When my wife Danya and I first met 20 years ago, plasma televisions were still an experimental technology. The World Wide Web was a year old, and America Online was the number one Internet service provider in the United States. At the time, I had a Macintosh workstation with Photoshop 2.0 and a full-color darkroom—a setup that offered a tiny glimpse into the future.
Imagic is Born
Our shared interest in photography, cinematography, and computer graphics inspired us to take classes in drawing, painting, color theory, 2D design, and computer graphics. As our knowledge and skills grew, Danya and I came to the realization that we should start our own company, one that specialized in digital imaging. For a name, we came up with Imagic, a portmanteau for “image magic.” We officially launched in September 1997.
Our original marketing strategy consisted of driving around the Philadelphia region with a copy of the Yellow Pages in hand, cold-calling photography studios. It was remarkably effective, and for a couple of years professional photographers made up our entire client base. There was only one issue—the market for the services we offered (including scanning, color correction, and retouching) was not going to last forever, because digital photography was on the rise. Imagic needed a new niche.
Photography was a hobby I picked before I was even a teenager, and working with the pros exposed me to the latest in equipment and technique. At the same time, making a living using Photoshop allowed me to master the program and use it intuitively. After some brainstorming, Danya and I decided to market our services directly to advertising agencies, and in 1999, we built a website to show off our work (imagicdigital.com).
Digital Photography Arrives
Our gamble paid off, and we became the go-to digital imaging company for a number of agencies, which opened a new world of opportunities. One job stood out for its impact on the future of our business: a photo project for Millennium Super Yachts. It was my first time bidding on a multi-day photo shoot, with models and helicopters and three giant yachts, with the final images destined for 1000 luxuriously printed brochures. The shoot was to occur in Miami—where there are plenty of seasoned veterans in the yacht-photography business—but despite my relative inexperience, I got the job. Why? My proposal was the only one that included an all-digital workflow. The rest of the photographers who submitted bids planned to use film, and it cost them the job.
As digital photography advanced, so did our skill set. Danya began building websites and interactive presentations. I extended my digital palette by adding video and virtual tours to my photo services. We expanded into other markets, including hospitality, interior design, architecture, and golf. Imagic specialized in providing marketing tools for luxury lifestyle businesses, and it was a lot of fun.
Jumping Into HD Video
Our collective portfolio kept growing and Imagic continued to diversify into different markets. In late 2004, a hot new Atlantic City casino called the Borgata was looking for a crew to produce a video about “Women in Wine,” an event bringing together a collection of renowned female vintners and chefs. There was only one problem—I had never handled a job of that scope and complexity, and the Borgata wanted broadcast-quality video.
We took a leap of faith and decided to propose taping the entire event using HDV, a tape-based 1080i video format. I bought a pair of Sony HDR-FX1 cameras and a SteadiCam rig. Similar to what happened with the yacht project, we won the bid because we were the only company offering to film everything in HD instead of SD video. However, while working with the recorded HDV video, I ran into a number of technical issues, so I turned to the Internet for help. I found the answers I needed on a site called AVS Forum, and the project turned out to be a great success.
HD video was quite a revelation. It was amazing to have the ability to shoot movie-quality video in the palm of my hand. At that point in time, though, there was no way to stream it, and there were few options for playing it back—Blu-ray was still around the corner. I settled on a home-theater PC connected to a projector, which was another decision AVS Forum helped me make. I soon realized that AVS would be a valuable resource going forward, especially when it came to HD video, so I registered on the forum as imagic.
Advanced Digital Techniques
Our business continued to grow, and imagicdigital.com started to attract leads on its own. One of those leads resulted in a contract with Wyndham Worldwide, the hotel operator. We bid on a contract to shoot hundreds of hotel properties, and once again used the promise of state-of-the-art gear and techniques to beat out the competition. The photo system we used included the ability to shoot with the camera tethered to a laptop and combine multiple images into HDR photos on the spot, allowing for immediate proofing. Today those sorts of features are standard on professional DSLRs, but at the time, it was cutting-edge. We wound up traveling for these jobs so often that we decided to move our business from New Jersey to Center City, Philadelphia, so getting to the airport would be as easy as catching a cab.
The move to Philly opened up another new market: architectural photography. We shifted focus from jobs that required air travel to serving architects primarily in the Northeast US. For the first time, we used a digital portfolio to sell our services, instead of a book full of prints. Thanks to the advent of Blu-ray and the now-defunct HD DVD, there was a proliferation of high-definition displays. We invested in one of the first-ever 1080p laptops—I believe it cost $3500 at the time. Once again, early adoption of digital technology served us well, and before we knew it, we were creating marketing imagery for Toll Brothers, one of the largest luxury real-estate developers in the nation.
Getting Into Journalism
Unfortunately, architects need real estate in order to do their jobs, and in 2008, the real-estate industry experienced a historic collapse. Imagic experienced a tremendous reduction in business; architects were laying off half their staff—or more. Traditional marketing was not efficient enough for Imagic to gain new business; we knew the only way forward was to make sure potential clients could find us through a web search. In October 2010, Danya took imagicdigital.com and converted the homepage into a blog that better expresses the kind of flexibility and creativity we are able to offer clients.
Using some of the extra time we had due to the slowdown, Danya branched out and began writing about food and drink. She became the local editor for Zagat.com/philadelphia and the editor-in-chief of TheDrinkNation.com, a series of city-specific websites. I began making music in earnest, and as an early adopter of Soundcloud as a platform, gained a large following for my tracks. We also continued to complete architectural photo jobs, and for the first time, Danya began shooting photos too—in this case, photos of food and drink.
Thanks to the food-writing gigs, we began to meet more and more people in the restaurant industry, and this led to several more video projects. We created a series of 10 videos about Philadelphia—each featuring a well-known artist or chef—for the city’s official tourism arm, Visit Philly. All of these videos were shot on DSLRs using 1080/60p video, and they were scored with original soundtracks that I created. We also produced several videos for Zagat, which was by then owned by Google.
Watching Danya get into the writing groove sparked my itch, and I jumped on the opportunity to be one of AVS Forum’s first Newsbreakers. Writing news for AVS forum really expanded my knowledge of the state of the art in digital imaging as well as audio. 2013 turned out to be an amazing year—the technology I write about for AVS points to a promising future that exceeds anything that I had imagined possible when Danya and I first founded Imagic Digital. Embracing that technology is the key to Imagic’s future.