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KEEPING UP THE MOMENTUM

Pioneering the use of digital photography in Australia is Sydney’s Momentum Studios.

Momentum’s Photographic Division Manager, Steve Turner is the first to admit that ten years ago digital cameras were “atrocious”, even five years ago they were “crap”. So why is one of Australia’s busiest still photographic studios now shooting seventy percent of it’s work on digital format?

The switch from conventional photography to digital can often be a leap of faith. “Digital’s extremely complex and totally unlike conventional film. It’s a whole new learning curve, which is a bit scary”, Steve explains. “It’s not something you take out of a box like a television and plug it in. You’ve got to put in a lot of hours in calibrating your equipment and teaching yourself how to use it”.

The Phase One ‘LightPhase’ digital cameras Momentum currently use, of which there are only four in Australia, can shoot with existing light and studio flash. The exposure time has also been cut from six minutes to instantaneous shooting and images may be pulled up on screen immediately. An added benefit if a client or Art Director is present, so they can see exactly how the final image looks.

“We’ve had clients come in and ask us to shoot something while they wait,” says Steve. “People come in with products to shoot, and want to take a zip disc with jpeg files away with them to send straight to print”, suggesting that as the technology changes, so do clients’ demands.

For years digital photography has received a bad rap. One of the biggest pitfalls is a large discrepancy between colours on screen and the final print run. Many photographers don’t take this into account and assume they can also do a pre-press operator’s job. So often the job is bungled, leaving digital photography with a bad reputation that’s hard to shake. “Ad Agencies and Art Directors shy away from digital for these reasons. I’ve had a real problem with that and it’s still difficult”, says Steve, whose words of wisdom are simply: “Give it to someone who knows what they’re doing!”

The large sums of money required to set up a digital studio are undoubtedly limiting it’s current use. “I can’t imagine your average two operation photo studio spending $80,000 to go to digital and on training,” says Steve. But while the initial equipment costs are substantial, digital is a big time and money saver in the long run. The technology is faster than film and requires no scanning, which makes it particularly useful for shooting catalogues and internet work.

Steve agrees that many photographers turn their noses up at digital, “Because a lot of them aren’t computer literate. It’s also very expensive and they think that film is more than adequate, which it is, but in the future it’s not going to be”.

“I see the future of photography being a lot of internet work. That’s what’s happening now in America. If someone wants a brochure, no-one says ‘send me a brochure’, they ask for your website address. Brochures now in the States hardly exist, they’re all online.

“Digital’s not going to be the be-all and end-all of photography but for it’s applications, which are catalogues and internet sites, people are not going to want a photographer to shoot on film and then scan for a website. There’s no way. Also they’re not going to want a crappy image off a cheap digital camera. If you’re going to set up a website for food or products you can’t just put something down and shoot it with a $900 digital camera with an on-board flash. It’s got to look good.”