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Proofing Performance

A Dedication to Quality

By Kim Crowley

Actors and models rely on professional photographers and high-quality portfolios to help land theatrical, TV, fashion, and advertising work. "Actors and models are in the most competitive field," states Chia Messina, NY photographer and, "if you show printed material, it is important that it is printed well."

"A positive reaction to a headshot very well makes the difference in getting a job or not," notes Cameron Stewart, president, Reproductions. Stewart’s nearly 20 year old company, Reproductions, with locations in Manhattan, NY and Los Angeles, CA, specializes in quality printing for actors and performing artists. The company employs about 25 people.

While much of Reproductions’ output is eight- by ten-inch headshots, output also includes composite cards for the modeling industry, postcards, and business cards. An average order is about 100 copies. "The output is exclusively digital, exclusively photographic," says Stewart. Reproductions prints with photographic laser digital printers onto traditional photographic paper.

Nearly every Reproductions job has a digital proof printed for approval first. "Proofing is our guarantee and a customer’s guarantee that the work meets expectations," notes Stewart. He strongly recommends printed proofs over screen proofs, and warns clients that a proof viewed on-screen may not accurately render color due to the variations on computer monitors.

Workflow: Proof to Print
Stewart began producing traditional darkroom custom printing for magazines in 1978. Stewart’s business is no longer traditional photographic output. It is strictly digital printing. "We departed from the traditional photographic process entirely in 2003. Digital offers much higher quality and more control."

The shop produced color lithographically for a few years. However, "the cost of production and the problem in terms of exact proofing from a digital proof to an actual press print was too great," states Stewart. "We abandoned the press printing altogether, and now we exclusively print on digital laser photographic printers."

When a file is submitted, Reproductions’ goal is to lay out the job and have a working proof within 24 hours. "Once approved, the final product is delivered within 24 hours," says Stewart.

Occasionally, the proofing stage generates client changes. "Any interruption to the workflow could be a possible caveat. Once the customers see a proof they may want additional retouching," he notes.

The reproduction house uses Fujicolor Crystal Archive Professional Paper Super Type C in glossy and matte. Within the paper family there are different qualities. "We use the highest quality paper offered, which gives us a Dmax of approximately 2.3," says Stewart. Dmax is the measure of the deepest black achievable, given the selected printer, ink, and media combination. A Dmax of 1.7 is considered good for matte paper; 2 for glossy paper.

Proofs and final output are created on Fujifilm Digital Minilab Frontier 390 and 370 print devices. This ensures that the end result will match the proof exactly. The printers use a silver halide chemical printing process and feature CCD scanners as well as digital image enhancement and auto corrections with Image Intelligence technology. The printers also feature PIC Pro workflow software with a complete color management system and order fulfillment support.

An ideal light source is necessary for viewing proofs accurately. Reproductions relies on GTI Graphic Technology, Inc. viewing stations. Every customer service person has a large three- by four-foot GTI viewing station. GTI models used include CVX Color Viewing Stations, EVS Executive Viewing Stations, and PDV Professional Desktop Viewers.

The company uses Gretag spectrophotometers—now a product of X-Rite, Inc.—on occasion for building color tables. "For the most part, our workflow is in-house. If we scan, we’re scanning on a Scitex IQSmart scanner, all of the color control is done by us. Consequently, building numerous tables is not necessary. We build tables to suite changes in materials from the manufacturer or other changes we encounter, but not often," says Stewart.

A proof is printed for 90 percent or more of the output generated by Reproductions. "We guide people towards that," explains Eric Dolgins, GM, Reproductions.

"It’s in the client’s interest and our interest to see an exact copy of the final output," says Stewart. "We’ve found that if they go by screen representation or by some other proofing method outside of our workflow, the demand on the exactness of the quality that we provide and the quality customers look for is not met."

Building on Success
Reproductions is a two-year winner for Favorite Litho/Reproduction House by trade publication Backstage magazine for both its New York and Los Angeles locations. The company serves many photographers directly, providing links to portfolios and uploading portrait sessions for online viewing.

"We offer services such as digitally uploading entire photographic sessions so clients can view sessions at home. The photographers provide us with a session and we have an upload service. It means that actors, managers, and agents can view photographic sessions online through a separate Web site behind the scenes," says Stewart.

"When the business changed from film to digital Reproductions was ahead of the game with online session galleries. I give them raw files from my shoot and they upload a contact sheet for viewing. It’s just an easy way for actors to choose shots, email agents, and give feedback. Then they can go right to Reproductions to order copies. It makes our jobs easier," notes Messina. Actors and models also work directly with Reproductions to order prints.

Reproductions has a steady flow of work from the acting and modeling industries, which are centralized in the NY and CA areas. Stewart knows that potential clients span the country, and is building the business further on his current success.

A new proprietary e-commerce solution was unveiled in July. This solution allows customers to upload photos, make order choices, and place a complete order. Stewart says this solution enables Reproductions to service a nationwide acting community.

Star Power
Adrien McKechnie began his professional career as a video editor, then transitioned into headshot photography about five years ago in Los Angeles, CA. "This was when the market for headshots here was still in B&W," says McKechnie.

The transition to color came quickly. "Within six or eight months everything started to go to color, basically because of online submissions. A lot of actors had B&W images, but the odd actor would have a color image. If you are a commercial casting agent looking at online galleries of all of these B&W images, your eye will go to the color one. That’s basically how it started. At the same time the actual cost of printing color went down," he explains.

McKechnie says that with B&W you can get away with a lesser quality print. "When you bump it up to color start to see a lot of bad printing," he says.

Quality printing is something McKechnie stresses to his clients. "I always approach the actors and say, ‘You need to get the best printing possible.’" He says that since many actors don’t have a lot of money, they skimp and get poor quality prints. "You spend all of this money on doing headshots and retouching—why cheap out? Why go to a printer that will mass-produce 200 prints for $50? When you present that to a casting agent it reflects poorly on you as an actor."

McKechnie’s clients, like actress Heather Soon, come to him to be photographed for color headshots. McKechnie takes the client’s photos and often they come to him for retouching services as well. When clients are satisfied with the photos and retouching, they are given files on a CD as well as a test proof that McKechnie prints in-house on an Epson printer.

He originally discovered Reproductions through actor clients who knew about them from other work they had printed. He refers clients to Reproductions with confidence because of their consistency.

"Occasionally I’ll have a client come back with the final output from Reproductions, and I am blown away with the fact that they can take my Epson inkjet test print and come down to almost exact clients. Proofing is extremely important. I tell my clients 100 percent of the time to try and get a test proof," says McKechnie.

Proofing Performance
Reproductions’ reputation is built on a dedication to the performing arts industry, proofing to meet quality expectations, and strong customer service. "Cameron Stewart is a perfectionist in every way. They put out quality because he really cares about it. He had a goal to be better than everybody, and he really is," says Messina.Rising stars that invest in Reproductions’ printing services come away with headshots that draw attention. Perhaps they even get a ticket to the stage, screen, or runway.

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Jul2009, Digital Output

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