Friday, March 30, 2007

Goofy eBay

I just had a listing removed from eBay for allegedly violating their mature audiences guidelines. Their guidelines are kind of weird and confusing and subjective, so I usually stay well away from them. I used to just ignore the notices because they just remove the item and that's the end of it. Well... they have a point system and it used to be you hit some number of points and they shut down your account. Now they have more layers - they can do a one day suspension, not refund your fees, make you take an online tutorial, that sort of thing.

But it's still good to get the points removed - you just email in and politely ask a supervisor to review it. 90% of the time it's just some topless picture they picked - and if it's not full frontal it's basically a non-issue. What's happening usually is that a competitor is trying to get you in trouble, and some offshore worker in some conservative country sees the picture and says "Boobies! Those can't possibly be allowed! Even though you have to be 18 to be on eBay in the first place! I'd better remove it!"

So the rules are that if it's full frontal, it has to be "fine art" and "by a professional" and "not a snapshot".

They removed this picture. Interestingly enough from one of my first model shoots. But I am in fact a professional photographer, and it's your basic classic pose, making use of her classic profile. If it were painted nobody would think about removing it. Definitely not a snapshot although it might not be obvious to the casual observer why the lighting's a bit tricky.

Anyway, I can almost always get these reversed, it's been at least six months since I got one of these, could be anywhere from a day to a week before I hear back from them. Usually I get replies in the middle of the night when it's daylight wherever they outsource this stuff to.

People ask me all the time if I think selling on eBay is worthwhile (Um, yeah, or I wouldn't be doing it). It's a great source of new customers - many of my regulars are from there, and that's the main reason I do it - it's basically a form of advertising. But you do have to put up with a lot of nonsense!

Unbelieveable: They actually rejected my request to check it out with a form letter that said things like "eBay doesn't allow any listings that contain a graphic
depiction of sex or genitalia." and restated the requirements. This is really irritating because I addressed the requirements, it meets the requirements, they just didn't bother to actually look at the image. It's probably good in the long run - every time they do something stupid I get motivated to beef up the shopping cart, include more marketing materials with eBay pictures to get people to buy direct, etc. etc. which is why most sales are direct at this point.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Model: Sammi

Here's the new set with Sammi!

Update: I have Sammi pictures with the Holga - just scroll to the end.

There's also some landscape shots at the end of the Mamiya set.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Post Shoot notes: Sammi

Well, sometimes things work out just perfectly. Friday I flew in from Hawaii and since I kept my schedule pretty clear for when I came back I decided to put an ad on craigslist to see what happened. Got some interesting replies including one gal in particular who just had some myspace pictures and some cute snapshots. Nothing too special, but clearly attractive and some shots showing she's clearly athletic.

Turns out the day we can both do it is today. I hadn't intended to do any shoots this week, but what the heck. I run around setting up the studio (keep in mind I'm not even totally unpacked yet) and sure enough she shows up on time. Plus her pictures didn't do her justice - she looks beautiful and she can do poses like this or this.

As usual, those are just a few I pulled out after glancing at the thumbnails to make sure everything copied OK. I also have a roll from the Holga to develop. Hopefully I'll be able to get those all up on the website soon, but first I have to unpack!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

FAQ: How to take a decent picture underwater

To provide a bit of context: I don't dive, I snorkel. The main difference is there's a lot more light near the surface so keep that in mind. Also, this is taking kind of a middle approach in terms of gear. If you're using an underwater disposable camera or a cased SLR with multiple flash units only some of this will apply.

The approach I took with the underwater pictures on my critters page was to use a cased point-and-shoot camera. Canon makes cases for most or all of their digital cameras. If you already have a camera you're happy with you may very well be able to find something decent. If not, I recommend basically getting the cheapest Canon with the Image Stabilization feature which I find very useful. Right now that's the Canon A710 IS. It runs about $250 and the case is about $170. For this camera it's the WP-DC6 You might want to search on "Underwater Housing". Add a 1-2GB memory card and some desiccant (more on this later) and let's call it $450. If you don't already have some high capacity rechargeable AA batteries and a charger pick those up too ($20). You can get all this stuff at B&H Photo.

Hopefully this link will let you see what the cases look like - you can do every camera function except of course you can't change batteries or memory card. So clearly you need to have enough batteries and memory to shoot continuously for, say, an hour.

Your big concern that's going to affect picture quality is fogging. The inside of the camera and case needs to be bone dry. I keep the camera in a Ziploc bag with a couple of sticks of desiccant when I'm not using it. Ideally you don't want to be putting the camera in the case at the beach - read the instructions, but there's an o-ring that needs to be cleaned and lubed before every use and grit or a hair is seriously bad news - so my routine is to put the camera and some desiccant sticks in the case at the hotel before heading out for a morning snorkel.

More about the o-ring: I've heard that after the first couple of swims that's when people get flaky about this. Sometimes it will be totally clean after a swim. Sometimes fine sand gets all over the ring. I always wipe it down, use a q-tip on the case, relube it and put it back in before every use. It's really the only way to be safe. If you're at all unsure, float it in the sink - it's better than salt water, that's for sure.

After use, wash off the case with fresh water as soon as you can. Salt water's just nasty. Then once you're in a safe place you can open it up and pull out the camera. If you're headed back to the hotel for a shower you might as well do it there.

Do note that you can take pictures above water with this setup! So if you're taking a boat trip or something, that's fine, just leave it cased the whole time. Do be sure to take some location shots, and also take some shots of the surroundings while treading water. There will probably be some drips on the front but they make it clear they were taken from the water - perfect for the family photo album.

Take pictures of your friends, and remember it's a 3D world. Take "seascapes" to the sides, don't just point the camera straight down. Point the camera back at you for a self portrait. I basically advise shooting away like a lunatic and editing later, at least until you get some experience.

In terms of settings, the modern Canons actually have an underwater mode that sets the white balance to something reasonable (otherwise your pictures will be way too blue) and all I'd recommend past that is to turn the flash off and to turn on the multi-shot mode and learn how to use it. The flash setting is because you don't need it and it will make any little bits of stuff in the water look ten times worse than without. The multi-shot is so once you have, say, a sea turtle composed and focused and you take a shot, you just hold down the button and it will fire away at about a frame per second. It updates the screen just enough that you can keep things pointed the right way. It works!

My one last piece of advice is to not zoom much if at all. The camera will focus faster and generally work better zoomed out. If you absolutely have to zoom, get one or two shots zoomed out and then zoom in, remembering to put it back after. With a 7 MP camera, if you're making 4x6 prints you're throwing away most of the data anyway - you're better off going wide and then cropping later.

That's all I can think of for now. Have fun with it!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hawaii Pictures!

I just uploaded some of the underwater Hawaii pictures - actually a few are above water, but they're all from my underwater setup. I find it useful to take a couple of test shots and it's great to be able to remind yourself how scenic the location was above water as well as below.

I uploaded them with simplified options and in some cases lower pricing, so feel free to order from that page. I'm frankly not sure how long they'll be on the site, or if I'll even link to them from anywhere other than the blog, so no promises you'll be able to order from them later if you delay.

Apologies in advance if you're on a slow link. These pictures don't compress nearly as well as my normal work - those black backgrounds compress really well - so the file sizes are pretty big.

Update: I've removed that original page, but you can see some of the shots on my critters page.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'm back

Just letting folks know that I'm back in town. I spent the last week doing six shoots... underwater. When you see the lovely models I worked with you'll understand.

(I'll probably have some more shots to look at in a couple of days when I have a chance to go through them - I was in Hawaii if anybody's curious).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Print Delays

Just wanted to warn folks that any orders coming in from now until March 23rd, 2007, will most likely be delayed by a few days. (Worst case it will be as if you ordered on the 23rd).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Local Art Note

The "Picasso and American Art" exhibit at SFMOMA is worth seeing - lots of Picassos and various period American artists clearly heavily influenced by his work - includes one nice palladium photograph, actually.

Speaking of which, while you're there do check out the photography section - they have some good stuff and as they acknowledge, during the whole period they're focused on photography and the other arts definitely influenced each other in a very constant back-and-forth way. They have a good selection of prints from very early stuff onward using a variety of techniques. And anyway, if you've never seen an actual print from Ansel Adams or any of the Westons you're missing out - the real deal is much more impressive than that calendar you get every year...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Molon Labe!

I just saw 300. Wow, what a great film. The reviews have been really mixed - people who get the film love it, and people who don't often just end up really confused.

But it works on several levels. It's absolutely beautiful, even when showing the most horrible things. Obviously it's an incredibly violent film - and I very, very rarely go to see violent films - but it's handled in a very mature fashion. The look of the film is very consistent - it drives me nuts when people are sloppy about that sort of thing. The pacing is spot on - there's a major danger with a film where a good chunk of it is a battle that it just wears thin. They managed to avoid it very nicely. There's all manner of messages and morals but it's not like they lay it on too thick or patronize the audience.

And how nice to have the female lead be 33 and have the kind of beauty that real people have.

Some folks are confused because they want it to be too much about current events. Yes, there are parallels, but the fact that reviewers at the premier were asking which character is Bush says something about the simplicity of these people and their inability to handle a film that isn't part of the greater Hollywood narrative.

I've seen some complaints that the dialog is off of t-shirts or bumper stickers. Um, yeah, that's because the story is so compelling that 2,500 years later they're still making movies about what happened. It's entered the culture in a fairly profound level if you can shorthand bits of it and educated people will know its historical context. The fact that you can buy a hat or bumper sticker with lines from Herodotus and the fact that the movie pulls from that same version of the story does not invalidate the dialog. Do you really expect somebody to make a movie about the Battle of Thermopylae and have those pieces that have persisted 2,500 years at such a fundamental level that people feel compared to wear them - and the person making the movie's supposed to leave that bit out or something?

Anyway, go see it in the theater. You'll want to see the visuals writ large. Stay for the end credits - they're quite beautiful in their own way as well.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Crane Museo Silver Rag paper

I mentioned earlier that I'd received a print done with Crane Museo Silver Rag paper and was really impressed. It looked like a traditional fiber print, and I've never said that about an inkjet print before. It's hard to judge a paper from only one print, so I ordered some and did some tests.

I'm very impressed! It's a great paper for both black and white and color. It's a semi-gloss finish - the finish and texture are very similar to the luster finishes the lab prints have. It's 300 gsm so a nice heavy paper. 100% cotton. Made in the USA.

They apparently set out to make as nice a print as possible using modern high-end pigment inks instead of being a general purpose paper and it worked. It's telling that on their profiles page (high end papers have downloadable profiles for supported printers) they support all the Epson K3 models, and one Canon printer and one HP printer. Basically the paper was designed around the particular high end Epson inks even though it's not an Epson product.

Plus, since it's relatively glossy, it differs enough from the very matte Velvet paper to make it worth having both options. I've added it as a purchasing option on all the pages with the shopping cart.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Odds and Ends

I'm going to be offline a bit at some point this month. I'm not sure of the exact timing, but there will probably be a delay in handling some orders. For most folks it's not that big of a deal if they have to wait an extra week to get their prints, but usually I try to do things as fast as possible so I thought I'd mention it. Basically to be safe if you want something you might as well order it in the next couple of days.

I've already stopped listing on eBay. The store will be open but no auction items for a while once the current ones end.

I took the Mamiya out to a local college and took a couple of rolls. I got a couple of interesting shots, but mostly I was trying it out in the field, getting used to walking around with it, seeing what peoples reactions were (overwhelmingly positive - if you want to meet girls, get one of these things), seeing if I could guesstimate exposures. It went really well overall. If you scroll to the end of the current set you'll find some shots.

I did get a little light meter, incidentally, it's just nice to double check that on a basically sunny day you don't really need one. There's something called the "Sunny f/16 rule" - basically the idea is if you set the time to be 1/ISO (so if it's 100 speed film 1/100, 400 speed film 1/400) on a nice sunny day you'll be at f/16. Open up a stop for each level of it being overcast. This is a little loosy goosy, but basically "a little overcast", "overcast" and "quite cloudy indeed" are each worth a stop. You can do something similar for shade. But in the city you're often in some weird combination of building shade and fog, it can change rapidly, and it's not such a bad thing to be able to double check.

None of this is rocket science, incidentally, it's just been a long time since I've used film and I wanted to sanity check a few things before doing anything critical. It also gave me a couple more rolls to develop - I developed them without my cheat sheet handy so that's a good sign.

One point about the square crop on the film cameras, incidentally - just coincidentally I've put up shots from two cameras that use the 6x6cm format. On a Holga you use that format so you can get the extra-crappy edges of what the lens covers. On the Mamiya the intent was more that you could crop to the usual 6x4.5 format in either horizontal or vertical format without turning the camera on its side. I could easily crop it to my usual 8x10 ratio, but I've always liked the square crop so I decided to stick with that for now, anyway.

And lastly, if you're in the area you might want to drop by the Modernbook Gallery in Palo Alto. They have a show Fusion 19 right now which is a group show based on a class on how to get into galleries. Entry into the class is juried so it's good stuff. There were a couple of really nice platinum prints if anybody has $600 to drop. I have a friend who has a couple of pieces in the show - if you look for a picture of Kat you can probably figure out who!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Memory Card Prices

The last couple of weeks memory cards for digital cameras have been getting cheaper at an absurd rate. Sandisk in particular has coordinated a big price drop - as of today most of the online places are offering amazing prices as of today on a "in stock only" basis. $75 for 4GB Extreme III compact flash cards or $120 for 8GB are typical. A couple of days ago they were twice that. These guys are pretty good and as of this writing have things in stock still - some of the online places are already running out.

Interestingly enough even with the big drop they're still more expensive than brands like Transcend which are pretty decent cards and dropped in a more gradual fashion over the last few weeks. It will be interesting to see if things level out for a bit, or if the glut ends and prices go back up, or if these prices will seem high in a year.

Update: I removed the link to mydigitaldiscount.com above, because I ordered two cards from them and it's not going well. They charged my credit card immediately, then sent me email saying they'd ship in a couple of days, I'd get them by the end of the week at the very latest. On the Friday they sent me a tracking number. Well, OK, that would mean they would arrive today.... and today they issue a NEW tracking number and say I'll have it at the end of the week by the latest.

So at the very best case it will take two weeks to get something with two day shipping, and of course they have no credibility because they've already lied once.

Update II: It did show up eventually - just a couple of hours before I left for Hawaii.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Film Scanners

Somebody was wondering what I'm using to scan the film. It's a Canon CS8600F. It's basically a hybrid flatbed/film scanner. It's not like the flatbeds that use some kind of attachment in a desperate attempt to actually send some light through the film instead of reflecting off of it. It has a second lamp up top that shines through the film. It can do 35mm, slides, or 120. It has very nice software to remove dust although you'll still want a good bulb blower if you don't already have one (Giottos Rocket).

It works, and it's not nearly as expensive as a really high end film scanner capable of doing 120, and it's pretty cheap. Then again, compared to a flatbed it's expensive and huge - it's probably four times as thick as my last flatbed. It's also not particulary fast.

The one downside is once your relatives find out you can scan slides at high quality, well, let's just say it's amazing how many slides they took in the 70s. And you can scan a set of four in, oh, 20 minutes... so if they ask, no, it can't do slides. ;-)

Incidentally, Epson has some very nice products that will scan things like 4x5 negatives as well. I might need to get one eventually if I get a 4x5 camera, but at the rate these products are getting better and cheaper I'd just as soon get something that does what I need today and not try to be "future proof".


Saturday, March 03, 2007

New Pictures: Tina

I've just uploaded the digital shots of Tina. Check 'em out!

Between one thing and another I'm going to be focusing more on other things than doing new shoots until early April - printmaking, doing other kinds of photography, hitting art museums and galleries.

I'll probably edit an old set or two that aren't on the website currently, so there might be some "new" shots there, and probably I'll put at least some of the other photography on this website, and who knows, maybe I'll squeeze in an outdoor shoot sometime... but probably not studio work unless I get an offer too good to refuse.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Pictures: Tina (with Mamiya TLR)

I've just uploaded some more shots of Tina. I've put the Mamiya shots into their own folder, because they're square and therefore have their own print options but I don't want them in with the Holga shots - mostly because I want to make it clear what you're getting with the Holga shots!

I should mention something about the double exposure - I'm not usually a fan - this was an accident, actually. The camera prevents you from doing this accidentally (unlike in a Holga!) but I managed to confuse the camera a bit about if a shot had been taken. I think the result's a pretty happy accident so I kept that shot.

The template's not quite done - I might fiddle with the print options a bit, or change the text, but you're welcome to order from it. It's mostly a question of finding out how large of a square print my lab can make and if there's an option worth adding figuring out what to charge for it.

I have some 35mm film and the capability of developing and scanning it, so if I shoot some with a model one question becomes should I mix them in with the regular shots because they'll be cropped to the same 8x10 aspect ratio so that's not a problem, but film lovers might want to find them seperately. Well, I can always have them in two places. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it - but it's an example of the zillion little decisions you have with even a relatively simple website like mine.

Inkjet Papers

Just a quick note about inkjet papers since I promised to report back on my findings. I've been using the Epson Fine Art Velvet paper which is really nice - 260 gsm, nice for color and black and white. I recently checked out the Hahnemühle photo rag papers in 310 and 188 gsm. They're both very nice - particularly the heavier paper which is almost as heavy as the 320 gsm COT-320 which I use for platinum prints. But I haven't been able to get black and white results that are quite as good as with the Epson paper. I don't think it's anything to do with the paper so much as that the R2400 has a very nice set of different densities of black ink and very smart driver software that really knows how to get the most out of their own paper. And in any case they don't look different enough from the Epson paper to offer both so I'm sticking with the Epson paper so far.

I've just ordered some Crane Museo Silver Rag. It's a heavy (300 gsm) rag paper that people have been raving about, and I just received a print done on it and it has a very nice look and feel to it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

New Pictures: Tina (with Holga)

I've uploaded some Holga pictures of Tina. Scroll to the end of the page to get to the new ones.
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