Sunday, August 24, 2008

Perpetual Motion Machines

Or, as most people refer to them, "Toddlers." A co-worker of mine asked me to shoot pictures of her daughter, who'll be a year old next month, for the birthday announcements. I took her birth announcement pictures, and apparently she was pretty happy with those and asked me to do it again. "Why not?" I thought.

Well, this year we took the pictures at Grandma's house. (Grandma has a really nice back yard.) I wanted to start early, both because the light is better before the sun is too high, and because I don't like being hot. :) After bravely navigating the path to Grandma's (my co-worker's directions had a MAJOR error that I only avoided because I knew roughly where Grandma's house was already) I waited the half-hour that I knew I would wait* and they arrived...

Surprise #1. Another couple, with a baby about the age of my co-worker's. Huh? When did I agree to shoot two families?

Surprise #2. They brought their dog. Their very large, extraordinarily slobbery dog. This dog nailed my lens with goo from ten feet away. Impressive.

Anyway, into it we went. One of the great "secrets" to child photography is to get down to their level. Pictures of the kid looking up at you - and I'm over six feet tall - are not very interesting. However, the getting up and down is wearying when you also weigh over two hundred pounds. And up and down for two kids. Whee!

Her kid is just adorable, and was very cooperative for a one-year-old. I can't complain, really. The dog was not. There were just too many people running around and he couldn't stay put. Oh, well. You do the best you can with what you have where you are.

Used quite a bit of fill-flash until the batteries in my strobe died (some knucklehead forgot to swap in fresh batteries.) It helps a lot, especially in direct sun. The yard had lots of shade and lots of sun and the kid was constantly running between, which made the exposure work fun. I did go two-gun and wear a camera with a zoom lens and one with a fast prime.

My favorite pictures, by far, were from the prime. I shot in AV (Aperture Priority) mode with the lens opened way up. I got quite a few pictures that were a little fuzzy (although I have auto-focus on a priority button and switched to Servo mode, so not as many as you might think.) But the ones that were good were great. Soft, buttery backgrounds with lovely circular highlights. And with a lens opened to f2.2 or so, even in deep shadow and at ISO100, I got shutter speeds low enough to freeze the kids and the dog. In direct sunlight I was almost maxing out the shutter! (Fastest shot I saw was 1/4000.)

Here's grandma's backyard with the prime opened way up. (f1.8 for lighting test, lens's max aperture is f1.4.)

Darn, I just love a fast lens. I only shot a few lighting tests without anybody in them and my co-worker hasn't given me permission to post any pics with people, so that's all I got for now. I'm out.


*My co-worker is hardworking, intelligent, and talented, but amongst her many gifts, "punctuality" does not lie. Her husband, so far as I can tell, is even worse.
More after the jump - click here!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

This is Just Fascinating

This Frequent Flyer miles thing is a whole new subculture to wonder at, now I come to learn about it. It started with "Buy X tickets, get a free flight," but quickly - literally within a few months - became, "Fly X miles, get a free flight." Ironically, Southwest, the only really profitable airline right now, got off that boat and now offers - you guessed it - "Buy X tickets, get a free flight." (Or an upgrade.)

More stuff...

Here's an article on why FFP can be viewed as a meme, or mind virus. Note at least one error - the article says that AA wishes FFM "would just go away," but that's not true. Airlines make huge profits from their FFM programs. They just don't like it when people actually, you know, use miles.

Here's the Wiki on FFP, including some history:

Here's a humongous forum devoted to FFP and related topics:

More after the jump - click here!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gaming the System

We went to Hawai'i last year for a week - we won a trip at my company's holiday party. (Always fold your entry in a wacky way, that's the key.) We'd really, really like to go back, but tickets aren't cheap and aren't getting cheaper. Hotels aren't cheap either, but if you can get there, that's way more than half the battle.

So of course my devious little brain has been trying to figure out how to get somebody ELSE to pay for it.

My wife loves contests and has been entering all the ones she could find - we both entered the Hawai'i Magazine photography contest last month, so that's worth a shot. But there is a slower but more certain way to get other people to buy you airplane tickets: Frequent Flyer Miles programs.

Originally, you got frequent flyer miles by, well, by flying frequently. But no more! Of course, you can still do it that way (and that's the best way) but you can also earn them by doing various things or even win them in contests and promotions. I signed up for a Hawai'ian Airlines Frequent Flyer account and commenced to gamin'. So far:

1) Play games on Microsoft's promotional site for its new search service and trade prize tickets for miles: up to 2500 miles/redemption. It takes about four days to earn enough tickets for the maximum award. If Microsoft leaves this site up - which they won't - you could theoretically earn a one-way ticket from the mainland to Hawai'i every twenty-four days! If you want to play, it's at There are multiple programs eligible for miles awards.

UPDATE: Apparently this has been going on for quite some time and while Microsoft encourages you to redeem your points frequently, people are reporting having collected over 20,000 FFM this way. That's a domestic ticket to anywhere! The math:

Largest award you can redeem tickets for: 2500M/4300T
Max T/Day: 1000T
Cost T/M: 1.72T/M
Days to earn 20KM: 34.4
Days to earn SuperSaver Fare on HA: 30.1 (Obviously my estimate above was a little optimistic.)

But still, if you were nuts about it - and ask anybody, I go nuts about stuff - you could earn six roundtrips a year doing this.

2) Subscribe to "Hawai'i Magazine." 250 miles for a discounted rate on a magazine my wife buys anyway. :)

3) Open an account with Sharebuilder. 2500 miles after first securities purchase. If you do this right you can set up, make one purchase, and then cash out after you get your miles.

4) You can get a wide variety of credit cards that award miles for each dollar spent. However, these aren't necessarily the biggest bang for your buck - if your credit is good, you're better off getting a rebate card that pays cash back directly and using the cash for your tickets! The nice thing, though, is you can often heterodyne purchases on miles cards with purchases from "partners" who also give miles for dollars spent, and get several miles per dollar spent. That can add up fast.

5) You can wait for the Pudding Angel to reach down from heaven and give you millions of miles. I'd be all over this one but the Pudding Angel is notoriously hard to get hold of.

Interestingly, you can buy miles direct from most programs. For instance, Hawai'ian sells them for $15/500 miles plus a $4/purchase fee. That works out to just under a thousand dollars a ticket, and tickets go for about $400ea. Not really very economical. However, if you're 500 miles short and want to book a trip, as a convenience fee it's quite livable.

Here's a picture taken just outside the Kahului airport on Maui. This is the freaking AIRPORT. It's not fair, I tell you.


More after the jump - click here!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lightroom Update

I am still a little nervous about Lightroom 2: Adobe seems to have caught Microsoft Disease. ("Ship it: people will buy it even if it's buggy and we'll gradually get it to where it's livable sooner or later.") However, they have finally posted a script that fixes the keyword bug, which was totally unacceptable. And as I said earlier, some of the features are nifty. But wait..

A photographer/programmer has created a LR plugin that allows direct export to the PSC or the PSA from Lightroom. O frabjous day! This takes a very annoying step right out of my workflow. It seems to work fine both with LR 1.4.1 and LR 2.0. Here it is

More after the jump - click here!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

You are A-Number-ONE!

And on a non-photography-related note, I sadly report the death of Isaac Hayes:

Soul icon Isaac Hayes dies in Memphis at 65

Mr. Hayes was of course best known as an important soul-music writer and perfomer, and more recently as the voice of "Chef" on "South Park," but to me he will always be the Duke of New York, ruler of John Carpenter's twisted Hell on Earth, the Manhattan Island Maximum Security Penitentiary.

Escape from New York is a dystopian classic and in my opinion a future we avoided only by sheer chance and which we may yet visit. Hayes' portrayal of the brutal but brilliant Duke was masterful. He will be missed, but alas, the rules are simple. Once you go in, you don't come out.

More after the jump - click here!

Darn, this DAM is a lot of work.

So my file drawer of model releases was getting kind of full.

You see, up until now I've had the following record-keeping technique for my releases. I've put in an envelope:

1) The original model release.
2) A disc (CD or DVD) with the orignal RAW files.
3) A copy of the model's ID, if I had one.

And put it in a file drawer. Well, it was pretty full, and I really didn't have room for more, and I had a bunch of releases that needed filing.

So I went to the store and bought a binder and a box of sheet protectors, and spent the last three hours opening the envelopes, stacking the discs, and putting the releases into the archival sheet protectors. Now instead of a file drawer, I have a stack of discs in my big disc rack, and a binder (that's not even full.)

What motivated me to do this was that I've spent the last few weeks organizing my digital assets (image files) so I could go through them and mine for stock images. When I submit the images, I also need to be able to submit the release to the agency. All this rooting through envelopes, taking out releases, and then putting them back after scanning was getting very old. Now I can just flip through the book (it's in chronological order,) take the release out, and put it back in the book without having to push and pull envelopes out of a drawer.

This binder will henceforth be known as the BRB, or Big Red Binder, because it's big and red. "R" could also stand for "release," but I think "Red" is funnier.

More after the jump - click here!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Diverse, or Just Weird?

I know I've posted several times about my Search for Style. ("STYYYYYYYYLE!") One style I know is not really me is photojournalism. It's way too much work. :) However, I'm certainly adding a lot of photojournalistic, or at least editorial, images to my stock portfolio here recently.

First about two dozen pictures I took at a sprint-car race (See: Sprint Car Racing.) Then this week, about a dozen images of the aftermath of the Iowa River Floods. (See: Iowa River Floods of 2008.) Now, I'm an opportunistic so-and-so. I see something I can take pictures of, especially but not limited to pictures I might could sell, and I'm on it. If I were a commercial photographer and this were my portfolio, it wouldn't look good. Typically you have a portfolio for your main area of photography: if you have multiple areas, you have multiple portfolios. But, since buyers are probably not going to look at my PSC user portfolio that often, rather finding the images through keyword searches, I guess it's not that big a deal.

More after the jump - click here!

Clients. Lie To You, They Will.

Today, not only did a photographer ask me for advice when a potential client wanted a photo to use in their corporate logo in exchange for a credit (What are they going to do, put his URL in their logo?) John Harrington posted this little story on his Pro Photo Business blog...

Photo Business News & Forum: Conde Nast, Encyclopedia Britannica - Selling "Their" Images

(Summary: Magazine demands full re-use and relicense rights, for no extra fees, from assignment photographers. Despite assurance to the contrary, magazine goes on to relicense the images without sharing any revenues with the photographers. Several other large publishers are revealed to be doing the same.)

I know it will come as a HUGE shock to you, but people will lie, cheat, and steal. They will also, and hopefully much more commonly, just say one thing and change their minds later. Or perhaps the person who did the deal with you gets fired, and a new person takes over, and says, "Hey! We're sitting on a gold mine with all these rights. Let's do some business!"

On that last point, I have had people I was negotiating very large deals with actually say things like, "Oh, you know we'd never [do something I was trying to prohibit in the contract.]" And you know what? I believed 'em. I'd been doing business with some of them for years and they were honorable people. But you know what else? They could get hit by a bus tomorrow and somebody less honorable, or just with different ideas about what was acceptable behavior and what wasn't, could take over management of those rights. I get paid to anticipate my client's future problems, not just shake hands with my friends. I'd be remiss in my duty as an advocate to sign over rights without appropriate compensation, "understanding" or no "understanding."

While I rarely came right out and said, "What if you get hit by a bus tomorrow," I was very straightforward with them. I would reply, "I know that, and I appreciate the relationship we have. But I have to think about what happens to these rights five and ten and twenty years from now. Can you promise me you won't retire or get promoted or that for any other reason somebody with a different mindset might eventually have control over these rights and decide to go in a different direction?" That almost always allowed the conversation to progress without casting any aspersions on the current relationship, and when it didn't, well, sometimes deals aren't worth the risk. I know it's hard to turn away money, but sometimes that's what you do. More often than not when you make it clear you'll walk away, unless they were totally fishing they'll come around anyway!

This is what lawyers are for, people. This is the value we add. We stop people screwing you over. Or, more charitably, we make sure our clients fully understand the implications of the agreements they make and help them ensure that the agreements reflect a full and fair understanding of the transaction the parties have agreed to. Pay us now or pay us later... or don't pay us at all and watch people with their own lawyers and/or a lack of scruples profit from your hard work.

More after the jump - click here!

Monday, August 4, 2008

This is Eerie.

You do not know how many times I have had this dream:


(Thanks to Rachel Hulin over at Shoot! The Blog for the tip.)

No, seriously. You don't. The pictures (click on the sample to see more) were taken, without any kind of trick photographry or post-processing, by French photographer Denis Darzacq.

When I have this dream, the situation usually that I have to go somewhere or do something that you can't get to by walking, and my dream-self concentrates, like he's remembering something he hasn't had to do for a long time, and starts taking steps into the air. Eventually this progresses to "flying" in much the same posture that Superman flies, although it's very, very hard to do: he can't do it for long, and if anything distracts him, he starts to fall. I usually wake up before he gets where he's going.

Incidentally, dreams like this are the only dreams I have had since I was a child in which I do not know that I am dreaming. When I wake up, remembrances of these dreams are indistinguishable from ordinary memories. More than once the day after one of them I've tried to walk on the air for a split-second before realizing that what I was trying to do was impossible. Maybe someday I'll pull an Arthur Dent and forget to remember that it won't work.

More after the jump - click here!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lightroom 2: Hmm.

For starters, I still don't think most people should upgrade to Lightroom 2. Just too many bugs popping up and/or waiting to be discovered. Give 'em another month or two to go to a .1 version, or at least to fix that GODAWFUL keyword bug. But if you're technically minded (I can tell you how to fix the keyword bug if you are technical) and adventurous, it does have some mindblowingly nifty new features...

For starters, there's the Graduated Filter tool, which is very awesome for landscape shots with hot skies - it's just like applying a gradient-masked adjustment in Photoshop, only WAY easier and faster. And the new camera-specific color profiles are a treat. Several tests have shown that the camera-specific profile for my camera starts out WAY closer to my preferred colors than the old ACR color profiles. You still will often have to do some twiddling - Nature, after all, often doesn't properly saturate the blues or whatever - but as far as getting good color balance, it's a huge improvement. I like the new catalog organization (everything's sorted by volume by default.) And it does seem to handle my very large image catalog (68K images) quite a bit more smoothly. I think it's going to be a great program.

More after the jump - click here!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Here We Are in August

It's been a real "mad dogs and Englishmen" kind of climate around here lately. Too. Hot. Otherwise, I'm keeping busy for the most part but not doing a lot of photography-related stuff.

I'm trying to pick some pictures from Hawai'i to enter a contest, I'm being a general PITA on the PhotoShelter forums, and I'm gradually withdrawing in disgust from almost every other human-related activity. Sometimes I get a little peevish.

More after the jump - click here!