Changing Gears

Some people know what direction they’re heading in their life and business. I think most people have an idea of where they’d like to be. But achieving that goal is what separates dreamers from doers, as many “advisors” will tell you. The goal and the deadline for achieving that goal is, however, mostly set by you. You set the pace. It’s not up to someone else to determine how successful you are or say when you’ve finally reached the point at which you can claim to be successful. You are the judge of your own success.

An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one
— Charles Horton Cooley

They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea
— Francis Bacon

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up
— Thomas Edison

The career of an artist goes through many stages and often we are changing gears, much like you would downshift and upshift in a car. We downshift when we run into difficulties and need the lower ranges to power through a difficult time, when we’re dealing with a steep learning curve or complex issue, when we need to slow down a bit or maintain a steady pace coming off a rapid rise, or perhaps for a burst of power to swiftly overtake a competitor. We upshift when times are good, reaching a comfortable cruising speed when we’re working efficiently and effectively. But, like driving a car, the road ahead is variable, sometimes steep, sometimes rocky or muddy, sometimes curvy, sometimes straight and flat, and skill is required to know when and how to properly shift gears to stay on the road and keep moving forward.

What to do with your extra Canon 5D’s

For a couple years now, but recently in just the past several months, the pressure for still photographers to enter into video production has been increasing in step with the addition of high definition video capability to digital SLR bodies like the Canon 5D. A big question for still photographers is, “Should I get into video production now?” While a competent still photographer has the basic technical and artistic skills to transition to video, it’s not just a matter of turning on the video feature and shooting away. Transitioning (or adding) video production to your repertoire is a costly endeavor (remember, you can’t shoot video with strobes) requiring expensive new lighting equipment, movement dollies, tracks, stabilization, gimbles, platforms, etc. and a large crew. Video (quality video) is not something you can do by yourself or with a single assistant. For reference, read recent issues of PDN Magazine for overviews of video production and comments about the pitfalls, costs, and pressure from clients to shoot video in conjunction with a stills shoot (for the same rate even). It’s going to be a bit of a messy transition period until the industry gets this bastard child sorted out. Vincent LeForet & Chase Jarvis are the well-knowns (or most prominent in the video-sphere) jumping full force into the video genre, but they’ve got the cash, notoriety, and resources to do it relatively painlessly (I’m sure they might have some words to say about that, but compared to the rest of us I think that assessment is accurate). The still photography industry is entering another trying time while it’s still trying to deal with the flood of digital technology, ease of entry into the market by anyone, pricing issues, over-supply and under-demand, etc.

Anyway, take a look at this video showing how Canon 5D’s are used to create second unit driving plates for the TV series 24. Very interesting behind the scenes kind of stuff:

Shooting Driving Plates for 24 from Stargate Studios on Vimeo.

A Guide to Photography Usage Terms

Rob Haggart, over at, has posted a nice list of commonly-used terms in the photography industry. The post is targeted to ad agency buyers, but if you’re a photographer starting out or if you aren’t quite sure what the difference is between unlimited use and a buyout or corporate versus promotional, check it out. The terminology and its meaning is the same whether you’re a buyer or a photographer (not “seller). And, it’s a lot easier for Rob to type it all out over on his site than it is for me to do it here (ha ha).

Some other resources that are very helpful when it comes to the terminology and its proper use in the photography business:

Websites: Picture Licensing Universal System Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, 7th ed.
John Harrington’s Best Business Practices for Photographers, 2nd ed.

My Core Set of Photography Reference Books

I’m a “bookie”. I love books and still find a printed hardbound or paperback much easier and quicker to access than any information on the computer, especially when there is no power. Over the years, I’ve spent hours (in total, probably weeks or months) browsing the shelves of bookstores wherever I go, looking for interesting and useful books for my reference collection. I look for books about the business of photography, digital asset management, the “philosophy” of photography, technique, and inspirational (picture) books, among others.

As with most things, some authors and subject matter resonate and connect better with me than others, as they will also with you. The key is to spend some time with the author and the book before you commit to the purchase. Don’t run into the bookstore on the recommendation of a friend or someone you respect (or even someone you don’t know anything about) or because you need a book on a specific topic (like “How To Do Whatever in Photoshop”). Take a few long minutes to browse the book, read a chapter or two. Does the writing style and content make sense to you? Does it put you to sleep or tie your brain in a knot? A book costs money (some much more than others) and will take up space on your bookshelf. If you’re going to make the investment, it should be for a book you’re going to use and/or refer to often, right? I have a handful of “dogs” on my shelf I purchased without prior review. These were mostly purchased online or on impulse in the bookstore. The summary and online reviews sounded good or an initial “page flip review” made the book seem useful, but once I got it home and spent some time reading, it turned out to be less than expected. These books are still on my shelf because I don’t want to give books like this away, it’s not fair to the person I give the book to. And, I really don’t like throwing away books. One day I will gather them up and donate them to a library or other institution that can get some use from them.

While I have a generally decent-sized book collection, I’ve compiled here what I consider my core reference list, the books I go to most often or have been the most useful in my learning process. I pass the list off to you to review and hope one or more of these books helps you in your artistic and/or professional journey. New books are always being released, so this list will always change and grow. The list is in no particular order. Good reading!

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books.
Bayles, David & Orland, Ted. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Image Continuum Press.
Orland, Ted. The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World. The Image Continuum Press.
Gross, Philippe, L & Shapiro, S.I. The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing. 10 Speed Press.
Adams, Ansel. Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. New York Graphic Society Books.
Barrett, Terry. Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images. McGraw Hill.
Fielder, John. Photographing the Landscape: The Art of Seeing. Westcliffe Publishers.
Zakia, Richard, D. Perception and Imaging: Photography – A way of seeing. Focal Press.
Livio, Mario.The Golden Ratio: The story of Phi, the world’s most astonishing number. Broadway Books.
Arnheim, Rudolph. Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the creative eye. University of California Press.
Wier, Nevada. Adventure Travel Photography. Watson-Guptill Publications.
Eismann, Katrin, Sean Duggan, Tim Grey. Real World Digital Photography. Peachpit Press.
Kelby, Scott. The Adobe Photoshop CS* Book for Digital Photographers. New Riders.
Hunter, Fil, Biver, Steven, & Fuqua, Paul. Light, Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Focal Press.
Piscopo, Maria. The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing & Self-Promotion. Allworth Press.
Weissberg, Elyse. Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers. Amphoto Books.
Maitreya, Selina. How to Succeed in Commercial Photography: Insights from a leading consultant. Allworth Press.
Eismann, Katrin & Palmer, Wayne. Photoshop Restoration & Retouching. New Riders.
Krogh, Peter. The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers. O’Reilly Media, Inc.
Fraser, Bruce & Schewe, Jeff. Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS*. Real World Press.
Harrington, John. Best Business Practices for Photographers. Course Technology PTR.
Zimberoff, Tom. Photography: Focus on Profit. Allworth Press.
Crawford, Tad. Business and Legal Forms for Photographers. Allworth Press.
ASMP. Professional Business Practices in Photography. Allworth Press.

Periodical publications I subscribe to:

Communication Arts
Photo District News
Fast Company

Update on iPhone Apps for Photographers After 2 Months of Use

Back in July I posted a list of iPhone Apps for Photographers and my initial review of those apps. Now, after a couple months using them and finding a couple more, here’s an update on what I think of those applications now.

MotionX GPS: This is a good application with lots of features. However, its downfall is it appears to rely on having cell service to be able to work. When I was in Africa without cell service or internet access this application just took up space. It didn’t work at all. Reading some of the reviews after returning seems to have confirmed the suspicions I had, that the app triangulates cell towers and needs to be on network to work. Why doesn’t it just use the GPS in the iPhone? I don’t know. It’s usefulness, then, is very limited even for people who venture into the mountains or wilderness areas where there is no cell service. If you’re a biker or hiker or driver in the city, then this application will be well worth it. Otherwise, you’re still better off with a stand alone GPS unit.

Ayetides: $9.99. Tide tables for nearly 10,000 tide or current stations worldwide. The bonus is Ayetides does not require internet access to work. Worth the money and I use it along with TideGraph (which does need the internet).

Focalware: I’m really pleased with this app. A new graphic interface makes this application look sharp. Calculate sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, elevation, azimuth, and shadow length for any date or location.

PS Mobile: Free. Adobe enters the iPhone app arena with this post-processing application that also allows uploads to I like it, but I expected more. Adjust exposure, saturation, tint, convert to black & white, add special effects of sketch or soft focus, vibrant color, pop (“andy warhol-ish” four-frame multi-colored rendition), square white border, vignette blur, warm vintage, rainbow, white glow, and soft black & white. You can also crop, rotate and flip your iPhone images. Then, save them to the camera library and/or upload them to a free account where you can make further changes online and display your photos in a gallery. I hope future versions will add more features, like curves adjustment and sharpening, but I don’t think the iPhone needs a version of Photoshop.

Photogene: Pretty much my go-to app for final post processing; sharpening, levels, saturation (except now I use Mill Colour for saturation and fine levels adjustments), and photo frames (though I only use the square with inside shadow, and maybe the Polaroid now and then. Somebody needs to build an app with useful, not cheesy frames).

Mill Colour: Free. This is a new app that I like a lot. Just for adjusting saturation, lift, gamma, and gain, this app allows you to make fine adjustments to each with a well-designed interface. For these fine adjustments I’m now using Mill Colour before I take the image to Photogene.

EVCalc: deleted. This is a useful app for beginners, but for me I can use the space for more productive apps.

TackSharp: deleted. Another useful app for beginners, but I don’t need it.

CoolFX: I rarely use this app anymore and will probably delete it in the next month if I don’t use it more often.

PhotoCurves: I also rarely use this app even though it does allow curves adjustment (which none of the other post-processing apps do). I have the free version. I’ll probably keep this and try to use it more, but if I find it inconvenient to use more than a couple apps to work on a given image I’ll likely delete this one also. Hopefully, Adobe will add curves adjustment to PS Mobile.

Skype: For all the apps I have loaded on my iPhone this one has saved me the most money. Phone calls from Africa, had I been able to get cell service, would have been $4.99/minute. When I had wifi access I talked on the phone back to the U.S. for over an hour each time for free. This one’s a keeper.

Google Earth: I’ve used this both on my desktop and iPhone to find information on locations and scout locations. Also a keeper.

Weather Bug: Very useful and seems to be very accurate.

Convertbot: Useful for the more popular conversions, but limited when it comes to currency. Nice graphic interface, but I might move to Unit Calculator which has more conversions available. Seems that all the conversion apps lack comprehensive currency conversion, though.

Survival Pocket Reference: $0.99. I don’t have this one loaded, but if you’re the adventurous type it might be a lifesaver. Over 500 pages of first aid, medicinal and edible plants, basic survival skills, compass and star navigation, and more.

Hollywood (and Wacom) want you to give up your “key assets” for free

In their August 2009 eNews newsletter, Wacom, the maker of very nice graphics tablets and other products (I’ve owned a 12×12 tablet for over 10 years), has promoted Eclipse Digital, a company that licenses artwork for placement in TV shows and films. However, the offer by Eclipse Digital (and supported by Wacom) is not to license your work and pay you for the use, but for you to give your work to them for free so they can license it to production companies and make money for themselves.



The teaser? On the Eclipse Digital website is the question: “How much more would all of artwork be worth once you have been seen on TV?” Other than the poor grammar, this question seems to hint that just by the placement of your artwork, however brief, out of focus in the background, or shown large and in charge, in a cheesy sitcom or blockbuster, this exposure is bound to make you famous and increase the value of your work. Sounds like an infomercial to me. Wacom corrects the grammar in their newsletter with “How much more would your art be worth once it has been seen in a film or on TV?” A better, catchier, statement, for sure.

As we read further, Eclipse Digital puts the proverbial foot in their mouth by stating “Our placement clients pay us up to $10,000 per month for this service.” However, since emerging artists can’t afford that “or any fee” they’re being generous and offering us the same service for free.

Let’s see. Those placement clients paying $10,000 per month to put their products in a TV show or film? Coke, Tide, Mentos, Skittles…..It’s called Advertising. When a production company puts a photo or other artwork into a scene it’s because it sets a mood, fits a character’s background or interests, or just needs to fill a blank spot on a wall. There may be specific instances when a particular artwork was searched for and used, but I believe that’s an uncommon occurrence. The only “artwork” I remember that helped the creator were the Coogi sweaters worn by Bill Cosby in the Cosby Show. Why? Because they were placed front and center in each episode, including the opening credits. Even artists whose prints were used on that show may have gained some benefit (I do remember some were even discussed specifically on an episode or two). There may be other examples in other shows since then, but I don’t know of any. Perhaps you all can post that info if you have it. I’d be interested to find out, plus if any of those art placements were free. I suspect they were.

Back to Eclipse, though. Further in the “benefits” they say “We recognize that these works are your key assets, and you don’t want just anybody downloading and printing them.” Yes, that’s true. We hope our “key assets” are just that, money makers, because that’s how we roll. The process is you upload high resolution files (as many as you want, there’s no limit of course) at 10MB – 100MB in size @ 300dpi. The production company then downloads the file and prints it at the size they want on a “photo-quality ink-jet printer” for the show or film.

“They [the production companies] will license from Eclipse Digital for a single TV episode or film, a full season of a TV production, or for the life of the show. No uses beyond that are permitted [thank God].” I wonder what the license fee is that Eclipse Digital charges for the use of the photos I upload? Let’s see, what do I get?

“Each quarter you get an email report showing which pieces were downloaded for which productions. Then you can set your TiVo and watch those shows for your work [and other product placements, er, advertisements]. However, “since the service is free to you, we cannot monitor every show and identify every aired placement.” But, when your work does appear in that next blockbuster TV or film “you can say things like ‘As seen on…’ in your marketing materials.”

Ever watch TV? When there’s artwork in the shot, particularly in ‘reality’ shows, it’s typically blurred out. Why? Because nobody paid for it to appear in the show, it’s not been released or licensed, and they know if it’s shown and recognizable by the artist they’re going to want payment. So, why would you give yours up for free to a market that clearly knows what it’s doing, understands the value of your work, yet charms you into giving it up for nothing?

Ok, you say, you talk a mean streak, but what am I really missing out on? What’s wrong with trying to grab a bit of glory and bragging rights? Glad you asked. Professionals use their own experience and those of their peers [how? by asking them], various pricing guides and estimators, and other variables, along with negotiating with the client [hopefully] to determine a license fee. One popular estimator is Cradoc Software’s FotoQuote, which covers a multitude of photographic uses.

I looked up one possible use for your free photo; a minor prop in a prime time TV show. Here’s what I got as a possible license fee range:

1 episode $301 – $603
1 season $603 – $1207
2 seasons $905 – $1810

See what your photograph is worth to a production company wanting to use it in their TV show? You can eat pretty well on $301. What can you buy for “As seen on…?”

Remember, too, for you to be able to print “As seen on…” in your marketing materials (postcards, brochures, fliers, posters, newsletter, even a website), you’re probably going to have to pay someone. That $301 would come in handy now, wouldn’t it. And, you can still use that snappy slogan. I’d say that’s a win-win, wouldn’t you?

There are instances when ‘donating’ your work is useful, beneficial, maybe even necessary. It’s up to you to decide when it’s appropriate. If this is something that appeals to you, go for it. You never know. But, be very sure what you’re giving away. You’re playing the long odds. There are a lot of “deals” like this out there. Be careful.

Oh yeah. Wacom. Not a good move. I think you should distance yourself from these “hey, give us your stuff for free” companies. You’ve done this before. We, your customers who buy your products, we “emerging artists” and established professionals are watching you. You should stick to making a great product and lose the reputation-staining associations. You really don’t need it and as “hip” as you might think it makes you with the Flickr and Facebook crowd, those aren’t the folks who can afford to buy your products – ’cause they’re not making any money off giving away their “assets” for nothing.

Trust me. When I see this crap, I think twice about the next upgrade. And, if I’m thinking that….

iPhone Applications – A Caveat

As I stated in my previous post on iPhone applications for the photographer, the iPhone is a very handy device, adding layers of productivity to your daily workflow (as well as many opportunities to derail that productivity, with games and social networking features). The iTunes App Store has over 500,000 applications to choose from. Many of them, in my opinion, are relatively worthless and searching for applications that are worthy of your $0.99 + (even the free ones) require some effort and time to research before the one-click purchase. You might think, “well, at $0.99 that’s no skin off my nose to try it”, and that might be correct for one or two worthless apps. But, $0.99 adds up pretty quickly, and even more so for apps that are $1.99 or $4.99 and up.

If there is a free version, try it first. If you like the features at no cost then you’ll probably be happy with the additional capacity in the pay version.

To highlight a particular issue with Apple’s App Store and the preponderance of worthless applications, I came across this post on describing one company that had its 900 apps pulled for reported copyright infringement issues, and another company with 2,000 apps more or less perhaps in the same boat.

It pays to be careful, do your research (plenty of it), read the reviews, maybe take the recommendations of people you trust, but ultimately it will be your decision to take the plunge, drop the dime, and give the app a try.