On the set of a photography production, one of the most important people is the one who secures and processes the images: the digitech. It’s important to find someone that you can trust to ensure the culling and organizing of your deliverables goes smoothly, making the digitech a vital part of any shoot.
Digitechs are tasked with managing your images in real-time as they’re being shot. They are responsible for transferring the files to a computer, processing them, and creating multiple backups. This could include anything from applying useful file names for the images to organizing them for the photographer and client. Digitechs can also be expected to quickly and quietly deal with technical problems — such as fixing camera gear — as they arise throughout the day.
As with anyone else in the industry, COVID has forced digitechs like New York-based Esteban Aladro to adjust their approach. Esteban and others in his position have adapted to the circumstances by utilizing wireless hotspots on locations to upload images and transfer to clients who are not on set. They also use iPads and a Zoom link so the art director can remotely edit the images. Esteban and other Digitechs control the computer through Capture One and scroll through images so the client can see them.
Esteban also includes UV lights in his kit to sterilize equipment before a shoot. This in addition to mandatory rapid COVID tests for all crew members beforehand as well as the signing of COVID waivers, like Esteban encountered during a recent Old Navy assignment. These days, safety remains the top priority.
Florida-based photographer Robert Holland explains why he uses a digitech for most shoots.
The client wants to see images right away, in real time. The photographer can’t do it while shooting. It makes the client feel more confident during the shoot to see images in real time being edited.
Robert expects his digitech to bring two computers or laptops for a mobile unit set up, fast SSD drives, and a backup drive. The producer and photographer will each take a device with them. Black tents are useful for a location shoot to view the images with controlled lighting.
“Things happen so quickly, it’s great to have feedback on focus,” says Robert, who wouldn’t want to risk any exposure issues or an error on the sensor. The client expects to see what’s going on. For his last shoot, Robert was averaging about 8,000 shots per day. He also shot several hours of motion footage, which needed to be backed up as well. Digitech Peter Grill helped Robert with managing images, processing and backing up files, renaming folders, and even creating an online proofing portal like PhotoShelter. This is convenient for the art director, who can then send a direct link to the creative team.
Another Florida-based photographer, Mary Beth Koeth, says its wonderful when you work with a digitech with a professional demeanor like Javier Sanchez because they represent you and your brand. They are there to make your post-production work easier. The digitech will also do some editing in real time as well, which markedly cuts down on post time. Javier will rename the files and export small jpegs if the client needs them through Capture One. Here’s Mary Beth on finding a digitech:
Ask for recommendations when searching for a new digitech! I met Javier on a shoot for Humana. The production company hired them and then I grabbed his info. You can also check with rental companies or ask other photographers in the area who they like and why.
For Mary Beth, it comes down to trust, communication and having someone on set that you can rely on as well as get along with. During COVID, she’s been using Webex sessions where up to six people can be onscreen and give directions for the people on set in real time. The digitech is there to manage this as well, acting as a sort of liaison between those working in person and those working remotely. To wit: during a recent commission for Billboard, Mary Beth’s digitech, Javier, played a key role in the success of the shoot.
For London-based digitech Laminos/LSdigi, the pandemic has brought new ways to navigate on set as well. He has started streaming live images to clients who aren’t on set. He uses a Capture One stream via a secure link and a server; from there, the client can flag images remotely. Additionally, iPads and wireless monitors are on set to keep physical distance between crew members.
Laminos works directly with the photographer while on set. He will have a conversation with them before the job so he knows what to expect and is careful about what not to mention during the shoot. For example, if the client asks Laminos for high res images on set, but the photographer isn’t okay with giving them away yet, he has to plan and communicate accordingly.
I work best when the photographer gives me as much detail as possible beforehand. Do they need files organized by the end of day, what camera systems will they be using, what should I be handing over to the client by the end of day?
Expectations on set for Laminos can range from basic photoshop work to overlaying an image to composing images themselves. With an advertising job, he does real time overlays so the clients can view how the final deliverables will look. He will come prepared with PDFs of the layout to reference when he uploads the photos to Capture One. Laminos will bring his own kit to set 90% of the time; it includes the wireless location setup, portable monitors, and batteries. His rate depends on the travel involved and some other factors, but the range is from 450-550 British pounds per day. For his digital capture kit, he charges between £350-500 per day.
Laminos recently finished an amazing job in the Italian Province South Tyrol/Dolomite Mountain Range with photographer Finn Beales. His kit was a wireless location setup, one “completely powered by portable batteries (V locks and Hyperjuices) with full day run-time,” and featuring a variety of other pieces of equipment.
I also have a high-brightness monitor, which allows me to view images even in the sunniest conditions and now comes with a screen shade. Plus, I bring wireless receivers with a range of up to 400 feet for a truly portable setup, and 12.9-inch iPad Pro so the client/team can review images while maintaining social distancing.
This was one of Laminos’ favorite jobs mostly because of the amazing helicopter flights involved! He feels lucky to have this job and be able to travel and see the world, working with new people and creating friendships. And with a digitech’s role being so versatile and vital to production, you need to connect with the right person. That way, you can spend less time worrying about image capture, and more time behind the lens creating!