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Gambling on Digital Pays Off



High-Res Digital Makes Tim Stahl a Winner with Mega Resort

Tim Stahl started photographing everything and everyone around him at age 11. So it comes as no surprise that his ability to transform a client's vision into commanding images has earned him a prestigious commercial advertising clientele.

Whether he's on the case for Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino, Phase One, Suzuki, Sharp Hospital, or other "A" list clients, nothing stands in his way. Dangling out of a helicopter, photographing open-heart surgery, or creating dramatic imagery out of what must seem mundane to others, Stahl's the man for the job.

From his Stahl PhotoGraphics studio, in San Diego's Little Italy district, his other passion-technology-has brought him into the realm of high-resolution digital photography, where, he says, "the only thing he misses is the hourly walk to the lab."

To illustrate what it takes creatively and technologically to satisfy the diverse photoimaging needs of a glamorous, high-profile client, SP&D focuses on Tim Stahl and his singular success with the Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino . . .

BARONA, THEN AND NOW

When Stahl first began providing imaging solutions for Barona in 1999, it was a small, temporary structure on a rolling pasture. In just a few years, this Lakeside, California, client has become a mega resort with a PGA golf course, hotel, wedding chapel, and Las Vegas-style casino. As the client's needs grew and deadlines became shorter, their photography requirements increased at a staggering rate.

Their creative director, Larry Gallegos, who was responsible for managing the tighter deadlines, approached Stahl. "When we come up with a concept and have it approved, we don't have time to shoot film, wait for the labs, edit, and scan the final takes," says Gallegos. "We need results now. I approached Tim with the need for quicker turnaround. His response was to provide us with high-resolution digital imaging."

Stahl now shoots tethered to a Mac G4 PowerBook with a Phase One H-25. On larger projects or in the studio, he shoots through a Pentium work station with Capture One. "The digital back fits right on to my existing gear and I enhance my toolbox with exotic cameras like the Kapture Group's True-Wide for Interiors and Architectural details."

COOL, CALM, CONNECTED

Casino marketing is a competitive business, so Stahl needs to remain flexible to what may come his way. The range of projects, for instance, may vary dramatically over the course of a week. One day he'll be shooting Barona spokesman Kenny Rogers (top), an avid digital photographer by the way; the next day, he'll be shooting the casino (right), where machines are busy 24/7; and the next, capturing the 32nd annual Barona Trival Pow Wow (below), through a young boy's eyes.

After capturing an image, he'll process it out to a portable mini-hard drive, at which point Gallegos imports it to his laptop to place it in layout. "This process used to take more than a day with our old workflow," says Stahl. "Now we're producing collateral in as little as a few hours."

In the studio, Stahl shoots through networked computers and FTP's images directly to the marketing department's server. If there are variations to a layout, he generates an automated proof sheet in Photoshop and emails it for approval. Gallegos can pick up his email wherever he's working and get back to the studio with his final takes, along with retouching or correction notes.

"The biggest advantage of photographing digitally is that you see the image instantly and may get the comp on frame three, giving you time to experiment past it," says Gallegos. "We play with color and light you just don't see with a Polaroid. On a recent food shoot, we saw the images instantly and knew we had the perfect flame or smoke shot. We didn't have to wonder if we should shoot one more insurance roll, as we did in our film days. And with the Capture One software, we can bring

up a group of images and balance each new image with color and design to create really good icons for the Casino."

"The speed and quality of the new generation of digital backs is staggering," says Stahl. "With the Phase One H-25, we're seeing the image on the screen almost as fast as the time it takes for the camera to be advanced. This is really important when photographing food. The food may take two hours to prep and it's up in smoke in five seconds!"

One major change in workflow is archiving his images. "We keep the images on custom-made, fan-cooled hard drive enclosures that are USB and Firewire compatible. The data is archived with the studio job number, and a set of captures and final takes is also archived to DVD in the job jacket," explains Stahl.

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