Category Archives: ramblings

Art is where you find it

As part of my new years resolution this year, I promised I would shoot something using whatever camera I had at hand and do so every day if possible. So in my typical fashion (I cant try a new recipe without changing it right away), I decided that I would shoot while commuting and I would use my SD500 point and shoot, my D300 and D70s with a 50mm lens. Now mind you, shooting through the side window and the windscreen is pretty limiting but you know, after a few weeks of this, I really started to see my daily drive in a very different light.

Art is truly where you find it and you can find it in some pretty unusual places while glued to a car seat. It will also force you to consider your post processing workflow where as the image might be “so-so” without any enhancements but with a crop job and some good post work, it’s a keeper image.

If you want to try this, all you need is a camera with a basic lens. Forget using the fancy zoom, you will be trying to do alot of this one handed without getting caught by the local troopers who think texting is the devils own work. Wait till they see you with a big ass DSLR hanging out the window by one hand. So the word of the day is “safety” and you can do this safely. I shoot at lights, I pull over sometimes, I balance the camera on the steering wheel and I use simple equipment. I also keep the ISO up to keep the shutter speed up a bit. I configure the camera to shoot whether or not it thinks the subject is in focus. I use a 1.4 50mm lens or my point and shoot. The 50 is just enough tele to be useful and the P/S has a wonderful wide angle without any troubles of trying to hold it while driving.

I’m posting a few of the before and afters and in a few weeks, I will have a complete PDF available for a download with about 10 of my best images from the past few months of commuting. But for now, enjoy the samples.

Also posted in editing, Hardware, photography, technique, training Tagged , , , |

Copyright and the photographer

One of the biggest areas of misinformation and confusion for photographers is the area of “copyright“. Things like who owns it, when you can own it, how to get it, how to keep it and much more are things that all professional photographers should at least have a working knowledge of to protect themselves and their clients.

The good news is there are alot of places to get good information that is accurate which is probably one of the most important aspects of this. Inaccurate information can end up costing you more than you think in lost images and money.

Not being even close to being a lawyer, I will refrain from “telling” anyone any copyright information for fear of getting it wrong and then it coming back to bite me. Suffice to say that I’m working hard this year at learning my own way around copyright. I am now in the process of copyrighting ALL of my images that I have taken in the past and I have incorporated copyright into my workflow as “things to do after the shoot”. With the ability to file copyright online for something like 40 dollars, there is no reason in the world not to do it. When I did my first filing, the only issue I had was to break my files into smaller uploads due to the time restriction for uploads. The website also a bit confusing (designed by policy wonks I’m sure) but you have gone through it once, it is not so bad.

One way I’m learning copyright right now is a free course on iTunes U from MIT.

MIT OCW: 6.912 Introduction to Copyright Law, January (IAP) 2006

Here is the official syllabus

Course Highlights
This course features video lectures and an extensive list of readings. A description of assignments is also available. This course is offered during the Independent Activities Period (IAP), which is a special 4-week term at MIT that runs from the first week of January until the end of the month.
Course Description
This course is an introduction to copyright law and American law in general. Topics covered include: structure of federal law; basics of legal research; legal citations; how to use LexisNexis®; the 1976 Copyright Act; copyright as applied to music, computers, broadcasting, and education; fair use; Napster®, Grokster®, and Peer-to-Peer file-sharing; Library Access to Music Project; The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act; DVDs and encryption; software licensing; the GNU® General Public License and free software.

Another free source is the copyright office themselves (our tax dollars at work) with their fairuse FAQ.

There is another good FAQ found at photolaw.net on copyright.

This is one of the best editorial primers on copyright I have been able to find.

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Also posted in Business Aids, commercial photography, copyright, photography, wedding photography, workflow Tagged , , , , |

Window Blind

Window

One of my new year resolutions is to shoot some pictures every single day with what ever camera I happen to have. In this case, I was in my office with my D300 and my 70-200mm F2.8 lens. I decided on shooting my window blinds and I had already worked out that it would be a B/W image. It’s a simple image but I like it.. many times simple is the best.

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Why have a professional portrait taken?

I was asked this question several times this holiday season from possible client who had the latest “big box” store flyer in their hands with the 19.99 portrait special with a “free” 8×10 and “free” 25 holiday cards. It’s a good question but not a one with a simple answer.

On the surface, it appears that the typical professional photographer does not have a chance in competing with the big box cheap price. But lets take a look under the “good deal” for a few enlightening thoughts.

When you go to a store like Wallmart or JC Pennys for a “portrait”, you will be there with other people, often more then a few other people all milling around waiting in a small and noisy area to wait your turn. The hired help is normally not a professional photographer but someone at minimum wage or close to it with just enough training to take your information and key it into the computer and then take your money. The photographer has to use the store’s equipment which will be set up per the store’s policy and procedure. No creativity allowed, no sir, we dont allow that here.

If you are trying to get portraits on a holiday, it is even worse than normal with the extra crowds there trying to get the same good deal you want. If the kids are having a bad day, so sad for you. They do not reschedule and they do not wait for the kids to wind down. When you get your print or prints, it has normally not be retouched. What you see is what you get.

Lets contrast this with a professional portrait session. These can be normally take one of two ways, either in the studio or on location which could be your house or somewhere agreed to like a park or favorite spot. In either case, you have the photographer’s undivided attention and you are not trying to battle your way to a cash register first. I did one Christmas shoot for a neighborhood where we used a local “man cave” (fancy garage) as my studio and I set up my portable studio in there. Everyone had to just walk a few yards to the “studio” and each client had a 30 minute window which in some cases allowed for changing of clothes or calming down the kids. It was a very relaxed environment for all concerned. At the end of the shoot, my clients received a CDR with 10 edited and touched up images suitable for 8×10 or smaller prints plus a set suitable for emailing. They could then place orders for their pictures through myself or their favorite printing house.

Custom photography like this is as much about the “experience” as it is the images taken. Unlike the box stores, you have a pleasant experience and you received your own copies of high rez images. The box stores gave you a print or two but additional prints are expensive and if your shoot has more than two or three people in it, many times they charge extra. Most times a CD is not available to purchase since they want to make their money off the prints you order along with keeping you in the store.

Professional portraits are not just studio shots, they can be “Lifestyle” images taken candidly during a set time at a favorite location. This image of a “cowgirl” was taken in front of her house playing in the street. The hat was a favorite of hers at the time and I was able to catch the fleeting smile of hers using a 200mm lens so I was not in her face while snapping them. Again, this is the type of image that you can not get at the box store for twenty dollars but everyone will sigh over when you show it off.

And it is not just Christmas, there are many times of the year to consider getting professional pictures taken. I went to a client’s home to take pictures of the kids done up in their Halloween costumes which they had put a fair amount of work into. Can you imagine trying to get three kids to the local box store in their costumes to the “studio”? Would the photographer there really know how to shoot a reflective white costume on a white background? Or shoot through a clear plastic face shield so you can see the child’s eyes?

And number two

Both of these were used as gifts to the grandparents “just because” and they were thrilled to have professional shots to show off to their friends and display in their home. And since the client bought a block of time, it was cheaper in the end with me than going to the box store at 20 dollars each for only two prints that may or may not have come out. The client had at least five delivered images of each boy that she could then use as she wanted and where she wanted.

I’m not much different many professional photographers. I care about my clients and I work with them to get the best possible images I can with them. I’m flexible and when kids are having a bad day, we work it out. This same client came back for Christmas portraits this year and it took three tries to get all the kids in a good mood. A picture can be something tossed and forgotten or it can be a heirloom to be treasured and looked at fondly for years.

It is not always the price tag that makes a portrait a “good deal”. Many times it is the intangibles that make up the picture that have a much bigger impact than just the price.

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Also posted in commercial photography, photography Tagged , , , , , , , |

iPhone can do it

Monorail Controls, originally uploaded by wybnormal.

I get really tired of being told that the only reason I can take “good” pictures is that I use expensive cameras. So every now and then, I intentional take a point and shoot or my cell phone camera to my favorite site to shoot, Disneyland. You can find ANY kind of shooting you want there, fast, slow, dark, bright, people, places and things.

In this case, I was in the front of the Monorail with the kids and just the iPhone. With a couple of simple tricks and honoring the limitations of the camera, I was able to get several very usable images of the kids, the Monorail and the castmember pilot.

More and more established photographers are doing the same thing using their iPhone as an extension of their creativeness. It’s not the hardware that makes a good picture, it’s the person using the hardware. A bad picture with a 5,000 camera is just as bad as one made with a disposable point and shoot. Maybe sharper and color balanced but still bad.

And I have to say that shooting with the iPhone and not the 10 lbs of D300 and F2.8 lens is very liberating in some ways. The iPhone has a fixed lens, no flash, no VR and no finesse.  What you see is what you get IF you are lucky and know how to work with the limits in place OR how to bend the limits. Turns out things like borrowing a friend in a white T shirt to reflect some light works just as well with the iPhone as it does with the DSLR. Holding a polarizing sunglass lens in the front of the iPhone lens can work pretty well also. So stretch out your skills and imagination and use a cheap camera and see just what you can do with it.

What ever you do, dont blame the equipment, it is rarely at fault.

Monorail Pilot, originally uploaded by wybnormal.

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Life is not just still life

I dug this out of the archives from a couple of years ago. I had an idea for doing a series of podcasts on travel photography and used Disneyland as my first podcast. I really hate the “kodak” shot which tend to be very boring images. So I took several of my favorite shots from the park, added video and a voiceover to give an idea of what can be done with very little effort on the photographers part and without annoying the rest of the family with the “wait here for a minute”. I never pursued the podcast any further but one of these days I might goof around some more with it. Video was alot more work than I thought it would be and between gigs, kids and life, I just dont have alot of time to good with it.

I used iMovie on my Mac to make this flicks and kept things simple. I used two different video cameras, a Sony Hi8 and a Sony MiniDV. Neither are state of the art even then but they were useable and still are but look pretty low quality compared to the new HD rigs.

So here is my first attempt at making a video podcast. I had alot of fun making it and learned alot in the process. There is some good information on shooting pictures at Disneyland so I hope you find something useful in also.

Its interesting to watch these now with the current technology like the RED being used to shoot a “video” of a wedding and then printing stills from the video because the quality is so high. Of course, the camera and support equipment will set you back 20 thousand dollars or more but in the near future, I think at least the high end weddings will be shot on video and then the stills will be taken from the video stream instead of having both a videographer and a still photographer present. I see the high end wedding being shot with two video cameras to get the angles and pull everything else from that. Might be sooner than I think with the newest DLSRs shooting HD video now abet in a primitive form.

Here is a second podcast I did on some basic photography equipment for the new shooter. Again, this is about 2 years old since it’s referencing my old Nikon D80. But the ideas are still valid and very useful for the new shooter. If you know much at all about photography and shooting with digital, you probably already know most of what I talk about. Enjoy!

Also posted in Hardware, photography, video Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Batteries and charades

We photographers love rechargeable batteries for our flashes, our cameras and all the other electronic widgets. The current favorite type of battery is called a Nickel Metal Hydride or NiMH for short. These cells have decent power ratings nowdays and can withstand some abuse like fast charging them instead of a slow charge. But they wont keep a charge well, they will self discharge due to internal resistance so after several weeks of storage, you may find the cells only have half their charge.

There are many manufacturers of NiMH cells and they come in all kinds of ratings, 2000mAh, 2300mAh and 2700mAh. They come in less but we are not interested at all in those for what we need them for. There are a couple of things that will make a very large difference in how well the cell works for you. One is the actual size of the cell. I have some Tenergy cells that work ok but do not quite measure up size wise. They are a bit short and a bit fat so they do not work in some tight battery compartments. Pretty damn frustrating at times. I used to buy Duracell 2350mAh cells but I found that they have a very high internal resistance and will self discharge the fastest to flat quicker than any other cell I have.. like in just a couple of weeks. They do not seem to hold up as well even fully charged in my SB800s.

My last favorite cell were the Energizer 2450mAh cells. They held a charge for a decent amount of time and they lasted pretty well under load. But my new favorites are the Eneloops from Sanyo. These are a “pre-charged” cell but most importantly, they hold the charge for something like a full year. And the prices are very close to the classic NiMH cells. And they fit everything I’ve tried them in. But you have to be very careful in buying “precharged” cells. There are only a couple of manufacturers of them and while the Sanyos are good, the cheaper imports from China are not nearly as good. You can not go by brand name either, I’ve seen both Japanese cells (Sanyo) and Chinese cells in the same brand packaging. One guide is to look at the top of the cell, the Sanyos are white, the others are black. A fellow blogger (stefanv.com) has done some really nice work on imperical testing of Sanyo’s Eneloops. You should drop by and read his article on it.

A good charger is a requirement to keep your cells healthy and not burned out at an early age. I use a 8 cell charger (Maha’s Ultimate Professional Charger) and a 4 cell LaCross unit (LaCrosse Technology BC-900) and both work very well. I like the LaCross better and really wish it had eight slots instead of the four. At the miminum you need a “smart” charger, not one of the those stupid wall wart fast chargers which will cook your battery in 15 minutes and kill off the battery. Both of the mentioned chargers have options for a “fast” one hour charge and a two house slow charge and trickle charge. Both also offer reconditioning of the batteries which can revive a marginal cell.

A favorite shop to buy my batteries and chargers from is called Thomas Distributing. They offer all kinds of batteries, chargers, battery packs and more.

And speaking of recharging batteries and charades, bad karma goes to Engerizer and the stupid bunny for shafting consumers on their NiMH D cell batteries. They charge a premium for the D cell but in reality, it’s a repackaged AA in a plastic form to make it look and fit like a D cell. The folks at Naturalnews.com did a autopsy on a D cell and sawed it open to prove the accusation. So if you need the bigger batteries, look at Powerex for your needs. Their AAs are also a highly regarded NiMH cell so you would not go wrong with either.

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Lightscribe and DVDs

One of the expectations when one shoots a wedding or any other event is that your product will look “professional”. What I mean is that you really can not hand out a DVD of a 3,500 dollar wedding with the title scrawled on it in sharpie ink. Well, you could  but I doubt you would get much word of mouth referrals.  We photographers are always are looking for a way to be professional in our presentation, or we should be as it is a simple thing that can really separate you from the rest.

So with this in mind, I picked up a Lightscribe DVD burner to play with some. For those that do not know what Lightscribe is, pay attention, it is a pretty cool idea. You take a DVD and make it burnable on both sides. But the label side is set to  be a high contrast burn so you can burn an image and text into the label side and  have it viewable. Cool idea huh?  Yeah, I thought so too. It’s still a cool idea but not nearly as much as so as in the beginning.

I got my drive from OWC, a Superwrite Master DVD external burner. It arrived and was unpacked and plugged into the Macbook Pro ASAP. Hey!! not so fast cowboy!!! I could not see the drive with the Lightscribe labeling software. Ahh, so says the instructions, NO FIREWIRE. You can only burn Lightscribe using USB. Ugh.. So unplug it and replug it with USB. Now I take my special Lightscribe DVD (oh yes, special media if you want the label) and stick it in the drive. Turns out the software is just a driver and the label software is something I already bought that supports the Lightscribe driver/disk. Here is another dirty secret, Lightscribe only supplies a driver to the OEMs so the OEM has to come up with the software. In the case of Lacie, it’s ALL special which means you can only get support from Lacie which Lightscribe admits to on their site.

So I get the DiskCover software set up and make a new label. I insert my DVD and tell it to burn the Lightscribe label. And I wait.. and wait and wait some more. It takes 20 minutes to burn a single disk’s label. Not exactly what I wanted for my work flow for anything more than a single off disk. Damn.. It makes a very cool label but god, it takes FOREVER to burn it. When you can burn the disk in 5 to 10 minutes and it takes 20 just for the label, making a coaster by mistake really hurts the time line.

I still use it but only for special cases. And I’m still shopping around for a place that can print decent silk screened DVDs without breaking the bank in very small runs. I’ve tried inkjet DVDs and while they work, I am hoping for something a bit more professional  than the inkjet. Still, it’s faster than Lightscribe and its in color. I just give them a quick coat of photo sealer to keep the ink from running and call it a day.

Also posted in osx, reviews, workflow Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Illuminate Me

One of the software packages I use to make albums is called LumaPix and it is very, very easy to use. The big problem with it is that I have run that dreaded operating system call “Windows” to use it. It’s a problem because I live in the light, I run several Macs around here and after switching a few years back from Windows, I’ve never looked back. So my savior in this trial is a software application called “VMware Fusion” which allows me to run Windows within a Window on my OSX Mac. I get the best of both worlds in a sense. I can boot Windows when I absolutely have to for something like this album software and I can still use OSX at the same time. I can easily share files from the same hard drive between both Windows and OSX and I can even VPN into a remote site from Windows while I do my normal business on OSX. Pretty cool all the way around. Thats not counting the fact that my recovery from Windows dying an untimely death from worms, viruses or the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) is measured in minutes since I have a copy of the image that Windows runs from. Actually, I have three copies since one is dedicated to Lumapix, one is dedicated to another specialized app and one is just a generic backup. Windows does run better when you do not have alot of “stuff” installed on it.

I dont understand the PC and Mac wars, I do understand the humor of Apple in their ads. I have to be on both sides of the fence more often than not. I have been a network engineer for over 20 years and and have worked with all kinds of operating systems, some still in use and some have been “retired”. My two favorites before OSX was OS2 Warp and Netware 3.x. Both would run forever with just a bare amount of care and feeding. OSX reminds alot of OS2 Warp which is one reason I really like it. And being based on BSD does not hurt either. 

In my mind operating systems are like any other tool. You use the one that is best for the job at hand or you can afford. The camera does not really care what the brand sticker says on it, they all take pictures and most will take a damn fine picture running in the “P for Professional” mode. Linux, OSX and Windows all work in the end and it really comes down to what you want it to do, how well you want it do it and expense. It’s the person running the keyboard that can really make or break the OS just like it’s the photographer who can make or break the picture no matter what camera is used. 

I like my Mac and I love Fusion but neither is perfect and I’ll never say that they are. But they meet my requirements perfectly so they are the best fit in my workflow and how I do business. And thats really the bottom line to any person looking to make a choice. How well does this tool fit in my world and will it do the job as good as I need it to do it. If you spend all your time fighting with the tool, then you might want to look at a different tool and save yourself some pain and suffering.

Also posted in Album Software, osx, windows Tagged , , , , , , |

Legalzoom and business

One of the maxims in business is that “time is money” and nowdays with margins shrinking, it becomes even more important to remember this clearly. There are many things I can do myself and I enjoy doing but dont any more because it will cost me too much time vs. the payoff of the few bucks saved. I could spend several hours putting in the new water heater or I can pay the plumber who can do it in two hours and with the correct parts the first time around while I spend the several hours shooting a wedding or event. Thats a rather large item but even with smaller items it can be worth spending a bit of cash to save much more time in the end.

One of the things virtually any business needs is a DBA (Doing Business As) so you can open a business account at the local bank and more. Its a basic building block but it can cost you alot of time to get to the city office to fill out the paperwork, submit it, call the paper to print the ad and so on. In my case, the goverment office is 20 minutes away not counting the parking or the waiting in line. The last DBA I filed there over six years ago took over 3 hours when it was all said and done. And that did not count the newspaper ads and such.

Enter services like Legalzoom.com. For just 150 dollars, I was able to get my new DBA request filled out, filed, added to and submited with proof to the correct newspaper with just a couple of calls and emails. Given my day rate, I just “made” over 300 dollars by paying them 150 vs. my driving to downtown and doing all this myself. Legalzoom also did my living will so my kids are covered as is my wife in case something goes terribly wrong at a wedding or even walking across the street. And it was very cheap compared to the typical lawyer. Are they perfect, no but they are very usable and have decent customer service. It is a very handy service for the small business like myself or even just Joe Q Public who does not want to be the one standing in line at City Hall for some random bureaucratic BS.  Of course the 100% satisfaction promise does not hurt either. I  have not had to test that aspect so you are on your own if you need to test it.

The next time you need some legal boiler plate like a DBA, you might want to do the math on time vs. earnings and you could be surprised.

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