April 1999

ORNL photography drives to digital

The days of developer, fixer and dark rooms are essentially over at ORNL Photography. The digital revolution has arrived—the Lab’s photographers have converted from artists on film to artists on hard drives.

For their customers, photographs are no longer limited to resin-coated paper. Digital images can be delivered to your desktop and then applied to almost any media.

The switch from a chemical operation to one that’s electronic, says Dobie Gillispie, has been going on for years, but the most drastic changes have come very recently, since the start of the fiscal year.

old photography equipment
Photography’s old film-based equipment, still fine stuff, is being traded in for digital gear.
“This has become a very different place in a short time,” Gillispie says as he strides past rooms that were formerly dark and closed. Processing machines and other film-based pieces of equipment sit idle, ready to be hauled out. The darkroom, a necessity for any processing with photosensitive films and papers, is open and lit. Photography’s “red-light district” is no more.

“We don’t even use an enlarger any more,” Gillispie says, pointing to a l940s model still sitting on a counter. Other areas of ORNL Photography are stacked with cameras and accessories waiting to be traded in on new, digital versions. “We’ve saved a lot on the costs of new equipment by trading in some of our old cameras, and lenses, most of which are still very fine pieces of equipment.”

ORNL’s photographers have made good progress in dispelling doubts that digital photos could ever replace film. “The quality is equal,” says Curtis Boles, who now arrives at shoots with a digital camera after using film for decades. Boles is a digital convert; he recently took a week-long course on electronic photography in Santa Fe, N.M.

That digital will ever look as good as film isn’t the point. The reason for the change, says Jim Richmond, is economics tied to the old process’s waste stream. By going digital, ORNL Photography is saving the expense of disposing of the used developer and fixer, which was considerable.

We’ve gone from using 6,000 gallons of chemicals a year to just 20 gallons this year,” Richmond says. “We’re also saving about a million gallons of water a year, and we don’t have to buy new chemistry or deal with the recyclable waste, which was mainly the silver content in the film.”

The shop can still develop your film—for those who would rather shoot their own, they have film pickup and delivery service. If it’s prints you need, you can still have them. The only difference is now they are produced on high-tech electronic printers. An operation that once involved chemicals, enlargers, and automatic processors is now performed at the desktop.

Customers are reaping the rewards. For instance, all photos in this issue of ORNL Reporter are digital. That’s a fairly recent achievement, and it’s enabled us to send the paper electronically to the printer over the Web. That saves us time and a trip. But users should have at least a fundamental understanding of how best to use digital art. Gillispie, who was on the front-end of the digital movement, offers some pointers.

“You can request photos in either PC or Mac format, depending on the application—different applications require different formats,” he says. “We can supply most standard formats: tiffs, tga, eps, pdf, pic, jpg, gif or PhotoShop.

“For high quality or print resolutions, specify high resolutions, 200 dpi or more. File sizes depend on the end use and how big the art will be. For instance, posters, because they are large, need high-res photos. High-quality printed documents also require high-res art. “On the other hand, if you are only going to post a photo on the Web, low-resolution photos are fine. The Web doesn’t accommodate anything greater than 72 dpi, and the file sizes are much smaller and less taxing to your computer.”

It helps to specify the photo’s end-use on the order. ORNL Photography’s digital cameras come in ranges of quality from 6 million pixels per image to 1.5 million.

You can order a photo from your office. Look for the photographic work request on the internal home page’s information index. Finding existing photos is also much easier since the IRIS system came on-line a few years ago. If you know a key word or photo number (ORNL photos still get numbers), you can call the image up on your desktop.

Getting your hands on the photo is also much easier. Prints are still parceled out in the shop, but digital files can either be e-mailed, if the file isn’t too large, or retrieved from ORNL Photography’s guest folder in the GD zone or from other server areas.

Photos always enhance the story, and now there are more ways than ever to get graphics into your work. If you’re new to electronic images and want to know more, or just need a little hand holding to get started, call ORNL Photography, 574-6890.—B.C.