November 2007

What do you do with a Shoebox Full of Old Photos?

Author: Paul deVere

Of course, everyone knows that timing is everything. But, as Dave Sanders says, “Our timing was terrible.” Fortunately, he is smiling when he says it. Five years ago, Dave and his wife, Diane, bought what is now Island Digital Photo. “We bought the business right after film had peaked,” Dave explained.

“But Dave saw it coming,” said Diane. “When we bought the business, he inserted the word ‘digital’ between ‘Island’ and ‘Photo.’”

“Well, I sort of knew it was coming, just not so quickly,” Dave said. He was a DuPont executive before retiring to the Lowcountry readily admitting, “I was a corporate guy,” and as far a photography went, “I was just a hobbyist—a weak amateur.”

Though the first digital camera was introduced by Canon in 1983, it took some time for a variety of technologies to come together to bring about the digital revolution in consumer photography. In 1998, the first consumer megapixel camera was introduced. About 36 months later, the consumer’s use of film became a footnote, mostly relegated to one-use, single-focus cameras.

“When we bought the shop, these shelves were loaded with film,” Dave said, pointing to shelves where a few boxes of 35 mm film sit. “I remember donating about a third of our stock to the schools because the film had expired.”

But the Sanders, along with daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Michael Tapanier, didn’t just roll with the digital punch; they embraced it and, in a number of areas, are leading the way.

The original Island Photo opened at Coligny Plaza 26 years ago. It was the first shop on the island to offer one hour prints. Three years ago, the Sanders moved to Circle Center off Pope Avenue and almost tripled the size of the store. For the new services they wanted to offer, they had to.

One of those services is their new “Shoebox” program. “It’s for people who have shoe boxes of old photographs. With our new high speed scanner, we do 30-40 prints a minute and save them to a CD. Then our customers can do anything they want with them,” said Dave. While there are some limitations—no mounted, Polaroid and Kodak instant prints, (the photos must be flexible)—the time and cost difference between the new scanner (as little as $0.20 per photo) and the “old fashioned” flatbed scanner ($6 per photo) is extraordinary. “We can also transfer slides and 8 and 16 mm old movies to a playable DVD, with music and nice transitions, so to you can play it on your television,” Dave added.

The Sanders have just added two state-of-the-art HP Photosmart kiosks that will do a great deal more than help the photographer download images to disk. “I think there are about three in South Carolina,” said Dave. “They’re just amazing.” The customer can get highly creative, making professional-looking coffee table books, calendars, cards, posters and a variety of other products. Every project is printed and bound at the shop.

The Island Digital Family

“We really want people to enjoy themselves here, we try to make it fun,” Dave said, as one of the four small dogs who frequent the place, curled around his leg. That’s another big difference at Island Digital Photo. It is truly a family business aimed at the local market. “We don’t cater to tourists,” Diane said. “Our customers are mostly islanders and professional photographers.” She pointed to one corner of the store dedicated to a play area for children. “While mom sits at the kiosk, her kids can play.” To encourage that local market further, Island Digital Photo holds monthly digital camera classes. “We charge $25,” said Dave. “But we give everyone a $15 gift certificate.”

Because the community has been so supportive of their business, the Sanders want to give back to the community. “Organizations are always trying to raise funds,” Dave said. “With this new program, we’ll have the fund raisers give out cards to all their members and friends. The cards will have the name of the organization on them. When they shop at Island Digital, they’ll just give us the card, sign it, and we’ll put the purchase amount on it. We keep the cards for an agreed upon period of time. Then we’ll add up all the purchases and give the organization 10 percent of the total. Just give them a check. We’ll help do the promotion inside the organization so there won’t be much for them to do,” explained Dave.

The store begins to fill—dogs, children, customers. Howard Costa walks in to check on his photos. Costa, captain of the Skimmer, which specializes in nature charters out of Shelter Cove Marina, is also president of the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society, a writer and wildlife photographer. Island Digital Photo and the Audubon Society are working on a calendar project. Costa has taken some magnificent close-ups of some island shorebirds and brought them to Island Digital Photo for “wet” processing, which renders an extraordinary rich and deep image.

“Best birds shots I’ve ever seen,” said Dave.
Costa smiled. “The best?

That’s just what the Sanders want Island Digital Photo to be, for themselves and their community. Costa’s smile indicates they are very close.

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