Digital Capture

Posted on 1/9/2003 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



January 9, 2003

In 2003 Selling Stock will devote significant time and space to the various issues related
to creating stock images digitally. After a preliminary examination of the subject I am

convinced that today it is possible to get just as good, if not better, reproduction from
digitally created images than can be obtained by using film.

That's a bold statement, but I've seen comparative test results in real world situations,
and I believe the evidence is undeniable. Later, I will try to explain more about how this
is possible.

Some users of digital will say, "It's about time!" Those who have been using professional
digital cameras have understood that it is possible to get excellent reproduction from
original digital files that are often much smaller in size than what is considered
necessary for a good quality drum scans of film.

The stock photo industry has for the most part ignored this information and plowed ahead
on the theory that marketable stock photos must be created using film and then scanned for
the purpose of marketing and delivering for reproduction.

For those of you who are old enough, think back to the time when 35mm Kodachromes were
introduced as an alternative to large format originals. At that time many in the industry
thought that the reproduction from the smaller piece of film could never match the quality
of the large format original. That wasn't true, but the idea hung on in the marketplace
for a long time. One of the reasons that 35mm eventually became so dominant in the market
was that it offered much more flexibility as a creative tool.

Today, we are at exactly the same stage of development in the use of digital capture as
when the 35mm wave began to take over 40 years or so ago. The image quality is there. Now
the creators, and the agents doing the selling, have to recognize that fact and use it.

Like the 35mm film revolution, digital capture offers tremendous advantages for the
creator in many shooting situations. There will be situations where shooting film remains
desirable, but these are fewer than many of the leaders in the stock photo industry would
have you believe.

I predict that given the workflow advantages digital capture offers, the conversion from
film to digital will occur much more rapidly than was the case in moving from large format
film to 35mm. This will happen despite the fact that learning to use the new tools is
infinitely more complex than it was to learn to use a 35mm camera.

When a photographer switched from shooting large format to 35mm much of what the
photographer had already learned carried over to the new format. Most of the workflow
processes remained exactly the same. With digital capture there is an extreme learning
curve. The photographer has many more variables under his control, and each of these can
create problems. In a film based system each film type had a characteristic which was
consistent from day to day. In the digital environment in order to get accurate color
reproduction the photographer needs to pay attention to color management. Ignore it and
you may get widely varying results. But understanding and using proper color management
procedures can give the photographer controls far beyond anything he ever had with film.

Learning to use digital effectively will not be an easy process for most photographers,
but it will be a necessity for those who want to advance their careers in photography. I
believe that within a very few years virtually all stock images will be created digitally.
It will no longer be economic to shoot film. But stock will probably be the last segment
of the photo industry to move to digital capture.

Digital Capture Advantages

There are other reasons why photographers should move to digital and why stock agents
should support and encourage photographers to in this transition.

  • - Scanning and keywording issues are one of the major hurdles in getting stock
    images where they can be seen by customers Digital capture offers some huge advantages,
    including potential time savings, in the marketing of images. However, much of this
    depends on the photographer's ability to develop new work flow habits and procedures.

  • - With very little additional effort photographers can easily supply additional
    data that will assist immeasurably in the marketing of their images.

  • - Photographers are finding it difficult to justify the expense of creating stock
    images of editorial subjects if they can't get a greater portion of their images where it
    can be seen. Digital capture with good workflow procedures should reduce on a per-image
    basis the costs of producing images and getting them into an online database. This should
    make it easier for agents and portals to show more images.

  • - After the photographer gets past the initial costs of purchasing the necessary
    equipment, and the significant learning curve issues of figuring out how to use the
    equipment, the costs of shooting and storing images are likely to be significantly lower
    than shooting film.

  • - Cost of film and trips to the processing lab are eliminated. The photographer's
    computer now serves as the lab for almost everything the lab used to do for the stock

  • - The photographer needs to shoot less because the results can be judged
    immediately. With film you are never sure what you have until the film comes back from the
    lab. The photographer can review digital images immediately after capture and determine if
    corrections need to be made. After capture, the photographer also has much greater control
    over the final quality of the image than was ever possible with film.

  • - Agents and archive managers will find that if they properly encourage and support
    photographers in their preparation of images for market less of the agents time will need
    to be devoted to file management and they will be able to focus more of their energy on
    the marketing and selling aspects of their job.

  • - Digital cameras have a far wider dynamic range than conventional transparency
    film. Some photographers say the range of tones is equivalent to what can be achieved with
    color negative film. Others say it is even better.

In the next few months I will write a series of stories on various issues related to
Digital Capture. To aid the reader in identifying these stories, I will precede each story
title with "DC"

Begin by reviewing the following stories:

If you have questions, comments or suggestions as to directions future reporting on this
issue should take please give me your feedback.

Copyright © 2003 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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