Digital Photography in Action (1,105 words)
By Judie Eakins
The technology has arrived to bring improved quality and greater efficiency, and catalogers are taking advantage
Now in its fourth generation, digital photography has "arrived." And major retailers and catalogers, including Nordstrom, True Value, The Container Store and Eddie Bauer, have adopted it almost fully—for both traditional print and Web purposes.
A few years ago, many in the industry—direct marketers, printers and photographers themselves—perceived digital photography as incapable of producing photos of superior quality.
Beyond the subjective issues were very real limitations: Equipment was awkward and difficult to use, and the technology lent itself almost exclusively to static shots. Improvements in CCD chips, different combination of chips and their ability to pull in images has strengthened.
Digital camera backs, which were heavy and bulky, are now more like standard camera backs. Original systems also used heavy cables to hook up to a nearby PC. Now these systems use either lighter-weight cables that can move with the camera, or on-camera storage.
A novelty no more, digital photography is here as a quality-enhancing, time-saving alternative to film photography. The following manufacturers provide most of the digital systems used by professional photographers: Leaf, Phase One, Sinar Bron, Kodak and Megavision.
Currently, 15 percent of catalog and retail photography is done digitally—a number that is expected to double or even triple in the next two to three years, according to R.R. Donnelley's own estimates.
Catalogers who haven't yet done so will want to begin assessing the new technology, to see how to make the most of its capabilities for their print and online needs.
Case in Point
TruServ, one of the largest member-owned cooperatives in the "do-it-yourself" industry, is benefiting from the merits of digital photography. TruServ produces mostly circulars, but also prints specialty catalogs that are used as inserts or are mailed. "Almost all (95 percent) of our photography is done digitally," says Harry Adams, advertising operations manager at TruServ.
Working with R.R. Donnelley since 1995, TruServ has integrated digital photography into an increasingly digital workflow. This has resulted in a reduction in cycle time of 50 percent for its cooperative entities: True Value, Grand Rental Station, Taylor Rental Center, Home & Garden Showplace and Induserve Supply.
Connecting with Prepress
Digital photography's real benefit, however, is the integration it enables with prepress operations. Improved color accuracy and workflow efficiency directly result from a collaborative effort throughout the content management stage. Time is money: Images sitting on film waiting to be developed and approved are virtual; in other words, sales are not being made. Here are some examples of companies that have benefited by going digital:
• By integrating digital photography and content management, Eddie Bauer streamlined the exchange of information in its workflow. Through a proprietary system developed by Iridio, an R.R. Donnelley company, products are digitally photographed and transmitted to a secure site where designated art directors can log on to view and approve the shot within minutes of shooting. The result: The time it takes to get content onto Eddie Bauer's Web site went from six weeks to two days.
• To help launch its newly designed Web site, storage and organization retailer The Container Store chose digital photography to move images quickly from camera to the Web.
For The Container Store, showing how a product is used is as important as how it looks aesthetically, so art directors and product buyers had to be available to consult on the shots. Omega Studios Inc., an R.R. Donnelley company, moved its digital photography expertise and equipment to The Container Store and set up shop at the facility for six weeks. Buyers came in as needed to provide the function perspective on particular product shots, resulting in even quicker turnaround of images to the Web site.
Since digital photography provides instant views of the subject matter, it allows for on-the-spot adjustments in lighting and composition and eliminates the need for time-consuming and quality-diluting adjustments later in the process.
Combining digital photography with digital asset management offers instant availability of for position only (FPO) low-resolution images, used as placeholders, for art approval in parallel with images going to prepress for color management. In effect, integrated prepress or "premedia" partners (including Web use in the definition) can become one-stop shops for shooting images, managing content, quickly repurposing or even "prepurposing" digital images for multiple media use with little or no workflow interruption. Through this process, images are quickly ready for print or Web placement, an important consideration for the legions of marketers that market in multiple channels. The result is a significantly faster workflow model.
Nordstrom Coordinates its Assets
This faster, integrated approach led to the development of a secure extranet site and tailored asset management solution for Nordstrom's Catalog Division that enabled the movement of images among several facilities and the photography studio.
Facing phenomenal growth in its catalog business—both in real and virtual geography—Nordstrom needed to organize assets for quick, easy review from any place at any time. Images are shot digitally and immediately stored in a secure, central asset management system for quick and easy viewing by art directors and designers. The result: higher productivity and lower cost.
But, are art directors ready to view images on a screen in an office when they are accustomed to evaluating transparencies on a light box? The benefits offered by integrated operations, digital asset management and improved color standards are encouraging them to change.
Nordstrom Art Director Cathy Rundell says, "Digital photography has a positive effect on our budgets and deadlines, and allows for higher shot count in studio. No more waiting for film processing. Digital FPOs are scripted to an FTP site where we can easily access them. It's great to view images on a 21˝ screen instead of a tiny Polaroid. For me, there's no turning back."
Digital photography's rapidly advancing process enables marketers to enhance workflow while maintaining image quality. The result is significant cycle-time reductions and cost savings, whether the end product is a catalog or an e-commerce Web site. And, when integrated with prepress operations, savings are amplified. Integrating services—photography, digital asset management and prepress—is the key for catalogers and retailers who want to maximize the benefits of this technology.
Judie Eakins is president of Omega Studios, an R.R. Donnelley & Sons company, located in Dallas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Michels is president of Iridio Inc., an R.R. Donnelley & Sons company located in Seattle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Nicole Michels is product leader for photography at R.R. Donnelley & Sons in Seattle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.