DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Soon after desktop publishing first hit, there was an epidemic of bad design as secretaries, office managers, and marketing assistants were enlisted to produce their company's stationery system and brochure. Now that digital photography is taking the industry by storm, we're again witnessing an outbreak of misuse and abuse.

Like any technical tool, digital cameras can be a great asset or detriment, depending on the user and the use. Over the past couple of years, many print providers have added digital photography to their suite of services, usually in an effort to both create an additional revenue stream and have better control over image quality.

LEAVE IT TO THE PROS

While these are worthy goals, some companies make the mistake of thinking they can simply purchase a digital camera and train a prepress technician to use it. While this person may be skilled in Adobe Photoshop and may also be versed in color profiling, this does not necessarily translate into success as a photographer.

Professional photographers have a special set of skills and vision they bring to the table: training in composition, lighting, etc.; technical expertise; years of experience; and of course, talent. Partnering with a professional digital photographer is a good way to test the waters before actually hiring.

But, if you've done your market research and have determined customer need for digital photography services, there are many professionals available these days who have successfully made the transition from conventional to digital photography.

SOME EXCEPTIONS

Of course, a digital camera can come in handy for many internal purposes. One bindery owner client takes his own product shots for his email case studies and newsletters. We've designed templates for both the case studies and the newsletters, and we art-directed the photography the first couple of times, so now he has good understanding of what we want.

Another client, a printing company, had recently changed its name but had done little marketing to promote it. We were hired at the beginning of the year to perform a brand audit and, based on the information, to create a direct mail/email campaign, as well as an advertisement for a newsprint publication.

The campaign consisted of a series of six mailers with two cards in each envelope. One card demonstrated the printer's sheetfed capabilities; the other demonstrated its new variable data digital color printing equipment. Photography was required for the humorous series, which featured photos of people in tacky, retro clothing and hairstyles. Because of the complexity involved in conducting a photoshoot for the mailer photos, we opted to purchase stock images.

The advertisement photo, though, was a closeup of golf balls. A stock image was $350, and it wasn't exactly what we wanted anyway. Our professional photographer quoted half that amount to set up and shoot the image. However, the client had just purchased a digital camera; he also happens to play golf. He suggested we let him try to shoot the photo himself.

We rarely agree to this "do it yourself" approach. In this case, though, we'd shown him exactly what we wanted and he had a 4 mega-pixel camera, a savvy prepress department, a good eye ... and the balls (which are expensive.) The photo turned out fine.

Before making the decision to shoot your own digital photos, however, always consider the implications for your brand (low quality photography conveys low quality service), usage, and technical demands.

SOME BASICS

Determine Use. Where will the image be used? The final size of the image and expected quality level will determine the level of camera power. At minimum, you should be using a 4 mega-pixel camera. Generally, though, the larger your final image, the more pixels you'll need. If your photo will end up as a large format, high quality museum or retail point-of-purchase print, you'll need 8 mega-pixels or more. On the other hand, if the photo is only going to be used on the Web, lower resolution is fine.

Marketing programs often require that photographs be used for multiple purposes. A case in point was a campaign we recently launched for a new premium coffee store in San Francisco. The program involved photography for PR, collateral, posters, and the Web. Our photographer used two different cameras: a Nikon 5700, with 6 mega-pixels, for the publicity/collateral photos; and a Kodak 14N with an 11 megabyte chip for the larger format posters. He also always shoots at the camera's highest resolution, even though doing so occupies more memory.

Profile Equipment. Briefly, color profiling is the industry's best attempt to standardize color across multiple viewing and output devices. For instance, computer monitors can display millions of colors, whereas commercial printing is limited to about 1,000 inks, which means the printed product can only approximate the actual color you see on your screen. Also, digital cameras capture data in RGB, so you need to convert to CMYK for print output. Profiling entails calibration of your camera, monitors, and computers with printing equipment. Limited space here doesn't allow us to go into more detail, but there is a good article by Greg Bassinger, a technical consultant for the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), in the December issue of GATF World for those wanting more information.

Save in TIFF. There are several reasons why TIFF format is preferred over JPEG. While it takes a bit longer to process, a TIFF file is uncompressed, meaning the image retains all the pixels, which enables more accurate editing and color adjustments. A JPEG file is compressed, which means it eliminates "unnecessary" pixels. For example, you have an image with a foreground of white snow, a big red Corvette in the middle, and a bank of green trees in the background. A JPEG will reduce the number of pixels saved in large areas of the same color, so fewer white pixels will be saved in the foreground; same holds true with pixels in the red and green color blocks. Because of this, information is often lost when a JPEG is uncompressed.

Photoshop Magic. Any digital photography service must include skilled technicians in Photoshop. This essential software enables embellishments and corrections that would be impossible in the conventional darkroom.

The immense popularity of digital photography suggests it will continue to evolve to become ever easier and of increasingly high quality. At the very least, printers should familiarize themselves with this indispensable tool.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman

December 10, 2003
Print & Graphics
Col. #57, 12/03
Printing Journal
Col #57, 12/03
Digital Photography
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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