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Digital: Taking the plunge Part 1 - First part of a three part series considers camera choice and how to save your digital photos
Words and Pictures David Simm
It is fairly safe to say that 2002 was the year that digital imaging really came of age. There can't be a serious photographer anywhere on the planet, who, after seeing the phenomenal advances the industry has made, wouldn't just love to jump in the deep end.
Those who managed to remain cautious right up to the very end will probably now be wishing they had invested in some cheap old consumer level snap shot instrument, just to get their feet wet. Because the time has now arrived to take digital imaging seriously, those who don't are either ready for their pension books or have their heads so far buried in the sand that they will only discover when it is far too late, that the whole business has passed them by.
If you have decided to take the plunge in 2003, and you haven't already worked on your wish list, now is the time to do so. Be sure you realise, you don't just need a digital camera and Photoshop, to be a successful digitographer. There are a number of other software utilities that will make your life easy or hell depending on the choices you make and the way you approach the learning curve.
I make no excuses for these paragraphs. They are not for those of us who are already successfully shooting and processing digital. This article is directed straight to photographers who have just discovered that it is now or never! There are many photographers out there, who went digital before I did and are quite likely, infinitely more advanced than I, the younger ones especially. I have to confess, I am not of the Nintendo generation, I have to work at Hi Tech stuff to get a grasp of it.
Even so, looking at the way we work, from a different perspective, can even open the eyes of the most accomplished among us.
It really doesn't matter which digital camera you have or intend to buy, almost every single piece of equipment out there is currently good enough to yield professional results. The thing to take into account is the way you work, or intend to work with digital. That will prove to be the salient issue when choosing the digital camera.
Photojournalists and wedding reportage photographers will clearly need a camera capable of working at high speed and may be willing to sacrifice file size to achieve their aims. Portraitists and classical wedding photographers can afford to ignore the fastest cameras and go for file size, and perhaps lower cost equipment... whistles, bells and flashing lights cost money. The more sophisticated the camera, generally, the more expensive it is going to be.
If you sell large prints and or crop your images quite significantly, again you need to think about large file sizes. If the largest print size you sell is 10x8in then a four megapixel camera may well be all you need. I held a discussion recently with a group of good film photographers, who had decided they wanted to consider going digital. One of the group only wanted to shoot business portraits, you know the kind of thing that gets blown up all the way to a 7x5in black and white for press release. Almost any consumer model from the Olympus range, even costing less than 350, so long as it had a flash sync, would just about suffice for this photographer.
Of course, many of us want to shoot both portraits and weddings, with the same piece of equipment, so we will have to consider the pros and cons of both disciplines when making the decision. Is it print size, speed or a compromise somewhere in between? It is also imperative that the wedding photographer has a reasonable back up camera, should the one he/she is using break down.
Let's take a brief look at some of the cameras available - the Canon D1 is one of the more expensive, but if you have Canon lenses it could be the way to go. It is lightening fast, but only a four megapixel file. It is really intended for people who don't make big enlargements, The Canon D60 sacrifices a little of that speed but turns out a hefty six megapixel image; I tried one and liked it very much.
The two Olympus prosumer camera the E-10 and E-20N are four and five megapixel respectively, both turn out superb images at ISO80 and ISO160, although noise is beginning to show at ISO160, at ISO320 the image is quite noisy and needs manipulation in Photoshop. Latency is the worst feature of these two, although claimed to be only 65 milliseconds. For portraiture of adults both cameras turn out very respectable quality, even for smaller weddings the quality is fantastic, I even shot over 700 images at one wedding with Olympus cameras, the images are fantastic, but at the end of the day, I knew I had done a days work!
I tried a Nikon D1x and, notwithstanding all the whistles, bells etc., didn't feel that the extra cost was justified for a 5.25Mp file, I did like the D100 for the money. While we are dealing with the Big N, I must mention my Fuji S2 Pro, built on a Nikon chassis, with its interpolated 12 megapixel file. The images are just awesome, full sizes file are enormous, but I have the option to shoot at six megapixels to reduce the files, which is extremely useful.
Really it matters not which you prefer, if you are looking for picture quality, go to the camera store, put on a blindfold and pick up the first your hand touches. If, on the other hand, you are considering the features that would best suit your workflow, get the sales people to give you a detailed demonstration and let you try out each of the cameras within your budget range. You can't help but like one of them!
At this point we're going to take a quantum leap forward and assume you've done it, gone out and blown your retirement fund to get yourself digitised, done all the obligatory testing for several weeks and are now ready to inflict tomorrow's world onto your clients. Where do you start?
I would begin by setting the camera's clock or in the case of multiple cameras, synchronising the clocks, set the frame counter to continuous and make double sure you didn't set it (or them) to reset. The benefits of this will become increasingly apparent as you bring your work home for processing. You will need storage media, either CompactFlash (the preferred medium of successful digital imagers) or Microdrives. You will need lots of storage especially for wedding work.
You're back at base with a handful of media cards ready to upload into your computer, take another look to make doubly sure there are no files with the same name (number), (i.e. that the numbering continued to ascend when you changed the card and that it didn't reset) Now create a folder onto your desk top with your clients name on it. Either link your camera to the computer (very slow) or using a card reader (preferable), I use a Firewire reader that is capable of moving several megabytes in just a few minutes. Highlight all the images and drag them into the new folder.
Once that operation is completed, I would burn them all to CD as is, without processing and label this group, with the clients name and the word "recovery"; you don't need to place these in CD cases or anything elaborate, I stick them onto a spindle and keep them just in case anything happens from here in out. Next I look through all the images in Windows Explorer. DO NOT reorient at this stage, if you have shot JPEGs, Windows will resave them and compress them further. As I look through the images I will delete any unwanted expressions or bad exposures, just as I would you trash the bad ones when going through negatives and proofs.
When I am happy with the images that are left, usually about ninety percent of the total I started with, I will open Compupic and bring the images onto it's light table, just like looking at transparencies. First I will use the sort command and select Date/Time, now that is the reason we synchronised the clocks in the cameras. In a flash, all the images of the wedding, no matter which camera produced them, are in chronological order. Have another quick look through to delete any more that may not make the grade, then I highlight them all and select rename. Now all the images are numbered in ascending order, no matter which camera, they are sequential and continuous.
Burn a new set of CDs and this time create a file with your clients' names and information, in exactly the way you would file your negatives, but look how much space you have saved. This is your archived set, the master images from which you will make all prints and convert to TIFFs or whatever your production demands are.
Double check your new set of CDs to make sure that all the files open up, do that by selecting Thumbnails on your Windows browser and going for a spot check here and there, throughout the folder. The important thing to note here is that you should use read only CDs and not the read/write variety at this juncture.
Now we are ready to make proofs. You all know there's more than one way to skin a cat and proofing down is a matter of personal preference. You may like to send another set of CDs out to the lab for proof printing, or knock out paper proofs on your ink jet. Personally, I think that defeats the object of going digital. I make a slide show on CD and present it to the client.
To create a proofing CD we are going to need some much smaller files, for two reasons. First and foremost, in their present condition, your files are very printable and if you let them out of your possession an unscrupulous client might steal them, of course I know you don't have any clients who would do that sort of thing, I am just being hyper-cautious. Secondly the file sizes are so large they would take such a long time to load up on the client's computer that a slide show just wouldn't run. So let's make the images a lot smaller.
Open Photoshop, go to File>Automate>Web Photo Gallery. The dialogue box that pops up will give you some options and ask you for a source folder and a destination folder. Experiment a bit here, you can't loose anything, somethings you just have to learn for yourself (hint: I would set the pixel width at 680). Once you have settled on a style of web page you like, select the source folder that holds files you have just renamed. For the destination, you will need to create a new folder, let's say clientname proofs for; now click OK and let it all happen.
Photoshop will complete its work without any help from you, go have a cuppa. On completion you will notice that the proof folder has several sub folder, Images, Thumbnails, Pages and then a stack of HTML pages. If you double click Index a web page will open and display the first few thumbnails, click an image and you get a larger view, just as you would expect. You could burn this to CD and present it to your client, but it is a bit boring yet. At least you have now gone from capture to the providing a basic set of proofs while maintaining a safe archive of your originals.
In Part 2 we'll look at the making of the slide show, using the images from the web page, how to make and add title slides, music and how to introduce a few creative effects. These are the methods I currently use, they are not the only available ways of getting to this point, and I am always on the look out for new and better. Perhaps there are digital imagers with better and faster systems who would also like to share their ideas with us? If so post up your thoughts and ideas in the forums.
This series of articles has been adapted from material that has appeared in Professional Image Maker - the subscription only magazine for members of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers. For details of how to join please visit their web site: www.swpp.co.uk, write to SWPP & BPPA, 6 Bath Street, Rhyl, LL18 3EB. Tel: 01745 356935 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Simm has a web site at www.davidsimmphotography.com