Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Post Shoot Notes: Orixx


These are actually from yesterday, but they're still just two shots I grabbed from the thumbnails, cropped and resized.

It was a good shoot. Orixx is one of these experienced traveling art models, and I didn't have a ton of time but with an experienced model I don't really need a whole lot of time. It's an interesting lifestyle - pick her up at the subway, do a quick shoot, drop her off and explain which direction she's headed and how many stops for the next shoot. I think she'll be gone in a day or two.

These were taken with the same background, by the way. The background's a charcoal grey, it just looks different depending on how much light's hitting it. Obviously there's a ton of light hitting it in one shot, and hardly any in the other, but basically it's possible to hit any point in between either by using the spill from the lights that are on the model, or by just using some different lights. If the background has color it's because there's a light with some colored plastic taped in front of it. Nothing to it, really.

Monday, September 29, 2008

New Model: Daniela

Here's just a few shots from my quickie shoot with Daniela. Simple stuff but it's a baby step to using more controlled lighting outdoors - good practice for me, she got some shots for her portfolio and experience (this was her first time in front of a studio light), and perhaps some folks here will enjoy some portraits of a pretty girl.

Those were all shot during the day - I was working more on the "overpower the sun" end of things rather than the "balance" end of things, although there's some shots where you can see the environment.

I'm going to try to fit in a couple of similar mini-shoots sooner rather than later and explore some different options. The idea is just to do one or two things each time and have it not be a huge project.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shipping Changes

I was poking around some options on the PayPal site and realized they've redone their shipping calculator - you can have different prices for domestic and international, among other things. I went ahead and took advantage of this, which means no more stupid button to add it manually, and I also adjusted the rates. There's a couple of approaches to shipping - you can make them really accurate and complex or you can just kind of ballpark it. And remember it's not just postage - shipping tubes and other packaging material have to be paid for somehow, and it's usually more at a per-order rate than a per-print, although some kinds of prints cost more than others, blah blah blah.

I decided to keep it simple, and add free shipping for domestic orders over $70. I picked $70 because it's pretty easy to hit, and that's roughly the break-even point where I save enough on eBay fees that I can afford to cover the shipping. For under $70 it's $6, which is slightly cheaper than eBay. For international it's a flat rate of $15, but I often pay more than that if it makes anybody feel better (it can run about $27 for some things, but they're expensive prints so it kind of works out).

I might fiddle with the exact cutoffs and amounts at some later date, but I'll let this just run for a bit first and we'll see how it goes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Washington Mutual

That was my bank, by the way, or one of them. Mostly because they have a branch nearby - I just used the ATM to deposit checks from print sales and to get some cash back and those few places you really need an ATM card (buying gas at Costco). I never kept a whole lot of money there, and the last week or so I'd pulled out some extra cash - my understanding is that the FDIC isn't exactly quick to make accounts whole and it can get kind of awkward to have your money tied up like that.

Luckily JPMorgan Chase bought them up (for pocket change, some lint, and the promise that they'd cover the checking/savings accounts without the FDIC having to do it) and until they get a chance to change the signs it's like nothing happened. Very strange, but that's the nice thing about having cash in a credit crunch - if you're the only ones who can make a deal happen you can get a sweet price.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Post Shoot Notes: Daniela

OK, before anybody gets too excited - this was a quick clothed shoot in a local park - for me an opportunity to test some studio gear outdoors (using a battery/inverter system to power the strobe) and the model's a local gal who's just starting out so it will kickstart her portfolio a bit. I may or may not really put out a full set but I'll use one or two on my portrait site.

It all went well - the case I was talking about the other day did its job. I ended up not using the grid for this but it was nice to know it was there if I needed it. I sort of wish the designer of the case had stuck in an extra pocket or two for random stuff - for a quick shoot like this I don't necessarily have a camera bag as such and I ended up throwing some extra batteries and such in the bottom of the light's case. It would also be nice if the handles were adjustable so that you could lengthen them to throw over your shoulder. But the bottom line is having a rugged case for a modifier like that is way nicer than not - I'd sure rather have a case sitting in the dirt than the actual modifier...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Pictures: Maria

So the bad news is that today's model forgot to call me to confirm this morning, so I never set up the studio, and while we did eventually talk it was too late to do anything. The good news is that I had time to finish up the new set with Maria.

This is the second of three sets where I'm setting the prices briefly at the eBay auction start price in an attempt to let customers skip the whole auction thing and just get what they want, already. If it seems to be working I'll leave it as a regular thing, otherwise, well, no harm done.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Amazon drops price protection

Well, that sucks. Amazon used to have a policy - I've mentioned it before - where you could contact them within 30 days of buying something and if the price went down they'd refund the difference. It wasn't automatic, you had to ask, but if you bought a big ticket item you didn't have to worry about timing, you could just do it and not worry about it. Well, they've removed the policy - there's no mention now on their website - and apparently if you write to them it's only good for items purchased before September 1st. But they never warned anybody so if you bought a camcorder or something without trying to time it, well, tough for you. Like you were supposed to check the policy after every purchase.

Luckily word's getting out, so at least now I know, but that was a good part of why I shopped on Amazon. I'll be a lot more likely to shop around and watch the price and maybe order from someplace else.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Little Updates

I'm working on Maria's set - I'll probably get those done around Wednesday. I have two shoots scheduled this month and am tentatively thinking I'll head back outdoors for a bit before the rainy season starts.

eBay as always is up to its usual tricks. They're requiring various handling times and return policies to be added to every auction, so that's hundreds of items to edit and their Turbo Lister program doesn't handle all the options which can make bulk edit tricky. They're changing their best match algorithm daily - the search results really make no sense. Part of the problem is that they're trying to mix up auctions and fixed priced sales in a way that frankly they weren't meant to be mixed. They're trying to become Amazon without the economies of scale and without dropping auctions too quickly. They're interested in dropping auctions because so many people have had bad experiences and it's not fun anymore and they don't want to wait a week to get their item - but many of the changes eBay's made the whole experience less fun.

They basically have no idea why they were successful in the first place and are terrified that it will stop at any moment, so they're trying to jump onto the next big thing before that happens. They have enough resources that it will probably work out for them in the end, but in the meantime they're making massive changes every couple of months and even full time sellers are having trouble keeping up with them, and it doesn't help any that they usually manage to screw up the actual implementation - every time there's a change rolled out it's done in some half assed way.

I'm doing OK there - I'm having my best September ever, so far, and it's my fourth one as a serious seller - but every time they do something crazy I spend that much more time on the website here, beefing up the shopping cart, improving the layout, gently trying to get buyers to check things out because they could basically flip a switch at any moment and become useless to me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Beauty Dish Grid Review




So if you don't know what a beauty dish is - it's one of many ways to attach something to the end of a light to make it look a certain way. It's traditionally used for things like black and white headshots of actresses. They went out of fashion at some point but are making something of a comeback. To see one, check out this one.

They produce a very useful light but have some disadvantages. When the fashion became to use huge but portable softboxes the idea of rolling around a 6' tall beauty dish, well, just not going to happen. But for a smaller space, with the lights close, they produce a very nice light, and they're actually very useful outdoors where large cloth modifiers tend to turn into a giant sail and carry away your gear.

I haven't used mine much because of a few reasons - they made a weird color choice on the white paint and it produces a fairly yellow light. This is fine by itself (easy to correct out) but it doesn't play well with my other modifiers in terms of color (although as noted in the comments, yes, you can always use gels to correct that sort of thing although I don't think I should have to). And it spews light around a small space - often fine for a headshot but if you want to get creative and use it for something else often it would cast a very ugly line of light out to the side onto the paper (just has to do with the light hitting the rim as it goes sideways). The first thing you can't do much about other than use it by itself or in black and white, but the second is quite fixable with a grid which is a honeycomb material that snaps onto the front of the dish. I use grids all the time - they kind of make more of a spotlight while basically retaining the character of whatever light they're on. In a small space like mine it gives you quite a bit more control. So I use reflectors with grids and octaboxes with grids.

The problem? They don't make a grid for that beauty dish. You can get one that sort of fits for other beauty dishes of the same size, but they're expensive and it's a bit cheezy. Also if you're using them outdoors it's good to have a case to carry the unit, and that's extra true if you're carrying this grid as well, which isn't something you want to have banged around.

Well, luckily somebody spotted a market opportunity, and started selling grids and cases. I got both. The case appears to be well made and tough - I'll talk about it more next time I drag a strobe outside. The grid fits very tight on my dish - even more so than on the video on that site - partially because my dish has been banged up a bit and isn't quite round.

It works great - it does exactly what I wanted it to, and it adds a lot of flexibility so that I can do things with a beauty dish that weren't originally intended.

In that standing frontal shot, you can see how it looks pointing right at her - the dish is just above the camera. You can see from the background how it produces a kind of spotlight effect with a nice falloff. In the one where she's crouched the light is up high and pointing down, and in the one with her back it's behind her and to the side.

Some of the stuff I tried worked, some didn't, but that's more a question of me experimenting than anything with the grid - beauty dishes generally have a sweet spot - a distance where they produce the best result - and it's just going to take some playing to totally dial in its full capabilities. But the grid and case themselves are very nice, and he shipped them well and fast, and so far I can highly recommend the combo. Hopefully that will still be the case after I try them out in the field!

Update: I did a quick outdoor shoot and commented on the case.
Update2: If people are commenting on this a year later perhaps I should mention that the manufacturer sells grids now, although not cases, and the specific grid I talk about above appears to be discontinued. This is a shame because as far as I can tell the one from the manufacturer isn't as nice.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Aargh Matey: Post Shoot Notes: Maria


I got a grid for my beauty dish (I'll make a post about that tomorrow) and needed a test subject. Poor Maria got to be the victim. It's always nice to do experimental stuff with an experienced model - you can just focus on the experimental stuff and not be teaching her how to pose at the same time, and often they've seen enough lighting setups that they can contribute ideas as to angles or whatever. Plus Maria's just a lot of fun to hang out with, and when something's not working it's a heck of a lot nicer being with somebody pleasant.

These two shots ironically enough are from the small part of the shoot that wasn't with the beauty dish - the first image is an example of a kind of lighting I've been playing with the last couple of shoots and I wanted to see how it looked, and the second is something I thought Maria might like to see (she was curious about how a particular shot worked that I did with somebody else and we played around with some similar stuff). As always, probably not the best shot in the group, I just grab one from the thumbnails. But I'll make a beauty dish post in a day or two once I've had a chance to look at them, and it will be a bit of a product review since this grid is something that's sold by a guy who just spotted a gap in the market and started having these things made and I don't know if folks know about him. I'll dig up his URL when I do the followup post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

5D Mark II announced.

And about time, too.

Looks like a great feature set for what I do. Maybe if I have a really great Christmas season I can consider it...

PS It's funny how some people are trashing it on the forums because some people hoped it would have 24 megapixels and it came in at 21. Six months ago when everybody was hoping it would be out soon people were hoping it would be 16...

New Model: Tavia Spizer

I just uploaded the new set with Tavia Spizer. The prices on lab prints are set to eBay auction prices as an experiment - I'll switch to the regular template sometime shortly after noon on Friday. If this works it will be a standard thing on every set - a one time, 1-3 day window for regulars to get what they want without feeling like if they want the best price they have to screw around with eBay.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tavia Tuesday

I'm basically done with the set - they'll go up tomorrow, probably in the early afternoon.

I had a nice pre-meet today with a potential model - looked like her picture, down to earth, comfortable with nudity, was a few minutes early... and she wore toe socks. How can you not love toe socks?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tavia ETA

I'm making good progress on Tavia's set so I'm thinking probably I'll be done around Wed-Thu, and if so I'll try my introductory price experiment until sometime Friday. Pricing on lab prints will be the same as I start items on eBay ($40 for an 8x10) before going up to regular prices. I'm not going to make it any precise time but when I upload the set I'll set a minimum, like "after 2:00pm" or whatever. Basically whenever I get around to hitting the button to upload the regular files.

It's a bit informal but the goal's just to give regulars a shot at getting what they want at auction prices without messing around with eBay.

Tavia's Australian, by the way - you guys miss out on some really cute accents.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

So my idea...

That's CK, one of my favorite models.

So in my post shoot notes for Tavia Spizer I said I was going to try something a bit different with how I handle the initial release of new shots. The problem I'm trying to solve is that after I bring out a new set a lot of regulars spend a lot of time basically seeing what I do and don't list on eBay before putting in an order for anything else they like, because they're trying to get them at auction price instead of store prices. And by the time they finish this there are some new pictures up and they don't always get as many as they originally intended. Plus that way I'm paying eBay fees which are relatively high and I'm always trying to gently shift business over to this website.

There's also this notion that it's easier to sell stuff if there's a sense of urgency or at least some kind of deadline is involved. That's one nice thing about auctions - they know that once it's done they know they have to pay the higher price, so people will just go for it instead of waiting. And if you start doing things like running a lot of sales it's a problem, because collectors want the prices to go up, not down, and if you do it often enough people will just wait for the next sale before buying anything.

One solution people use is they do limited editions and they set the pricing by quartiles. So if it's an edition of, say, 20 then prints 1-5 are at one price, and 6-10 are higher and so forth. It sounds great on paper, but most of the people doing it never really sell out of the first tranche, let alone the whole edition, and I think editions on lab made prints are stupid anyway, and I'd rather not track it for every print I sell.

I do get some benefit now when I'm about to raise prices - since I warn people I'll get a little boost before then. More all the time, actually, since people know I'm serious about it and that the prices never go back down.

But I thought of something simple that might work nicely. What if when I first list a new shoot I set the price for the whole set at the eBay auction price? That's my floor, so I'm not going under that. And I'll only have it at that price for, say, 24 hours. So the regulars have time to buy up what they want without screwing around with eBay, I don't pay the fees, and it gives an incentive to do it now instead of waiting. And if you miss it you were no worse off than otherwise. It's not much work for me, I don't have to track anything. It provides a benefit for people who keep on on the blog and know when the pictures will be listed.

So is it just me or does that work well for everybody? (Well, except eBay, but they can take care of themselves). I won't know until I try it, of course, and I'll probably fiddle around a bit with exactly how long it should be (24 hours? 72 hours?) and how much I'll advertise it (just on the blog or something on the main page?). But worse case if there's no uptick in sales I'll just stop after doing it a couple of times and I'll have learned something.

Anyway, when Tavia's set gets a little further along I'll post some more details, but that's the rough outline.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Post Shoot Notes: Tavia Spizer


I've had some bad luck with models lately - some legit rescheduling, some flaking, nothing too out of the ordinary but frustrating. And then last night I heard from this model who would be in the area for just a little while, and in particular as we got to talking it turned out that she had about a two hour window between a commitment a bit north of here, and another a bit south of here. And with a professional model I can get tons done in two hours, and it's worth it even if I ended up driving her to the next gig. There wasn't a lot of wiggle room but the previous photographer was kind enough to drive her to my place (thanks, whoever you were) and things went just fine.

As always, these are just a couple of images I liked from the thumbnails - I'll try to edit the set sooner rather than later, especially since there's something different I want to try in terms of how they're released (which I'll explain tomorrow).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Plugs

If you're looking for something to do today, these are good folks.

Soldiers' Angels

Semper Fi Fund
Special Operations Warrior Foundation

Friday, September 05, 2008

Earthquake!

We just had one of those long rolling ones. No magnitude data yet... it was pretty close but quite deep which spreads the energy out.

Update: It's in - 4.2 - not too shabby, and large enough that sometimes you get much larger ones.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hosting blues

So my hosting company, who I'm generally happy with, decided to move my server physically from LA to San Diego (about a two hour drive). So things were down from maybe 10:00pm last night to 2:00am this morning, give or take. The server changed IP addresses at the same time.

Well, there's a primary and a backup, right? So in this case ns4 and ns5. They updated ns4 to point to the new address but not ns5. So my sites kind of mostly work - if you get lucky and get the DNS off the first one, great, if not then the second one. So as an example if you go to a big DNS site like OpenDNS you can actually pull up what their cache has for the IP and hit refresh and they have five locations around the world and about 3/4 of them will be correct. And then you hit refresh again and they'll all bounce - still 3/4 chance of being right but a different 3/4 just depending on which one happened to have a failure on the primary and bounce back to the secondary.

I sent them a note about it - it will be interesting to see what they say and if it gets fixed promptly.

Update: At 2:00pm - almost six hours after I submitted a support ticket I got an answer back that indicates their own support people don't understand basic DNS issues and they would rather assume I'm a moron than to bump it up to the next tier. I also posted this issue to their support forums and got a response back that they're working on it, and they're different because they're part way done updating. Um, it doesn't take six hours to sync two DNS servers.

I can actually reach all my stuff because I've changed my Hosts file to the right IP 216.97.225.85 but I'm getting email from people elsewhere that can't get to my site. I get the email but slowly - basically it might fail a couple of times but eventually it happens to get the correct IP and goes through. A lot of notes are showing up about an hour after they were written, but it just depends on the site - sometimes they go right through if they have the right one cached.

I'm pretty appalled - these guys used to have really good support. Cost cutting, I guess, but it's looking like I should check out some other options. The problem is that it's hard to really be sure from word of mouth because unless you've had a technical problem like this you don't really know how they'll deal with it.

OK, let's submit this and see if blogger has the right IP address at this moment, or if I'll have to retry every five minutes...

Update 2: Here's a nice site where you can see this at a glance. If you look at the second status line near the bottom of the page you can see them not matching. Last update took three tries, let's try it again...

Update 3: Twelve hours after I originally brought this to their attention somebody finally forwarded it to a technical person. Hopefully they actually know what a nameserver is and how screwed thousands of their customers are. It's so frustrating getting email from folks trying to buy stuff wondering why nothing works and the company that screwed it up won't listen long enough for you to tell them exactly what the problem is, because you, an artist, know more about DNS than they do.

Update 4: It's now 24 hours after I first reported the problem to them, and 34 hours after they moved the server, and their technical person understood how to correct the record and corrected it... for the domain I used as an example. Which was my hobby site. Which is good, because it's actually where I host my eBay images so at least my auctions should be OK now, but they didn't fix it for this site or the hobby site so people's access will be intermittent. It's obvious to me now that I should have written a blindingly step by step set of instructions for them. I've now listed all my domains (I don't trust them enough to say "all of them") and given up on helping them fix this problem globally - I just want mine fixed now.

Update 5: That's more like it - one more hour and the ticket went directly back to a technical person instead of bouncing back to the bozo queue and they fixed my domains. Still no apparent understanding that it's probably other people too, but I'll take it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Jury Duty

It was kind of an odd experience. The Hayward courthouse was the only one that called anybody in, and even the regular jury waiting room people were on vacation. They had to call down the ladies from Oakland, which they could do since Oakland didn't need anybody. But here's how it worked...

8:00am show up at courthouse, go through airport style security (put shoes in the bin, etc)
8:30am get welcomed, told orientation starts at 8:45
8:45am practical stuff -how to validate parking ($1 off) and where the restrooms are and the cell phone policy and all that.
9:00am watch inspiring video that made us all really want to do jury duty
9:20am get told there's only one trial today and they're not quite ready for us yet and to come back in an hour.
10:30 get told the trial "went away", thank you for serving, don't forget to validate parking.
10:45 finally fought my way out of parking lot as 100 people all tried to pay and leave at once, with one cash-only booth.

Exciting, huh? I just wrote to models for two tentative shoots this week, one who needs to do a pre-meet, and two who I've met with and am ready to schedule. If you're a model I've been talking to and I somehow forgot you drop me a note...

It felt a lot like a combination of waiting to take a flight to someplace unpleasant combined with a DMV trip. I would have liked to have been on a trial as long as it was relatively short, but given the risk of a nasty trial (and it scares me that they called in 100 potential jurors for one trial) this works too, and I'm good for 12 months.
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