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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
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
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
08420. Al Romero, owner. 609-548-2761; fax, 609-443-0002.
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