Friday, November 30, 2007

No Shoot Notes

Well, I had hoped to have some post shoot notes today, but I got the dreaded email 2 hours before the shoot. Yep, she flaked (cold feet?). Models are the best and the worst thing about this kind of photography. Actually you could put it that models are the best thing, and wannabe models are the worst.

Andrew Kaiser - who does super classy, talented work - was telling war stories the other day about this kind of stuff - he recently got the dreaded "model with second thoughts" years after she'd shot with him. I always make it super clear that this stuff's forever - not only do they sign a contract but once this stuff's on the Internet somebody's going to save off a copy no matter what you do. And what, you're supposed to somehow recall all of those books and prints? This week I sent shots to the US, Canada, Switzerland, France, and the UK. Good luck getting those back.

Anyway, go buy his magazine (the first one has a picture I took of Kat in it) and pick up some of my stuff while you're there. It will make us feel better. *sniff*

What else...

...I have three model shoots and some portrait work scheduled before Dec 18th which is my official cut-off date then I stop shooting in-studio until early Jan (I'm going to physically put stuff away so I can do other things with the space but possibly I'll do some outdoor work).

...We're getting near the time where the post office gets really sluggish. Priority mail (which is what I use) is still zippy but it won't last much longer. If you're in any kind of a rush for something, I wouldn't delay, otherwise don't worry about it.

...I put in my order with White Lightning for another light and a bunch of modifiers and odds and ends which will put me at two 800s two 1600s and an AB800 as a beater/backup/travel light. A year ago I just had an AB400 and an AB800 - it's been a big investment year for me, putting lots of money into studio stuff but this wraps up this phase. I have some ideas for some setups that would be hard with what I have now, or that work OK now but will be better with the new stuff. A lot of it has to do with minimizing spill - getting the light just where you want it without extra stuff shooting around the room. I'll probably get their battery unit (so I can bring lights on location without worrying about power - basically a battery/inverter set) but they're backordered and I'm in no rush.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cirque du Soleil - Kooza

So I went to see Cirque last night and thought I might as well report in. San Francisco gets the shows really early - usually as soon as they're done with the hometown run they come straight here and then wander around the US. Sometimes this means they still have a few rough edges. This time they hit Toronto first, but SF was still the first US location.

It was good. If you like Cirque du Soleil you'll like this one. The pacing's a bit off - it's really, really heavy on the clowns and as is often the case they're just not that funny. There are a few wonderfully funny moments but there's often a lot of waiting for the payoff. I suspect they'll tune the show a bit for a more American sense of humor but we'll see. It's better in the second half though, and there are a couple of acts that are really superb. There's the most beautiful contortionist act I've ever seen (and I see a lot of this kind of thing) in the first half, and a jaw dropping lunatic acrobatic routine in the second half with what I can only describe as the Dual Hamster Wheels of Death. (I found a picture of it on their website but it doesn't at all capture the point so I'll just leave it as a surprise.) (Ha! Found it online. It's actually called the Wheel of Death or in this case it was a Double Wheel of Death and pretty much everything they did was a classic routine. Interesting.)

One nice thing is they're getting more variety with the costumes - they were getting to be a bit like they just pulled some stuff out of the back room for every show, but this one's quite creative. Likewise with the music - there's some nice variety.

When I came back the Christmas lights were on which is always kind of a nice feeling. These are the LED ones from Costco I mentioned the other day - they're nice and bright and cheerful.

In other news I have... I think it's 3-4 shoots scheduled or just about scheduled for December and a couple of other folks I'm in the initial stages of talking to. Lord knows which shoots will actually happen, but there should definitely be new pictures in December.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dell Support Center

Just a warning - if you have a Dell and you're dumb enough to run their support software, it will prompt you to update to the new Dell Support Center. Well, this little gem of a program decides it needs to constantly run on your system. Among other things its toolbar icon has no exit option so you can't easily run it occasionally to check for updates and then quit it - it has to be running all the time. And of course it set itself up to run on startup without asking.

As a practical matter, of course, you can just blow away the process manually if you know what you're doing, but how nice of them to require you to do that and fiddle around at a system level so it won't start up on reboot.

There's a lot of nice things about the new system, but this kind of needless waste of time just drives me nuts.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

2008 Calendar is up

Well, after much delay I've finished up the 2008 calendar. It's pretty sad when your customers from last year are nagging you to do another one but hey, it's in time for Black Friday so what the heck.

You can order it direct from the printer. It's more expensive than I'd like because it's Lulu's fancy high end calendar and it actually costs me substantially more than the books do, go figure.

Click on the preview image to see it larger.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Katie in my first shoot with a "real model" (that's to say, not a friend who I already knew, and she signed a model release and all that).

Update: I added the view from dinner (46th floor of the Hilton, Cityscape Restaurant. They have an amazing buffet and the view from all sides is very nice. Most of the larger buildings are on the other side if you're wondering why it doesn't really look like the downtown of a large city, but we had a bridge view which is always nice).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Customer Service

Funny how with some companies the only time you get decent customer service is when you pull your account - the branch manager calls and says you can call him personally any time. Um, yeah, but you never told me there even was a local branch before, and it's too late now, but thanks for the pointless gesture! My pocket lint filled account is outta here!

I've written about customer service before - it's important to me and I have little sympathy for companies that can't pull it off. It's just a question of priorities - and don't give me any of this "you can't get good people" stuff - when I worked for minimum wage at Disney we gave great service. (I worked at Disneyland one summer while in college. Taught me a lot that I've applied to every job ever since.)

Anyway, if you, the customer, want something, give me a shout. White borders around the edge of the picture? Unusual size? Can't find a particular picture? Can't say I'll always say yes - but I'll always give an honest response as quickly as possible.

Oh, and that's Loo. An older shoot but there's some fun stuff in there.

Cyanotype over Platinum Report 9: Round 3 results

I have prints that I'm actually willing to sell at this point, whoo hoo! I listed them here and you can check the others out. I'm going to make three more, including a replacement for one that was OK other than a slight registration problem, and then I'm going to go onto other things for a bit and see how people react to these (in other words, do they sell or not).

Monday, November 19, 2007

National Ammo Day

Law abiding citizens: don't forget to buy your 100 rounds today. (The rest of you can take the day off.)

Pictured: Fierce. You may also want to check out Lisa or Hourglass. In all cases scroll to the end of the set.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Black Friday

Pictured is one of the various Sarahs I've worked with. It's actually getting to be a bit of a problem in terms of having conflicting names. Some of you might find this interesting - many models model under their middle name, or their first and middle name if their middle name sounds more like a last name.

I mentioned shipping supplies last time - somebody was asking where I get them. First off, I use priority mail a lot and you can get various boxes and things for free if you use that. I don't use their tubes anymore through - they're not very tough. I get precut cardboard to stiffen envelopes and plastic bags for the prints and tubes mostly from Uline although sometimes the cardboard's cheaper from PaperMart and I use them instead.

Amazon's running a Black Friday Deals page that's supposed to have deals popping up over the course of Friday. It's kind of a clever way to get people bouncing back to the site all day - 6am - 6pm PST. If you are doing your Christmas shopping on Amazon do me a favor and click through that link and I'll get a couple of percent kickback (at no cost to you).

It turns out that if the last few folks who bought eBay items actually pay up (a constant problem) I'll be able to get another White Lightning light and then I'll be done with that whole process. It's taken a year - I bought the first one in Dec '06 and this will be my fourth. I'll have two 800s and two 1600s. A year ago I just had an Alien Bee 400 and 800, so that's a pretty major shift. I sold the AB400. I haven't decided if I'm going to sell the AB800 or keep it as a beater/travel light. I'd rather pay for this kind of stuff out of cash flow instead of going into debt (being a starving artist is bad enough without being a starving artist in debt) so I just kind of save up and knock the next item off the list when I can.

Other than that, not a whole lot of news - I'm starting to get firm dates from the models coming home for winter break, but the college students that make up a lot of my model pool are all going to be busy with finals and such until then so it should be pretty quiet around here for a bit. I'm going to try to fit in a few outdoor shoots in late December - always an interesting time of year to be on the bay at sunrise!

Friday, November 16, 2007


Pictured is Ursula, just because.

This is another small updates post.

Costco has LED-based Christmas lights - very low power, 100 bulbs are 4 watts. I picked some up, they look good and are plenty bright. Since LEDs last so long there's no extra bulbs and I don't think it's even possible to change them - presumably the Chinese cheaply made wiring will fail first, oh boy.

I had a potential model drop by - nice gal, stunning face, which I don't think she quite realizes (unless she's reading this!). I'll fit in a little cluster of shoots in the first half of December then stop shooting for a couple of weeks. I'm usually really busy shipping things out around then, and I suspect I'm going to end up putting the Christmas tree in the same area I shoot in and it just wouldn't work.

This is just starting basically part 1 of the holiday season for me. The last two years it started picking up around now, and sure enough both sales here on the website and on eBay have picked up a bit. There's kind of a slow steady ramp up to maybe December 20th. At that point the last couple of years there's been a serious spike for about three weeks when everybody's done shopping for others but they're in a spendy mood and they're spending a lot of time online and I do pretty well. This year I've been putting lots of money back into the business (new lights, film cameras, models, new computer and software) and I still have a few things on the list so hopefully that spike will be strong enough to let me achieve some of those goals. We'll see. Anyway, the way eBay works it's best if I anticipate this a bit and ramp up about a week early so that auctions will be ending at the right time, so I'm basically starting now. So there should be a lot more auctions items up than normal, starting now and building through the end of the year.

It's nice having done this a couple of years - once you see the patterns it's a lot easier to do things like make sure there are plenty of shipping supplies in advance.

If you're a photographer who's been considering trying eBay - try one batch around the end of December and another just after the new year - if you can't sell something then, you'll be totally screwed during the summer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bulb Oil, mostly

The Albany Bulb is actually closed off with signs about the oil. I don't know if there's actually oil there, or if it's just in case. It's a big bird habitat area. It's also where I shoot outdoors about half the time - it's a little spit of land that goes out into the bay and it's quite interesting.

Candy, pictured here, is at the bulb. More in the outdoor shoot we did - although the first part of the set is in another location.

Other news:

I have a couple of models I'm interviewing over the next week or so. I'm doing this more with potential models that don't really have a portfolio, especially since I'm really in no rush to shoot right now and can afford to be a bit picky. I also am already being contacted by models to set up shoots for their Christmas break (typically starts mid December).

The last bit of craziness is financial. I used to be with Brown and Company which was this small quirky brokerage. If I remember the sequence properly, they got bought by JP Morgan as part of their attempt to move online. They kept the branding separate but took the picture old man Brown off the envelopes and so forth, and at some point renamed it BrownCo. Well, JP Morgan merged with or got bought by Chase, forming the exciting JPMorganChase. I kid you not. And BrownCo didn't fit in with that very well, so they sold it to E*TRADE, who moved everything to using their software and so forth, but you still get the old Brown and Company rates which are very cheap. E*TRADE, or a part of E*TRADE has been putting their money into subprime mortgages, which turns out to have been about as intelligent as being the first ship to hit the Bay Bridge in the 74 years since they started construction and dumping oil into the bay.

So now the fear is that the whole company's going to be dragged under, and the secondary fear is that just the fear is going to make itself true when the retail customers (that's me) panic and pull their money out. In my case that's pretty much pocket lint, but I was rather fond of it and SPIC insurance or no that's no fun at all. So I spent this morning trying to figure out if it's all fluff (the collapse, not the pocket line which is definitely fluff) and if so what brokers still exist after all the mergers. I'm old enough to remember the S&L crisis - my S&L was solid but got bought by some company to prop up their bad investments but of course it wasn't enough and it all went under. Sigh...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Thanks folks, we really do appreciate it.

(Photo is I believe of some Sea Cadets, Alameda County Veterans Day Parade, in lovely downtown San Leandro. We got lucky with the weather - it was raining hard yesterday).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

This and that

Time for an odds and ends post.

The oil spill in the bay hasn't affected me directly - I'm a bit further south than most of the chaos. It's probably going to push the crab opening day back a couple of weeks which sucks - I'm a big fan of the local crabs. The crabs are on the bottom but if you pull the traps back up through oil obviously that's no good. Not too far from here some of the beaches have some oily birds but no oil washing up or anything. The bad stuff's up from around Marin county - extending as far north as Red Rock Beach which is where this shot was taken from this set. It's also featured in this set with Elanora. It's a great place to shoot but it's kind of far from here so I don't make it up that way all that often.

I'm not as active in nature photography as I was but I'm still on some of the local birder mailing lists so I have a pretty good idea of exactly where the problems are and what species are being hit. It's right in the middle of the migration, which is really awful timing since something like 80% of the birds on the Pacific Flyway come through here. Many of the birds are just getting a trace of oil which they can preen off but it makes them sick and they're spending their time preening instead of feeding up for the next leg so fewer will make it to their destinations.

One little note about the writer's strike - it's interesting being on some of the modeling forums, since a lot of California makeup artists are basically out of work for the next six months and they live pretty hand to mouth as it is. I can see that if the writers are going to get residuals clearly a decent chunk of the DVD and Internet sales would be part of that, but they also make ten times what the makeup artists make up front, and of course they don't get residuals at all. I'm not saying I'm against the strike, but I haven't seen any mainstream reporting of just how many marginal workers are going to get hurt by this and thought I'd mention it. On the plus side, Netflix should make some big bucks.

I saw a grossly overweight guy lecturing a trim, fit gal about how cooking food removes the nutrition and only raw food is healthy. And I mean massively overweight - I don't remember the last time I saw a guy with quite that much flowing over his belt.

No big shoot news - I have a couple of folks I'm talking to about shooting, but I'm not looking all that hard while I catch up on other things and recharge my creative batteries after all the shooting I've done the last couple of months. It's kind of a nice time of year to shoot outdoors with the tougher models, so I may try to fit in some outdoor work.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Model: Ursula

Hey, I finished the set with Ursula.


Somebody wanted to know what kind of music I listen to while I shoot and work on this stuff. I usually don't play music during shoots because it's a bit hard to hear my directions as it is with a camera in front of my face, but if the model requests music I have a swing playlist that works for most folks. Occasionally a model will bring something, and that's usually fine (mostly it's been stuff I have anyway).

In terms of editing, usually KFOG or I'll put the iPod on shuffle. I have a "shuffle fodder" playlist which is stuff that works well for driving/working/jogging. Mostly kind of upbeat and you don't have to pay too much attention to it.

But right now I'm listening to the C Minor Mass (The Great Mass) but that's very unusual while I'm working - I'm more likely to listen to classical music when I'm just listening to it. Mozart kind of works for this stuff though, so what the heck. Amazing guy, Mozart - when he was my age... well, he was dead for two years. (Yes, the old jokes really are the best).

Oh, and that's Ursula. Her set's coming along nicely.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Up and running

That's Jeanne, by the way, running and jumping.

Anyway, the new computer seems to work OK. I think there's a bunch of little settings that I'll have to keep remembering where they are, and random programs are still randomly deciding they need to update themselves but that's slowed since yesterday. Yesterday the network and drives were pretty much constantly humming.

I checked and the last machine was 5 years old. I'd upgraded bits and pieces of it, but it used some things you can't upgrade easily, like RAMBUS memory, and trying to handle lots of big files in Photoshop was a real pain. Although you have to wonder how long it will take to catch up versus all the time it takes to get a system up and running to my liking.

If anybody's curious it's a Dell XPS 720, running XP, 3.06 GHz core 2 duo, 4GB RAM (not all recognized by 32 bit windows), mirror RAID 500GB drives. Mid range gaming card.... 8600 GTS I think? All I know is the next one up was $400 more, and I do enjoy the occasional game but Half Life 2 Episode 2 looks plenty pretty as it is without spending $400 more. It has a nice media reader which handles compact flash and SDHC (and 17 other formats I don't care about), but typical Dell, it's just kind of loose in the bay and isn't very satisfying when you stick a card in. No big deal but on a Mac it would have been solid.

I'm keeping the old monitor for now - it's a couple of year old Viewsonic. Nice enough once it's calibrated.

I had to open a bunch of pictures and save out versions in the right format for the lab and it was much more zippy but the pictures of Ursula will be the first test of the whole workflow.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Post Shoot Notes: Ursula

I'm on something of an informal shooting hiatus while I catch up on everything from website design to setting up the new machine to some yardwork that should result in less stink eye from the neighbors. But I'll do one now and again when there's somebody too good to pass up. Here's Ursula, who you may remember from this blog post.

The new computer arrived not long after she left, so hopefully that will get set up soon.

Combat Photography

I've always been a bit fascinated by combat photography - in a lot of ways it has the biggest risks and rewards of any kind of photography. The rewards do tend to be more of a "change the world" sense than a financial sense, but a single shot can have a very real effect on how people perceive a war.

Michael Yon, who's a blogger who spends a lot of time in Iraq, has a little camera report up. He's been steadily moving from crap gear upscale. He's taken some amazing shots - you might recognize one or two of them which are pretty famous. I've liked his photography for a while - I actually have one of his prints.

Anyway, if you're interested in seeing some cool shots and/or reading about the needs of a photographer in that situation check it out. I'll update this when he has part II up.

Update: Sure enought, part II is up.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Outrage! No more POPCORN!

They discontinued the phone number you call to get the time. (853-1212 in most area codes - POPCORN in the SF bay area). AT&T says people aren't using it any more because computers and cell phones and so forth set time automatically and it wasn't used much, but how much could it have possibly cost to operate? If you call it now you just get a snarky recording saying it's been discontinued - which presumably costs the same as the actual time. I imagine they'll eventually unplug it totally.

Ah, here's an article if you want to know all the gory details. I'm still not convinced they couldn't have programmed something to do it in a more modern fashion for pocket change.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fiddling with the site

The new machine doesn't arrive for a couple of days, but the talk yesterday of revamping the site got me playing around with the new Dreamweaver (CS3 versus the 2000 version). I've done some really basic CSS hookup for the rest of the site (everything but the blog). I'm not doing anything structural, just making things look more consistent and clear and changing the color scheme on the picture pages to be easier on the eyes.

Turns out the site has about 6,000 pictures on it, who knew? They were always generated from a template but now I can make certain changes without actually regenerating and uploading everything. Other changes, still need to do that.

I also did basically the same thing on the Honest Portraits site (different font there - it's safer to make changes there so it's a bit of a testbed) and my much neglected personal/travel site (which I'm pretty much afraid to touch any more than I have). I don't mind the look of all three sites converging to a certain extent, obviously.

I'm probably going to leave the blog alone for a bit - I don't mind if it doesn't match the rest of the site.

Pictured is Avarice from a couple of years ago.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New Paypal Buttons

They sent warning of this a week or so ago, but it's live now - all my PayPal buttons are now in the new orange color scheme. You can see an example on the full page for the picture of Abby.

The 'lil jokers didn't update the "View Cart" button I was using. I checked into it, and I was using a size that's no longer supported. Which is cute because if you go to the PayPal HTML generator even today that's the link it gives you - to the unsupported one. I had to change the link in my template, and regenerate about a zillion HTML pages and they're uploading now. Oh, well, at least the new one's a better size - the old one was kind of huge.

Luckily the orange doesn't particularly clash with my scheme on those pages - some folks are really upset that they made a dramatic color change with little notice. One of my goals with this new computer is to get current versions of various pieces of software - I'm using a 7 year old copy of Dreamweaver, as an example, and hopefully there will be a bit of a website revamp later this year. I usually don't do a whole lot of shooting during the holidays so I have time for stuff like that.

Cyanotype over Platinum report 8: Round 2 results

If you don't know what a cyanotype over platinum is, check out my alternative process page.

Here you see a photo of the actual print versus the original Photoshop mockup. Pretty close, actually, ignoring the size difference. Close enough that I feel like I can come up with one of these and pretty much know what the final result will look like, anyway.

I also made a print of Aster's torso that I mentioned earlier - the coating didn't come out, but the registration is spot on. Unfortunately on this print it's off just a titch (half millimeter).

I've made three more duotones in Photoshop and will try printing them in the week or two. I'll post comparisons for those as well when the time comes. I'll also make another one of this torso so I'll have one to sell. I'd like to get a little collection of these up for sale before the Christmas rush (which for me starts kind of late - it's more people just finishing their Christmas shopping but still being online in a spendy mood buying stuff for themselves).
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