There are several business management platforms on the market, but few are aimed solely at photographers. Light Blue is a fabulous option, and its unique features set it well ahead of the competition.
Generic software, such as Microsoft Office and Google, require users to jump between apps. Switching programs in this way is annoyingly slow. How many times have you searched through all the icons at the bottom of your screen, and then, even after selecting the right one, had to scroll through countless tabs? Furthermore, not many business owners have the time, inclination, or skills to create meaningful reports in Excel, or a booking system using an Access database.
Business management systems can save you lots of time by integrating the functions of separate apps, making them accessible through one interface. However, most of these are generic and ill-suited to photography businesses.
Consequently, busy photography businesses need a bespoke streamlined tool that can reach beyond those apps, ideally providing functionality that will make life easier. Light Blue does just that.
This photography-specific management platform can help you rationalize your business, keeping on top of clients’ contacts, accounts (including expenses and invoicing), questionnaires, emails, text messages, message templates, task management, contracts, forms, and, of course, your diary.
Back in 2003, Tom Catchesides ran his own successful wedding photography business. His then-girlfriend, now-wife, Helen Bartlett, was a family and portrait photographer. He developed Light Blue to keep on top of their businesses’ administration and management. Then, in 2008, he decided to turn his software into a business after a friend in the industry started showing an interest in it.
The Light Blue platform was built around managing shoot data. However, it has become more sophisticated over time and is now an accessible package that provides busy photographers with important information about their business and saves administrative time by performing everyday functions.
I ran the software for a couple of weeks, and here are the main features that stood out to me.
There is a big difference between Light Blue and its main competitors: Light Blue is app-based. Therefore, it doesn’t require an internet connection to work, meaning you can access the program and your data offline. The app then synchronizes with other machines the next time it is connected to the internet.
The software can be installed on numerous computers, and the subscription costs start increasing if you exceed five machines. Multiple users can be added to the software, so staff members can have their separate logins and passwords. Different access privileges can then be given; you may not want a studio assistant having the same data access as the manager, and choosing a "restricted" privilege enables you to limit the areas of Light Blue some accounts can access.
When you log in to the software, which is security protected behind a password, you enter the home screen dashboard.
The dashboard is both well laid out and intuitive to use and shows an overview of your business's information. It’s customizable to meet your needs, with the information contained within widgets that can be added or removed. The widgets can be tailored too. For example, bar charts can be swapped for line charts, or the task list can be re-arranged according to date, type, and so on.
The app’s skin color can be changed, as can the individual widgets. This means your installation can be adapted to match your business’s branding color scheme. Nevertheless, the default blue is well chosen and is easy on the eyes.
The system allows you to set up shoot types, categorizing the different sorts of work that you do. You can also further break down those shoot types. For example, portraits could be split into headshots, families, pets, and newborns. Entering the shoot type is quick and simple. The information about the shoot is linked to the calendar, emails, and various financial functions. Managing shoots is the basis of the program, where its true power lies, as most other functions are linked to them.
Quick Queries gives you fast access to a wide variety of different search results, such as shoots scheduled tomorrow, those not yet completed, stale inquiries, this financial year’s bookings, and so on.
Invoicing is handled through the program, and an online invoice payment service allows clients to pay you via card or PayPal. Reporting tools make it easy to find out what payments are outstanding. Light Blue can also handle sales tax.
There are various tweaks you can do to the financial settings. The app can be set up to work with different currencies, including dollars, Euros, and GB pounds. A default mileage rate can be set too, and different incoming and outgoing payment methods can be allocated as well.
Besides handling your emails, Light Blue has an API that allows data to be sent directly from a website to your Light Blue account, so messages sent from your website’s contact forms appear in the app. There are also plugins available for WordPress Gravity Forms and Machform.
Printed templates are created as PDF files, and you can customize these with your headers and footers.
The app can be synchronized with Google Calendar too.
Light Blue runs quickly and smoothly on my computer. It requires macOS 10.12 (Sierra) or higher, Windows 7 or higher, and on an iPhone or iPad, iOS 11 or higher, so any machine that runs any of these operating systems should be compatible with the software.
On my machine, it occupied less memory than my web browser, and when switching between functions, it never raised above 10% of CPU usage, sitting at 0% when at rest. So, it’s far less resource-hungry than using a web-based service.
Light Blue is available from $25 per month; full details of their pricing are here.
What I Do and Don’t Like About Light Blue
There’s a lot more to this program than I can cover in a short review. My hands-on trial proved it to be versatile, and it had a lot more features compared to its competitors.
During my trial, we had a major storm with power and phone service outages, and it was reassuring to know that Light Blue was still accessible on a battery-powered laptop. In comparison, web-based programs, like Studio Ninja, became inaccessible. Having the data stored locally but able to synchronize with other computers is a huge boon and sets it ahead of the game.
There is no Android app yet, but the software does sync with Google Calendar. It would also be nice to see the CalDAV network protocol to allow calendar data exchange via HTTP. However, these are minor setbacks, and Light Blue is certainly a good value for photography businesses with a healthy flow of clients.
The company seems to pride itself on its customer support, and that came across in their communications. Their response to email queries was exceptionally fast and friendly. There is a good knowledge base online, and they offer training in the software too.
Like most apps, one must weigh up the costs against the benefits, and there will be a minimum number of clients where the monthly investment in this software makes it viable. It would be good to see a single-payment, perpetual license version for one computer, which would be an appealing option for sole-traders and new businesses not needing the cloud benefits.
Would I recommend it? If your business is big enough to justify having it, then definitely. It's an impressive and well-thought-through piece of software.