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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Where Memories Are Kept on Disk

We are standing at the very peak of yet another technological

revolution. With the introduction of a six megapixel camera at a relatively

affordable price — $6,000 to $10,000 — brides and grooms and

corporate officers alike are about to be shot in a whole new way.

"We’re right on the brink," says Al Romero. "We’re ready

to fall into digital."

Romero is the owner of Digital Memories, an East Windsor company that

shoots weddings and family portraits entirely with digital equipment.

He founded the company about 18 months ago, financing approximately

$30,000 in start-up costs from savings and credit card advances. In

January he began devoting all of his time to the new business, and

plans to branch out into corporate work.

Romero says about 20 to 30 percent of corporate photography work is

now done digitally. "In the next two years, it will be 70 to 80

percent," he predicts. The power of the Internet is a prime driver.

"Everyone wants everything for the Web," he says. "Everything

needs to be Web ready."

For consumers, the percentage of wedding photographs and family portraits

now being shot digitally is in the single digits, Romero says, predicting

that too will change, but perhaps more slowly. "Digital is very

confusing to people at this point," he says. "When I say I

shoot all digital, people become gun shy." For so long, the buzz

has been that the quality of digital is inferior to that of film.

The six megapixel camera has changed that. Romero says it is capable

of producing a 16 x 20 portrait that is equal in quality to that shot

with film. Typically, he says, that is the size of the portrait that

newlyweds hang on their walls. Digital is not as sharp at larger sizes,

but, "they don’t want billboards," he says of the typical

bride and groom.

Romero, who grew up in Teaneck, got his photographic

training in the Air Force. "One day you’re working in a portrait

studio, and the next day — even the same day — you’re hanging

out of a helicopter," he says of the work. He shot everything

from officers to space shuttles to microchips. He shot from high in

the air, and from under water, getting additional training for each

type of project.

After leaving the Air Force in 1987, he worked mostly on lay-out and

design for ad agencies, first in the cosmetics industry and then in

the pharmaceutical industry. He describes pharmaceutical ad work as

"very political, cut-throat, stressful." He does admit, however,

that working for ad agencies enhanced his skills by teaching him to

work with photographs, including them in larger projects, adding special

effects, and retouching them.

The ad world also gave him his bride. He met his wife, Corinne Romero,

at Catalyst, an ad agency in South Plainfield. The two married in

November, and live in East Windsor. Corinne is a senior project manager

at Interlink, an ad agency in Lawrence.

So far Digital Memories has shot about a dozen weddings, ranging in

size from an elaborate 500-person black tie affair to a 40-person

event that lasted a mere four-and-a-half hours. Romero always takes

at least two other photographers to a wedding. For the 500-person

wedding, he took five. "One takes the formal portraits, and the

others take informal shots," he says. Flat screen monitors are

set up around the room so that the couple and their guests can see

what pictures have been shot. This allows them to request different

groupings or backdrops — or to redo their hair or straighten their

cummerbunds. There is no limit to the number of pictures that can

be shot.

This instant peek feature of digital photography also gives brides

and grooms — often busy being hosts — a different view of

their wedding. "I had one bride say `Oh, there’s Uncle Lou. I

didn’t know he had come. I have to go say hello to him,’" Romero

gives as an example. In another case, he says, the bride was surprised

to look at a monitor and see that there was a cigar room at the hotel,

and that a good number of guests were in it.

At the 40-person wedding it is a pretty good guess that the bride

and groom knew just who was in attendance, and where they all were.

For them, the digital format had another advantage. "The bride

was a recent immigrant," says Romero. "Most of her family

was in China. I promised her I would have the photos up on the Internet

in three hours."

Digital Memories’ photo packages run from $3,200 t0 $4,700 and include

the traditional albums and portraits, but also, says Romero, "a

wallet-size CD." The miniature CD contains every photo shot at

the wedding. By the time the couple is back from the honeymoon, they

can carry it around, ready to give friends and family a computer slide

show. Each couple also gets a standard-size CD with higher resolution

photos, and a selection of their photos on an Internet site.

The Internet site and the CDs are designed ahead of time. Couples

work with Romero, telling him their favorite colors and themes, so

that he can format the digital media before the wedding. Then, after

the pictures are taken, he relies on his Adobe Photoshop experience

to retouch the photos any way the couple wants them. Photos can be

softened for a romantic look, or they can be converted to black and

white "in a touch of a button." The parents like color, Romero

reports, so that is how he shoots, but he says current digital technology

effortlessly converts those photos to sharp black and white.

Romero says his inspiration for taking the leap into business ownership

came from his parents, and especially from his mother, Ofelia. She

and his father, Jose, emigrated from Colombia when they were in their

mid-20s. His father owns a hair salon in New York City, and his mother

recently retired from a teaching job in Hackensack. "When she

came here, she did not speak even one word of English," Romero

says. She earned a college degree, and became a teacher, a feat that

taught her whole family that anything is possible.

"My parents are living the American dream," says Romero, who

is building a business of capturing dream memories for brides and

grooms, and for families gathering for what often turn out to be once-in-a-lifetime

group portraits.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Digital Memories, 46 Moorsgate Circle, East Windsor

08420. Al Romero, owner. 609-548-2761; fax, 609-443-0002.


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