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The High Road to Digital Workflow: When Only the Best Will Do




Text & Images by Denis Reggie

Many know the groundbreaking work of wedding photojournalist Denis Reggie. For over 25 years, his images have amazed wedding couples around the globe. In recent years, his Canon ad images have touched millions more. The big news is that advances in digital technology have led this diehard film user to transform his operation into a virtually 100 percent digital workflow. Studio Photography & Design caught up with Reggie to learn first-hand about the tools and processes that make it happen.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that in my 27th year as a wedding photographer, I've come nearly 180 degrees in my workflow.

But some things haven't changed. Canon is still my camera of choice, but these days my workhorse is the Canon EOS 1D and I have a couple of 11-megapixel 1Ds bodies on order. The 1D works beautifully for the action and pace in my journalistic approach to documenting a wedding. I am not a wall portrait or super enlargement-type of photographer. For those situations, I would use the 1Ds, which is about 9 or 10 megs per click, in RAW mode.

RAW Beats JPEG

I decided early on to be a RAW-mode shooter. I equate shooting in-camera JPEGs with shooting on transparencies, because it brings with it similar exposure limitations.

Shooting in RAW mode means recording all of the data that comes from the sensor chip before it's processed in the camera. Which is why I equate shooting RAW files with shooting a negative because you can bring back up to two stops of information, so overexposure isn't really a big concern any longer.

Wedding day images being so valuableand irreplaceableI use CompactFlash cards exclusively because they give me the greatest confidence that the images will be retrievable when I offload them. Solid state CompactFlash cards win hands down because micro-drives have moving parts. So even with beefed up Gforce ratings, I still feel there is a risk involved.

At a wedding, I may use 10 or 12 cards. Other photographers who s hoot very heavily like I do, some 2,000 or 3,000 shots per wedding, bring a laptop computer to offload cards at the event itself. Since many of my assignments involve air travel and I rarely work with assistants, I bring enough cards to shoot without offloading until after I leave.

Backup Your Backup

For a typical weekend wedding, I photograph the rehearsal dinner, or chapel rehearsal, on Friday night. Afterward, I offload the media storage cards onto my laptop hard disk. I also plug in one of my USB 2.0 external drives, around 30 or 40GB each, into the laptop to make a backup copy.

So, I head back to Atlanta with three copies of the wedding. I have the Lexar Media CF cards in my camera bag, the laptop in my computer case, and the external drive I package in my clothing luggage, maybe in a towel or socks so it's nice and padded.

Back at the office, I transfer the files to our Apple Dual Processor G4 and begin tweaking the RAW files. Using the Canon software, I rotate the images vertically and horizontally, adjust exposure for some 10 percent of the images, and finetune the color balance for 20 to 30 percent. The RAW data is never overwritten.

An overnight batch routine will create one JPEG for each RAW file, with the preferences I've just specified. The next morning, these 3,000 RAW files will have created 3,000 new JPEGs. Their orientation is perfect, their exposures are on the money, their color balance is pretty darn tight. I do some file renaming to reference the scene and the sequence number and then I'm ready to edit the images.

DVDs for Processing & Archiving

Once I've narrowed down the selection to 1,000 or so, I'll burn a DVD and send it off to the lab, Pictage. DVDs now cost about $2 for blank media that will hold 4.7 gigs of information. These JPEGs might be 2-2.5 megs each, so 1,000 files will easily fit on one DVD. I'll also burn a DVD of all the RAW files, which stays in our in-house archives. Pictage fulfills the orders, and the process is complete.

One of my early fears about digital coverage was that I'd be so caught up in the technology that capturing great images might be compromised. I know now that fear is unfounded.

For details on Denis Reggie's upcoming 12-city digital workflow tour, visit www.denisreggie.net.


   







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