A new life for old photos

By Carolyn R. Saraspi

You captured everyone from Aunt Jenny to long-lost Cousin Dirk at the annual family gathering in Tahoe with your new digital camera.

The close-up of grandpa opening presents would be a perfect portrait, except for a prickly Christmas tree branch poking through his head.

You could kick yourself for not having the patience to learn your computer's photo editing software. Now that the holidays are drawing to a close, you don't have any time to spare.

Enter Image-Edit & Art, an online photo-finishing service from Tiburon attorney-businessman Jeffrey Makoff.

Launched in March, Image-Edit combines the functionality of a traditional photo lab with the convenience of the Internet.

"Digital editing is very funny because, while digital pictures can be edited very easily, it's beyond the capability of everyone," Makoff said. "To learn Adobe Photoshop well enough to make significant edits, you have to have significant training. And you have to be good."

Consumers can send their images directly to Image-Edit's Web site at, or have a paper print scanned at a retailer that carries the service.

Procedures range from fixing common photo errors like poor lighting, to removing an unwanted person or adding a motion effect.

After the order is submitted, customers get an e-mail confirmation that gives delivery options of three, eight or 15 days and corresponding prices. Most procedures with the standard eight-day delivery typically cost $25 to $35.

The digital photo file then travels over the Internet to the company's service center in Cincinnati, where representatives check the order to make sure directions are clear.

The center determines to which of 10 artist groups around the world it should send the file, depending on what kind of work has to be done. Each group specializes in a particular procedure.

Image-Edit has between 50 to 75 artists working on contract in locations ranging from Russia to Southeast Asia, because "it's very, very labor intensive and impossible to do cost-effectively in the United States," Makoff said.

Once the work is finished, the file is returned to Cincinnati for a final inspection.

Clients receive another e-mail that their photo is finished, and may choose to have Image-Edit print it for an additional charge.

"The other thing you can do is put in the e-mail addresses of other family and friends and have them routed to them," Makoff said.

DigitalCustom is among dozens of online firms breaking into the $33 billion photo finishing market.

Andrew Johnson, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, said consumers' switch to digital photography and complementary services is slower than anticipated, "but it's just a matter of time."

"The increase in the number of digital cameras is actually requiring people to have a way to print these out," Johnson said. "Home printing on photo printers is one way to go. Photo kiosks is another way to go. And the online photo processing for broadband households is a very good way to go."

Makoff operates Image-Edit through DigitalCustom Group Inc., a spinoff from his first company, Poetic Media Inc.

Makoff started out as an attorney specializing in entertainment law and, with his wife, established the Makoff law firm in 1992 in San Francisco and Tiburon.

Seven years later, Makoff decided he wanted to start his own business outside of law and launched Poetic Media, which develops projects for television, film, music and publications.

Last year, Makoff teamed up with Barnabas Takacs and Aaron Daru to start DigitalCustom.

Takacs, a Hungarian-born computational scientist, had worked as director of research for Virtual Celebrity Productions in Culver City, where he designed a digital cloning tool for creating realistic human actors for TV commercials, movies and the Internet.

Daru, who was an assistant at the Makoff law firm while attending Redwood High School in Larkspur, had some success in start-up companies while working on the East Coast and wanted to return home.

"We analyzed together the opportunities in new and traditional media, and one of the opportunities we saw was the transition to digital photography," Makoff said. "We looked at what people were doing, and we didn't like the printing business because we thought it would be too competitive."

Image-Edit distinguishes itself from other consumer photo-finishing services by offering high-quality colorizing of black-and-white photos, as well as photo illustrations and restorations.

After looking at 20 to 30 online services, Stacey DeFranco chose DigitalCustom to colorize an old photo of her boyfriend's father for a Christmas gift.

"His father died when he was six," said DeFranco, who lives in Pomfret, Md.

"The picture I did through Image-Edit is when his father was younger, about 16," she said. "He has no pictures of him at that age that are color, that's why it was a really important thing."

DeFranco said she went with Image-Edit because it didn't require her to send the original photo. In addition, she thought other services would produce "cartoony" results.

"A lot of the work promoted online was really pastel looking and didn't look very good," she said. She added that the finished work from the San Francisco company was "10 times better."

Makoff said he expects Image-Edit's restoration services to grow, in part because his business can get orders out more quickly for less money.

Photo labs charge between $50 and $70 per hour, and complicated restorations where there are cracks or parts of the picture missing can take three hours.

Restorations through Image-Edit, where artists can rebuild photos digitally, cost between $25 and $50 for regular service. Work on extremely damaged photos can cost up to $125.

In the last six weeks, Image-Edit has had around 50 requests for restoration work, Makoff said.

He said he's not looking to put traditional photo labs out of business.

Aside from the consumer Web site, his firm is working on partnerships with labs and camera stores to use Image-Edit to serve their own customers.

"A lot of retailers are free to mark up the service," Makoff said. "We're also there to help the market."