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January 28th, 2010

What does a digital tech do? Offer good tips to streamline your next shoot, for one thing.

Posted by Emily Miller

After our post outlining a commercial photo shoot — which included digital tech Mark Gordon, founder of G10 Digital Capture Services — we thought readers would appreciate learning more about this increasingly important role. Mark explains how a digital tech simplifies the photographer’s workflow, customizing the process to fit personalities, locations, weather conditions, and client expectations. Plus, he recommends his favorite gadgets, most on wheels, for a smooth shoot.

Mark Gordon, digital tech and founder of G10

Mark Gordon, digital tech and founder of G10

Emily Miller: How do you simplify the photographer’s job?

Mark Gordon: Our services boil down to digital capture, from start to finish: pre-production, capture, deliver, and post. Within each of those steps, there’s equipment provided: computers, cameras, vehicles, and printers.

Within pre-production, there’s a dialogue that opens up what the job looks like from the eyes of the photographer. I will make efforts to also have that conversation with the producer. Each has their interpretation of how the job is going to be executed. I offer a package that fits best for the photographer and his/her needs, as well as the producer and their budget.

EM: How does your tagline “Watch Your Back” relate to your work as a digital tech?

MG: It’s basically a willingness to operate within the production, be a part of the team, and look out for the best interest of the photographer. I’m there to be their right hand. I give support so they can focus on the creative process. Providing that support and comfort eases their concerns about the technical side of things.

It’s also asking simple questions: Are you doing verticals or horizontals? And it’s very subtle, simple things presented in a manner that is not alarming. I think the appropriateness of on-set behavior is big. A lot of photographers are not comfortable with an art director interacting with a digital technician, but it happens. The support mechanism is truly to understand where I am and what the expectations are in advance. So when a situation presents itself, there’s an understanding of how that situation is going to be handled.

“A great working relationship between photographer and digital tech is now crucial to the success of any production” — Artisan Modern Retouching Magazine

EM: What do you need to know from the photographer, producer, and client?

MG: Typically, it would start with the producer: Shot count? Are we in the studio or on location? Will there be multiple location changes? If we are on location, what’s the environment? Power supplies? From the photographer, the dialogue is typically getting an idea of how they approach the creative process, and how their approach is going to meet this specific client’s needs.

It starts to build a picture for me to understand how I’m going to plug-in on set. Even down to having the computer close by, having it tethered. We’re shooting the cards, does the client have access to the monitor? Do they want to do a formal present with the client?

It’s discussing a shot before it happens, like a walk-through of the shot. That way I can pick up the process they want to approach the job, facilitate accordingly, and also make it fit within the needs of production and the client.

Interior Setup

Editing on location for Sony's image library in Mount Hood, Oregon

EM: How do you customize your gear and process to fit the specific location you’re working in?

MG: A big component is staying abreast of the latest technology. Every morning I have about 20 websites that I visit, to review announcements and product releases. Having relationships with the local manufacturer representatives. Staying in touch with camera assistants nationally, we keep a dialogue open of what’s going on the East Coast, West Coast, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Each region has their own preferences.

Digital Production

Capture station for a catalogue shoot in Montauk, New York

The G10 packages are constantly being refined and include three options: FAST, FASTER, and FASTEST.

FAST has the highest mobility. It’s a laptop configuration on a tripod and allows the technician to be anywhere very quickly without the weight of a bigger capture station or a tower. It’s a good fit for an editorial or a catalog shoot where there’s a higher volume and more location changes, or a budget need.

FASTER is the capture cart with an iMac or a tower that can be switched out according to the job and whether we’re on location or in the studio. Typically that’s running in dual display. More horsepower with the equipment but also a longer setup and breakdown time.

FASTEST is a combination of a few different factors, with two technicians and the capture cart. We have the Sprinter van now, so we’re able to offer an edit bay for client review and/or create an edit bay for the creatives. If there is an improvised shot they’d like to go explore, we’re able to move to the laptop and follow the photographer. We can bounce back and forth to the bay station. Then, from the bay station, be moving files to the edit bay. It’s the best solution, because it facilitates the client, creative, and photographer’s needs simultaneously.

Location Load In

Load-in on location in San Francisco, California

EM: What is your process of capture and color management?

MG: The process starts with identifying the brand and its needs. It’s a combination of a conversation with the creatives and the photographer, regarding look and feel, the direction the photographer wants to go with it, and also an understanding of what has already been done within the brand. Or, if it’s a new campaign, it’s an opportunity to discover what this new look and feel is.

There are layouts for placement within the capture process so we can consider copy, the orientation of the image to the copy, and even the aspect ratio of the page.

We use a combination of a color meter and a color checker and have a very clear understanding of mixed lighting environments so we can go into a scene and come out with the image that’s expected.

A shoot day starts with packing up, getting the look and feel identified, getting the files prepped for placement received. Then there will be a once-through of the day with the producer. Then there’s a conversation with the creative team about the naming convention that meets their internal needs, and then building out the shots.

Moving into the day, we’re getting images in their proper place. Organization is key. Things have to be done on set correctly. We’re now doing preliminary grading, so this goes into the color treatment. With files coming in, we’re now able to apply a preliminary color grading that has the identified look and feel. We drop the images into the overlay and present to the client: This is what your ad will look like.

Location Cart

Behind the capture-cart curtain for an advertising shoot in Lake Tahoe, Nevada

EM: What’s next?

MG: We’re immersing ourselves in how the industry is changing and supporting photographers in their transitions into motion. Basically the motion world is the equivalent transition that photographers have already gone through from film to digital. The motion world is going into a purely digital workflow. We’re able to apply a lot of models that we’ve established within the still process to the motion process. Being able to see new content created and new processes being explored, it’s an exciting time.

Mark recommends:

  • It is essential to bring backup systems to ensure a seamless on-set experience (computers, cameras, power sources, and cables)
  • Power supplies: hi-capacity batteries, inverters, or a generator, all running with UPS (uninterrupted power supply)
  • Dual display: provides image viewing for photographer, client, creatives, and crew members
  • Mobility is a key factor, so find gear that can travel and make the shoot happen anywhere – examples include:
  • Tenba rolling air cases
  • Laptop stand with hood, easy viewing and highly mobile
  • Custom Magliner cart, shelf (places LCD at eye level), and custom built blackout tent (see images)
  • Sprinter van (location edit bay/retouching station)
Location Van

G10 Sprinter van on the road for a multi-location production in Oregon

Little things that can help the job go smoothly:

  • Broncolor FCC color meter
  • X-rite color checker
  • TetherGRIP
  • RedRock Micro (for use with the 5DMII when shooting video)


2 Comments

  1. January 28th, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Digital Tech Mark Gordon | RESOLVE | The Click

    […] After our post outlining a commercial photo shoot — which included digital tech Mark Gordon, founder of G10 Digital Capture Services — we thought readers would appreciate learning more about this increasingly important role. Mark explains how a digital tech simplifies the photographer’s workflow, customizing the process to fit personalities, locations, weather conditions, and client expectations. Plus, he recommends his favorite gadgets, most on wheels, for a smooth shoot. […]

  2. January 28th, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    john hildebrand

    shooting with a digital tech makes the shoot run soooo much better. As a photographer i don't have to stress out when shooting my digital files. I know they will be backed up and saved.

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