Photographer works in virtual office

"View," "point" and "click here" have become common words in the English language. People mail each other via electronic bytes, and entrepreneurs are moving their businesses into virtual offices.

Fiber-optic cables and modems connect the world, and technology is changing the way businesses operate.

One such high-tech leader is freelance photographer Gene Bednarek, owner of Gainesville's Southlight Media.

"Things are changing fast," said Bednarek, who remembers thinking Mosaic was "the coolest thing since sliced bread" when it came out in April 1993. "It's the printing press all over again."

Even before Mosaic, he was impressed with HyperCard, which was introduced in late 1987. Bednarek said he hopes to conduct all his business with a laptop on the back of a sailboat instead of in a traditional office.

"It's the ability to take your job with you anywhere you go and react to it," said Bednarek, who explained that some of the disadvantages of being online are how users "spend time in front of a stupid computer and not outside where it's quite fine."

Rather than send photos by Federal Express, he can send them digitally over the Internet. "Now I can say: 'Give me 15 minutes,'" said the owner of the 3-year-old company. "It cuts the amount of shipping time."

With digital imaging, Bednarek said he has closed deals with companies that did not have time to wait for something to be shipped. He can e-mail potential clients and tell them to check out his Web site rather than have clients sort through paper portfolios.

"I've been to Time, Newsweek, Newsday," he said. "They have stacks to the ceiling with cards and crap ... I've lugged around portfolios for years and I'm tired."

All it takes is for a client to point and click to choose from hundreds of pictures on his Web site. Audubon magazine hired him after looking at pictures on his Web site.

"They called and were looking at the pictures and they said, 'We'll hire you,'" Bednarek said. "(The agreement) took minutes; it used to take days."

Bednarek said he could tailor his Web pages to fit his clients. He created a Web page specifically for the photo editor of a magazine and put pictures on the page of his work that the photo editor needed to see.

"People tend to look at the Web as a huge net that you throw in the ocean," Bednarek said. That "net" may come back empty, he said. "It's better to spear fish for each (client)."

Bednarek said about 15 to 20 percent of his profits come from online transactions, but he expects that number to increase. "I fully expect 60 percent of my business to come from Internet-related commerce within the next two years," he said.

For advertising, Bednarek uses his Web site and is registered with about 150 search engines. He said he spends about $480 per year for his domain name and physical space on the server and $320 per year for his connection to the local Internet service provider. He said he receives between 20 and 25 hits each day, which could add up to between 7,300 and 9,125 hits each year at a cost of about 9 cents per hit. The site has been up about six months in its current configuration.

Anyone can start up an online business as soon as today, Bednarek said, but he has some advice for business hopefuls.

"Understand the market and its potential and be prepared to lose money on it the first few years," he said.

Bednarek offered more predictions for the future.

Intellectual property will be a debated legal topic. The usage of photos will be as important as the creation of those photos in digital mediums, Including the Internet. People will see disputes on things being used without compensation. Digital watermarking is one technique people have begun using already, Bednarek said. Certain photoshop editors imprint an image in the pixels much like an actual paper watermark that contains information concerning the distributor or creator of that image. When the image is scanned or opened, the viewer is informed that the image is copyrighted. If an attempt is made to print the image, the watermark will be visible on the hard copy.

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