work is, but you also have your own physical stores.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Can talk a little bit about those we have as we are based in Germany, we have four own stores here in Germany and we have corporations with Lumas, as you mentioned, and also with Leica, because Leica also has stores and galleries, because, um, yeah, obviously it's. It's not that easy to have stores around the whole planet, so, and that's why we are partnering here with them and um, but you can go to them, uh, in in the US it's um, for example, lumas in new york or Leica in LA, where you can go to and see our products, talk to colleagues, um, to our colleagues, if you want to see products, or if you are not sure if your image is good enough to print it in a certain size, for example, or just to see what that type of print looks and feels like like you said you know, is there?Gary Pageau:
is there a texture to the surface? is a glossy mat? I think that is one of the things that's kind of been missing from photo output in the last few years with so much push to the online. Is you know there is a value to the end user to actually seeing and holding representatives of that sample output? I think that's something that's been missing actually. So I think it's interesting you've gone that way with what you're doing, true?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
so we have this multi-channel approach and um. We also offer sample sets, for example. So if you cannot go to one of our stores or this um partner stores, then you can still have sample sets sent to your home, which is including whatever product category you choose. So it's all our acrylic options in one box so you can see what the glossy surface looks like, what the non-reflective surface looks like, which is, of course, not the same as if you see it online in images or in this 3d model toy, if you have it in your hands and in the end, the having prints in a physical way is the basic idea of WhiteWill. So exactly that's why we obviously make us make it as easy as possible for our customers to experience, right, so you're practicing what you preach.Gary Pageau:
Is what you're saying true? absolutely so. Since all your production is in Germany, how the heck do you get the products so fast here to the us? because that's one of the things you like to talk about in your market windows is that you're actually you can deliver fairly quickly here to the United.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
States. Yes, it's possible to ship to the us pretty fast from Germany, and there's two things that make this possible. One is that we are based in cologne and the airport at cologne is the hub for ups and also for fedex, so we just have to drive the products to the airport and then they take them into their airplanes and fly over to the us, and while they are doing this, of course, this due to the different time zones. This is also it's time travel it's good. For us. It's almost like time travel, because when they almost arrive at the same time of the day, then they depart here right in this direction. It's an advantage. Of course, the other way around it would be a disadvantage. But this is good. So basically we start shipping. If the plane lands in new york, then from there it's basically the same as it would start from here, because we did not lose any time. It's actually really fast. I've checked the delivery times before and it's three to four days. So depending on the, in average, depending on the product, of course, plane prints it's faster because it does not take that long to frame. So a bit longer, but in the average is three to four days, which is pretty fast, very competitive?Gary Pageau:
yeah, obviously the customer's paying for shipping or something, but is there any? do you wait longer for a larger print, like you said, because there's more processing of all is supposed to adjust normal print?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Not really. It's almost the same time. For larger prints It might be one day longer, but it's not significantly longer. What we also do is we build the packaging for every single order because it has to fit And, as I said, we have custom sizes for almost all products. That's what is done in the process.Gary Pageau:
Yeah, the two things I was going to ask you about was the packaging, because obviously, shipping a $400 US print across the ocean, you want to make sure it's going to get there intact and in pristine condition And, from what I understand, you do have a lot of custom technology or process that you use to package the prints and make them safe and secure on their journey across the ocean.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, that's quite a challenge to do to create packaging which will arrive intact, as you said, while crossing the ocean And, as we all know, it's not that the shipping companies treat like eggs or something. So we have to build really stable packaging and we do this in different materials Could be full wooden box. If you order, for example, a WhiteWall master print, which is the largest product that we offer. It's up to 96 by 94 inches, which is and produced seamless, So it's a huge print And you have to build a custom wooden box for this.Gary Pageau:
Yeah, And I would imagine, because frames come in different widths, that you just can't have a standard master print size box. You've got to have different adjustments based on the size of the frames involved, because some are wider, some are thinner, some are, you know true.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Hearing that from you, it sounds so I think. Now we basically build two products. You order one, we sent you the product that you ordered. We sent you a packaging which is also custom made.Gary Pageau:
Because some packaging company too. You didn't even know it.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, true, yeah.Gary Pageau:
So one of the other ways obviously a photo lab can distinguish themselves is through customer service. You can talk a little bit about some of the ways you help customers choose the right product for them and be more satisfied, because that is another way that you distinguish yourself is providing that level of service.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, exactly So. As we already mentioned, we have our stores So you can go there, but you can also call them. You can arrange video calls with them, discuss your image and the perfect product for it, and we also have a dedicated US team when we speak about the US market And they will also assist you if you're a photographer and print for your exhibition.Gary Pageau:
So you can actually talk to a human?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, you can talk to humans, yes, and they will give you good answers and they will help you.Gary Pageau:
That's a bonus.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
True, yeah, and of course, we also have a customer service So you can call us if you have questions on an order you placed or something like that. So, yeah, there's a lot we do to help customers decide on the perfect print or the perfect framing.Gary Pageau:
So where do you think the trends are now that we're hopefully we're done with COVID for a while, because I know there was a lot of disruption market. There was a trend line, then there was a disruption And then you know, depending on the business, some people did very well during COVID because people a lot of pictures they could sit and make photo books, but then they haven't been traveling So they haven't been capturing new pictures to print now. So there's been kind of a bubble or a dip in that business. But really it seems like the home decor business overall, the home presentation market I like to talk about where you're displaying images, where you're displaying things that are meaningful to you. Maybe you're not going to print a thousand of them. You're going to print one masterpiece picture That seems to be really catching on. Do you see that growth continuing or people going to run out of wall space soon?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
I hope they are not running out of wall space soon, and I don't think so, because it's. I would say we are almost back on track after COVID And people go out, they travel, they take photos. Also, our professional photographers, or the customers of us who are professional photographers, have their jobs, they have their projects, they have their exhibitions. When you have your pictures on your wall, then after some years I mean I guess you experience the same There's a point where you want something new. Right, you took new pictures, maybe you improved your skills, and then the old one doesn't really represent you anymore, so you want a new one. So we are very optimistic for the future in terms of printing. Also, if we talk about printing in general, because you can see your images on screens, obviously, on phones and all this stuff we are also very optimistic on that, that people want to print the images. They want to touch them, feel them, make them real in a way. And it's a bit like we have this music streaming, like Apple Music or Spotify, whatever, so you can buy music on vinyl, so, which is like the music that means a lot to you, right, what you want to have in the physical way. And that's the same for images. So you can take a lot of images and see them on the screen, but the ones that really mean a lot to you, you might want to have them printed. We don't see that this is. It's not the case in the future, so we are very optimistic now.Gary Pageau:
Yeah, it's very authentic, as the kids would say these days. True, they had to print a picture And you know, it's only the old days and the analog days where you had to print every picture. to see it right, you had to go through the chemical process and print it. And now people can really pick and choose which of the most meaningful pictures to them that they want to share, not only digitally, but they can also share physically. So, yeah, and it's great that there's options like White Wall, because it is really a step above what you can get in terms of quality compared to most amateur type prints. right, you get that museum grade and you're probably not going to get a lot of them, right? I mean, i'm sure you have a lot of repeat customers, but most people, probably more than every couple of years or so, may buy a WhiteWall print just because it's so special.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Exactly And, as you said, in the old times every image had to be printed to be visible and of course, you could still print all your digital images there are companies who do these small prints and large volumes, but we don't focus on that, so we focus on the special images in larger formats does not always have to be huge, or obviously, we can also do small ones, but yes, we can refocus on the special images.Gary Pageau:
Well, it's great to hear the optimism coming out of somebody in the photo printing business. Where can people go to get more information about White Wall and the products and services you offer?Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Yeah, that's pretty easy. You simply go to www. whitewall. com. That's our website where you can find all our products. We have different product groups that you can flip through And, as I said, also you could upload your image and try different frames and different product options.Gary Pageau:
Great Well, thank you so much for being a guest today. Best wishes to you and looking forward to seeing more from WhiteWall coming soon.Jan-Ole Schmidt:
Thank you very much, Gary. Thanks for having us.Erin Manning:
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