Story Telling and Workflow Questions:

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by fotografz, Apr 10, 2004.

  1. Sorry to be posting questions so frequently. I am in the process of restructuring my wedding and portrait business long-term. I want to set it up right and experiences of folks here have already helped a lot. I noticed that a fair amount of you still shoot primarily film. More than I thought it would be. I still shoot film also, but because my commercial work is all digital, I've had to migrate there. Also, some film users have mentioned balking at digital for workflow reasons (time consuming, to much time in front of a computer, etc.). My question is how do you make any money with the ever rising cost of film, processing and proofing; the extra time dealing with clients, then the cost of enlargements for the album? I can't seem to make it work out when shooting all film. What percentage of the over-all package price is devoted to this overhead? Before digital, I printed all my own weddings in my darkroom, but just B&W. Color was sent out. The B&W work was very labor intense because I did fiber based silver-prints and selenium toned them. It all took forever to complete, and the slightest flaw in any of the printing, drying, flattening or mounting steps required starting all over. Going back and forth with the lab was also time consuming. So that's the question to film users, how do you make it work financially? To be fair, digital is also pretty darned expensive when just doing weddings (given the cost of gear and supplies). And some of you have mentioned the cost in time to sit there processing and printing your own work on a computer. However, the repeatability of digital has decreased work flow time for me. In fact, workflow is of less concern for me because I have an efficient solution that was developed against commercial jobs that has greatly cut my time in front of a computer when doing a wedding... especially the story telling kind of wedding I specialize in. For those interested in that workflow, here it is in a nut-shell: Shoot all digital RAW to CF cards and do not clear them until later. Camera is set to continuous numbering to keep the sequence of images in order from one CF card to the next. Download each CF card to one separate file on a stand alone hard-drive, but still keep CF cards intact. Click file organization as "by name" which instantly organizes all the images in the order they were shot. Open that file in a browser and edit out the obvious junk. Write an action to open each file in RAW, make basic changes to similar groups of images, and resave as a tiff. Now transfer that whole file to Mac i-Photo library which allows dragging images into a different "Album" in any order you want. Press a button and view a full screen slide show to check album story-telling flow. This process can be interrupted at any time to make further image corrections in PS, then resumed. Write an action to send the final selects to the printer. Go have dinner or watch "the Apprentice" while it's all being done. Here's my current studio work station set-up (which was configured for commercial jobs, but need not be so extravagant, except dual monitors does speed up the process exponentially). The left screen has the i-photo lightbox organization on it which I can simply drag any image around into any order. The right screen has one of those images open to make further corrections.
  2. Marc - I think that you have a more of a pricing issue than a workflow issue. For the East Coast metropolitan areas your level of work is in the $4K+ range for 8 hrs of coverage plus a set of proofs. Albums, enlargements and everything else is extra: ala carte, or package. Is this in line with what you are charging? People what have a "day job" have a habit of not charging what their time is worth, because the day job is paying the mortgage. Instead of thinking that way, think: I can charge what my time time is worth, because if I don't get the job my day job is paying the mortgage.

    The cost of digital vs. film should tied to how much time you put in to working with the pictures. For part time shooters film works well, because you can drop it off, pick up proofs and diliver them to the client and you don't have to a lot of "touch time" with it. If you're going to "touch" everything then film loses its time advantage. (I'm not saying that you shouldn't be doing this; you require a high quality level and that take a lot of involvement.) The other thing to consider is that the photographer that shoots 400 pictures spends half of what one who shoots 800 pictures. If you shoot a large number of pictures/wedding the material costs are more significant.

    Bottom line is know what your work is worth and charge accordingly.
  3. Marc,

    I'm still a film only shooter. Several years ago, when I was moving from a wildlife/landscape photog - travel was too expensive and pay was too little - to a wedding photog, you were kind enough to answer several basic questions that were really a big help in getting me started. Because of that, I have followed your post here, on FM, and watched your work on your web site. You should not be apologizing for your questions. Without questions and answers how would any of us ever learn and improve our work - keep them coming.

    I shoot for a studio that is still exclusively film. Their package prices run from the lowest in the market to moderately high. In all the weddings I have shot on my own, I use only Portra and a pro lab for processing. I know for a fact that there are some studios here that are using Gold 100 and processing it at drug stores/Wal-Mart. So, the econimic are:

    Basic Package: $695.00 3 hrs. coverage

    5 rolls Gold 100 $8.25 (B&H import)

    process & 4x6's $30.00 drug store

    3 - 5x7 $19.50 pro lab

    1 - 16x20 $32.95 pro lab

    album $30.00 estimate

    Leaving $574.00 to cover labor and fixed overhead.

    40% labor & overhead $278.00

    Leaving $296.00 Net Profit.

    For a large studio, contracting several shooters and plenty of bookings, say averaging 4 shoots a week x 52 produces $61,568.00 net profit annually, plus any additional print sales. According to city statistics, there are an average of 900+ marriage licenses issued monthly in this market. The above scenario accounts for only 208 of those which is only a 1.9% market share - very realistic numbers.

    For weddings I shoot on my own:

    Average 8 hours coverage.

    15 roll Portra color & B&W, pro lab processing and 4x6 proofs, shipping, and batteries $400.00

    Proof book $ 40.00

    20 - 5x7 $130.00

    10 - 8x10 $ 96.50

    album $ 75.00 estimate

    Total cost $741.50

    To cover my time and make a reasonably profit (I work out of my home so have no studio cost) my basic package becomes a minimium of $1500.00. If I could do 50 shoots a year, which I can't, that's $38,000.00 - just enough to support my gear head habit. Since I'm retired I don't depend on this income for a living, but it is sure fun.

    How would this compare if I went digital? I only know the basic cost based on what I read here and a couple other forums. So far I just don't see that I would benefit financially. Would my quality improve? Maybe. Would I have more control over final product? Probably, but there's the learning curve.

    Since digital bodies became reasonablly priced, D300 < $1000.00, I see a lot of wantabe photog going into the wedding business. They have a small investment, their quality improves quicker than if using film, as they can see results immediately, and they have an inkjet printer and they supply prints to B&G. I wonder how long those prints will last!

    The one thing I do know, digital has changed the wedding photography business. Maybe it's too early to know how it will all shake out.

  4. Check out iView Pro. It's a great way to organize and manage photos. It's much better
    than iPhoto, plus it just adds folders into a catalog. Where iPhoto copys the images
    into a none friendly directory structure that makes you have to go through iPhoto to
    do anything.
  5. Where do you get that Andrew?
  6. Marc, your workflow sounds about as efficient as any that I have
    heard of. But to turn your question around on you, how do you
    make digital work economically? I'm not trying to be flip, I just
    have never seen a realistic breakdown of the cost differences. I'd
    love to see a comprehensive list. When I try to figure it out, digital
    doesn't look so good. Here's what I get.

    Let's start with a digital gear list.

    2 * Epson 2200 = $1500

    6 * Sandisk 512MB CF = $900

    2* EOS 10D = $3000

    2 * 550 flash and transmitter = $700

    28 1.8 = $400

    50 1.4 =$300

    85 1.2 = $1400

    135 2.0 = $800

    So that's the digital gear. If we replace the 10D's with EOS 3 we
    save $1500. Lop off the printers is another $1500. Lop off the CF
    cards and another $900. So we have a $4000 dollar capital
    savings for going film. Hmm, you might make that back in a year
    if digital had no other costs, but we aren't done yet.

    Computer = $4000 (I would consider this a fairly midline system
    for the kind of workflow that we are talking about. I based the
    pricing on a single processor mac, 512mb ram, 120GB hard
    drive, external firewire drive for backups and dual monitors. I
    could do a similar thing with a pc for probably $1000 less.)
    photoshop = $700

    I'm still going to need a computer for film work, but since I'm only
    going to be using it for small business stuff, I'm going to get by
    with $1000 Dell and PhotoShop elements for $100. Savings in
    computer hardware and software = $3100.

    OK. So here we are with baseline capital costs. Going film saves
    me $7000 in capital costs. Lets talk now about replacement
    cycles for this gear. For both film and digital I'm going to give my
    lenses 5 years until replacement. The digital bodies have a 2
    year lifespan or 3 at the max. I'm going to go with 2, because
    digital just isn't fun without upgrades. I'm going to replace my CF
    cards at the same time. So every 2 years I'm going to have a
    recurring cost of $2500 or $1250 a year. The computer is
    probably good for 3 years so that's $1300 a year. So $2500 a
    year in recurring equipment costs. Oh wait, forgot the printers. I
    run a network of 120 printers for a living, and I know those
    consumer one's aren't going to last much more than a year. So
    that's another $1500. Plus printer supplies, which I'd love to hear
    somone's digital printing cost for supplies for the average job.
    Anyway, with the printers we have $4000 a year in recurring
    equipment costs. This assumes that nothing breaks in a
    non-warranty way. Probably not a terrible assumption given that
    we are replacing the gear pretty regularly.

    The replacement cycle on my film gear is going to be a lot
    longer. At least 5 years. I would actually argue for a longer one,
    because I'm not going to use EOS 3's. I'm going even cheaper
    and using a couple of manual nikon bodies and some used
    primes. In a world where all sorts of things go wrong, I'm going
    to maybe replace one body a year with another used one for
    $300. That's my expected recurring cost for gear. My initial outlay:

    2 * FM2n = $600

    2 * Vivitar 285 HV = $150

    28mm F2 = $250

    50mm F1.4 = $250

    105 F2.5 = $300

    Total cost $1550. So how much film and printing can I get $5550
    in intial cost savings and $3500 in recurring costs? I don't know.
    What am I missing? Probably something big. But when I look at
    this, digital looks pretty hard to justify.
  7. Jeeze, I'm getting tagged as a rabid digital supporter... which I am not.

    But, okay Matt, I'll play. But it has to be apples to apples not apples to watermelons.

    First off, leave the lenses out of the equation. They're a wash with either form of capture.

    Then there are the cameras. Let's keep it on an even playing field. We know from the
    previous thread most people don't print wedding pix larger than 8X10. A Canon 10D can
    easily do that. It costs a premium of $1,000 over a comparable film model. (It'll only be a
    premium of $700 really soon).

    Computer and software to process images: No need for a Mac G5! A G3 laptop and
    separate $700 Lacie Blue monitor is plenty powerful for the job. That's what I used for
    years. This is a wash if you also plan to scan film (anything that's good enough to scan
    film for 8X10s is good enough to process 10D images) or use a computer for any other
    function. Again a wash. Same with PS. It comes with every digital camera. Free. If you want
    more, like CS that's a luxury, but not needed for basic digital processing. PS-6 is almost
    free these days, but we'll add it in @ $150. so batch processing and actions can be used

    Film scanner, at least a 3200 dpi model to do some cropping with film negs. cost: $500.
    This now has reduced the premium for the 10D digital camera to $500. Scanners usually
    come with PS also, so that's a wash.

    Film verses CF cards. 40X Lexar 1 gig cards are now $230 ea. Sandisk even less, off
    brands even less. Four 1 gig cards is enough for a wedding using the 10D on RAW. = $920
    initial premium for using digital.

    We're now at a $1,570 premium for using digital. ($2,070 if you don't count the film

    Processing? Level playing field. Both done at a Lab. You do not have to print digital at

    Now, let's look at the cost of shooting a years worth of film weddings. 12, 36 exposure
    rolls of film at $5 per roll average X 15 weddings (conservative est.) = $900. Process film
    with 4X6 proofs @ $14. ea. X 12 rolls X 15 weddings = $2,520. Total annual = $3,420.

    Process Digital images to 4X6 @ 22 cents ea. less all those junk shots deleted prior to
    prints yielding 200 proofs per wedding @ $.22ea. = $44. X 15 weddings = $660.

    $3,420. less $660. = $2,720. savings for digital per year. Less $1,570. premium for digital
    camera and CF cards = $1,190. annual advantage for digital... but we'll call it even due to
    extra time doing the PS actions auto-conversions to tiffs and tweaking those that need it.
    (sorting can't be counted because you have to do that with film also).

    Year one is basically a wash. I'll even concede an advantage to film in terms of costs.

    Year two. No more premium costs for digital camera, or the CF cards or PS-6, they were all
    paid for in year one.

    So same scenario concerning film, processing and proofs. Except now it's a $2,720. digital
    advantage. More weddings than 15 per year = even bigger advantage. Throw in a dozen
    portraits, even more advantage. A couple of events= more $.

    See, you can crunch numbers to support any POV ; -)
  8. Marc, there was no intent to tag you as a rabid digital supporter; I
    know you are not. If anything, I'm a rabid analog supporter. And
    yes, you can crunch the numbers to support any point of view. I
    appreciate you playing along.

    For what it's worth, I still think that increased equipment
    depreciation on digital and higher end computer is going to
    wipe out the higher consumable costs for film. There is no
    doubt about digital having an apparent volume advantage, but
    higher volume encourages people to upgrade bottlenecks in
    their workflow, which may then wipe out the volume costs
    savings. For example, that G3 is fine at 15 weddings a year, but
    running a 5 year old computer for 30 weddings a year is a bit like
    having one camera body. It's not efficient, and it's inviting
    disasterous hardware failure.

    What it really boils down to for me is this; I want to see the
    potential cost advantage of digital outstrip film much more clearly
    before I switch to a media that forces me to use cameras that I
    don't really like. I'm an easily confused person; all those buttons
    and wheels on a 10D make me miss shots. The cost savings
    are going to have to be much clearer than anyone has yet
    articulated to make the switch worth it. Although some folks like
    yourself are getting closer.
  9. Matt, despite my rationale above, I don't think digital is cheaper initially. Longer term I
    think it begins to gain ground only if a wedding photographer reigns in the "buy it now,
    buy it new, buy it better" syndrome. In general, that's an affliction in photography, and
    specifically a predominate one with digital. More so now, in the beginnings of digital
    development, because it is changing so quickly. However, there is a threshold of need for
    weddings that now has been met with relatively inexpensive choices. And its getting less
    expensive every year or so.

    Since I've gotten over that initial hump, I've found the cost of film work is biting into
    profits significantly compared to shooting a wedding with digital. I like film work, but it's
    killing me in cost.

    Frankly, I disagree that more than a G3 powerbook with maxed out memory and a cleaned
    out drive is needed. We still use my old one at work for location shoots doing 400 to 700
    shots a day making TV Photomatic test commercials, and it's more than capable. It may be
    slower than my G5 dual processor with 4 gigs of RAM, but as I've said before when using
    automated functions, you needn't sit there watching the progress bar. Go do something
    else. It's a matter of workflow planning.

    In the end I decided that I didn't want to be left behind. Once that decision was made,
    digital opened a whole new world of creative control and revitalized my interest in
    developing new techniques. Digital naturally promotes this because of the instant
    feedback and incredible range of post work possible that would require the abilities of
    Ansel Adams and significantly more time in an analog darkroom.

    So, IMO that's really what it is all about. Getting over the hump of initially adopting at least
    some digital capture and letting it teach a photographer new ways of accomplishing
    things. Things BTW that have impacted my film work quite a bit.
  10. It would be interesting for me at least to look at this issue again in another year. At the moment, going digital would mean laying out a sum of money which just isn't available, regardless of what it would save me long term. Maybe in a year I'll have done enough weddings that the switch will not only make sense, but be financially possible.
  11. Marc - I don't think you can leave lenses out of the question, because the multiplication factor of digitals requires you to have different lenses, some of which cost more :)

    I think the issue with digital is everyone wants the latest and greatest because the rapid change in digital means there is a signifigant difference between the old and the new. White balance gets better, more 'full frame' etc. If you go back a few years, you could use your Nikon F3 for 10+ years before the F4 came out - and then only change because you really wanted to - the features were not that big a step up. Now you change earlier, and don't get as much from the resale of your old body as you used to.

    WRT to the workflow between film and digital, it depends on how automated you can make your workflow. Most film people will send their work out to be processed, taking a hit on profit, but a gain on time. If you shoot digital and then take that work in house, then you take a time hit, but hopefully increase profit.

    The entry point to digital is quite high in comparison to film, and the 'back end' requirements are a lot more. If you wanted to, you could not have a computer at all, and still shoot film - bit difficult to not have a computer and shoot digital. Then you have printer costs (initial and ongoing) and storage media/backup costs - I hope people are using something better than CD's.

    How do you make film work financially? Probably the same way you do digitally. Keep Equipment costs down, ensure you get it right the first time. Someone like Jeff Ascough probably wont change his equipment in the next 10 years. Whereas Marc, I am sure, you will change computers, and prob bodies every 3 years. I am not sure about Jeff's workflow - although I would love to know about it - but I bet it takes around the same time as yours.

    I'm curious Marc - did someone automate your workflow, or did you do it yourself?
  12. Adrian, The lens factor works both ways. With a digital you need a wider lens, but not the longer ones needed with film (a smaller, inexpensive 200/2.8 becomes a 320/2.8 on a 10D. A 300/2.8 for film use costs a lot more than a 16-35/2.8 needed for the wide end of digital) So, to me it's a wash. Jeff shoots with a Leica M. So do I at every wedding ...but not exclusively any more like I use to. So, I know the work flow for both quite well. Digital is faster. But that doesn't have to be the driving factor if you prefer. Nor does cost. Nor is any of this set in stone. My next wedding will be shot all digital at the client's request, and the one the very next day will be all film, also at the clients request. I like both and would hate it if I couldn't do both. It's interesting and fun. Despite having all the latest greatest,my favorite camera to shoot a wedding with is still a Leica M. BTW, digital upgrades aren't a cost issue for me. My commercial work funds it with digital capture fee income that replaced film, processing and drum scanning charges that use to be an expense. Here's the type of commercial shot that funds all the toys. It was one of 15 shots done for a financial institution to promote small business loans. If you don't think digital is good enough for weddings, consider that this is a digital shot to be used on a 60" poster in the lobby where people will be viewing it from just a few feet away.
  13. Fair call on the lens issue (I give in ;-) )

    You mention you offset your cost of your digital with the income from your commercial work. If you sat down and just looked at funding your digital gear through your wedding work, would it still all even out in the end?

    How often do you turn over your Leica's vs your Canon bodies? (
  14. That's a fair question Adrian.

    But not a timely one for me since I just upgraded (opinion) my M6 TTLs to M7s with flair
    free MP finders. Plus I added 2 Leica M lenses to the mix. However, I must admit that is not
    the norm for Leica M gear. Typically the initial purchase is horrifying (even used), then you
    can shoot with it for a decade or more.

    Digital HAS been more expensive in terms of upgrades ...until now. The 1Ds reached the
    point of meeting the need. Meeting it to the degree that I no longer carry the 503CW to
    weddings any longer. So, as far as wedding work is concerned, I need not upgrade that
    camera at all. If I do, it'll be more for commercial applications then weddings. Of course, if
    it does get upgraded for commercial work, I'll certainly use the new camera for weddings ;

    But to directly answer your question, IF weddings were all that I did, and the amount of
    weddings was only 12 to 15 per year, I'd most likely still be shooting with film using 3
    different cameras: ( Leica Ms and a couple of fast lenses for available light candids,
    Hasselblad 503CM for formals and portraits, and a Canon or Nikon SLR with 2 or 3 lenses
    for their quick and sure AF and excellent TTL flash systems in poor lighting conditions. It
    all use to fit in one rolling suit case.

    If all my weddings were just PJ style with little or no traditional type shots, I would (and
    did) shoot with just the Leica Ms, in concert with a small SLR kit once in awhile.
  15. Trust you to have changed to M7's!

    How long will the 1Ds last - shutter cycles etc. It seems most people using digital take the opportunity to shoot more for a specific event than with film because of the lack of film cost, however ignore they are wearing their cameras out earlier. My guess is you will still use your Leica's in 5+ years time, but your 1Ds will be a retired.

    How old was the leica and SLR kit you had? Older than the digitals. Don't get me wrong, if I could find a way to make Digital pay for itself I would be jumping in with both feet. For now though, I'll stay with film.
  16. "My guess is you will still use your Leica's in 5+ years time, but your 1Ds will be a retired."

    Probably true.

    Maybe the Leica's also IF the Digital M is any good by then ; -)

    The shutter in the 1Ds is the same as the one in a 1V film camera, and I never counted film
    frames when shooting film either, so it's a wash and has nothing to do with digital verses
    film for me.

    But the only cameras I've ever kept 5 years or longer were Leica's and Hasselblads. SLRs
    have always come and gone for me based on need.

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