Where film is still king

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Change isn’t easy. Take it from someone who is in the process of changing her last name on every form of identification she has picked up over the past few decades.

So I have great respect for anyone who makes a living as a photographer, because to say that the photography industry is in a state of change would be an understatement in the extreme. In my time at Macworld, I’ve seen the price of a three-megapixel camera drop from $900 to just under $150. I’ve watched as companies such as Kodak announce the death of the traditional film camera. And for consumers like me, whose photography skills and interest bloomed with the digital age, the news has pretty much been good. But recently I got a glimpse inside one corner of the photography world that seems to be very much struggling with what this change means—wedding photographers.

When I started looking for a wedding photographer, I was surprised at how few were working digitally. The reaction to my request for digital images ranged from embarrassment to polite hostility. Several warned that I wouldn’t be happy with the results—a scare tactic that said more to me about their inexperience with the medium than anything else.

Of those who were shooting digitally, I was surprised at how many still seemed to be holding to the business model of film photography. Some offered to post low-res proofs on a Web site for viewing but still insisted that we order prints from them. Getting full-resolution copies of the digital files would cost extra—quite a bit extra considering the minimal amount of work required to burn a CD.

The thing is, I don’t want prints. I stopped pasting prints into traditional albums years ago. I’d much rather create iPhoto books and DVD slideshows. I want to come back from a meeting and see my favorite wedding photos sliding gracefully across my screensaver. I want to put them online to show distant relatives just how much fun they missed. Yes, I will probably print out a few of my favorites and put them in frames. But I don’t need the photographer to do that. In fact, I’m not even clear on why photographers want to do this extra work.

Thankfully, I did find photographers who seemed to get the digital revolution. Several even had “all-digital” packages, which also came at steep discounts over traditional film packages (hey, I’m an editor, not a rock star).

Two weeks after my wedding, people were shocked to hear that I already had all of my wedding photos—three discs packed with more than 500 high-resolution images. They are funny, touching photos that renew my sense of joy and wonder every time I look at them. Within a couple of days I had picked out some of the best (a mere 170) and put them online for others to see.

My best friend got married a year ago and she still hasn’t gotten around to scanning in their wedding photos. She doubts she ever will. My aunt and uncle recently had their wedding negatives thrown away when they balked at paying an exorbitant fee to reclaim the negatives years after their wedding.

Me, I’m busy adding Flickr tags to my photos and I couldn’t be happier. Admittedly, I may be more hands-on with my wedding photos that many others want to be. But as it becomes easier and easier to work with digital images, brides and grooms like me are only going to become more common. And photographers who can’t change fast enough, will likely find themselves with less and less business.

By the way, if you’re looking to hire a digital-based photographer, here a few questions I recommend asking:

How long have you been shooting digitally?
Digital cameras aren’t the same a film cameras. You want to know that they’ve worked out the kinks before they show up at your event. Ask specific questions about the type of camera they use and what other equipment they bring. You might also ask what challenges they faced when switching to digital. This will give you a sense of how comfortable they are with their gear.

How many photos do you take on average?
Because digital camera don’t have the constraint of using rolls of film, you’ll want to get a sense of how many pictures you can expect from the photographer.

How much editing do you typically do?
Some photographers slave over every image until they reach perfection. Others go even further. One photographer showed us a sample proof book in which the bride has been so heavily retouched that she looked like a plastic doll. If your photographer typically does a lot of editing—including turning photos into black-and-whites, you might consider asking whether you can also get the uncorrected images.

Will you give me full-resolution copies of my photos?
Low-resolution copies may not look good on large screens or in prints. Make sure you know what size images you’ll be getting.

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