Why does it take so long to get digital pictures?

As I go through a Headshot session, I am tethered to a 27 inch iMac, giving my client and myself the ability to see the images I take on a large screen only a moment after I take them. It is a blessing and a curse.

With technology advancing, and digital cameras getting better and better, we are use to the instantaneous. Taking a picture and seeing it on the back of the phone, then posting it to social media and calling it a day. This tendency spoils the work behind what professional photographers do.

In the days of film, not so long ago on this vary planet, it would take a long period of time to actually see the pictures your photographer would be taking! As unbelievable as that may be, it is true. There was no screen on the back of the camera, and no memory card plugged into it. The photographer would have to take the picture, and know how it was going to turn out, then take it into a darkroom, enlarge and develop, and put it on photo paper. Don’t ask me exactly how this works, but I can tell you exactly how we do it today. It’s not as different as you might think.

Today we have the ability to see our pictures instantly, but that is the undeveloped film, the RAW image. Seriously, its a RAW file. That RAW file contain data straight from the sensor, that data is used as input to the production process that results in a final image, RAW isn’t really one format but a collection of device-specific and mostly proprietary formats.

Once we take the RAW picture, it is stored in the cameras memory, then transferred over to a computer. From here it is put into a image-processor such as Lightroom (kinda like a darkroom) then it is color corrected, or developed. From here, we take it into another processing software and edit the image, this is a magical place called Photoshop.

From here we remove blemishes, wrinkles, swap heads, eyes, rebuild noses, or do whatever we need to do to get the image looking right. Photoshop, as magical as it is, is not for the faint at heart. There are thousands of different options and combination and at least ten ways to do what you are trying to accomplish. The trick is knowing what procedure to use when, not to mention figuring out what all those buttons do! Thats why there are professionals, and why there is plenty of work to go around.

Once it has gone through this process, from the camera to the computer, from the computer to Lightroom, from Lightroom to Photoshop and spent several hours in each place, it still isn’t done. From there it is transferred back into Lightroom, and back to the computer Only at this point is it complete and no longer RAW. It still needs to be uploaded to the cloud, and made ready for the client to download.

Next time your photographer takes a few extra days to get the pictures to you, keep in mind the work that goes into each and every image. Keep in mind that the photographer can fix your nose, or make it look like it has been broken 47 times since High school and send it to all your friends. Have a great day!