Macs at Work
Paul Willis

We at My Mac are constantly looking for new avenues to explore and often ask you, the reader, for suggestions. Well, Paul Willis, of the United Kingdom, wrote in and asked “how about a general interview style column for people with interesting uses for their Macs?” We liked his idea so much that we decided that Paul, ” as a freelance press photographer using a PowerBook to wire pictures to newspapers” was going to be our first interview. So sit back, relax and read on to find out how our Mac brethren around the world and at home use the Mac everyday at work. We think that you’ll enjoy the trip.

My Mac: Paul, welcome to My Mac. We thank you for the suggestion and feel that our readers will find out that Macs are indeed out in the business world a whole lot more then we realize. Would you give us some background on what you do and how you include your Mac.

Paul: I have been a freelance press photographer for about 11 years and for 8 of those have worked almost exclusively for the Daily Express, a UK national daily, middle market, newspaper with a circulation of about 1.5 million.

Macs have taken the press world by storm in the last 4 years. Previously if you wanted to transmit pictures back to the office from a job you had the choice between two systems, the Leefax, developed from a hospital x-ray transmission machine, which cost £12,000 and took over half an hour per colour picture, or the Hasselblad which only took about 15 mins per picture but cost a whopping £22,000. With the introduction of a PowerBook with a negative scanner and a modem you could be sending a picture every 5 mins at a cost of about £6,000.

My Mac: Were any other computer systems used for data transmission or was the
switch made from the Leefax and Hasselblad units to the Mac with no other stops in between.

Paul: The step was straight to the Mac, a few people tried Wintel systems but there are always a few suckers. Previous to the Leefax/Hasselblads there was a similar Nikon system but it was only greyscale, before that it was the Muirhead with a real photo clipped onto a rotating drum.

A major advantage to the Mac was not only its speed when everything was working fine but what happened if there was a fault with the transmission. With the other systems it often meant starting all over again as there was no hard disk to save the file onto.

One interesting throw over from the old machines is the term ‘pinging’ from the sound they used to make when transmitting, photographers still use the term ‘to ping’ even though the Mac is silent.

My Mac: Besides saving to hard disk, has the use of removable storage media seen use within the U.K. (as in a ZIP drive or a Syquest drive- 100mb or 135mb storage disks)?

Paul: I personally use an EZ Syquest at home not only for back-up but to store all the pictures that would otherwise begin to clog up my hard drive. Nobody that I know of uses removable storage as a means of transporting images. That may be partly due to the fact that newspapers pay a ‘wire fee’, for pictures transmitted, of about £50 per job, but nothing if you hand deliver 🙂

One enterprising sports picture agency recently produced a CD-ROM for the
European Football (soccer) championships held in the UK during June, it basically contained a high resolution head shot and a full length action shot, of every player, in every team, in the competition. They distributed it free in Macintosh format (most UK picture desks run on Macs) and the papers paid on use. The agency’s main competitor brought round a file with hundreds of 35mm transparencies and wanted payment of £3,000 before they would even leave them in your office. Needless to say the CD was a great success and they have now distributed one for the Olympics.

My Mac: So how big is the impact of Macs within the photo-journalism field?

Paul: I would think that at least 65% (a very rough guess) of UK press photographers are now equipped with their own Mac, and those who aren’t are saving up. In fact some papers won’t employ you without one, it’s as essential as your camera.

The stumbling block at the moment is developing the film, there is often a 1 hour processing shop nearby that will develop ‘negatives only’ in about 30 mins but sometimes this still has to be done the old fashioned way in a light tight tank with chemicals, etc.

Photographers have become very adept at ‘reading’ a negative without a
reference print to select the best frames on the film. Film in your camera is fast becoming obsolete too, as electronic cameras increase in quality and decrease in price. One newspaper is completely digital already.

Many photographers are now buying PC cards to use with their GSM digital cellular phones so that with a cigarette lighter/mains adapter to power the scanner it is possible to wire from your car anywhere in the UK and from many other countries around the world where the GSM standard applies.

My Mac: Can you please elaborate on the GSM digital system and its use in the UK
and elsewhere, and the capability of the Mac to use the system.

Paul: GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is an international standard
for digital cellular phones as opposed to the mainly analogue systems found across the USA. In the UK and Europe it has rapidly replaced the old analogue systems and offers added security in that the phone cannot easily be tapped, or cloned (stealing the phone’s code number from the airwaves and copying it onto a blank phone). The signal is much clearer without crackles.

Once you have a phone connection for normal use you can apply for another two numbers on the same phone, one for fax and another for data. This extra service is free, just the call air-time is charged. The PC card (matched to your phone) is popped into your PowerBook (or Newton) slot and a dedicated cable connects it to your phone. Then you just configure your comm software to use it as you would a modem, but without the cable into the wall.

One photographer recently in Germany had a plane to catch so [he] scanned the pictures into his Mac in the hotel foyer and wired them to his office in London from the back seat of the taxi on the way to the airport!

My Mac: So which Mac do you use?

Paul: My personal setup is a PowerBook Duo 280c 24/320, Nikon Super Coolscan
negative scanner and Motorola 3400 28.8k modem, running Photoshop 3.0.5 and
Microphone LT.

My Mac: Is this setup your “professional use” only system or do you also use it
at home? If not, what do you use at home? What is your “dream” system that
you would really like to have?

Paul: This is my everywhere and everything system, as a freelance I have to supply all my own equipment, cameras and computers. My Duo does the lot from scan and send the pictures to print out the invoice at the end of the month, it’s travelled half way round the world with me. At home I have a StyleWriter, the EZ, stereo speakers, keyboard and mouse. A 15inch screen is next on my shopping list.

The only other piece of kit I use is a Newton to keep track of jobs, expenses and appointments which downloads onto the Mac for copy and paste into a Clarisworks spreadsheet invoice.

As to my dream system, that would be a PowerBook 5300ce 64/1.1gb (or one of
the rumoured Hooper PowerBooks) with GSM PC card and a CanonEOS/Kodak
digital camera to plug into it.

My Mac: What’s a typical day for you and your Mac?

Paul: This week I have been at Wimbledon for the tennis.

The Mac is set up before play begins in a room with power and phone sockets for National Newspapers and agencies, a quick ‘head’ count reveals: six desktop Power Macs, eight PowerPC PowerBooks, five ‘040 PowerBooks with a variety of modems and negative scanners and one Hasselblad.

After an hour in the sun taking the pictures, drop the film off, Kodak has supplied processing facilities so no need to get your hands dirty, and collect the dry negatives 20 minutes later.

Using a light box and a magnifying eyeglass, select the best three or four frames of each match, with a Photoshop plug -in, the scanner takes about 45 seconds to scan a 6 – 7mb file, adjust the levels, caption the picture using the ‘File info’ IPTC standard not forgetting the all important by-line information, and compress it down using JPEG set at medium compression. This results in a file of about 250k which takes approx 2 – 3
mins to transmit.

I scan in all my chosen pictures before sending them all off in a batch, while I am doing that a colleague from an evening paper comes in, working to a tighter deadline he is using a CanonEOS/Kodak digital camera, he plugs the SCSI cable into the camera and powers up his PowerBook and is transmitting before I have even scanned mine in, as I start to send he is packing up and going home!

I still have ‘work’ to do, back for more tennis and maybe even time for strawberries.

That pretty well sums it up, but I should mention that this is the ideal set up, only at major events are there such facilities as film processing and rooms with lots of space, telephone sockets and power, usually you have to develop your own film in a small tank and dry it off with a hair dryer before scanning. Where you scan and send from varies enormously as well. Once in France, we were working from a Cafe, fine for lunch and drinks but I processed in the garage where the light was on a timer, it kept switching off at the worst possible times, the phone point was in the corridor between the kitchen and the restaurant, and the Mac was perched precariously on a ledge.

My Mac: One final question. What do you see as the future of journalism in regards to computer technology?

Paul: The Daily Express who I mainly work for is now fully computerised. The page
make up area has in the past year changed from drawing boards and glue to about 25 networked Power PC Macs.

The Darkroom has been stripped out and replaced with half a dozen Kodak
scanners (unfortunately attached to Wintel boxes). The picture library is now on two massive optical juke-boxes

Digital cameras are certainly the future for the photo side, as a Mac and scanner has become standard kit, so too will the electronic camera, everyone who has seen it in action wants one. I think it will be a while before digital ‘surpasses’ film but for
newspaper use the quality is easily good enough already, the stumbling block at the moment for most photographers is the cost, in the region of £15,000 for the better ones. Most photographers using digital have had their equipment supplied by their employers, I only know of two freelances with them.

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