A collage of an infographic stating a quote from Daniel Usenko on the left and the logo of Pixellu on the right
When we think about modern album design, gallery, and slideshow solutions for pro wedding photographers, one word comes to mind – Pixellu! With effortless image delivery, smart album builder, and easy-to-make slideshows with a library of licensed music, Pixellu provides everything at your fingertips, making it a perfect fit for the latest company in our Vendor Spotlight series. Journey with us as we unravel this powerful tool for photographers in a conversation with the CEO and Co-Founder of Pixellu, Daniel Usenko. Along with the story behind the brand and the services they offer, Daniel shares his humble beginnings, love for photography, and a unique sense of perfection that he says comes naturally to photographers. Intrigued? Keep reading to find out more! 

The Origin of Pixellu

ShootDotEdit: Tell us a little about how you got started. What got you interested in photography and what led to the formation of Pixellu? 

Daniel: I was born in the former Soviet Union in the republic of Georgia. I spent my childhood there and when I was around 7, we had to leave the Soviet Union. There was a civil war through which my family and I survived. Then, we moved to mainland Russia and when I was 11 we moved as refugees to the United States. When I was 16, I started playing with a camera and fell in love with taking beautiful photographs. So gradually, I became a professional photographer, started shooting weddings, and eventually, in my twenties, I traveled for weddings and I would also teach workshops. 

"We moved to mainland Russia and when I was 11 we moved as refugees to the United States."

In 2010, a friend of mine who is also a developer came to me with an idea for an app. He knew I knew about photographers, photography, and the marketing part of it and knew I could handle that and he did coding and convinced me that we could make something happen. We slowly started to work out the details of what we could do. And well, long story short, in 2013, we launched our first app SmartAlbums to help photographers save time with album design.

Back in 2000, before SmartAlbums, most photographers would use Photoshop to lay out the images for album design. And as you can imagine, it would take forever because in Photoshop you have to line things up by hand. Worst of all, if your client didn’t like the design and they wanted to add one more photo, you would have to redesign everything from scratch. Usually, back then, it would take multiple days for photographers to create and design albums. So SmartAlbums helped reduce design time from many hours to literally minutes because the only thing you really had to spend time on was choosing the images. 

"Initially, our operation was out of a garage, like a typical startup."

So it was a big hit, a big success. We knew that we were onto something. Initially, our operation was out of a garage, like a typical startup. There were just a couple of us and then we started to hire people we knew. A small group of us were from the former Soviet Union, and we speak the language, so we thought we should hire some people from Russia and Ukraine. Currently, our company has 38 people working in 12 different countries. We’re completely remote and don’t have an office anymore. We have people from everywhere – from New Zealand to Columbia, to France. It’s a really fun experience because you are working with people that are super diverse and you can have fun creating tools for photographers.

ShootDotEdit: Wow! That’s quite a story – from being a refugee to a pro photographer, and then an entrepreneur. Can you shed more light on your experiences as a refugee and the way they influenced you?

Daniel: Absolutely! It has affected me. I remember a lot from the days of the war. It was a real war, not just a diplomatic name. We were shot at, bombed, and we heard shootings every day, every night. I was 7 years old, and I do remember a lot. We lost everything and were super poor. I remember when we moved to mainland Russia my parents would leave us at home with just bread and tea for the entire day. And as a gift once a month, they would buy me a Snickers bar. And that was the reality. So on a daily basis, the way I have been affected the most is to be grateful for what I have now. Knowing poverty and having gone through that definitely makes me grateful for every day now and it is the biggest way that I’m affected.

Pixellu Logo

ShootDotEdit: What led you to decide on the name Pixellu?

Daniel: I came up with the name. It was very difficult because even back seven, eight years ago all the possible names that you could think of, even the cleverest names, were all taken. And if you wanted to buy the domain, you would need to spend a lot of money. So I thought, maybe it should be something with the word pixel in it because it is photography. So pixel made sense, but what else? And I had an idea that maybe it could be pixel light, like sunlight. I knew someone from Mexico, her name is Luz, which is light in Spanish. So then we just dropped the Z and it became Pixellu. That’s how we came up with the name.

Suggested Read: The Best Decision You Could Ever Make For Your Photography Business

Products & Services: SmartAlbums, SmartSlides, & Galleries

A screenshot of Smart Albums

ShootDotEdit: What are the things that you offer that you want to rave about? Also, what are some things that may set you apart from the competition?

Daniel: We have three products. Our earliest is SmartAlbums and it’s an app that helps you design an album in a few minutes, especially if the images are already picked – you can auto-build a design in seconds. The app also makes it really easy to communicate with the client. You can send them the draft, they can comment on things they want to change, and you can make those changes really fast. So the first product is helping you design albums in the most seamless way possible.

"SmartAlbums helps you design albums in the most seamless way possible."

A screenshot of Smart Slides, a Pixellu's tool

The second is SmartSlides. Once we created SmartAlbums, we were being asked by photographers to create a slideshow tool. I personally had been creating slideshows for many years before SmartSlides and I would do it in a video editing program like Adobe Premiere. I would lay the images down and I would try to match it to music, and obviously, it would take forever. And the reason I did that in the first place is that our job as photographers is to impress our clients and to make them laugh, and cry, and, most importantly, to make them really connect with images.

"One of the key elements of SmartSlides is that we have hundreds of curated hand-picked licensed tracks that you can choose from."

All of us know the feeling of sending a gallery to our clients. But what about that feeling when they don’t even respond or say anything? It’s awful! So we try really hard to make the best first impression that we can. And a slideshow is a great way to do that because the images are curated and they have music with the images that make the delivery a lot more emotional and impactful than if you had just sent them hundreds of images in a gallery. And so it took us a couple of years, but that’s why we created SmartSlides. One of the key elements of SmartSlides is that we have hundreds of curated, hand-picked, licensed music tracks that you can choose from for the slideshows. These are real musicians that are passionate about what they do, and they have great music that we were able to license and provide for free to our photographers. And you can create a slideshow in literally minutes. It’s just drag and drop images, choose a song, and you’re set to go. Everything is done for you. We have automatic beat matching to match the way the images change to the beat which makes it even more curated.A women holding tablet in her hands and viewing Smart Galleries

Finally, we wanted to provide Galleries as an easy way for photographers to deliver the images to their clients, whether it’s 200, 1000, or 2000 of them. And because we feel that our biggest strength has always been simplicity, we focused on that when designing. Obviously, there’s always room for more features and more functionality and more stuff to do, but, as with SmartAlbums, we wanted to focus on the core aspects of what it means to have a great product, which means productivity, simplicity, and for it to look beautiful.

We are also always looking to the future – to the bigger and better features and products we can build for our customers. We are also always growing our team so we can provide more for our customers. 

Suggested Read: Apollo Fields Photography: Attract The Right Clients With Brand Authenticity

ShootDotEdit: What are the core values that define Pixellu as a company?

Daniel: The three things that we care about the most are beauty, simplicity, and reliability. Beauty because we’re photographers and things need to look incredible. Reliability because all of us hate being frustrated with buggy software that crashes, doesn’t work, and makes our life worse. And finally, the most important is simplicity, because there is a lot of time wasted in the photography world on various tedious jobs like designing, creating, shipping, marketing, and contracts and the simpler our products are, the more time we’ll save.

ShootDotEdit: How would you describe Pixellu to be a time-saver for photographers?

Daniel: Photographers spend a lot of time doing things outside of just shooting – they’re editing photos, talking to customers, sending contracts. And some of the things that take the most time are things like creating albums, creating slideshows, creating deliverables, and getting images in the hands of clients. Our focus at Pixellu has been providing products and services to save photographers’ time. SmartAlbums has cut the amount of time it takes to design an album from days to literally minutes. 

"With Galleries, it is just the simplest way to deliver images."

SmartSlides has cut down the time it takes to make a slideshow from hours to minutes because you can simply choose the images you want and the music is already licensed – so you’re ready to go in just a few minutes. And with Galleries again, it is just the simplest way to deliver images. We just made it as simple as humanly possible so that you can just upload the images and send the link over. It’s not just fast, but easy, and it isn’t clumsy. It’s the most beautiful way to deliver your images. 

A screenshot of SmartSlides tool

ShootDotEdit: What is that one feature that you wish more people used – one product you wish they used more than they do? 

Daniel: SmartAlbums. The feature is really cool and it’s sophisticated and very easy to use. You only choose a couple of things – the images per page and the number of spreads you want. Then SmartAlbums analyzes the metadata and decides which images go with which images and place the images together in an intelligent way. A simple example would be that SmartAlbums knows not to put black and whites and color photos on the same page because we know from experience that it doesn’t look good. And so when you use the auto-build feature, it’s not just an advanced feature that lays out the images, it actually takes into account the timestamps, the color versus black and white, and it lays them out in a way that’s intelligent. This also means that when you make changes – because inevitably you are going to want maybe to change a couple of things – you only need to change those couple of things and you’re not redesigning the album from scratch.

Vendor Shout Outs

ShootDotEdit: Are there any apps or services that you swear by that have made your life easier?

Daniel: Here are some of the services that I think have helped me and my business a lot:

  • Planoly: Manage & schedule Instagram posts
  • Later: Social media scheduling
  • Angela Shae: Social media management for photographers

In the Near Future

Over-the-head shot of a women looking at the screen of a tablet she is holding

ShootDotEdit: Is there anything you guys have in the works that you would want to share? Any brand secrets you want to reveal?

Daniel: For SmartSlides, we are super focused right now on getting more amazing music into the app by the end of the year. If we hit the goal we will have well over a thousand tracks in our library that photographers can choose from. This doesn’t mean just licensing any tracks. We handpick. We have people who have listened to thousands and thousands and thousands of bad music tracks to find those gems that we can actually put into the app.

"We have people who have listened to thousands and thousands of bad music tracks to find those gems that we can actually put into the app."

For SmartAlbums, we are currently in the beta stage of testing the newest iteration of SmartAlbums 2022 and the biggest feature there is going to be cover design so that you can create covers right inside of SmartAlbums. It is a much-needed but very complicated feature because albums are tricky – they grow in size the more pages you have and that adds a lot of complexity to design. 

Pixellu: The Team Behind The Brand

ShootDotEdit: That sounds promising! Tell us about the team that works behind all of this and makes Pixellu what it is?

Daniel: Probably the thing that I’m most excited about not related to products is our team. Our team is amazing! This morning, I counted how many countries we have team members in, and right now we’re at 12 countries. And to me, that’s just crazy! It’s amazing the way that technology works. We can connect all over the world to and with some of the best people in their industries. I think that a diverse team is only stronger. It’s wonderful when you have a team composed of people from Brazil, New Zealand, France, Russia, and Spain. And the people that we hire at our company don’t just want to stay for a few hours at work and then be done with it. They truly care and are passionate about creating really great products.

The Why Behind It All

An over-the-head shot of a women looking at the screen of a iMac while scrolling

ShootDotEdit: That’s really interesting! So when we talk about Pixellu, tell us why you do what you do? What is the “why” behind it?

Daniel: I have two partners. One of them is a firefighter and a lot of people on our team are photographers. And I have been a photographer now for 20 years. So I think a lot of it has come from the fact that as a photographer, you just care a lot and a lot of us are perfectionists and we just want to do the best job we can do. That’s something that photographers are simply obsessed with. The downside, a lot of time goes into running a business. For a lot of us, that’s not something that we want to be doing. We don’t want to be dealing with the marketing and business side, we just want to take photos, edit them, and do a great job on them. 

And so our “why” is twofold. First, on the more practical end, we want to save photographers’ time so they can do what they enjoy and have a successful business. The simplest example of that is with albums. In order to have a successful business, you should make money. That is part of having a business. Albums are just one of the best ways to make more money with your clients while also making them happy. Albums are great on so many levels. One is that you are curating those hundreds of images into your favorites. And favorites are great because one of our modern-day problems is that we have too many images and they just get lost in our phones. But having a printed album urges you to curate images to create an amazing printed book – a keepsake.  

"One side of our “why” is that we help photographers save time so that they can have a successful business."

And we also made the process fast. We help photographers save time so that they can have a successful business and they can live their dream of being a photographer. Second, we just love creating great products. And this comes back to just being a perfectionist. We just love doing an amazing job. 

ShootDotEdit: Last, what do you want people to know most and take home from this interview about Pixellu?

Daniel: I would say the biggest thing is what I mentioned earlier, that in order to grow your business, you have to do things that a business requires. And most of us are annoyed doing that stuff – we hate posting regularly on social media, we hate selling to our clients, asking them to buy products, feeling salesy. But there are easy ways of growing your business and it starts with designing good products that wow your clients. If you become a customer of Pixellu, all of our products are a free trial. We want photographers to try our products before buying and use them to grow their business.

“In order to grow your business, you have to do things that a business requires.” We absolutely agree with Daniel on this. It takes a lot more than just photography to keep a photography business running successfully. And outsourcing some of that work to brands like Pixellu and ShootDotEdit can help free up a lot of time – the time you would rather spend taking on new passion projects, upscaling your business, or simply relaxing. We want to thank Daniel for taking the time out to give us a detailed overview of Pixellu, what it does and how it can make a difference in a photographer’s life. With beauty, reliability, and simplicity at its core, we love how Pixellu focuses on creating smart solutions for photographers. You can learn more about Pixellu on their website, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Further Read: Showit: Simplifying Website Building For Photographers & Creatives

Here at ShootDotEdit, just like Pixellu, we also aim to make your life as a photographer easier. We do that by taking photo editing off your plate and lessening your post-production workload. To learn more about how we can help, take a look at our pricing plans.

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