653 DIGITAL CREATION OR FILM?
July 30, 2004
For some time I have been advising stock photographers to "shoot digital" and to transition as quickly as possible into digital workflow because the whole industry is headed in that direction.
However, recently I have discovered that such a recommendation needs to be QUALIFIED in some major ways.
It depends on what agency is going to represent your work. If you are already signed with an agent, and shooting for that agent exclusively, it is easy to determine whether the agent prefers film or digital submissions, and if digital, the requirements.
The problem arises when a photographer is shooting in anticipation of trying to build a portfolio of images in hopes of eventually placing them with an agent and he or she has no idea which agent will eventually accept the work. It can also be a problem if a photographer hopes to place images with several different companies - an increasingly common occurrence in the stock industry - because different companies have different preferences.
Corbis has announced that as of October they will only consider images that
are submitted digitally. When asked if they have had problems in receiving digital files from photographers Michael Croan of Corbis says, "Our experience has been pretty positive. Our most active photographers have been submitting digital files for some time, which is what led us to institute the new all-digital policy this coming October. Naturally there has been a learning curve associated with adopting new technology. To help our photographers make the transition successfully, we launched the Digital Advantage ™ program which offers Corbis photographers a robust assortment of education and training, as well as specially negotiated discounts with partners like Nikon, Kodak, Calumet and B&H."
On the other hand some Royalty Free companies that have been committed to digital distribution the longest are holding back on accepting images as digital files and still greatly prefer film. The U.S. office of Digital Vision is unable to accept digital submissions and will only look at film. Kieran Mahon of DV's London office says "we are currently reviewing our practices and specifications to reflect the development of digital." In London they accept both film and digital files but their in-house work flow procedures are such that film is much easier for them to process.
Another RF company that has been producing and selling RF for many years, has experimented with digital creation, and gone back to using film on their production shoots.
They point out that, "the high quality we are trying to achieve with our imagery requires substantial retouching to reach the desired standard of color correction. With the introduction of digital we have experimented with several systems. The learning curve from one application to the next is severe - even though all of our color experts have ten years experience or more. While digital may today reach news or lower creative standards, there is a significant compromise against chromes and drum scans."
"With high production value material like ours I would argue that proper cost assessment including short life of equipment, constant relearning of new applications and serious image flaws with digital which can all be fixed at a considerable cost - would weigh in favor of predictable results with minimal intervention with drum scans.
"Most traditional retouchers find it very difficult to learn digital behavior that is extremely inflexible and easy to 'break' compared with drum sans. Exposure is also extremely difficult to control with the only solution being to take several exposures of the same frame in the capture software and layering them together in Photoshop.
"With over fifteen years retouching experience and personal hands on experience of all the apps and systems, it is clear that in the medium the over promising of suppliers will be believed at the cost of quality.
"Another important point to remember is that film is organic and represents the way we expect to see particular tonality like flesh - whereas digital is effectively video - not the wonderful representation of reality we're used to seeing through the organic mesh of silver halide grain."
I asked several companies for their opinions on certain issues related to digital submission. Their responses were as follows:
QUESTION 1 - Do you prefer to receive submissions as film or digital files?
Michael Croan of Corbis said, "We prefer to receive our submissions digitally." He also pointed out that Corbis has instituted its Corbis Digital Advantage program for its photographers. Through this program they provide regular monthly workshops - onsite in five Corbis offices internationally and also via WebEx. They also hold week-long classes at the Santa Fe Workships three times a year. And they are constantly testing equipment and making recommendations to their photographers to help take some of the guesswork out of purchasing decisions.
Sarah Fix of PictureArts said, "In terms of our capabilities and workflow, we can easily accept either film or digital files. As far as production cost and efficiency, our preferred method depends on the photographer's digital skills and equipment. If a photographer has a good understanding of digital, then digital is preferred. This cuts down on our production cost and time, allowing us to get the images to market faster.
"If the images do not meet our digital standards, however, digital production requires more than film production. In this case, it takes additional time to explain why an image hasn't passed quality control and a lag time while we wait for a follow-up submission that will, hopefully, meet our requirements.
"Even though digital is our preference, we understand and respect that there are different reasons why photographers have or have not decided to go with this medium. We are committed to handling film, as well as digital, to get the best imagery we can from the photographers we represent."
Annette Schneider of zefa said, "In general zefa visual media prefers digital submissions because it optimizes our workflow regarding cost and time efficiency. Moreover the pics tend to be uploaded much faster to our website."
Geoff Cannon of Masterfile said: "We are equally set up to handle film or digital submissions. The percentage of digital submissions is increasing and today represents just over 50% of our total submissions. We recognize that eventually everything will be digital, but we also recognize that it can be a significant challenge for an artist to change from film to digital and that there are many very talented artists still shooting film. We want to be able to accept good images regardless of the method of submission."
QUESTION 2 - If photographers send digital files what are the file specifications that you need?
Michael Croan of Corbis said they want 8-bit 50 MB RGB TIFF files, or 17 MB grey scale dot gain 20% TIFF files. However, they have extensive and varying standards depending on whether the use of the images are Commercial and Fine Art, Celebrity, Editorial or News. It ranges from a 50MB RGB to a 10MB RGB, but there is a lot more than file size involved. The following four PDF files --
News -- explain their requirements in detail for those interested.
Fix defined PictureArts requirements as, "60MB RGB uncompressed or LZW compressed tiffs, 8bit, 300 ppi (dpi) ICC profile embedded-preferably Adobe RGB (1998), Digital submissions from digital captures-at least 48MB TIF (no raw files)
Schneider of zefa said, "We appreciate the development, if digital files meet the requirements of our digital submission guidelines." Their guidelines indicate that they will only accept digital files that are produced with cameras that have a minimum resolution of 11 mega pixels or better. For more information on zefa's guidelines see General Submission Guidelines . In addition there are specifics about Digital Submission Guidelines .
Schneider continued, "Current contracts between zefa visual media
and new photographers specify that we want digital submissions exclusively."
Masterfile is looking for Hi Res 40 - 60 MB RGB Tiffs with an Adobe 1998 color profile.
QUESTION 3 - What problems have you had in receiving digital files from photographers?
Fix said the problems include, "Over-sharpening, softness from interpolation, color noise in images shot at 800 or higher ISO, and blown out highlights."
Schneider outlined some typical problems as, "wrong resolution, wrong color space, wrong size, pixilated images, excessive grain and oversharpened scans," and referred me to the "General Submission Guidelines" PDF listed above.
Cannon separated the problems into two main categories of submissions - scans from transparency originals and digital captures.
Scan Quality from Transparencies
Insufficient file size
Insufficient D-Max - poor shadow details
Excessive texture and noise
Inconsistent sharpness from edge to edge
Poor contrast & density
Highlight and shadow clipping
Poor calibration from scanner to system
Digital Capture Quality
Insufficient file size due to inadequate sensor size (megapixel)
Poor definition of image details
Poor white or grey balance
Excessive chromatic aberration or colour fringing
"The above input problems are usually compounded by inadequate image editing skills i.e. post-processing techniques in raw file conversion software or Adobe Photoshop," he concluded.
QUESTION 4 - In your current workflow processes is it easier to handle digital or
Corbis and PictureArts said it is easier for them to handle good quality digital submissions.
Schneider of zefa said that the workflow is faster if all conditions are fulfilled, but currently digital is requiring a bigger operating effort because photographers are still working with different technical standards.
Cannon of Masterfile said, "Overall, one is not easier than the other however, the processing cycle is quite different. Digital submissions are much more time consuming at the editing stage but the processing of the files is very quick. Film submissions are much less time consuming to edit but require much more time to process/digitize."
Mahon of Digital Vision said it is easier for them to handle film.