The Digital Lab: From RAW to Preserved Memories

March 28, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The Digital Lab - Case study: family beach photography.

The question that my clients often ask is: Can I get my photos now that you have done the photo session? In this new digital world people are used to instant gratification and are satisfied with the photos as they are coming out of the camera or their smart phone. Not me.

In my profession, we don't take photos, we make fine crafted images only. What does that mean? It means that there are a lot of steps and hours involved in this process. This will be explained later in this blog. For one, photos are taken in RAW mode which is also known as "digital negative". In layman's term this is the equivalent of the film era where once you have taken a series of photos they are on the negatives rolled inside a cassette that is light tight and they need to be developed by a professional lab first. Most people are taking photos in JPEG mode which is equivalent of using a Polaroid film which is instantly developed after the photo is taken. It's like a final product, you get what you get.

The digital negative needs to be develop in the digital lab (computer) and then processed to deliver the best quality of color and true to reality. This does not happen automatically, the photographer has to do the work. Casual photographers take photos in JPEG mode and they are done. Professional photographers are achieving a much higher quality of images for a few reasons: the equipment is one factor but not the most important one, the expertise and the knowledge are key in this process (1).

Here how it works: when taking photos of a family on the beach, the photographer will constantly adjust the settings of his camera to match the conditions to get the optimal result and quality for each images. During a photo session, 300 to 500 images can be taken. Why? People are moving, expression in their face is changing, not everyone is on the same page all the time. But when taking several consecutive images of a group, chances are that one will turn out better than the rest. There are posed photos, there are action shots, there are changes in the light, settings and overall conditions that affect the outcome.

After the photo session, the photographer will review all the images and select in the first pass the best images, some will be very similar, he will reject the bad ones (someone with closed eyes for example). Next he will do a second pass comparing similar images and will pick the best of the set: people look, appearance, posture & gesture, smile, light and focus.

These "picked" digital negative files will then be post-processed (like the negative in the lab) to fix its contents, adjust the color and overall look of the images. Once the work in the digital lab is completed these images will then be shared with the client as "proof". The client is then asked to select the best of the best from these proof images. In general 50 to 75 images might be submitted for a beach family photo shoot. Other photo sessions can be very different. The client may choose 5 to 10 that they want to make an investment as large prints on paper, canvas or metal for example (2).

Then the photographer will do a final review of these images and perfect them, finesse them to make sure that the prints will be "finely crafted images" before sending them to the lab for printing or in-house printing. At that point when it comes to people, the corrections are basic, not Hollywood style like it is done for fashion photography or portrait. Beach photography is about authenticity, casual and familiar look, not beauty look (3).

What does all that mean in terms of time? Here are what the photographer does for a photo session on the beach: a) prepare equipment, camera(s), lenses, lights and accessories b) go to the location, meet client and takes photos, c) work in the digital lab to prepare the proofs, d) work with client to define the order, e) place the order and receive products, f) perform quality control and deliver products to client.

A 90 minutes photo session translates in  6 to 8 hours of work in total. That's the added value of a professional photographer, that's why our images are far better than the casual photographer, they are unique and extremely valuable to the client. You are making a serious investment in preserving memories, it's our responsibility to make it worthwhile.

 

Additional information (note):

(1) - Equipment and expertise: a race car driver can take a curve at 150 mph while you can barely do it at 50. Even if you have the same car, you know that you cannot take the curve at that speed, you don’t have the skills to do it. Same in photography: you can have a very fancy and expensive camera but that does not mean you will make great photos.

(2) - There a three ways to enjoy photos from your photo session: Sharing - having digital files that you can post on social media to share with family and friends; Reliving: viewing the images on your smart phone, computer or tablet; Preserving: having a beautiful large scale image on your wall that you can see every day. This framed portrait will give you this fuzzy feeling about the warm memories of the time together with your spouse and children.

(3) - Face retouching is a "sensitive" and delicate topic. Retouching Hollywood style means that all the little defects in your skin are removed, your face is glowing with perfection. All wrinkles, shadows and strong lines are soften. This process called "airbrush" takes a lot of skill and expertise to do it right and it also takes a lot of time and energy. This is not your typical post-processing, it's something special, it's costly too. This work is always done with a lot of communication and exchange with the client to ensure that the "airbrush" is done correctly, to the client liking, which is unique for each individual.

 

Jean-Marie Cote

Thefrenchguy photography 2015


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