While I encourage many clients to buy out all of the high-res. raw files that I shoot on the job I always have background worries about how well these image files will be optimized for use in the company’s PR or promotional outreaches. Many of my clients apparently have in-house employees who “know Photoshop” or who “have Photoshop” and who are eager or expected to apply their knowledge and time to optimizing these digital negatives. Owning these raw files is often a prudent financial decision but I suggest you proceed with caution about letting one of your willing employees be the de facto photolab for the bulk of the images.
Many of your employees have been raised in a digital era and print media has never been as important for them as screen media. One of the bittersweet truths about digital imagery is that almost everything looks “good” on-screen. Sadly, though, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, most of what you see doesn’t print at all well when you try to do so. Print and screen have entirely separate technologies and specifications, with print being very much more restrictive in its settings. It takes years to understand what it takes to optimize an image for print: most employees have never had anywhere near the required practice to become proficient at supplying you with reliably printable images. Additionally they don’t really know what techniques and options are available you give you a finished file that sings and sizzles. You’ve paid good money to someone like me to create the negative with a wealth of promise, only to be exposing your viewers to a half-baked rendition of the vision.
I have a very large engineering firm as a nearly 40-year client. They bought out the raw files on the last job I shot for them. I made up some jpeg proofs of the scenes from adjusted versions that I quickly worked up from the raw files and sent them along as well for them to peruse. I later got a call from their employee “Photoshop person” who was vexed that he couldn’t get a selected raw file to open anywhere nearly as nicely as the proof. He, ( and many, many others ), didn’t know that raw files are typically two-part files and he had only opened one part of it. And in the end, the picture they used on their website was very lacklustre compared to its potential. I use this illustration to point out a very common scenario. When we ask the employees about Photoshop experience, many say that they “think” they have Photoshop and can work the files or that on further reflection admit that they only have Photoshop Elements, an amateur version reflecting their true knowledge.
So what to do? When in doubt and certainly wherever print is the possible end usage, give the file to an image-manipulation pro. I can recommend a few. If internet is the only use, be sure of your employee’s qualifications and software as well as making sure he/she has a good, calibrated monitor to work on. Calibrators are reasonably priced and essential. Give them the time necessary to do a good job and wherever possible a chance to review it the next day before going live. It is amazing how we can become so preoccupied with optimizing certain details of the files that some others, such as tonal range and contrast, go completely unnoticed until review the next day.