The Image Flow Is Ready for its Closeup

Despite launching in a dismal economy, Stuart Schwartz’s three-year-old business has found its footing as a local hub for shutterbugs of all stripes. Summer classes are in full swing and continue today.

When Mill Valley photographer Stuart Schwartz sat down with a consultant in 2008 to lay out his plans for a local photography business, the advisor asked him for data to support his theory that Mill Valley was chock full of photographers needing help and interested in learning.

“He asked me, ‘How do you know?’” Schwartz said. “But I didn’t know. I just had a gut feeling.”

Schwartz signed a lease for 401 Miller Ave. (Suite F) three years ago this month, opening , a photography hub offering a variety of photo services and, increasingly, classes and workshops. Image Flow’s latest class, Strobist: Using Off-Camera Flash, kicks off today at 4 p.m.

Image Flow has been buzzing with activity for the past eight months, drawing in shutterbugs of all stripes and validating Schwartz’s intuition.

That hunch spawned from photography’s transition from film to digital over the past decade, and the dramatic impact that shift had on photography’s popularity and accessibility to those of all abilities. It also stemmed from the move of photos themselves from physical albums to hard drives.

“My biggest realization was that there are a lot of talented people out there taking pictures, and a lot of them have their images locked up on their computers and never get them off,” the 60-year-old Schwartz said.

It was his three decades of work in the corporate and advertising world for clients like Apple and Del Monte that led Schwartz to that realization. One client, a chief executive at a biotech firm, liked to show off his personal photos taken on expensive cameras from his travels all over the world.

“We were scrolling through Smug Mug or whatever and I thought, ‘There must be thousands of people like this that don’t do anything with their images but keep them locked up.’ These people needed to be able to print their photos to show them off.”

The Image Flow has several printers capable of producing archival quality prints of all sizes. Schwartz launched the business in November 2008, quite possibly at the height of a period when the collapse of Wall Street had locals gripping their discretionary income tighter than ever.

“People began coming in right after we opened,” Schwartz said. “But it took a while before they went from chatting us up at the counter to actually breaking out their wallets.”

Schwartz, a Southern California native who has lived in Mill Valley for the past 14 years after two stints in his wife’s hometown of Zurich, Switzerland, noticed a shift late last year, soon after Image Flow began offering a series of workshops. Those classes, which Schwartz continues to expand, generate recurring business as photographers practice the new techniques they’ve learned and return for advice and photo services like printing and image retouching.

“Our business is very specific to the demographics we have here in Mill Valley,” he said. “It’s Marin moms, without a doubt. They’ve had a passion for photography that’s been locked up and now they finally they have the time and wherewithal to follow their passion. The digital world has just made it a whole lot easier to do.”

Schwartz said he’s well on his way to building a community of photographers within Mill Valley and beyond.

“It’s kind of an open door here, sometimes a little too much so,” he said. “But we’re really creating a photographic community. That’s what I’ve wanted to do from the start.”


Here are the next batch of classes at Image Flow. Call 415.388.3865 to register.

Strobist: Using Off-Camera Flash – July 8, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., $110
Learn to use your inexpensive off-camera flash units in practical, everyday shooting situations. We’ll show you how to make creative and compelling portraits wherever you are (like the in-camera shutter drag photo on the right), at any time of day or night, with one, two and three flashes. You’ll also learn how to use some very simple and inexpensive lighting modifiers to better control the quality of light. This class is designed for intermediate to advanced photographers who have a solid understanding of aperture and shutter speed. Dinner included. Min 10/ Max 20 participants.

Photoshop CS5: Adjustment Layers and Layer Masking – July 11, 18, 25, 7 to 9 p.m., $135
Discover the power and flexibility of working in layers and non-destructive editing. We will start off with making local exposure and color adjustments and move into image compositing. Students will have weekly assignments and critiques of their work and must bring their own portable computer with Adobe Photoshop CS5 installed. Min 6/ Max 12 participants.

Lightroom: Keep Organized - July 13, 20, 27, 7-9 p.m.,  $135
Adobe Lightroom 3 is a powerful program designed from scratch to help photographers mange their ever-expanding collection of digital images. Learn to take control of Lightroom’s flexible, yet not always intuitive tools for managing your photos, as well as its powerful shortcuts for batch processing multiple images. Min 6/ Max 12 participants.

Portraiture - August 4, 11, 18, 7-9 p.m., $150
Stuart will demonstrate how to keep the technical side of photography simple and under control so that you can focus on building a relationship with your subject and deliver a relaxed and human portrait, no matter who is in front of the camera. The class will cover using natural light as well as basic studio lighting, using your surroundings and light to tell a story, camera angle, as well as a discussion of example portraits and what makes them great. Min 5/ Max 10 participants.


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