When should you start selling for your work?

February 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

To put it another way, you should charge for your photographs for the same reason that you charged for the lemonade that you sold at the edge of your driveway in the summertime. You certainly weren’t a professional lemonade maker, but you provided a product that had real value to those who bought it from you. You put your time and effort into the process, and even if some of your customers were only your parents’ friends, the monetary intent of those transactions was real.

I completely agree. Do not wait to start selling your work.

(via The Photoletariat)

Time for some HDR News

August 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

(UPDATE: Trey Ratcliff’s HDR DVD ( Basic Edition and Premium Edition ) are now officially available for sale on his website. I’ve embedded his preview at the end of the post).

Last night was kind of a big night on the HDR news front, with two major bits of news breaking.

First, Photomatix 4′s beta program is now open to the general public. Photomatix is the leading HDR creation program and their new beta has some solid improvements over previous versions. I have used the beta some, however, their lack of an update to the Aperture plugin means that I have not used it as often as Photomatix 3. With Nik Software’s HDR plugin (most likely titled HDR Efex Pro) getting closer to a release, HDR Soft had to start getting Photomatix 4 in front of more people.

Also, on the instruction front, a huge announcement from Trey Ratcliff. His HDR DVD should be available on Friday (yes, the 13th…gullp). This DVD is going to follow him in both Photomatix and Photoshop as he creates his HDR images. The DVD will be available in a Basic Edition for $197 and a Premium Edition for $397. I consider Trey to be the foremost authority on HDR Photography, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the DVD. I hope to have a review of it up in a couple of weeks.

UPDATE: The following is video Trey created to show the type of things that will be available in his HDR Training Video:

Worldwide Photo Walk 2010

August 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Last year’s Worldwide Photo Walk was one of the first photography related events I ever attended. I was nervous. I had only owned a camera for 6 months, and though the literature on the photo walk website said that you could bring a point and shoot camera, I figured I’d be the only one who didn’t have a SLR on the walk. Well, I was right about the SLR thing, but I ended up having a great time. In fact, one of the images from that walk is currently hanging on my wall. Also, It made me really excited for this year’s photo walk.

This year, I chose to attend the Cary photo walk instead of the Raleigh one. I have spent some time in downtown Raleigh, but I was looking for something a little bit different and thought there might be something in Cary that would catch my eye. Also, I brought someone along (Elyssa, who some might call  a ringer, with her photojournalism degree and all) so I knew I’d know at least one person on the walk. I also figured that my buddy Eric, who I met on last year’s photo walk, would be there; a back injury kept him from attending.

I was once again brought my trusty Nikon P6000 but I wasn’t too worried about being the only person on the walk with a point and shoot (which I was). I did bring my ZipShot tripod (I think I was the only one with any type of tripod) to do some HDR work though. The area we shot In felt almost like a ghost town (I think we saw maybe 2 or 3 other people the whole morning) but I guess 90 degree heat at 8 am on a Saturday morning will do that. Unlike last year where I ended up with one of my favorite all time pictures, I didn’t get any shots that I thought were top tier. I did end up with a bunch of shots just below that though (I’ve already posted one of them, and I’m sure that I’ll be putting up more as time goes on).

Part of the experience in these photo walks is the social component that comes along with it. After the walk, we met up at Chatham Street Cafe. I’ll start off by saying their French Toast is delicious, and I figure I’ll drive back out there purely to have that again. The conversations that were had were a mix or photography and, strangely enough, computer programing. Apparently a number of the other photo walkers worked at SAS and all had a programming background. There was also some light discussion about legal issues since one of the walkers was a prosecutor and both me and Elyssa are currently in law school. I’ll leave out the details of the cases that were discussed, but let’s say that they were something right out of Law and Order:SVU. After about an hour / hour and a half of conversation, we all headed back to our cars. Luckily, a train was coming by as we were walking back to the parking lot and we all managed to get a few more pictures. It was a well timed ending to a really great morning.

A New HDR Contender? Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro

July 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

HDR Example

This HDR image comes from Nik Software's HDR Sneak Peak. Image rights are retained by the original copyright holder.

UPDATE: The Nik Software FOCUS Newsletter for October says the release date for HDR Efex Pro will be October 11.

UPDATE: Details about Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro have been released, including a slightly more targeted release date (October 2010) and a price point ($159). The site mentions that if you purchased the Nik Complete Collection in July 2010 or later, you get the HDR product for free. The site does not mention that if you purchased the complete collection before July 2010, you can get HDR Efex Pro for $99 if you pre-order (I confirmed this when I made my purchase of the software). Additionally, they created an announcement video which is embedded at the end of this post.

UPDATE: Rick Sammon was recently on an episode of Nik Radio talking about Nik’s HDR Efex Pro. I’ve put in a few notes from his appearance.

Today I attended a Nik Software webinar on their upcoming HDR product. There is currently no official news as to what the HDR product is going to be called, but the title bar did say HDR Efex Pro (which would make sense as it would fit in well with their other products like Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro) [UPDATE: Rick Sammon referred to the product as HDR Efex Pro in his interview]. The instructor was using the Lightroom version of the plugin, but mentioned that it would be available for Photoshop and Aperture as well (he also mentioned that the plugins would be in 64-bit.) There was a question about a “stand alone” version like Photomatix offers, but the instructor seemed to think that was not in the works. I have not used Lightroom to any large degree, but it looked like the process for opening the plugin is very similar to the process I use for creating a HDR with Photomatix from within Aperture (namely, just select the group of images you want to use and then select the plugin). The instructor was unable to answer a question about how the interface for selecting images would work in Photoshop, but speculated it would probably be under the “automate” menu (much like Adobe’s HDR Pro is). You can also use the plugin on a single RAW file (the examples of this turned out quite well).

The HDR Efex interface looks like a “best of” from Silver Efex Pro and Viveza 2. There are the presets from Silver Efex on the left side and then a control point / slider interface on the right that looks very much like Viveza 2. Of particular note are two sliders: (1) structure, which is something that is creeping into all NIk products and that I frequently used in Silver Efex Pro (it’s also available in Viveza 2); (2) warmth, which I specifically asked about and the instructor demonstrated (it provides an effect very similar to the “Brilliance and Warmth” filter found in Color Efex Pro; the instructor did not know off hand if the algorithms are the same, but he demonstrated the effect and it looked very similar).  HDR Efex also includes some advanced vignetting controls (including some vignetting presets) and Nik’s familiar “Control Points” interface, that provides the ability to make very targeted adjustments without the use of masking (Anyone who’s used any of Nik’s products, especially Viveza 2, knows how powerful these are).

HDR Efex Interface

This is the HDR Efex interface that was used during the webinar. As with any piece of software that hasn't been released yet, there is still a chance this interface could change.

The initial preset that was applied to the first image was very much a “realistic” HDR. In fact, the image looked just like a well exposed, well lit, standard image. There were a number of presets that the instructor previewed, some of them looking better than others The “subtle HDR” preset looked very similar to the Trey Ratcliff inspired style of HDR that I frequently used. [UPDATE: Rick mentioned how both realistic and surrealistic HDR images are easy to create with HDR Efex Pro] Additionally, there was a black and white preset (I’m not sure if it would be better to create the HDR image in color and then take the image into Silver Efex Pro for black and white conversion, but I have a feeling that I would use that workflow) and then a “vintage” preset that created a really interesting effect that combined both HDR and a faded, desaturated look. The instructor mentioned that the plugin would have “anti-ghosting” functionality (pretty much a “must have” feature now), but did not give any demonstrations of it. [UPDATE: Rick mentioned that the anti-ghosting in HDR Efex Pro is very strong. He mentioned that you can take out the ghosting "quickly" and "easily". Additionally, he said the alignment features of HDR Efex Pro were good.]

The biggest question of the webinar was, as expected: What is the release date? Apparently the company line on this is “late summer” (I’ve heard it from 3 Nik represenatives). The version of the software being used by the instructor was listed as “Alpha 2”, and there were a few performance hiccups present, so it seems likely that there is a bit of work left before it’s released to the public. Also, there was no information available on the pricing of the software.

Ultimately, the webinar left me really excited to try out the software. The early rumors I heard were that the software was going to be really geared to “realistic” HDR images instead of “surrealistic” ones, however, the instructor demonstrated that the software could be used to create images of both styles. Out of the HDR programs I’ve used, Photomatix is still my clear favorite, however, HDR Efex Pro looks like it could be a strong contender. For me, it will probably all come down to how it handles lights at dusk…

Brier Creek Townhouse

An example HDR image, processed with Photomatix, to show how nicely it handles lights.

UPDATE: Nik’s HDR Efex Pro announcement video, featuring Trey Ratcliff

Surveying some HDR Programs and Some HDR Education

July 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

UPDATE: Trey Ratcliff has updated the eBook I review below. This review will be updated to reflect those latest updates once I go through the new content.

As some of my recent work would indicate, I have been experimenting, to a fairly large degree, with HDR photography. The primary thing I’ve been experimenting with is the different programs that can be used for creating HDR images. I have been using Photomatix Pro since I first started my HDR work, and am generally pleased with the results. I have, however, also been exploring some of the other alternatives. The main other program I’ve used to this point is the new HDR Pro in Adobe Photoshop CS5. Though I liked the anti-ghosting feature in CS5, I found that the way lights are processed in surrealist HDR images does not look as good as the way lights look in Photomatix. Additionally, the new beta of Photomatix 4 that I’ve been using has anti-ghosting features that seem even better than those found in CS5. Though I could go into more technical detail about the differences between the HDR products, I’ll instead point to Trey Ratcliff’s write-up on the topic.

Along with Photomatix and Photoshop, I have done a little bit of experimenting with the new HDR Expose from Unified Color. I had never used Unified Color’s previous HDR products, so their interface was a little alien to me when I first started using it. I found that for “realistic” style HDR images, that the software was quite good. and quite powerful. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to create the surreal looking HDR images that I like to make. I am not sure if this was a limitation of the software or simply a side effect of my unfamiliarity with Unified Color’s interface.

In addition to the HDR products that are currently out, NIk Software has announced their own HDR offering. I apparently missed the webinar that was debuting the software, but there is a short “sneak peak” video on Youtube that gives a very brief explanation of the software. Since I use all of Nik’s products already, I have high expectations for their HDR product. Scott Bourne recently did a write up about his experience viewing the software. The main pull from the write-up for me is that the software “has a bias toward more natural-looking HDR shots.” I do not know what this means for people who want to create surreal-style images. Since Scott made a point to comment on the speed of the software, it makes me wonder whether the end of July release date rumors I’ve been hearing are a little optimistic.

Though new software offerings are one of the primary ways the HDR photography space is evolving, I have also been exploring ways to get a little more HDR related education. Since the starting point for HDR education is Trey Ratcliff’s HDR Tutorial, I decided to try out his latest eBook offering: Top Ten HDR Mistakes. [NOTE: This eBook was recently updated. This review still applies to the original version of the book, however, a new review of the bonus version will be posted shortly ]As you can imagine, the book is filled with some great HDR images to compliment the instruction. Unfortunately, I am a little less excited about the instruction offered by the book. A lot of the solutions that Trey offers seem to indirectly point you back to the HDR tutorial. Maybe I was expecting some kind of “silver bullet” that doesn’t actually exist, but I was hoping for more concrete steps on how to fix some of these HDR problems. Ultimately, the book only costs $10, so it’s not a huge investment, but as a student who pays close attention to how much money I’m spending, I think I would have felt more comfortable paying $6 for the content I received with this book. If I think to myself that I paid $5 for the book, and made $5 as a donation to Trey for all the work that he’s done to help me learn HDR, then I am a little more okay with the amount I spent on the book. Overall, I’d recommend this book is you’re an advanced beginner to intermediate HDR photographer who is a particularly large fan of Trey’s work.

ScanCafe Review & Examples

July 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

As a listener to Scott Bourne’s Photofocus podcast, I had heard the name ScanCafe mentioned quite frequently. I, personally, did not have a large archive of print photographs or slides laying around, however, I knew of the boxes of photos that my mother and grandmother had tucked away in drawers and cabinets. One of the benefits of digital photographs is that you can easily put the photos nearly anywhere. You can put them in digital frames, on website, or even have them as a screen saver on your television. The photos that are stored as prints in boxes though, they tend to be, at best, not viewed or, at worst, completely forgotten. I figured I would take my growing interest in photography as an excuse to dig through some of those old boxes of photographs and test out this ScanCafe service that I had heard about.

The initial shipment to ScanCafe was fairly simple. You just put the photos into a box and paste on the UPS label they provide for you. Their website lists advanced methods of sending photos (you can group them into different sets, send in complete albums, etc…), however I just put about bunch of photos in a ziplock bag in a box, packed it with shipping peanuts, and sent it on its way. ScanCafe provides you a way to track your photos as they’re moving through the scanning process, however, you won’t have to check the site very often since, and this is the first negative of the service, it takes quite a bit of time for your photos to be processed. I originally shipped my photographs on December 28th of 2009 and I did not receive both them (yes, you get your original photos back), and the scans of them (you can’t just download your scans, they have to ship you them on a DVD), back until February 16th of 2010. That’s a little more than a 6 week turnaround for the whole process. They do, however, offer a quicker “8 day rush service” which is currently listed at 14 cents extra per picture, for people who have time sensitive work. Also, it’s important to note, that they charge you for shipping on the return DVD (approx. $10 when I placed my order)

Generally, I was pretty pleased with the images I got back from ScanCafe. I chose to get their “Pro Library” option which includes both a high quality TIFF file and a JPEG that they have processed themselves (for an extra 24 cents a picture). If you’re not someone who’s really into photo-editing and color manipulation, you can probably skip the TIFF version of the file, since the JPEGs are pretty decent. I found, however, that I normally used the TIFF version of the file when I was preparing something I wanted to be printed. I then would do color correction and editing myself to get the photo ready for print. Here are some examples of photos that I manipulated:

Photo 1: Day at the Beach

TIFF Version



ScanCafe JPEG Version



My Version


For my version, I used Nik Software’s ColorEfex Pro to both warm the image and to add a graduated neutral density filter to the sky.

Photo 2: Straight out of Mad Men

TIFF Version



ScanCafe JPEG Version



My Version


The goal in my version is to prepare the picture for printing at 8×10, so that is why the crop is so drastically different. Additionally, my version of the photo is a little warmer, I smoothed his skin a little bit, and I used ColorEfex’s “Darken / Lighten Center” filter to direct the viewer’s eye more to his face.

Photo 3: Bulldozer Ride

TIFF Version



ScanCafe JPEG Verison



My Version


Once again, I decide to crop this image a little differently than the original shot. Thankfully, the high resolution scans that ScanCafe provides enable this kind of thing. Also, I used ColorEfex’s Pro Contract filter to make the contrast stand out a little more.

Overall

As I mentioned before, I was pretty pleased with the overall ScanCafe process and result. The biggest negative was the amount of time that it took for the entire process to take place. Other than that, I would recommend ScanCafe as a way for people to get their old photos out of boxes and into digital form. Most importantly, it was a lot less painful than having to do all that work myself.


Key Points

  • The process produces high quality scans
  • The process takes a long time
  • You might end up having to tweak some of the results
  • You do get your original photos back
  • You can’t download your scans, you have to wait for them to ship them to you via DVD (and they charge you for shipping on that DVD)
  • You don’t have to accept the scan for every image you send them

When My Worlds Collide

July 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I enjoy when my interests intersect, especially when it’s either photography and the law or comics and the law. Recently, there have been a few circumstances where that has happened.

The first such instance was a follow up I received from Mike Hipple on a post I made about an over aggressive copyright holder who filed suit against Mr. Hipple. To me, it was a situation that appeared to be a clear example of fair use of a copyrighted work by Mr. Hipple. In order to support his legal defense, Mr. Hipple has recently created a book that he’s selling to help pay the attorney bills. Photographers out there looking to support a good cause (namely, a photographer’s right to take pictures in public places that have art work displayed) would be advised to check it out.

The second occurrence came when Joel Watson, of the hilarious web comic Hijinks Ensue, recently sat down to talk with NYU student George Rohac about issues involving copyright, web comics, and technology. Though not a hard core legal analysis by any means, it was insightful to hear Mr. Watson’s take on copyright issues from the perspective of an artist.

Finally, I was tipped off by comics news blog Bleeding Cool about a podcast featuring a discussion about comics and copyright termination that featured David Nimmer (who needs no introduction in the world of copyright law). This discussion was more about the technicalities of the law than the previous item, and really laid out the various ways that copyright can be terminated under both past and present copyright statutes. Additionally, I am now subscribed to the IP Colloquium podcast, since their show archive seemed to cover topics such as the first sale doctrine, Bilski, and derivative works. For anyone in the intellectual property law field, I’d rate the podcast as somewhere between “really informative” and a “must listen”.

Night Light by the Pond

April 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Night Light by the Pond

Night Light by the Pond - © John Kivus, 2010

Tamrac ZipShot Review

April 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Zipshot Tripod in Use

Photo Taken by and Copyright reserved by Elyssa Sharp.

When I first started learning photography, I looked at hundreds of websites to try and learn technique and style. As anyone who has read any of my other posts knows, one of the more influential sites ,from a style perspective, was Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs.  I loved the surrealistic HDR images he created and wanted to do that kind of work. When shooting HDR photography, it’s generally recommended that you use a tripod. When your only camera is a point and shoot Nikon P6000 that doesn’t have auto-bracketing for RAW files, however, a tripod is required.

The conventional wisdom, at least among those I listen to for photography information, is that you shouldn’t skimp on your tripod. The advice ranges from “buy the best tripod you can afford” to “don’t buy some cheap tripod from Wal-Mart” to “go basalt / carbon fiber or go home”. Still, I couldn’t seem to justify spending $475 for a basalt tripod from Gitzo when my only camera costs less than that. Thankfully, a Macbreak video podcast from PMA gave me a solution: The Zipshot Tripod from Tamrac.

Zipshot compared to a Mac Keyboard

Zipshot compared to a Mac Keyboard

The biggest difference between the Zipshot and a traditional tripod is the way it’s stored when not being used. The legs of a traditional tripod normally slide into themselves, but the legs of a zipshot fold similar to the framework of some camping tents. This means when the tripod is folded up, it’s only 15 inches long. Additionally, the tripod is extremely lightweight (coming in at about 11 oz), so it makes it pretty easy to carry.

One of the main requirements of a tripod is it stability. Clearly, the Zipshot is not going to provide the same level of stability as a high end Gitzo, but if the legs are fully spread and the tripod is set on solid ground, it will be pretty stable. I give those qualifiers because when the tripod’s legs are not fully spread (most likely in an attempt to get the camera higher) the tripod can get particularly wobbly. Since the tripod sits low naturally, as you can see from the picture at the top of the post, I sometimes try to trade stability for heigh.

The Zipshot has a ball head on top that allows for taking shots at pretty much any angle. I’ve found that sometimes this ball head can be difficult to adjust and that it can be a little difficult to get the camera level, especially if the tripod legs are not fully spread. Still, I have managed to used it for a number of HDR and panoramic shots, even if I sometime I had to straightened them in Aperture when I was processing. I am not sure how having a dSLR instead of a point and shoot attached to the Zipshot would alter its ability to balance.

I needed a tripod if I wanted to create HDR images with my camera. Since I couldn’t justify the costs of a high end tripod, and since I had been warned to not waste resources on cheaper tripods, the Zipshot looked like a good alternative. As a light, compact, fairly stable tripod, the Zipshot is the perfect companion to my camera.

Partially Extended Zipshot

Partially Extended Zipshot

Artistic Photo Canvas (APC) Write-Up / Review

March 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Gallery Wrap from Artistic Photo Canvas (APC)

Gallery Wrap from Artistic Photo Canvas (APC)

I’ve experimented with a number of photo labs over the past year. I initially used my local Ritz store for quick turn arounds on prints, but ended up moving to Mpix when I started ordering prints with more volume. I ultimately settled on on WHCC for my printing needs, however. Their combination of speed, price and quality made me a loyal customer fairly quickly.  In addition to ordering prints from them, I also ordered their float wraps for some of my pictures (you can read my write-up of that experience and review of that product here), but never got around to using their canvas printing services. In fact, it wasn’t until a recent offer from Artist Photo Canvas (APC) that I took the leap to gallery wrapped canvas.

A little over a month ago, APC made a limited time offer for 50% off a 16”x20” gallery wrapped canvas. I admit, that as a student, one of the primary factors holding me back on purchasing canvas prints was the price. The opportunity to purchase a canvas version of one of my photos at that much of a discount was too good to pass up. After using the gallery wrap options of Genuine Fractals (you can read my review of Genuine Fractals here) to create a version of my image according to their specifications, I uploaded the image to the website, placed an order, and waited to receive my very first canvas print. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I took my canvas out of the box, however, I could not be more pleased with the result. Though I don’t profess to be an expert in the preparation of gallery wrap canvases, the finished product looks superb. The colors match what I sent them, the image has excellent sharpnesses, and the actual wrapping on the frame is very well done. APC includes hanging hardware with all their canvases too, which made mounting the canvas on the wall a snap.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, I prepared the image myself. Since I’m kind of a control freak about how my pictures are cropped, framed, etc… this was the preferred option for me. APC does allow you to send in an image that they will resize and prepare for you if you prefer less hassle in your work flow. If you prepare your images yourself, then APC allows you to use their Photo Dropbox to get your image reviewed before placing your order. Though I’m pretty confident in Genuine Fractals ability to properly prepare the image, I like the piece of mind of having one of the APC artists take a look at my image before submitting my order. Additionally, I put a note in my order that says “This image has been prepared by Genuine Fractals and should be ready for printing, however, please let me know if there are any issues”. I have a friend who followed the same preparation procedure that I did, however, did not leave such a note, and the galley wrap came back incorrectly formatted. Thankfully, APC’s customer service is top notch and the error was easily corrected.

To summarize: my experience was with Artist Photo Canvas has been excellent. In fact, because of my positive experience, I volunteered to help test a new finishing option on their canvases (in a buy one, get one free type format). If you’re looking for canvas printing services, then I would give them a very high recommendation. Even if you’re not looking for canvas printing at the moment, then I’d recommend following APC on Twitter (user APCPro) just in case they decide to have another promotion in the future. I mean, what’s the worse that could happen? You end up with a professional looking canvas displayed on your wall?

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