Afterexposure Photography

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Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

Some Thoughts on Photography

Last week I visited my parents for my Dad’s birthday, and as usual mom had redecorated a little. Even though I grew up in that house, there is always something fresh and new there. (more…)

"Hey man, what’s in the bag?"

I’ve just created a page of resources for photographers. If we are talking over coffee, or at a Fast Track event and I mention some company, it’s probably listed here. (more…)

Virtual Reality

There is a tempest-in-a-teacup brewing in photography, and the new version of Photoshop, CS5, isn’t going to help much. The main gist of the debate is if over-processing an image with ‘actions’ in Photoshop violates some sort of acceptability for wedding photography, and if it’s being used as a substitute for ‘real photography’. The concern is that by over-processing images clients will be delivered something trendy, that won’t stand the test of time as a classic image should, and isn’t true to the photojournalistic style. There is a pretty good sub-plot brewing too, with a lot of name-calling and wasted energy, accusing some folks of selling things to new photographers instead of helping them actually take better pictures… but I don’t waste time on petty sub-plots, so lets stick to the main argument. Does using (or over-using) things like Photoshop make for tacky images? Is it for lazy photographers?

I call what I do ‘artistic photojournalism’. See that? How I slid the word ‘artistic’ in there? The truth is that most wedding photographers are in this ‘artistic’ group; the only thing the clients need to know is if they like the style or not. I’m not saying most wedding photographers over-process their images; I’m saying they create images that are true to their vision. If your photographer thinks it’s important for an image to have a certain look, and you like that look, then that’s about as far as the discussion should go.

But how well will shots with different levels of ‘trendy’ hold up over time? Decide for yourself; the internet can also be window backward in time.

I’m lucky – I can see into a past that my younger clients can’t. I was a kid in the 70’s, and I’ve seen a lot of bad wedding images since then. My wife was a bridesmaid when weddings were still shot with film and soft focus filters, and she loves that picture of herself and her friends; captured in their youth and all dressed up. What stands out to me more about the images are the trendy pink bow-ties and matching accessories the guys were wearing. And the freshly shampoo’d mullets. A bad hairstyle dates an image faster than any photographic technique! So if you want classic images, start with some classic ingredients, and avoid the trendy impulses. Or go with them; just be sure you’re doing your own thing.

So, back to photography. I don’t own Adobe Photoshop; but I do use Adobe Lightroom. For wedding photography I keep the processing to a minimum… but for general photography I like to explore the boundaries of what works and what doesn’t work a bit more. You should know that in the images below most of these processes make people pretty funky-colored. If you want your wedding to look like it was shot on cross-processed film from a plastic camera, no problem (no, really, no problem! I own a bunch and do shoot film occasionally!)  But less extreme processing than what I’m about to show works better for classic wedding images.

I use Adobe Lightroom presets, which are akin to simple actions in Photoshop, to quickly apply certain effects. Some effects are as subtle as bringing out a little more detail in the shadows; some convert images to black & white, some are completely extreme and mimic old film and camera combinations.

If you look back 20 or 30 years you’ll notice that photographers might have used optical filters to provide some of the same effects; when I was a photography student back in the mid-80’s I had a small set of Cokin filters. I didn’t use them all the time, but for helping balance a bright landscape they were pretty cool. They made the whole world look like Miami Vice (or, not so coincidentally, CSI: Miami), with tobacco colored clouds and the bluest of waters. Sadly, I didn’t have a soft focus filter, or might have met my wife a LOT sooner!

This scene below is a pretty typical Calgary evening from a few days ago. Sunset; afternoon cloud, and enough haze to obscure the mountains. The clouds weren’t really this pink, nor the grass as green, of course. That’s Lightroom.

 

 

But this is how I remember it. One of our first warm days, lots of people on the paths around my house, and light streaming down through the clouds, too bright to look at. The browns of winter are finally overtaken by the vigorous greens of spring. This is how this image should look.

And neither of these images below are really true to the trees that finally bloomed this week; the first is quite a bit more punchy, the second is softened a bit more than I like, but it’s a good opposite for the first image. It really illustrates that depending on the mood of the moment you might remember either of these images as being correct.

 

 

I also dug through a folder of images from a past trip to California, and noticed that without treatment in Lightroom the images wouldn’t even be close to my vision of what they should be. So while none of these shots is exactly what the camera saw, it’s what I saw.

Kinda important.

 

Shooting for fun

I had an idea while I was in Vancouver to shoot an entire book in a day. Not the 4 pound ‘War and Peace’ books that Taschen puts together (although I admit to owning more than a couple of them), but a little 40-50 page something-or-other.

But here is the pinch: It would be designed, shot, and published in a day.

 

As it turned out last Sunday wasn’t the day. But the challenge still stands.

Here is my game plan:

7:00am Go for a big breakfast. The energy output of the day will be epic.

8:00am Go for a coffee, or three. This is where the pre-design part happens. I use these notebooks and am really happy with how tough they are; one has been commuting with me for months and it looks practically new, even though it’s just paper. I picked up this four pack on the weekend, and will be giving them a try starting tomorrow.

9:00am Start shooting for the pre-designed shots. Note that the timing might need shifting if you need early / late light.

Noon-ish Finish shooting; first edit, and a bite to eat. If I had an iPad I’d probably shoot jpeg and use the camera kit to upload and edit while I was still in the field, so I could shoot more if I liked how something was going.

2:00pm Final edit; pull all the shots into Lightroom and use the new custom layouts to throw the pages together. Print as big 2 page jpeg spreads for uploading to your favourite photobook printer.

4:00pm Finished edit; start getting the album pages sorted out.

6:00pm Upload the pages as draft and go for dinner. Possibly print a proofbook.

8:00pm Finish any second guessing of the prior work and release the draft uploads to the printer.

I’m picturing this as a square format book, maybe a small softcover. If it rocks then reprint it as a large hardcover. I’ll keep you posted!

Fastest. Shoot. Evar.

I knew that we had worked quickly on the previous shoot (with Lexus Lee); but I didn’t realize how quickly. Here is the shot breakdown:

Setup #1: 2 minutes, 38 seconds. 48 proof images

Setup #2:3 minutes, 37 seconds, 65 proof images

Setup #3: 49 seconds, 15 proof images.

Shooting time: 7 minutes, 4 seconds; 130 images (two were in the car)

Total shoot time: 20 minutes from first shot to last shot; about 40 minutes total, as we drove around a bit at the end to get a better feeling for the location and what it offered.

Wow! Maybe I should plan all my shoots for bad weather…

So how cold is that stone on your butt, anyway?

Creativity and Challenge

I finished reading the photo.net series ‘Becoming a More Creative Photographer‘ last weekend, and today by happenstance I had a few minutes to shoot on the way home.

But what to shoot?

Lucky me, I had printed the entire series of articles, and left them in my camera bag. All I needed to was pick out an assignment from the articles and shoot.

Just for fun I had mounted a Soligor 135mm f/2.8 on my K20D as another ‘one lens for the day’ exercise before I left the house this morning. I hadn’t really done much with this lens since buying it a few weeks back in Toronto, and with winter light being rare as it is, I really had to shoot something today… I could feel myself getting rusty, not really shooting for a couple of days.

I was quite surprised by the results of the assignment and the lens itself (click for larger images):

Trapped

Pentax K20D, Soligor 135mm @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/1500

Pentax K20D, Soligor 135mm @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/750

Pentax K20D, Soligor 135mm @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/750

These aren’t going to win any competitions, but a few things stand out.

For starters, I do get a sense of the ‘3D effect’ that some people talk about with certain lenses from the first image. I had always written the effect off as just shallow DOF, but I think there is more to it… perhaps ‘correct DOF’ would be a better description, where most of the subject is in acceptable focus, and the not-subject areas are out of focus.

The other thing that strikes me about the first image is the richness of color. I don’t always get this from my Pentax 50-135mm lens, and combined with some users noting that Pentax lens coatings actually block some colors (like violet) perhaps there is something going on.

The other thing that’s somewhat interesting is the octagonal blade pattern that shows up in the out of focus highlights of the second image. I did play around with the greyscale mix in Lightroom a bit to make the individual highlights more even across their surfaces, but without the tweak I find the shape alone pleasing.

Now, the act of using ‘assignments’ like this might seem limiting or unnecessary; but I do shoot a lot, and most of the time it’s what I want to be shooting… in other words, it’s selfish. Applying a little external stimulus to the creative process can really show you where your comfort zone and limits are. As soon as you feel challenged or uncomfortable – or even more interesting – at a LOSS for a shot… that’s telling you something.

For me it’s interesting to see which of the assignments are a breeze, and which are a genuine challenge – and thus where I should be putting in more practice. Yes, I think that creativity is something that benefits from practice, especially when a lot of artificial equipment enters the equation, as it does in photography.

Oh, the lens? I bought it one weekend from an outdoor table at the St. Lawrence flea/antique market.

It was $5.

From the hip…

I’ve been shooting a lot with the Best Camera iPhone app lately, and I’ve learned to shoot what I see (rather than what I’d like to see), and to trust my instincts as to what to shoot.

What’s weird is applying this technique to shooting with a ‘real’ camera, and getting wildly different results than I’m used to; and framing shots in ways that I’d never had thought of as ‘proper’ before.

It feels good.

Granville Island, Vancouver

Granville Island, Vancouver

51 seconds to a visual vocabulary

The last week was interesting, productive, and frustrating, all at the same time.

I was in Toronto for SecTor, a conference that’s somewhere between Blackhat, DefCon, and something more mainstream like RSA, after which I was in Vancouver for a few days of R&R, shopping, and of course, some shooting.

Actually, I had planned on doing a lot more shooting than I did. My preparations were a bit rushed, and I wasn’t really able to put together a shot list for the trip. It seems that writing, at least beyond the style of this blog, and my more to-the-point stuff I do at work (usually email) isn’t my strong suit.  Ah well; both are beautiful cities and offer a lot photographically, so I wasn’t too worried.

I sat down today to go through some of the digital images and found this single image jumping out of the stack at me:

Vancouver

Vancouver at sunset, from the hotel. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/20 sec

The shot took a bit to develop; I’ve boosted the Vibrance in Lightroom to bring out the blue in the sky, as well as some light noise reduction with Wavelet Denoise … and to get the buildings to look straight(er) I did a keystone distortion adjustment in the GIMP as well.

After I was done editing the image a few things struck me.

First, I’ve always wanted to do this shot of Calgary, because I often see the city at dawn/dusk; although given the local topography it’s never quite this dramatic (downtown Calgary sits quite low compared to its surroundings).

Second, this is similar to a dawn shot I wanted of Toronto, but couldn’t get an early enough ferry.

And it reminded me of another of the shots I was planning on doing in Toronto, but didn’t due to poor weather;  one of those night cityscapes of the flow of traffic, like this one. The CN Tower would make the perfect vantage point!

My original plan was to add shot list notes into my iphone calendar so I could be at the right place at the right time for the shots I wanted. But I couldn’t describe the scenes. I had no way to say what I saw in my mind. I couldn’t say “high vantage point, city view, long exposure, with light trails”. I don’t know why. I can say those things when I see an image, but I couldn’t seem to turn an imagined image into words in the pre-trip rush.

So as the sun set I saw these images that were familiar to me; the fading sky reflected in skyscrapers that are often used in travel magazines, and I clicked away; here is a three image panorama that took a bit of work to stitch together… for some reason autostitch thought it should be a pyramid…

Tower

Tower. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/15 sec, 3 images

I had pictured images like this in my mind before the trip, but for some reason couldn’t write them down. What the heck is so hard about “skyscraper reflecting sunset” ?

The last image wasn’t one I had ever planned, and the color treatment, using the Split Toning tool to amp up the blue in the shadows, well it’s quite heavy-handed… but what the heck. One thing that shooting with the iPhone app “The Best Camera” has taught me is that vivid color and simple composition are often the best to communicate an image.

Sunset

Sunset. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/180 sec

But what is that? I’ve taken shots like this before; but never described them simply. Is this “Silhouette against twighlight” ? Or “Geometric man against fluid nature” ? Bah!

Either works, but I guess I need to start reading something other than technical standards and linux howto’s if I’m going to be able to better put what I imagine into words. Without words to help me I’m not going to communicate or remember to get all the shots I want!

Incidentally, all 5 of the images here (the first one, the 3 that make up the tall pano of the skyscraper, and this last one) were shot within 51 seconds of each other.

One image, two shots

A while back I posted about this digital shot I used to check exposure for a similar shot on the Diana F+ :

Parkerhouse, Digital

Parkerhouse, Digital (click for full sized image)

I got some time on Sunday night to develop the Lomography ISO 100 film after some leg work to figure out the correct time for my developer… it’s ‘Shanghai’, so for Xtol the Massive Dev Chart shows a 1+3 dilution and a 16 minute (!) soak. Here is the result, a little tweaked to match the slightly darker tone of the digital image, but uncropped:

Parkerhouse, 120 Film

Parkerhouse, 120 Film

Diana F+ Cheat Cards

I’ve never been really satisfied with the icons on the bottom of the Diana lens that change the aperture, and wanted more ‘exact’ information on what was going on.  After some searching, some fiddling, and some trial and error, here is a cheat card you can print and fold in half to hang from your Diana strap:

Diana Cheat Card

Click for full size!

For different editable versions, click here for the source doc in OpenOffice format.

This chart is a kind of nomograph; you select your film speed on the left, follow the line through the current weather/lighting condition in the middle, and you’ll find out which aperture to set the Diana to on the right. I didn’t put the little icons from the Diana on this chart on purpose as they are bit misleading. Just remember that f/22 is the smallest aperture, and is the little sun icon; f/11 is the biggest aperture, and is the cloud icon.

On the right side is a 35mm turn advance guide. I have my Diana’s winder knob marked off in ‘hours’, or 12 spaced tick marks, so this is the number of ‘hours’ per frame that you should turn the knob. So a ’12’ means one full turn. The X at the start is to load some film before shooting the first frame, and the bold ’10’ is where a roll of 24 exp might run out… same deal with the last ‘!’… you may or may not get this frame, depending on how accurately you’ve been winding.

So where did all this goodness come from? Not me! I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, here folks. Here is where I pulled the information from:

With very little digging I found a chart at Indian Hill imageworks that gives a great summary of exposure times.

But it was a little ‘big’. I tried printing it small, and hacking off the bits I don’t use, but still wasn’t happy.

I wasn’t really sure about the EV descriptions, either. So another 2 seconds of Google and Wikipedia had this to say about Exposure Values.

So now I could use more meaningful descriptions (at least to me), and I could use only the ISO values that I was shooting at to create my own chart.

I also wanted to put something on the back of the chart. Since I sometimes shoot with 35mm film loaded, why not a film advance guide that gives the number of turns per frame? With 35mm loaded there little red window is taped over, so you do have to guess a bit.

I started with this chart over at Photon Detector… but again… wanted something smaller. I also confirmed the number of turns by both putting film in the camera with the back off and counting as I advanced, and of course by shooting some film and checking the results. Depending on what you are using as a take-up spool, and if you use any masks, you might want to change these numbers.

Now, time to get out there and do some shooting!

The Best Camera ?

If you are an iPhone user, and a photographer, you probably have already heard of an idea / application / book / website from Chase Jarvis called “The Best Camera“.

Overall the concept seems to borrow heavily from the Lomographic Society and their branding; lots of lomo-style images to get you fired up; lots of filters to create lomo-style images; and lots of ways to share them, right from the phone. To be fair the style isn’t owned by Lomo, and Chase Jarvis did some work in this style that was (as I understand it) well known and liked before the amateur craze started.

It’s got warts and growing pains, but the ability to change the order the effects filters are applied in, learn from others and how they used the filters, and get some inspiration from the constantly changing live feed on the app on the website… it makes the iPhone camera worthwhile – even my crappy 3G camera.

It’s more fiddly, with more options, so it takes longer to get a ‘finished’ shot than with Polarize, but the effects can be similar. It can also use an image from the camera roll, so you can always mix and match.

It’s not perfect (yet)… there are a few missing features from the camera app and the website…

  • The camera app doesn’t have ALL the possible controls, but the selection is good.
  • The filters that you apply don’t have individual adjustments of their effects.
  • The shutter button is small, but at least it takes the shot when you release it, not when you press it.
  • When you share an image via twitter, there is no option to add a title or description to the tweet.

The web site needs a way to find images by a specific user, I think. That might make it too flickr-like, but unless you save the images to your phone or email them to yourself (and don’t delete the emails, like I did…), you’ll lose the images forever!

But overall it’s pretty cool, and worth the $3 for it in the App Store.

An image processed with the Best Camera app. Click to see the filters applied.

Biz Plan, Part 2

Finally, time to look at the business plan again. My timing for these posts is a bit off, but that’s more to do with trying to pace my progress here in an inverse way with what’s going on at work. A few months ago all indications were that we would wrap our projects up and be gone by now. Today, it’s more likely we’ll at least get to complete the projects, which satisfies my techno-geek self. Will I still be there in the new year? That’s still not clear, so while I have time I need to complete a bit more groundwork here.

Homework Check:

Last time I left you with some jobs to do:

– Find out what others in your area charge for what you want to be doing. Here the range is $2k – $6k per event

– Gather costs – for yourself and your business. It will help set a realistic monthly budget for both, and you can estimate a good monthly salary.

The Math:

Really, it can be as simple as Income – Costs = Profit

I think a lot of folks screw this step up and make it more complicated (and unrealistic) than it needs to be. For example, you could make some assumptions about a new business, like Profit = Zero, and the math gets much simpler:

Income = Costs

If you compare the results of the homework, it should be obvious that your monthly costs are going to need to be balanced by your income. I don’t know why, but this is a surprise to some people, and they make a bunch of arm-waving noises about how this doesn’t apply to their situation, or some sort of magic should happen in six months, or they plan to land some big deal in Year 2….  … yeah, whatever. Ain’t happening. Not in a solid plan, anyway.

Specific to photography I see lots of ways to spend money; gear is the obvious choice, but so are conventions, printing marketing materials (business cards, photobook samples, glossies…), auto expenses…. and accountants and lawyers to help you with the leftovers… remember to jot those down too.

Now, one thing should stand out, at least it does for me … all of the things that hobbyists wince and whine about, like the cost of good equipment, are much less than the #1 line item of cost in the plan: your own needs! Your cost of living is going to vary, but if we pick a round number as an average, I bet $5000 a month is about right. I could go to $10K, and use more rough ‘order of magnitude’ estimation (a true life skill … taught to me in university, in astronomy class, of all places!). But $5k splits the difference between $1k and $10k, and it’ll make the math easier later on.

Let’s add up some costs.

Salary (or repayment of shareholders loan, or dividend, or whatever your accountant wants you to call it): $60K

Gear: New body, new glass, new computers, software, monitors, printers, that wireless thingy…. oh, allright… $15k. No? Ok, $20K. Believe me, it won’t matter, it’s rounding error.

Taxes, fees, insurance, various and assorted bloodsuckers: $10k

Conventions, Marketing, and ahem ‘fun’ stuff: $5k (it’s year one, so suck it up!)

Where are we? About $100k. Now, slap 50% on that, because one day you’ll want (or need) to retire. See, I told you that $1500 lens would start looking like rounding error!

Are we done yet? Well, not quite. We don’t have the actual shoot costs yet; the ‘cost of good sold’. Assistants, consumables, travel, food, disk space, print / production items that are bundled into the package prices…

Package Prices? Say what?

Ah… and there is where all these costs go – into quotes based on uplifts to the package price. So you can develop a package price, but it’s going to be a ‘no frills’ package, in fact you may never tell anyone what it is, because really, it’s the base cost of a shoot that you MUST cover, or go broke.

For example, if you know that you are going to have 50 ‘Event Cards’ for guests to take home, so they can find images that they can buy prints of online, or even buy the photobook of the event from… there is a fixed line item of cost. But if you don’t shoot events, maybe just a hundred cards a year is ok.

How does the math work then?

For something like $160k of annual fixed costs (notice how that number keeps creeping up?), spread over 10 months (because you won’t be working for two of those months… remember Wayne Cotton, and his Success Calendars!)… you have simply $160k / 10 months = $16k per month, as a base cost.

Since months are handily divided into four weeks (of about 4 days), you are looking at about $4k per week, and about $1000 per day. If you really wanted to, you could estimate this as $100/hr (including travel) as a minimum.

But that’s a bit eager, don’t you think? How about if we only shot 50% of the time? After all, you won’t be 100% booked (and shouldn’t be…. that’s another post…!). That would DOUBLE your shoot costs. So really, $4k per event might cover a small wedding. But a bigger event, with a 2nd shooter, some ‘included’ things … that could easily be an $8k shoot. And how does that stack up with Homework item #1… what others are charging? For me, it’s right in the ballpark. I love it when a plan comes together!

And when you realize that your costs are covered you won’t be thinking about paying bills or eating cat food.

You’ll be mentally free to take really rockin’ images. After all, that’s why you got hired, right?

So, are we ready to go get our Amex business card and buy everyone a celebration dinner and write it off?

Errr… no.

This isn’t a business plan… at least not yet.

Homework

This one is much easier; given you know what you could charge, and how much you cost, lay out the next 24 months. For each month draw your salary, but be realistic on income. I’ve done this step, and it’s frightening. If you don’t have a war-chest now, my advice is don’t start until you do.

As a template, I did this for my projection:

Month 1 (January 2010): Zero income

Month 2 (February 2010): One event

Month 3 (March 2010): One event

and so on. I ramped up my income from zero to ‘normal’ over the entire 24 months, and even in the 24th month I didn’t assume to be 100% booked, because of the cyclical nature of wedding date selection.

And 24  months @ $16k/month cost …. Yikes! Yowza! That’s $384k!!! And I haven’t booked a single wedding yet! No wonder so many small businesses fail!

Well, without some spit and polish it’s still not quite a business plan, but it is an eye-opener!

Just for fun: Cross-Processing

First off, this isn’t about cross-dressing, like the killer in ‘Dressed to Kill’. (Great movie. Lots of little plot details. Even a bit of a photography angle, in the form of character Peter Miller, who hides a camera to catch a killer.)

Nope, this is cross-processing; the intentional developing of one type of film in chemistry intended for another. You’ve seen the look; like Kodachrome, but more vivid, darker blacks, and blown highlights, and often incorrect or unnatural colors.

Cross-processed Fuji Sensia 100

Cross-processed Fuji Sensia 100

When I got the Diana F+ one thing that drew me to it were the samples; unreal colors and flaws that are really difficult to produce by editing digital, if only because of their apparent randomness.

My first couple of rolls were some Lomo 120, ISO 100. Not bad for outdoor use in bright light. But black and white; and I developed myself – the first time in 25 years, so a little lacking in deep blacks. But that’s another post.

My third roll, and one I was dying to shoot, was some Fuji Sensia ISO 100, a slide film. I had purchased it intending to use in the Kodak Stereo Camera on a mountain hike, but the hike evaporated, and there sat the Diana, just begging for some color film.

The first surprise is how hard it was to get it processed here in Calgary. Within 15 minutes of me are probably a half-dozen drug-store processing machines, all C-41 (print chemistry). What I had was slide film, or E-6 chemistry. I did a little leg work and found that neither WalMart or London Drugs would take it, first citing fears that I wouldn’t like the results, and second that it might somehow gum up their machines. I did a little reading after that, and found that the only film that’s likely to do that is Kodachrome – no longer available. (There are others, but likely to be in unmarked/self-loading 35mm cans).

In that search I found a local lab that would process it ‘wrong’ for me, but I’m going to have to keep it a secret; I don’t want a sudden influx of hobbyists flooding the lab because they don’t make much (if any) money from it. If you have a roll, live in northwest Calgary, just do some leg work (and a Google search). You’ll find it.

The next surprise was that the slide film came back as a negative… I hadn’t thought about it; all the shots that I’d seen online, even those with sprocket holes, seemed to be clear slide film. A thread over on APUG showed me the light; the chemistry dictates if the results are positive (slides) or negatives (for prints).

But it wasn’t an ordinary negative; the actual film substrate turned green. Yikes! Again, the APUG threads indicated this is normal-ish… for certain films, notably a few of the Fuji’s, like my Sensia. Ah well…

My next challenge was to scan it and see if I could invert it digitally. I was hoping to avoid any digital manipulation at all – and go totally lo-fi, but what the heck; I had an HP film/photo scanner, so let’s see what we have…

Step 1: Scan as Slide

The scanner did some pretty funky things to the scans if I told it to ‘scan as negative’, so I lied to it and said it was a slide. Also, for this sample strip I did NOT use the film loader; it hides the sprocket holes! I put the slide into a print carrier, which is just a bit of clear plastic with a white paper backing that is only sealed on one edge. Great for feed loading delicate items, like this. But the big reason why I like this way: I get sprocket holes.

What the film looked like from the lab. Ugh! (click for bigger version)

The scanner saves this as a TIFF file; which is perfect for more manipulation…

Step 2: Color Inversion

This is really straightforward: I loaded the image into the GIMP (think ghetto Photoshop) and selected ‘Invert’ from the Colors menu. That’s it.

Ooohh! Thats looking better...

Ooohh! That's looking better... (click for bigger version)

I saved this step as another TIFF file also, so I could come back to it if needed. These files aren’t high resolution, so the files are really small, about 2.4 MB.

Step 3: The Tweaks!

This is where things get personal. I used the curves editor to drop the red a few notches, and bump up the blue and green. In the curve grid I simply drag the point from the right hand corner; straight down for red, and straight left for green and blue. Play around until you get it ‘right’. It’s possible to actually get colors that are really normal – but where is the fun in that?

The result: Lomographic goodness.

The result: Lomographic goodness. (click for bigger version)

That’s really all there is to it. You’ll notice that I didn’t get the film advance right, and one frame is damaged. Meh. That’s part of the process. If you don’t want overlapping frames then take the time to load and count turns; I used about 1.25 turns at the start of the roll which was waaaay to few; and 2 turns in the middle  – waaaay too many; and about 1 turn at the end… which was about right. That sounds like a whole ‘nother post, so I’ll leave it at that.

My flickr page has a few more samples, sans sprockets. Comparing the two: Sprockets Rule!

Another one bites the dust…

I just tried to have a roll of color slide film shot with my Diana F+ cross-processed at the local Royal Oak Wal-Mart in Calgary last night.

No Dice.

The kids looking after the photo counter were afraid of ‘ruining’ my film. That has to be one of the funniest things ever, since the chemistry of cross-processing has just that effect.

Ahhh…. kids.

So I thought I’d wait until later today, and see if I could get one of the nice day-shift techs at the London Drugs next door to take a stab at it. They were excellent with the oddball film from the Kodak Stereo camera, so this should be a breeze for them.

Update:

No dice at the Royal Oak London Drugs, either. They’d never heard of cross-processing, and thought it might damage their machine (ie, contaminating it’s chemistry). They thought they might be able to do it if they sent it into their custom lab, but I doubt that the lab would understand, either, and would either process it as slide (wrong) or cut it (wrong), or god knows what else.

Next stop… Vistek. The only camera store in Calgary that has ever been rude to me.

I’m sooo looking forward to this.

Not.

Update #2:

I now have a super-secret location for cross-processing.  I don’t know how long the good times will roll, but I’ll roll with them…

Photo hosting; a quick comparision

This post started an excuse to try using my flickr.com account with WordPress, but I think a quick comparison of the hosting services I use might be fun.

Flickr

This was my first photo hosting service, but their terms of service are kinda whacked; like having to post a link back to flickr with each image, like this:

Random Flower

Blech! I much prefer using the static flickr url so I can get the WordPress border and title; and the photo still links back to flickr, so I don’t think it’s a TOS violation.

Ever see fog outside when you wake up? Grab your camera and get out there!

Ever see fog outside when you wake up? Grab your camera and get out there!

Zenfolio

Normally I use zenfolio; unlimited storage and very few other limits it’s my first choice. Because it’s a paid service there are no distracting advertisements and it’s really slick looking.  If you like how it looks use my referral code ‘X1V-31U-ZJR’ and get another $5.00 off the already super duper cheap annual fee.

Weird building in SF; click to see it under construction in Google Maps.

Weird building in SF; click to see it under construction in Google Maps.

Photobucket

I have a photobucket account that I never update, and just recently re-discovered. It looks really … plain. Ah well. I think I was going to use it as a dumping ground for family and friends type shots that I didn’t want on the same hosting service as my portfolio work. There are still a couple of shots that are worthwhile, let’s give them a whirl:

Details, details...

Details, details...

Whoa! That’s toooooo wide! That about wraps it up for photobucket… with no image resize options for blog posts, it’s out!

Picasa

And apparently a lot of my older blog posts from blogger.com used my account on Googles Picasa. Let’s see if mine still works:

Cold beer in a North Beach bar.

Cold beer in a North Beach bar.

Conclusions

Zenfolio just rocks. I have an unlimited account with them and am tickled pink that for once, I got what I paid for. Great stuff.

flickr seems to be the #1 image sharing site, and they have addressed some image-use rights questions over the years, which is good, but their requirement to provide back-links from static image URL’s is really inconvenient for some web uses. It seems ok for WordPress for now.

Picasa is owned by Google, and despite the fact that it works, I have growing fears of Google and their ‘Do no evil’ mantra that seems more and more tarnished lately. I’m not sure I want to trust them with my images.

Photobucket is just plain fugly. Hard to navigate. No image resizing. No thanks!

Visualize it. Dare ya!

I mentioned yesterday that if you visualize something, it will happen.

Today I’m the proud owner of a darkroom.

Yup, just like that …. *poof* and it appeared.

Well, actually I was Googling around for a developing tank, and found a classified on kijiji … a guy about a mile away from me was selling a complete darkroom setup. A phone call later and I was on my way.

It was like this weird light surrounded me and a voice said “This one’s for you!”.

I like when that happens. I should visualize more. Like an actual room to set this up in, for a start…

And the homework from yesterday? Due Monday. I have a darkroom to build.

Getting ready to write your business plan…

Ok, quick recap: There are only three steps in my world domination startup plan to transition to full-time photographer:

  1. Preparing the Business Plan
  2. Preparing for Business
  3. Marketing the Business

The first step, the Business Plan, might be the most overlooked from what I’ve read online. All the administrivia of starting a business is in step 2, so it’s just plain boring (I know – I’ve already written the draft for it, and it needs serious help). Number 3 is a cakewalk, because apparently everyone is selling marketing and appears to be an expert in it. Besides, it’s fun and exciting, and you get to ‘write off’ all that cool stuff… right? (Answer: No, not so fast….)

This business plan is going to drive the thinking and the documents (think: contracts, usage rights, etc) in step 2,  so it’s important to know what your focus is going to be. Just knowing that you want to be a photographer isn’t enough. You need to know what kind of work you enjoy – or you risk being driven away from the very thing that got you started. Ultimately the business plan should show that what you are going to do has a good chance of succeeding, before going too much further in the other steps.

Example: Photography

I’ve been investigating different styles of photography, experimenting with each, to know which I’d enjoy doing, and what kinds of demands each would place on me in terms of time, investment, and effort for return. Your likes, market and decisions are going to be different than mine.

For example, I do free shoots with models on ModelMayhem.com. Fun, yes; but a full time paying gig? No; by definition, these ‘TFP’ (Time for Prints) are exchanges of time between participants. Without additional investment and a niche style to offer it’s not likely to turn into a revenue stream in the market where I live. Portrait and beauty photography is at best a component of the business, but in a limited fashion market I don’t see doing occasional runway and designers seasonal catalogs as full time work.

Food is totally different; I’ve even purchased special serving dishes that are modern and non-distracting. If I could make a decent living shooting nothing but olives and toast, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But the reality is that a few hundred dollars for an afternoon shooting plates as they come off the line of a local restaurant doesn’t happen frequently enough to be a sole source of income. Again, something I could do, but not something that is going to be 80% of the business.

Nature photography is something else I like, mainly because I get to hike in the mountains to do it. But the kinds of shots that sell are those requiring a significant investment of time and effort, and I consider a form of art photography, there may not be a client commissioning the work – so the return on the investment may not happen for some time.

Weddings and portraiture are a common bread and butter operation, but would I enjoy them? A local model connected me to a couple she knew that needed a free wedding shoot; they had blown their budget and hadn’t considered hiring anyone for their wedding photos. I’ve heard all the cautions about not shooting your first wedding solo, but after discussing this with the couple and showing them my portfolio of non-wedding shots, we decided to go for it. They agreed with me that it would be nothing if not fun, because the alternative would be to rely on the snapshots of family and friends only. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could in the month I had before the ceremony, and it looked like I wasn’t going to enjoy it at all…

But guess what? I did enjoy it! The shooting was fun and relaxed, as was the whole day. Now when I read of photographers that don’t enjoy weddings I wonder why…  Bridezillas? Challenging shooting locations? Tough schedules? Isn’t that part of the challenge? Anyway, I knew I could safely add wedding photography to my interests; I may or may not shoot them solo again (with a second shooter, or as a second shooter would be nice…) but it’s something I know I can do, and I know how much of a time commitment it is, too.

So I know what I can and can’t shoot and still keep my sanity; but could I still pay the bills?

Homework:

Find out what others in your area charge for what you want to be doing. But don’t just price shop; seriously consider what you like and dislike about their style, their price structure, and where you think they sit in the market. Simply emulating someone who low-balls price because their spouse supports their ‘business’ with a full time office job salary is a formula for disaster!

I did this and found that the range is pretty broad; and I’m not talking about the $500 craigslist shooters, either. The low end is around $2000; and there are a few whose non-upgraded rates are double that; so assume triple once a few options are chosen.

Costs are another thing to gather… if you don’t know what you need to live on per month, then it’s time for a monthly budget. Because I’m already self-employed I’m careful to not overspend; getting to the end of the year and finding out that you still owe the taxman $15k is no fun at all.

Tomorrow:

We do the math!

Ready for a business plan?

Ok, quick recap: There are only three steps in my world domination startup plan to transition to full-time photographer:

  1. Preparing the Business Plan
  2. Preparing for Business
  3. Marketing the Business

The first step, the Business Plan, might be the most overlooked from what I’ve read online. All the administrivia of starting a business is in step #2, so it’s just plain boring (I know – I’ve already written the draft for it, and it needs serious help). #3 is a cakewalk, because apparently everyone is selling marketing and appears to be an expert in it. Besides, it’s fun and exciting, and you get to ‘write off’ all that cool stuff… right? (Answer: Not, not so fast….)

This business plan is going to drive the thinking and the documents (think: contracts, usage rights, etc) in the next step,  so it’s important to know what your focus is going to be. Ultimately the business plan should show that what you are going to do has a good chance of succeeding, before going too much further in the other steps.

Example: My Focus

I’ve been investigating different styles of photography, experimenting with each, to know which I’d enjoy doing, and what kinds of demands each would place on me in terms of time, investment, and effort for return. Your likes, market and decisions are going to be different than mine.

For example, I started doing free shoots with models on ModelMayhem.com. Fun, yes; but a full time paying gig? No; by definition, these ‘TFP’ (Time for Prints) are exchanges of time between participants. Without additional investment and a niche style to offer it’s not likely to turn into a revenue stream in the market where I live. Portrait and beauty photography is at best a component of the business, but in a limited fashion market I don’t see doing occasional runway and designers seasonal catalogs as full time work.

Food is totally different; I’ve even purchased special serving dishes that are modern and non-distracting. If I could make a decent living shooting nothing but olives and toast, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But the reality is that a few hundred dollars for an afternoon shooting plates as they come off the line of a local restaurant doesn’t happen frequently enough to be a sole source of income. Again, something I could do, but not something that is going to be 80% of the business.

Nature photography is something else I like, mainly because I get to hike in the mountains to do it. But the kinds of shots that sell are those requiring a significant investment of time and effort, and I consider a form of art photography, there may not be a client commissioning the work – so the return on the investment may not happen for some time.

Weddings and portraiture are a common bread and butter operation, but would I enjoy them? A local model connected me to a couple she knew that needed a free wedding shoot; they had blown their budget and hadn’t considered hiring anyone for their wedding photos. I’ve heard all the cautions about not shooting your first wedding solo, but after discussing this with the couple and showing them my portfolio of non-wedding shots, we decided to go for it. They agreed with me that it would be nothing if not fun, because the alternative would be to rely on the snapshots of family and friends only. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could in the month I had before the ceremony, and it looked like I wasn’t going to enjoy it at all…

But guess what? I did enjoy it! The shooting was fun and relaxed, as was the whole day. Now when I read of photographers that don’t enjoy weddings I wonder why…  Bridezillas? Challenging shooting locations? Tough schedules? Isn’t that part of the challenge? Anyway, I knew I could safely add wedding photography to my interests; I may or may not shoot them solo again (with a second shooter, or as a second shooter would be nice…) but it’s something I know I can do, and I know how much of a time commitment it is, too.

So I know what I can and can’t shoot and still keep my sanity; but could I still pay the bills?

Time for the math… tomorrow!

The Business Plan

There are two parts to the business plan itself; a written description, and the math that backs it up. I generally work my plans in reverse, starting with my financial outcomes and working backwards through the math, the assumptions, and the constraints until I get a handle on what would have to happen to meet my objectives.

My basic assumption in preparing the plan was that it would take two years to go from zero to a stable goal state. I define this ‘stable state’ to be when business has grown such that revenue is equal to costs. If I exceed the stable state in real life, great, but if the math proves that the stable state is a challenge before I even start, then I know I have to tweak the variables first (or abandon the plan for now…!)

Starting with some round numbers, I listed all my costs… including my salary. I know what my personal minimum monthly budget is,  so that was easy. I included gear, technology, and categories for auto and studio expenses. Once I saw the bottom line the studio was the first to go; while running a studio is possible, shooting events like weddings and leaving a studio empty is financially unattractive. Yes, I could hire someone to ‘mind the store’, and even hire studio shooters for walk-ins, but the first few years are going to be stressful enough on their own, and I can rent studio time if I need to. I threw in budgetary numbers for marketing and networking: $12k, and if you are starting from scratch you’ll need all the fees to set up a business – about $6k.

I then created notional shoot packages for the various styles, and 24 months of estimated costs and number of bookings for each, starting from zero bookings and increasing to a stable state.  I know from using Wayne Cottons Success Calendars what a realistic % of available time is; by setting the bar to this number I know I won’t achieve a stable state by working 8 days a week, and hating it…. it’s 50%, by the way. This gives me a ‘Day Rate’; if pressed for a number I know I can simply divide this number by 8 to 10 hours for an hourly rate; or multiply it out for longer terms projects, like weddings. And I know that if I’m charging this rate and I’m 50% booked I’ll still hit plan. This may sound overly padded, but remember that giving up at least one day a week to non-client administrative tasks is a minimum the first year; count on more time to set up vendor accounts and network with others.

Using an example rate of ~$1000/day yields wedding packages in the $2500 – $4000 range; which is in line with the wedding photography market here.  At the low end it gives me time to work with the couple before the shoot; to attend the rehearsal if the venue is new to me, and time to prepare the proofs and produce the final images. At the high end I have time for a risk-reversal engagement shoot and no-hassle photobooks for the couple and their parents. I could price them lower to fill my calendar and still hit my targets, but at the expense of keeping current with the best vendors for the materials I need; technology, album printers, web services… you can see where that road leads!

Working from this rate I can set the pricing of other packages accordingly. Single photoshoots of a half-day: $500 plus ‘team’ expenses for assistants, make-up, hair, styling, and location. Headshots are even simpler; filling a whole portfolio; more complex. I do consider the revenue streams of additional images sold as stock, or to family and friends of wedding couples, but I don’t include it in the plan at this point; simpler is better!

Next up: The heavy lifting – or – Everything you were afraid to ask about setting up your own company, but really, really need to be aware of.

Baby Steps

If you’ve strung together some of the posts here, or from my twitter ‘tweets’, you’ll know I’m working through the planning, opening, and marketing steps of my photography business. It’s a fun process; certainly challenging, sometimes confusing, and potentially overwhelming.

To cope with that I’m treating like any project I do (I’m a project manager in ‘real life’) which means it has the usual boundaries; a scope, a schedule, and a budget. In plain english this means I have a deadline to do things – and I plan to run out of things before I run out of money.

I’ve often said that to avoid the paralysis of planning a project, you should ‘just start’. I usually start with the most basic of plans – a skeleton plan – and I flesh it out as I go. If I’m having a good week I take some time, usually Friday mornings, and look at where I am, and what’s next. If I don’t think that there is enough detail, or if any individual step takes longer than an hour to do, I usually break it up into smaller steps. This lets me work on it as I have time – which is almost never in 8 hour chunks.

I’m starting this with only three BIG steps, so it doesn’t get much simpler. At the end of each step is a simple question: “Should I keep going?”. This lets me pause at the end of any step, limiting my investments of time, money, and commitments if the answer is “No.”, and figure out if I can make it a “Yes!”. Here they are:

  1. Preparing the Business Plan
  2. Preparing for Business
  3. Marketing the Business

How far have I gone with my efforts so far? Well, farther than I’ve written about in the past, but not as far as I’d like; I’m still not 100% done with the first step, and I’m about halfway through the second step, at a point where I need a complete business plan before I invest any cash. Of course the third step is where all the fun is, so I’ve dabbled in it, but committed very little.

At the end of the last step I should have a calendar full of paid work before me, a plan for the next couple of years, and pretty big grin from being so darn successful. I think it’s pretty important to be able to visualize yourself in the future, too. It may be a silly mind trick, but it works for me. Every time I repeatedly visualize some future, I somehow get there. (I’m still waiting on the hover-car, though…).

Next time I’ll put some meat on these bones, and describe each step a bit more.

Accidental Exposure

I have a series of photography business related posts that are gestating in draft mode that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Something is distracting me…

On the weekend I bought one of these; a Diana F+.

Why, oh why, would I buy another camera?

Something about the imperfections and unpredictability really appeals to me. It’s fast, off-the-cuff photography. Not the super-buttoned-down studio style that I sometimes do. And certainly not how I frame and compose most shots; square on, level, and … boring. I’d been looking at flickr images tagged with lomo, holga, etc, and the honesty and simplicity really grabbed me.

I was visiting family in Edmonton on the weekend, and as chance would have it I found a retailer that stocked the Holga, Diana, and a ton of Lomography stuff. So on Friday I become the proud owner of a plastic lens camera, and I started to see the world around me in cross-processed, light fogged colors. Ahhhh….

I got up early the next morning, thoughts of the Diana and it’s image style compartmentalized, a memory of yesterday, not part of my today yet. I was in Mr. Photographer mode, of course I was shooting with my Pentax K20D, 360 flash, and 50-135mm lens, which usually travel with me.

I wanted to take some stock shots of the gardens;  really shallow, even out-of-focus images, to make page backgrounds for wedding albums, and since summer here is so short, having stock images isn’t a bad idea.

Then something odd happened:

White balance? White balance? We dont need no stinkin white balance!

White balance? White balance? We don't need no stinkin' white balance!

Ack! A mistake! An error! Ewww!

I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet, so with bleary eyes I switched the white balance to daylight, and kept on shooting. I forgot all about it; we had brunch, drove home to Calgary, and got caught up with chores around the house.

Tonight I managed some free time to sort through the 150+ images I shot, and came back to this image.

Wow, it’s an unpredictable, improbable error! And it’s really cool! And it’s digital!

And it took buying a plastic camera with a plastic lens to make me see that happy accidents don’t always have to be on film.

Food for Thought…

Of all the kinds of photography there is, the easiest has to be food photography. I have no idea if I’m any good at it, but man-o-man do I like the subject matter!

A couple of nights ago we had deep fried zucchini flowers; tempura batter, some beer, a chilled bowl and hot oil in the wok. Wow.

Zuccini flowers... we saw them at the market and knew what to do!

Zucchini flowers... we saw them at the market and knew what to do!

Then tonight was a baked onion dish with bacon, cheese, and herbs in cream. A heartstopper. Just a few spoonfulls on a plate and you are done.

Onoins as main dish. Rosemary, bacon, cheese, and friends.

Onions as main dish. Rosemary, bacon, cheese, and friends.

More experiments with film; scanning and stereo!

Some time ago my Dad gave me a Kodak Stereo Camera as a novelty from one of his antique store forays. I’d wondered if it still worked, so I took it to the Lethbridge airshow. With lots of aircraft on static display, it would be a good place to try it out. It has some very limited settings for aperture and shutter speed, and focus is by guesswork, using a distance scale; the viewfinder is actually the square window between the lenses, just above the green bubble level.

Kodak Stereo Camera

Kodak Stereo Camera

Originally slide film would have been sent to Kodak and they would have cut and mounted the left and right images in cardboard to make them easy to use.  Keep this in mind if you have one of these cameras and would like to try it out… starting with slide film will save you a TON of time later on. All the unused film I have handy is 35mm for prints; not slides… had I known how much hassle I was about to cause myself I would have sprung for a roll of slide film for sure.

For starters, the images from each lens are almost square, and quite small. They are interleaved 3:1 on the negative, and that was the first hurdle. The photo lab couldn’t print or scan them because of the non-standard size… the tech tried, but the spacing didn’t match the standard mask sizes.

That left me on my own; I could go to a pro lab and explain to them what I wanted, and it would have cost a fortune in labour… or I could buy my own film scanner – but still have the same problems with needing non-standard image masks and having to realign every frame. What I ended up doing – photographing the negatives – was far more work, but the end results are (almost) worth it. If you get close enough to the screen and let your eyes cross the images below should fuse to a single 3D image!

Final result: A left+right image pair. Click for a larger size.

Final result: A left+right image pair. Click for a larger size.

After some failed experiments simply photographing the negatives against window light, I mounted a flash on one end of a 4 foot long bit of wood, my trusty K20D with a Tamron 70-300mm macro on the other end. One thing I had read about photographing negatives is that the orange cast of the negative can be best dealt with by gelling the lightsource to blue/cyan. I picked a strong blue gel from my freebie pack of Lee filters, and my first guess was pretty good (I think it’s #200 – Double C.T. Blue). I also put four layers of a white plastic bag in front of the flash as diffuser.

I mounted the negative at roughly the minimum focus distance. I used a folding cardboard slide holder taped against the bottom of a shoebox, with an oversized hole cut in the box. The flash was a few inches back from this, firing into the box to limit light spill. The camera was set to ISO 100 and f/11. Because of the spacing of the flash and camera I used some cheap eBay triggers; to keep the sync right I set it to 1/30 second shutter. The hotshoe trigger also gave me a handy mount for the flash.

The steps of transforming the negative to positive required some trial and error. These links should help:

http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00NFyc

http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/t248544-digital-slr-as-slidenegative-scanner.html (scroll down to Dave Martindale’s post)

http://www.pbase.com/sinoline/35mm_slide__film_copy

A negative, lit from behind with a blue gelled flash.

Starting from the image above, here are my steps using the GIMP (Photoshop should work too):

1. Switch to the color picker, and choose an area of neutral orange (the sprocket holes, for example) or something known to be grey (like a cargo plane).

2. Add a new layer using this new foreground color

3. Invert the new layer from orange-pink to blueish. I ended up editing this blue tint to be Red: 0, Blue:255, Green:175, after experimentation. A different filter on the flash will mean these values will change!

4. Set the new layer to ‘Overlay’ mode. This should improve the color range, but it’s still a negative image.

5. Merge the new layer down (you should have only one layer now)

6. Invert the layer; it won’t be quite right yet, but it should be close

7. Edit the curves for red, green and blue individually; I just selected the midpoint and dragged it up or down very slightly. Also edit the brightness and contrast to taste.

Hope this helps anyone looking to scan or copy old negatives with their digital camera. For the money a good flatbed scanner, with masks for 35mm film is going to save you a lot of time.

Splitting Atoms II

In a prior post I wrote a bit about possible changes that might take hold in the photographic imaging business, specifically in the world of content creation, and the effects of microstock image warehouses and photographers and models that shoot ‘for free’.

Some would argue that the availability of high quality equipment has made this possible; the rise of the inexpensive dSLR and the enthusiast shooter. Some might point to sites like Model Mayhem as the root of all evil for making trade shooting available to the public (and by ‘public’ I mean ‘aspiring models’, as opposed to ‘professional models’ that don’t flake out on shoots… but that’s another rant…). Some might point to the internet as the great ‘leveler of markets’, where price information gets confused with value information, and chaos ensues.

I would argue the inevitably of it all; in fact, I would argue we haven’t crested yet (or troughed, if you are a glass-half-empty type). I think we haven’t seen the bottom of the price curve.

The crest, at least as far as past experience in other industries has shown us so far, happens when we can outsource the content creation, but use the internet as the medium… no agency, no face-to-face meetings, and sadly, no client lunches to write off. I would see this as half way between stock shooting and a commissioned shoot; with the client requesting only the general parameters of the image content, and letting the ‘market’ deliver the service.

Note I said ‘service’, not ‘experience’. That’s a key point in Pine’s video from TED about the next split in industry as a whole. Of course it’s happening now, but it’s not pushed out to Jane & John business owner in a big way.

So what’s this have to do with splitting atoms?

In a previous life at IBM (yeah, about as far from creative photography as you can get… no wonder I quit!) I participated in the creation of services, and one important thing we did was to identify the value of our people and their roles within the processes we used to deliver our services to our customers.

The key activity was to split what was previously seen as an ‘atomic’ element – usually a person – into two parts; their innate expertise, and the humdrum stuff that we could stuff into a process that anyone – or any computer – could do.

This splitting of person from role is the important exercise. If you let the people focus on the creative stuff, and encapsulate all the supporting the processes into a web-accessible format, you could open the door to a new niche of industry; one where the client can get high quality content for a much lower price, and the creative team is much more focused on creating, rather than unprofitable administrivia.

There is also the flip-side to Pine and his notion of ‘the experience’; there is great value in delivering something special to the customer directly; this is evident in successful photographers that continue to command high prices and have a style with great market value.

A final thought; it’s not important which side you choose; or even to choose at all.

It is only important to know which side of the coin you are working on.

A photobook cheat sheet

Back in June I shot a wedding, and at the same time photobookcanada.com was having a promotion, so I thought … ‘What the heck, let’s try printing their wedding as a book!’. I’m glad I did… one of things I need to do is build better estimates of the actual amount of time it takes to perform all the post work, and assembling a whole book was an unknown to me. Short answer: it took more time than I thought… (more on that later), but the results were great:

Take a few wildly out of focus images for page background shots.

Take a few wildly out of focus images for page background shots.

I organized all the print-resolution ‘Picks’ into a folder, fired up the free layout software they provide (you could do your own .pdf if you like), and started the process. I tried a few things at first to get used to the software, which is a breeze to use, and then settled in for a full-day edit session. I wanted to know how long it would take, start to finish, for a 40 page book (which, by the way, is not only the minimum book length, but it’s also a tight squeeze for the ‘Big Day’, so count on using more pages).

I also wanted to try out all the possible layout options; white background, image backgrounds, and a couple of their ‘canned’ backgrounds. I wanted to know what would happen to the middle of an image of a two-page full bleed image (answer: bad things!). I wanted to know if the edges of an angled inset image would be smooth or jagged (answer: very smooth!). Do white image borders still look corny? (answer: yes!).  I had a LOT to try out.

Lots going on: An image background, and some angled insets.

Lots going on: An image background, and stacked and angled insets.

I knew the result of trying so many things would make the book, taken as a whole, slightly inconsistent from page to page. But it would let me use it as a sales sample tool… prospective couples (who am I kidding – it’s really just the brides) could hold it in their hands and get a feel for how the decisions they make would look.

The first mistake I made was choosing the less expensive softcover book; go for hardcover; after all it’s what the couple will be choosing for their book, although the extended family might opt for softcover versions. Although the paper and image qualities are fine, the softcover is attached to the rest of the book with a slightly different binding. It does mean that the cover won’t be creased when the book is opened – which is great – but the deep, tight binding means the pages don’t lie very flat, and a lot of image is lost into the spine. Also, the hardcover binding option they offer just looks damn cool, so that’s what I’ll order next time.

The cover is lying flat, and the pages loose almost 1cm of image into the binding, so beware!

The cover is lying flat, but the pages lose almost 1cm of image into the binding, so beware!

I made a special effort during the wedding day, knowing that I’d be needing additional images for the book to use as backgrounds, to ‘shoot everything’. How well did that work? It’s harder than it sounds. I went to the hotel room the bride and bridesmaids were using to get ready, and didn’t think to shoot a table of room service trays of food – it was just messy. Later, when I was laying out the book, I realized what a fantastic background that would have made for a page of fun shots. After all, they obviously had fun eating it, but there would be no photo to help them remember it, and food, taste, and smell are such powerful memories!

I ended up using a swatch of the wallpaper as a background, and it worked out ok, but I can still see that half eaten slice of pepperoni, taunting me…

Wallpaper as background; I decided to use sepia images for a complimentary look.

Wallpaper as background; I decided to use sepia images for a complimentary look.

Some obvious things to check are red-eye and resolution. I had a couple of red-eyes in the crowd shots; nothing major, but I can’t believe I missed them. Once the ink is on the page the only red-eye tool that is going to fix it is a Sharpie!

The other thing to watch – and their software will help you with this – is image resolution. You really don’t want to approach the minimum resolutions for any of your files; I had some small crops that didn’t survive being printed large, despite the software confirming they were ‘ok’. I should have manually up-rezzed them myself first. The print process emphasized the jpeg quantization matrix in one of the monochrome images; thank goodness it wasn’t the bride! You can always confirm the final calculated image resolution with their software, so don’t worry too much; it will protect you from make really blunderous errors.

Source material is from a 14.5MP Pentax K20D, and APS-C sensor. There is plenty of resolution for a two-page, full bleed spread.

Source material is from a 14.5MP Pentax K20D, an APS-C sensor. There is plenty of resolution for a two-page, full bleed spread across two 8.5" x 11" pages.

It took about 12 hours to do the entire layout; I suspect that should fall to 8 hours for 40 pages next time, and perhaps 5 hours for 50 pages as I improve the workflow. If you add the extra prep time for background and detail images, and the postproduction time on the proofing, uploading, and ordering, it should be ‘about a day’ to put the book together, using the flow of events to guide the chronology of the images.

Floating sharp inset images stand out nicely over intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. This background was actually a shot of the centerpiece that didnt make the cut.

Floating sharp inset images stand out nicely over intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. This background was actually a shot of the centerpiece that didn't make the cut.

When I thought I was ready to print I had a couple of questions for their tech support; they use a live person on the other end of a 1:1 chat window. Although typing is slower than talking, it does mean that swapping URL’s is possible. And the fact that I was conversing with an well informed person at 10pm MST was just awesome!

The first question I had was finding the final trimmed crop marks. This was important because in my layouts I wanted some of the inset images to bleed right off the page. To see the crop marks you have to start the upload process, and the first step is the creation of a temporary Acrobat file that shows the real crops.  The file has the word ‘Proof’ across all the pages, so you can’t just print it yourself, you have to go to step 2, which is to ensure that you’ve actually proofed it, and then you can upload it, and provide payment info.

Proofing tip: If I had printed the Acrobat proofing file I would have chosent to make these inset shots about 50% bigger. Against the busy detail of the dress macro shot they get a litte lost!

The second question I had was more of a puzzler – what about color management? The short answer – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. If you use their software to do the layout, they take care of it, because you’re basically using sRGB jpegs on the input side, and their software (and printer) on the output side.

No color-balance worries here; the DJ's lights weren't going to show in the early evening light, so I gelled some strobes to add some punchy color.

I chose the slow-boat shipping to save some $, and the wait was agonizing, but the book did arrive well protected; in a plastic sleve, wrapped in soft foam, inside a corrugated cardboard mailing box that was just the right size. Again, impressive!

The only quality issue (that I haven’t bothered to call photobook about, because it’s soooo minor), is that one of the pages is rippled in the middle, as if the quantity of ink was too high and the paper became wet. It’s so slight that it can only be felt; under normal light it can’t be seen. If you look at the page edge-on, into a light, the slightest of shadows of the ripples can be seen. I’ve heard great things about photobooks service, but for this slight an issue I’m not going to give them a call. But if you are a tactile person you should probably check each page individually when you get your books.

I would still like to try out some other photobook printers for comparison, but if I had to print a book right now, I’d have no reservations about using them again. The images I’ve used in this post were intended as samples for my web site, and were shot pretty wide open on purpose; if you want to see more samples,  head over to photobookcanada and have a look at what other formats and styles are like.

I hope you’ve liked this post, it’s a bit long-ish to cover the material in one shot, but I think it’s deserved in this case.

For me this is what makes wedding photography worth it; its like bottling a moment of distilled happiness.

For me this is what makes wedding photography worth it; it's like bottling a moment of distilled happiness.