Light Blue – Review

As a small photography business owner, I sometimes feel that I’m spending far too much time trying to manage my day-to-day business operations and less of my time actually taking photographs. Light Blue promises to change all of that.

Light Blue Software Ltd, a British company startup from 2008, feel they have the answer to mine and many other business owners’ requirements with a tool that has been designed by photographers, for photographers..

At its core, Light Blue is a database package along with a Getting Things Done system. It has been built from the ground up for use by Photographers to help them track the vast amounts of information that they collect for every shoot and business function, break it down into tasks and to set deadlines for everything. On top of all of this, Light Blue will handle all of the paperwork associated with shoots – generating anything from emails to invoices.

Where Light Blue differs from other databases, is that it has been built by professionals who understand what it takes to run a photography business. This makes Light Blue something of a Bespoke package. Where such platforms like Sage or database packages like File Maker fail in todays small-business photography world,  is that a  photographer doesn’t need most of what these packages offer. In the case of File Maker (A powerful database package), you still have to build the database structure yourself prior to entering any data. These would be classed as ‘off-the-shelf’ products.

Part of what makes Light Blue so powerful is the ability to use the in-built workflows to help manage your day-to-day, but to also build your own workflows to perfectly manage how YOU want to work. This is important because a piece of software should never tell you how to work. You tell it how you work and it should match you.

When I first loaded up Light Blue, my first impression was of a very clean program which seemed fairly simple and straight forward. Having now used the application for nearly a month, I’m happy to report that it is still straight forward, though simple is dependent on how far you delve into it.

The interface is split into eight core modules. These are Home, Calendar, Shoots, Contacts, Quotes, Sales, Purchases and Transactions. Each of these modules handles data records, and all of these records can link to records in other modules.

Technical Review

For this review we will be looking at the Mac version of Light Blue, version 4.3.1

Before we begin

To start with, you must create an account on Light Blue’s website to download the software. Once you have done this you are able to log in to download the software.

Installation

Once you have downloaded the software to your machine, installation is exactly like any other application on OSX. Simply open the downloaded .dmg file and drag the Light Blue icon to your Applications folder.

Lightblue - Installation

 

Now run the installed application and you will be taken to the initial setup screen.

Initial Setup

You can always go back and enter or remove more types of photography than those you enter during this stage by using the Business Setup section under Preferences. Here you can easily specify every type of photography in the wizard, and add more than is listed here. This initial step simply generates sample data for you to use in your business setup.

Finding your way around.

Lightblue - Tour Magnifying GlassWhen you first open Light Blue, you might feel a little lost. After all, this is no simple off-the-shelf package. There are a multitude of options inside, and many different ways you could adapt it for your specific workflow and use-case. The easiest way to begin getting around in Light Blue is to ensure that you have the very good Tour system turned on. If you have, you should see lots of little magnifying glasses covering various aspects of the Light Blue interface. You can hover over each of these in turn with your mouse pointer and a little help bubble will appear to explain the section that you’re pointing at. Once you have read it you can simply move off the magnifying glass and the help bubble will close, or you can dismiss it completely by clicking the X in the right corner of it. You can optionally end the tour from any of the magnifying glasses.

Should you wish to turn the tour back on at any point, then simply go to the Help menu and select ‘Explore Light Blue’.

The next best way to learn Light Blue is simply by going through the modules one at a time and learning how each function works. It can be better to start by entering some sample data so you can have a play around with various aspects of it. This gives you insight as to how each module within Light Blue affects every other module.


Preferences

While Preferences might not seem the most logical place to start, there is a large amount of information in here that needs to be configured prior to using Light Blue. While you can jump right in and start using Light Blue with the existing sample preferences that are in here, it can save you some time and confusion later on if you start by entering details in here first.

The Light Blue preferences are divided into three sections. Registration & Customization, Business Setup and Templates.
Lightblue - Preferences

There is unfortunately no Tour magnifying glasses available for the Preferences section, though the online Light Blue help is very useful in this instance.

Business Setup

Resources

Light Blue icon - ResourcesResources are the assets of your business that are booked for shoots. This section is designed to cater for anything from the small photographer who is looking to manage a few pieces of lighting equipment to a large-scale organisation that is managing multiple photographers and multiple studios.

The items that can be created within resources are Staff, Rooms and Equipment.

Lightblue - Business Setup - Resources

Staff

This is effectively just another contact card. In here you specify an Abbreviation, their Name, contact details, address and notes. You can also set an Access Level for staff members. This is used in multi-staff environments such as photography studios where you might be running with 3 or more photographers.

This part of the Resources module could be very effective for photography companies / agencies who contract photographers on a regular basis from a large pool of potential photographers on their books. You could have records for each of your photographers, and using the Shoot Types Preference window, create them their own shoot type with dedicated pricing list and workflow.

Room

A room is pretty much what it says on the tin. You can enter an abbreviation, name and notes. This is an extremely helpful section if you are running a large business with multiple studios and multiple photographers. You can book out a room (and photographer) to a room.

Equipment

Another ‘does what it says on the tin’ data type. Once again you can enter an abbreviation, a name and notes. Extra fields would be useful here so you could easily store information such as ‘Serial Number’, ‘Asset Number’, ‘Related Accessories’, or even ‘Related Equipment’.

It is important not to think of this section for ‘checking out’ equipment. Instead you are linking it to a shoot. Light Blue’s logic is intelligent enough to identify clashes if you attempt to link the same piece of equipment to two shoots at the same date. This will highlight the shoots in Red (for confirmed shoots) or Orange (for enquiries) so you do not accidentally double book equipment, rooms or staff.

I felt this section of Light Blue feels a touch under-developed. I would like to see tie-ins to the Purchases module so that when you book equipment onto a shoot you can create an inventory list for that shoot, know the cost of what equipment is going on-site, have a list of serial / asset numbers, how old it is, and are there any related accessories that go with it (lens-cap, lens hood, etc). This would be a very useful addition for those photographers who like to have a checklist of what goes in their bags at the start of every shoot, which they can check back in at the end. Another useful addition would be a ‘Service’ tab – Cameras and Lenses should be serviced regularly, and this would be an ideal way of tracking the details of the service (cost, date, service provider, faults, etc). Add to that a ‘Faults’ tab so that in multi-photographer environments a photographer can add details of any part of the equipment that is not functioning correctly.

Shoot Types

Light Blue icon - Shoot TypesDuring the initial setup of your business in Light Blue you selected the type of photography that you did, by choosing ‘Corporate’, ‘Stock’, ‘Weddings’, etc. This section is where they live. Each type governs how the way your business charges, communicates and runs for that task that you are doing.

Lightblue - Business Setup - Shoot Type

Price Lists

 Light Blue icon - Price ListsThis will be one of the most important categories in Business Setup as data entered here affects your Quotes, Purchases and Transactions modules.

When you enter this section you will see your price lists on the right hand side. Each of these price lists can contain different products and are called by the Quotation and Invoice modules when you quote or bill for a job (more about this later). When you create a new product within a Pricing list you are given a number of fields to enter. You can tell that Light Blue was created with prints in mind – While there is a Type field where you can enter ‘Print’, ‘Digital’, or whatever else takes your fancy (Package for example), there is another box which asks for the Size. This has a list of pre-set sizes (in inches) though you can add your own. You also enter a Price (that which it is sold for) and a Cost (that which it is bought for). This is used to work out your profit and cost for each job during the Quotation and Invoicing stage. If you adjust the cost of a product this does not retroactively effect previously completed quotations / invoice / transactions.

Lightblue - Business Setup - Price List

When you return to the Price List you will see that all of the data you have entered is easily visible to you. When entering products into a quotation or invoice, you begin typing what it is you want to enter and the system will automatically try to complete this for you. This saves you having to wade through a potentially long list of products to find the one you want. If you want to add a product from another list, you can simply change your Price List at the top and enter the product from that list, then return to your main product list.

A slight flaw is there is no way of storing a history of pricing / costs for each product. Should the cost for some of your supplies change, then there is no way of tracking when / by how much those costs have increased. This could be a useful feature for those running larger businesses where they would like to keep track of Supply cost increases over time so they can make a call on switching to a new product.

Notes: If you adjust your price lists, this does not retroactively affect your completed quotes / transactions.

Workflows

Light Blue icon - WorkflowsWorkflows are where you create what are effectively Tasks for each kind of Job that you undertake.

Lightblue - Business Setup - Workflows

Workflows are generally grouped into three stages (based on the selection in Shoot Types). The great thing about this (and every part of Light Blue) is you can customise how you want to use each section. You don’t have to use it exactly how Light Blue Software suggest. Below are some examples for each section.

  • Enquiry Workflow

This would be used when handling an enquiry from a potential client. For example, the first task would be initial contact, the next task would be to generate a quotation, the next to email said quotation to customer, and the last might be to follow up within two weeks by email.

  • Confirmed Workflow

This would be used for a Confirmed Client. This workflow would generally start prior to the shoot day, go up to the shoot day (where Session Workflow would take over) and then carry on with the Confirmed Workflow handling tasks such as post processing, printing, billing, etc.

  • Session Workflow

This would be your workflow on the day of shooting. This workflow would only span the maximum of a single shoot. Your first task on the day for example might be to confirm all of your equipment prior to departure. Once you arrive at the shoot a task might be in place to contact your client, unpack your kit, start the shoot, etc.

For each task you specify an Offset (in days), with 0 being the date of the shoot / enquiry etc (this is set when you import the Workflow into the Shoot). When the Workflow is imported it will create a list of tasks for you for that shoot, with dates based on this offset. The date for each task can be manually modified after importing it to a Shoot / Enquiry.

When you create a task within a workflow, you can optionally assign it a category. This is useful for categorising the type of task it is. For example, anything that relates to Clients can be in one Category. Another that relates to models can be another category, and anything that relates to equipment can be another category.

Lastly you can set whether a task needs to be an appointment. This would be an appointment with the client as that would involve booking said appointment with the client and yourself.

Note: If you update your Workflow, this does not affect any existing shoots that have already imported the tasks from a specific workflow. This is good because if you adjust your workflow later on you do not want this affecting what has already been planned for existing shoots. This could potentially be a bit of a pain when you’re starting out though as there is no way to modify imported workflows for each shoot.

Task Categories

Light Blue icon - Task CategoriesTask categories

Lightblue - Business Setup - Task Categories


Templates

Templates are a crucial part of Light Blue. These govern everything from how your invoices look to the emails that are sent to your customers, and even how any web galleries look.

Templates are controlled by a series are .rtf (Rich Text Format) files that are called by Light Blue. Within the .rtf files are a series of variables that are recognised by Light Blue and processed with the appropriate information. This open-ended approach allows you to create documents that look EXACTLY how you want them to.

To me, these are the most daunting part of Light Blue. It might be because of the sheer open-ended nature of these. Historically all of my documents have been created in Apple Pages and modified ad-hoc. Or maybe I simply find it daunting because I’m not a fan of true ‘office work’. Thankfully once I’ve created my templates, I can simply let Light Blue get on with the paperwork.

The biggest issue I found with Templates was my inability to edit them on Mac using anything but Microsoft Office. I tried the OSX Included TextEdit which managed to ruin every RTF I through at it (so much so that processing a template resulted in corrupted characters all over the output document), LibraOffice Write (which preserved all the characters as expected but ruined every table I threw at it) and finally Microsoft Office Word, which worked perfectly. It is of no fault of Light Blue Software that I ran into this particular problem, however it is worth noting that you do require extra software to accurately modify these RTF files.

Documents

Document Templates are one of two ways of exporting data from Light Blue into the wild. At first the template system can seem daunting, and overly complex, especially when you open up the samples provided. When you’ve gotten over the initial shock and you attempt to create a document for a shoot or quote, you will begin to realise just how powerful these templates can be. All the time spent entering data into Light Blue will suddenly seem worth it when you email your client with a very professionally crafted invoice or quotation.

Templates are Rich Text Format (.rtf) files. This gives you plenty of flexibility when creating documents, with the ability to use tables, graphics, and various other rich text editor features. The way to think of templates is like a giant mail-merge.

To begin editing templates, you will require Microsoft Word. Do not attempt to edit these using Apple Pages, Libra Office, Text Edit or any other RTF editor. They create a mess when the template is processed by Light Blue.

My advice for templates is; don’t get discouraged with Light Blue just because of the complexity of these templates.

  • Take things slow – Don’t expect perfect results first time
  • Don’t edit the sample files – create copies of these so you always have them as reference.
  • Print the Example mail merge tags files so you have reference of every field that is used, right to hand.
  • Start be using the templates provided as a base. Edit one or two fields and then try creating a document for a shoot/quotation based on that template. See what you get
  • If you run into a problem where a variable field doesn’t seem to go through, yet the one from the sample document does, copy/paste from the sample document to your document and that will usually fox it.

Emails

Shoot requests

Shoot schedules

Web Gallery Templates

This is not yet a section I have used.


Home

Home is where you will first arrive when you open Light Blue. For the Outlook users among you this is like your ‘Outlook Today’.  Home shows you your Current Events, your Open Enquiries and your upcoming tasks. From this screen you can quickly add to Open Enquiries and Tasks by clicking the green ‘+’ button. You can also change how Tasks are organised, grouping instead  by Date, Category, Staff or Linked Record and displaying by a certain due date (such as ‘Today’, ‘Next 7 Days’, ‘All Outstanding’ or ‘Custom’).

Lightblue - Home

This sort of granular view is very helpful for gaining a very quick overview of your day, week or month, or even all the tasks associated with a single shoot.


Tabs

Before we tackle the individual modules within Light Blue, it is important to look at some of the common features between them. When you create / modify records within Light Blue you enter the core information at the top of the screen, and at the bottom of the screen you will see a tabular interface. Two of these tabs in particular are very important as they appear in almost every module, and are what integrate a record created in module 1 with another record in module 2.

Activities

lightblue_activities_bar

Lightblue Tour Bubble - ActivitiesThe Activities tab appears through every module within Light Blue. This is where all of the activity relating to the currently selected item will appear, and this is also how you can go about creating relationships between all the data stored within Light Blue.

Activity can update itself automatically when data changes within Light Blue. however you can manually interact with it to add more data to it.

While most of the data entry into Light Blue is initially done through the main section of each Module, you will use the Activity tab to start augmenting your workflow on a shoot-by-shoot basis and to store data that is not covered in the main data entry screen. You can make use of this tab to store a startling amount of information for each record within Light Blue.

From the sub-toolbar that is part of the tab you can add the following:

  • Add Note
  • Add Task
  • Add Appointment
  • Add Workflow
  • Add Document from template

Using the Options menu on the right of the sub toolbar you can also import external documents into Light Blue. This is incredibly useful if you have a workflow that uses other programs, want to store scanned images of invoices or receipts, or even a voice recording taken during a meeting between yourself and the client. All of this data is stored in the Light Blue database and can be synced to the Cloud and to your other devices using the optional Online Services.

It is important to note that when you Add a workflow, you are copying the tasks from a pre-created workflow into the record that you are adding it to. There is no link / reference to the actual Workflow, and it is used more like a template. Therefore if you alter your Workflow later on this will have no affect on records that have already imported tasks from a workflow. If you wish to apply those changes you must go through each record and apply the tasks on a record-by-record basis.

Linked Records

lightblue_linkrec_bar

Lightblue Tour Bubble - Linked recordsLinked Records is another tab that appears under the Shoots and Contacts modules. it is used to create links between records in the two modules. At first glance it would appear that it has no link to the Quotes and Sales modules, you can in fact still link these records to it.

When you enter data into a Quote, you can assign it to a shoot under the ‘Linked Shoot’ data field. Once you select a shoot the Linked Records on the relevant shoot will be automatically populated. Likewise if you enter a contact in the ‘Bill to’ data field the relevant contact’s Linked Records will be automatically populated

Modules

Calendar

When you first open Light Blue and go to Calendar, you will either see nothing or an already populated calendar. If it is populated, this is Light Blue pulling in the information from your iCal (and potentially synced Online calendars via iCal). This can be turned on or off by going to ‘Filter Mac Calendars’ and deselecting any other calendars you have appear in here. This feature of integrating with your existing calendars is very useful as you can help maintain a work / life balance by laying your work schedule out along-side your personal life.

Also along the top you have a Filter button, which allows you to filter by Staff Member (see Resources under Business Setup), three buttons that let you change between Day, Week and Month, a ‘Go To Date’ button that allows you to skip instantly to a desired date, and a ‘Today’ button flanked by a Left and Right button to move to the next or previous day.

The calendar module is largely an automated affair, and its not hard to imagine that this would be your go-to module when you receive a call from a client looking to book a preliminary meeting with you. To this end you can very easily create an appointment or Shoot from this screen but right-clicking on the desired date, and selecting either ‘Create Shoot’ or ‘Create Appointment’. If you create a new shoot you are taken to the Shoot module (explained later) with the Date field already filled in. If you create a new appointment then you are taken to a search screen where you can search (or add a new) contact, or search for a shoot. When you have found and selected the Contact or Shoot you are wanting to create an appointment for, you are transported to either the Shoot or Contact module, to the relevant record, with a new Appointment window for the requested day. You can now enter your Times, Description and Address, as well as link any additional resources (see Resources under Business Setup) to the appointment. Once you hit Done it will be automatically saved under the respective Shoot / Contact’s Activities Tab.

Back to the calendar screen – the appointment will be created under the appropriate Staff Members calendar (or under Unallocated if you didn’t set this in the Resources section of the appointment screen). It will appear as the abbreviation of the Staff member, followed by ‘Appt: followed by the description. (i.e: TF: Appt: Preliminary shoot meeting). If you double click on this appointment then you are taken to the Shoot or Contact record with the Activity tab already open for you and the relevant appointment highlighted.

You can filter the calendar by It would be nice to have the ability to pull up a calendar for a particular resource such as a Room or Camera so that you can see if a piece of equipment is booked on certain days.

Shoots

Shoots should be the bread and butter of your business, and the same should be true for Light Blue too. Shoots does (like most of Light Blue) exactly what it says on the tin. You start off by creating a New Shoot by selecting the New Shoot button from the top menu. If you are not already in the Shoots module then Light Blue will automatically redirect you there and create a new shoot entity for you. First you give the shoot a title (e.g: The Red Wedding), then assign a shoot type (this is chosen from your available list of ‘Shoot Types’ in ‘business setup’ – this affects the colour it will appear as in the Calendar and Shoots modules.). Next you set whether its status, to either Enquiry, Confirmed, Canceled or Complete (these status settings affect how the entry will appear in the Calendar module, and how the coloured label appear in the Shoots module). Now you enter the Date (you can have a start and end date if the event runs across multiple days), a location, an enquiry date & source, a referral source, a price list to use (populated from the Price List section of Business Setup) and any notes that you have about the shoot.

Lightblue - Shoots

Note: Enquiry and Referral source populate automatically over time based on your input. Enquiry source would be used to track where it originates, such as Web, Facebook, Google+, Direct, Phone etc. Referral source would be used to list a company or person who referred your new prospective client to you. Both of these fields can be used to help you refine and target any marketing efforts that you have, so you can concentrate on marketing via Facebook if most of your revenue stream is being directed to you via that, or to focus more on a Twitter campaign should you find it lacking in the number of referrals.

Now you’ve entered those details you can tackle the tabs. There are a few more in here than in other modules.

Linked records

See Linked Records Tab above.

Activity

See Activities Tab above – this can be quickly populated by clicking the Workflows icon and selecting a pre-created workflow from your list.

Schedule

This is used to create a detailed schedule for a shoot. This would be useful for keeping track of things to do within a specific day, where as Activity would be more useful for tracking things to do over a larger time frame (such as over a Month or so). Ideally you would use this to track the itinerary for a single day of shooting. This can be automatically populated from lists stored in the ‘Shoot Schedule Templates’ section of the ‘Templates’ Preference pane.

Requests

Requests is used to track the requests your client makes for specific shots. For example, you might note down that during a wedding you need to take shots of the brides shoes, or person A B and C together. Effectively this is like one massive checklist.

Ideally with this tab I would like to see a Checklist feature added so you can check these off on a mobile device once the shot has been taken. Another way this could be used is to have a master shot list so you can then break down shoots into multiple days so that you can get all of the pre-wedding shots on the day before the wedding and all the shots of groups on the wedding day. A production master file (PMF) could hold all of this data in a single location and then have it broken off into various days.

Pictures

The Pictures tab allows you to attach pictures to a shoot. You could simply attach these using the Activity tab, but the Pictures tab will display thumbnails of the pictures for you.

When you first start with this tab, you can either create a new folder in which you can upload your photos, or select an existing folder full of pictures. No matter what option you select at this point, that folder must now contain two folders; ‘processed’ and ‘unprocessed’. Your original photos are dropped into ‘Unprocessed’ while the exports of your processed files go into Processed. Once you have completed this step, you return to Light Blue and select ‘Import’ (this changes to Sync after the first Import). Light Blue will now import your photos into its database, showing you a small thumbnail along with its file name and file type. Right-clicking on any of the photos gives you the option to View the Processed/Unprocessed version (assuming they have the same filename in processed and unprocessed). Right-clicking also displays a small quantity of information about that specific photo, including the Creation Date, file names and Processed / Unprocessed file extension.

Lightblue - Shoots - Pictures tab

This method of working with a processed and unprocessed subfolder structure might be fairly alien to those already working with existing Digital Asset Manager (DAM) software such as Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. My ideal solution would be a plugin that ties into Lightroom that would allow you to link a shoot folder in Lightroom automatically with Light Blue (to display both processed and unprocessed versions).

Once you have all your thumbnails in Light Blue you have the option to create a Web Gallery. More on this later

Note: It is worth mentioning at this point that Light Blue does not include a RAW converter. It cannot generate previews from RAW files, which will limit you to JPG files for this module. The files will still appear but not with a thumbnail. This does allow you to reference the files, which is still a very handy feature.

Contacts

The Contacts module is a nice easy one to cover. This is effectively a massive address book for your company, however this also forms one of the Lynchpins of Light Blue as all entries in other modules tie back to Contacts, and after-all it is the contacts that actually pay us.

When you first go to this module you should see some sample data in here. You can either start by looking at one of these samples or by creating a new card using the ‘New Contact’ button at the top.

Lightblue - Contacts

When you create a new contact, the first thing you should really do is tell Light Blue whether your creating a contact for a Company or an Individual. By default; individual is selected. Click the Checkbox saying ‘Is a Company’ on the right if it is a corporate entity, and certain fields within the Contact Card will change.

Now you enter all the details for your contact as you would on any Contact Card. There are one or two unusual fields though.

  • Type: This field is rather open-ended. You could use this to classify someone as a type based on your workflow. E.g: Bride, Groom, Best Man, etc.
  • Status: This field cannot be edited. Instead it is updated automatically by Light Blue based on your dealings with a contact. They can be one of the following:
    • ‘Client’: you’ve booked a shoot for this contact.
    • ‘Strong lead’: you’ve got an unconfirmed shoot linked to this contact.
    • ‘Lead awaiting action’: you haven’t booked a shoot for this contact yet, but you’ve got an outstanding task for them.
    • ‘Lead’: you haven’t done anything with this contact yet.
    • ‘Expired lead’: you’ve got a cancelled shoot or some completed tasks linked to this client, but no outstanding tasks.
  • Source: This would be used for identifying where the contact came from. E.g: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, Direct, Phone, etc.
  • Warning: Not your usual contact-card field. This can be used as a quick note for a contact. E.g: Bridezilla. This warning appears as Red on the list of cards.
  • Mailing List: Should you wish to subscribe a contact to a Mailing list then this field just allows you to do just that. Unfortunately this field is only currently for record keeping. It does not actually allow you to email or to manage subscriptions / un-subscriptions.
  • Sales & Purchase: This field is another you cannot modify, but is generated automatically by Light Blue. This tracks the amount of purchases and sales to and from this contact. Normally only one of these fields will have any kind of value in it, unless you make purchases from one of your clients. These are tied into the Sales and Transactions modules.

Again, like with the other modules, the regular tabular interface is present below the card. In this instance you will see Linked Records and Activity. Both of these are explained above.

Note: Contacts can be imported from a CSV file or from Apple Contacts. To do this, go to the Records menu.

Quotes

This module allows you to raise quotations for your clients. The interface is very straight forward. The date tab is already pre-filled with todays date, though you can back / forward date this should you wish. Next you enter the Bill To information, which will allow you to select from Contacts in your Contact Module. Next you enter the Linked Shoot (if applicable) which will link to a shoot from the Shoot Module. For both the Bill To and Linked Shoot field you can create a new shoot and/or contact instead of linking to an existing record.

Before you start filling out any financial information you need to select the Price List that you wish to use. These are pre-set in the Price List section under Business Setup in the Preferences Pane. This will allow you to populate your Items tab with the correct list of products from your price list.

Next you enter any notes for the shoot, any discount that you wish to apply to this customer and any notes about that discount – The discount is applied globally across the Items that you list, however you can disable the discount for certain items). You can now select a Booking Fee

Question – how does Booking Fee work? – How does Fee work?

 

Lightblue - Quote

 

Once you have entered all the above details, you go into the Activity tab and create the quotation in RTF format for your client. This file is based on the Quotation Template, which can be easily modified. The action of creating a Quotation dumps all the information into a document that you can easily modify before sending to your client. It is important to note that you should never send an editable file to a client – instead you should PDF the quote from the RTF file once you’ve made any corrections.

Light Blue’s method of exporting the data to an external file may not be to everyones liking, however it does allow you to make last minute corrections. I would still like to see a straight export-to-PDF option though.

Once a quotation is accepted (or modified) you can then click the Create Sale button. This moves the quotation straight to a new Sale record with all the accompanying data.

Sales

<Coming Soon>

Purchases

The purchases module is where you track any purchases your company has made of Gear, supplies, equipment, rentals and other purchases. This is used to track consumables such as printer inks, albums that you would purchase in for clients before assembling them, prints, etc.

You begin with no records in this module as no sample data is provided. This is to prevent you accidentally including sample financial data in your real financial records.

 

When you click ‘New Purchase’ you are given a new data card with the relevant fields to fill out.

  • Category – Useful for classifying types of purchases. An example given is a Wedding Photographer classifying items into ‘Prints’ and ‘Albums’ to group the cost of sales together.
  • Supplier – Here you can enter the Supplier’s name and details. This can also be used to pull out an existing contact card from the Contacts module. If you want to create a contact card from these details that you’ve entered you can just select ‘Link Contact’ and a new contact card will be created (Do not select ‘Link New Contact’ or you will have to enter all the details again into a blank contact card).
  • Description
  • Claimed By: Unsure
  • Notes
  • Invoice Date
  • Invoice Number
  • Payment Date

Note: When you enter an Invoice Date, the system will try to autocomplete this using a bit of internal logic. What is impressive is when you try to enter a Payment Date, it will also try to complete this for you based on the fact that you’ve been invoiced by a company, so it will default to 30 days after the Invoice Date, or to another date in the future. This feature can make manual entry slightly longer if you want to enter a date that is not one that Light Blue immediately thought of, but this is still a very nice little feature.

Once you have entered the above details, you can input the Items that you have purchased from this supplier. You enter a Name, a Description, Net Total, Tax total, and Gross total.

Note: Currently it is one item per line, and there is no item price, meaning that you cannot have a quantity of an item, only a single one. This could be slightly confusing. I expect this has come about due to the ability to add an item to the Inventory, though you could simply disable this button if a quantity was entered.

Note: It is important to note here that the Tax amount entry is not done by percentage. This means that if your local Tax rate ever changes, none of your purchase records will change as there is no central place to update these. Purchase records should be seen as ‘written in stone’ once they’ve been completed and paid, and really should not be tied into any variable.

Next you can select whether an item is Capital, and whether it is an Inventory Item (such as a lens, camera body, light, background, etc). We will cover the Inventory option later.

Once you have entered all the items from your purchase, Light Blue will give you a Net Total, Tax Total, Gross Total, Paid Total, and Unpaid Total. You can now select ‘Mark as Paid’, which will create a new Transaction Record for you. We will cover this under the Transaction Module, below.

Inventory

If you select Inventory, you will be given a pop-up window asking you to enter the following:

    • Item Type: Like with Category you would use this to classify your purchases.
    • Serial Number
    • Replacement Cost
    • Notes

Lightblue - Purchase - Inventory

Note: After experimenting with the inventory system, I found a few minor drawbacks.
– Firstly; if you purchase a bundle of items (e.g: Camera body + lens) and set it as an Inventory item you can only enter one serial number and replacement cost.
– Secondly; once you have entered items into the inventory, the only way to edit them is to find the original purchase and modify that item. Editing items is important if you need to update replacement costs (ideally you should aim to do this once a year).
– Thirdly; you cannot use the Inventory as a true asset register as you can not sign items off or track any form of depreciation.  I doubt that most photographers will care about this but for larger organisations (film studios, etc) this could be a fairly important feature.

Items in the inventory can be viewed by going to Reports > Inventory from the main screen

Transactions

The Transactions module is largely automated if you just use the Sales and Purchases modules. When you complete a Sale or Purchase, a Transaction record is automatically generated. you can optionally create  a manual Transaction should you wish, however under the Allocations Tab it will ask you to link it to a Sale record.

Light Blue - Transactions

 

Web Galleries and eCommerce

Light Blue includes a powerful but simple Web Gallery builder. To get to this, you have to have imported your processed thumbnails into Light Blue under the Shoots module. Now click the Cog from the Picture tab, and select ‘Build Web Gallery’. You will now be presented with a list of web gallery options that have already been pre-specified in the Web Gallery Templates section of the Preferences pane.

Saving your data

Light Blue transparently saves all of your changes as they are made. To this date I have not managed to crash Light Blue so cannot comment on how much data could potentially be lost during a crash.

From what I have seen though, as long as you complete entering any data into whichever dialog you have open, and then close that and all prior dialog boxes, then all data will be automatically saved.

Local File Storage

Syncing

Light Blue offers an Online Services package that allows you to sync your data from the PC that you created on to other computers, and/or to mobile devices such as an iPad and iPhone.

Why not use Dropbox?

Dropbox is not designed to handle the syncing of databases. Issues can occur should you open a database on two machines simultaneously. Dropbox would only be able to function as a passive sync mechanism, which for a database such as this is not ideal.

Backing Up

Backup is done automatically as part of the Online Services subscription. When you make a change, it is automatically synced to the server for syncing to your other devices.

Unfortunately there is no form of version-controlled backup option available, meaning you cannot roll back to a previous version of your database or undo a single change (unlike in Time Machine). This is a feature I would dearly like to see implemented in case record(s) are accidentally deleted.

Updates

Light Blue uses the (almost industry) standard Sparkle update framework by Andy Matuschak to handle any software updates pushed out by Light Blue Software. Upon opening the software it will automatically check for updates, and prompt you with a full Change Log of the latest version and an option to Skip, Install Now, or Remind you later. From here you can also specify Light Blue to automatically update to the latest version without prompting you.

Once a software update has been downloaded you will be prompted to ‘Install and Relaunch’ Light Blue.

Mobile Clients

Light Blue has a free mobile client for iPhone and iPad. To use the mobile client you are required to have the Online Services package. Each mobile client that you install will count as a device, as does the desktop or laptop that you use as your primary input method. This can mean that if you have a Desktop, a Laptop, an iPad and an iPhone then your monthly fee will be higher.

The mobile client gives you access to a lot of the data stored in your Light Blue database. While I wont cover this app in any great depth, you get access to your Current Events screen, Open Enquiries, All Shoots, Tasks, Contacts, and Purchases. This should be enough data for 90% of photographers on the go. For me, the best feature is the Contacts screen – this allows me to keep a separate work contacts list that does not appear in my personal contact list.

Lastly there is no Android Client, and unfortunately no plans to develop one.


Possible Use-Cases

For the Photography Agency

Create Staff accounts for each photographer you have on record, along with their own separate Price List, Work Flows and Document templates. Now you can assign photographers to shoots with individual rates assigned a job based on that photographer.

For the Film Industry

While this would require a bit of modification, Light Blue could (theoretically) be used as a digital Production Master File (PMF) to manage a production from inception to publication.

Conclusion

Since reviewing Light Blue, I have personally started using this behemoth to manage my business. The amount of information it now contains is staggering, and I would be lost without it. It is not without its niggles, but overall I find the software very flexible and scalable. I would highly recommend this software to any professional photographer who is starting to see an increase in work and leads

Likes

  • Impressive array of self-help videos (over 60 bite-sized video tutorials – see www.lightbluesoftware.com/tutorials)
  • Excellent support via email – Big Thank You to Hamish of LIght Blue Software for helping me with all my questions on their product!
  • Fantastic record correlation / linking system that allows you to tie everything together, and very easily reference other records
  • Integration with Google Calendar
  • Integration with Mac applications such as Calendar, Contacts and Mail
  • Helpful fields in Contacts such as Date of Birth, Warning field, etc.
  • Abilities to help your marketing campaigns by tracking where customers originated
  • Supports PayPal for Invoices
  • Very flexible and scalable Document system that allows you to create bespoke invoices / quotations / etc.
  • After integration, calendars can be filtered so you can optionally dispaly your system calendars – very useful for arranging things around your personal life
  • Impressive auto-complete system
  • Support for International markets – not locked to the UK or the US
  • Support for Tax rate changes – important in the UK seeing as we used to be at 17.5%, then went to 15%, and are now at 20%
  • If you modify price lists it does not affect any competed shoots
  • Very good e-commerce system for selling photos – While this functionallity is basic, it works very well, integreates with PayPal, and creates a no-fuss site that allows customers to order photos!
  • Excellent seamless syncing for the clients (mobile and full)
  • Useful mobile client that gives you access to just what you need

Dislikes

  • Tabbing between Light Blue and another application results in the field you are currently entering to become selected when you return to Light Blue, meaning that if you start typing again it erases everything you’ve currently entered into that field so far – Very irritating if you’re working with multiple applications.
  • No ability to copy or nest Item Price-lists – currently you must enter the product again
  • Clicking on a record and then pressing the backspace (or Delete) key does not delete or prompt you to delete the record. Instead you are required to Right-click on an item and then select delete from the context menu.
  • Inventory and Resources are unlinked – An inventory item should have an option to create it as a resource – for example, if you purchase a new camera body then that is a resource that should be bookable for shoots.
  • Resources do not have a field for Serial Numbers but Inventory does (see above comment)
  • No Quantity field under Purchases – Currently I have to duplicate the item if I purchase more than one (no per-item price).
  • No ‘Undo’ option – If you change a record and make a mistake, you cannot roll back to before you started making those changes – this could lead to major data loss from accidents, so be careful before you start changing things!
  • When you modify a quote after it has been accepted, it does not change the status. Another status should be created called ‘Updated – Awaiting confirmation’, should a quotation change, or at least some form of alert should exist to warn you that you’re modifying an accepted quote.
  • Once you have generated a Web album, if you update your prices in Light Blue none of your web album prices will update. You must remember to go back and re-create all your web albums to reflect new pricing.
  • Irritating dependency on Microsoft Word for editing Document Templates. This could mean that the cost of owning Light Blue is increased if you don’t already have access to the Office package.
  • Slightly confusing data export method – You can export data by Adding a Document (based on a document template) to a record, and also by printing the record (allowing you to create a PDF).

Things I would like to see

  • A more developed Resources tab with a better inventory management system
  • Ability to use more Mail clients other than Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook – Please add AirMail support and maybe Postbox / Thunderbird
  • The ability to integrate with Adobe Lightroom for Photo Previews of a shoot (I would suggest Apple Aperture too but that would be Mac Specific which would be no good for Windows users).
  • The ability to integrate with online platforms such as SmugMug, Square Space, and more for managing Web Album previews, e-commerce and more.
  • Integration with PayPal to help you manage financial data.
  • Product thumbnails under Business Setup > Price List (these can be useful for creating a friendlier-looking invoice / eInvoice. You can enter them on individual invoices however you might have a generic item that you sell.
  • Method of tracking the number of hours you work on any given activity or shoot. This could be useful for identifying work-based habits and areas that require streamlining.
  • Tie in the Contacts Mailing List option to a Mailing List provider such as Mail Chimp to allow for easy management of mailing lists, unsubscribes, etc.
  • A list of pre-set discounts and/or a method of creating discounts based on the number / type / combination of items ordered.
  • Ability to add custom fields to most modules to allow custom data to be stored – Notes could be used to support this though.

Unanswered questions

  • Question – how does Booking Fee work? – How does Fee work?

Light Blue Pricing

Desktop Software – New Customers: £295 + VAT (Per-machine licensing model)
Desktop Sotware – Upgrading Customers: £95 + VAT (major version upgrades only)
iOS (iPhone / iPad) Software: Free – Requires Cloud Services Subscription

Light Blue LogoCloud Services

Up to 2 Devices: £7.50 + VAT PCM
Up to 5 Devices: £15 + VAT PCM
Up to 10 Devices: £25 + VAT PCM

Contact Light Blue Software

Web: www.lightbluesoftware.com
Email: support@lightbluesoftware.com

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