Friday, October 31, 2008

Post Shoot Notes: Maria


As always, a fun shoot with Maria. Tried some new lighting, shot another roll of film (so I can develop the one with Miette in the next few days), took one 4x5 frame to see if I'd fixed something properly (I had). I'm not sure of my exact timetable on editing - I have another shoot to do soon and things might start backing up a bit. I'm trying to think what I want to do before shutting the studio end of things down for a bit, and just do a couple of outdoor shoots as I focus on other things (including printmaking, and perhaps some large format stuff).

Happy Halloween!

I'll post a proper post shoot notes later, but Maria was kind enough to drop by this morning and subject herself to me doing a shoot lighting her just with a pair of strip boxes except a couple of shots at the end with the beauty dish.

It's a mixed nude/clothed shoot - should be fun to check out.

But right now my priority is to carve that pumpkin, and get the studio stuff put away before the kids show up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Silver Fiber Update

Well, last nice I received a reprint of my two silver fiber test prints. The initial test was kind of a disaster. And sure enough these look totally different. And it's not just that these are actually sharp (not just in a sharp filter kind of way, the old ones had this kind of strange out of focus look). On one print the body's in a totally different tonal range and on the other I'd noticed that they didn't seem to be using the whole tonal range and the dark areas... weren't... and it's very nice on this print.

I don't know what all changed but it's like night and day. I laid them out with a lab print in addition and showed them to somebody and asked them to rank them from best to worst and without hesitation ranked them old fiber print, lab print, new fiber print. For both shots.

I should have some kind of announcement in the next day or so about pricing.

Update: I put the two test prints up on eBay. I just put them in the store for now, so if somebody wants them they won't have to wait for an auction to end. These may be the only two I ever list on eBay - I don't intend to keep these in stock, or very rarely. It's more of a special order thing and eBay isn't well suited for items that take two weeks to come back from the lab...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Great Quote

The other day I had a rather wordy commentary at the end of this post where I talked about the importance of repetition and fine tuning.

I was reading Art & Fear and here's a great quote about that...

The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Model: Miette

I just uploaded the new set with Miette. I'm still doing the introductory price thing - listing at eBay auction prices for a couple of days so people can just get what they want quickly without dealing with eBay - and shipping's free if you buy enough (see the image pages for details).

I have I think two studio shoots scheduled and a couple of potentials I'm emailing and then I think maybe it's time to head back outdoors for a bit. This is a good time of year - ideally we get just enough rain to clear the air but not so much as to cancel a bunch of shoots. And it's a bit chilly in the mornings but not so bad as all that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Redone Set: Meg

I don't generally believe in revisiting old sets and revising them (other than weeding them down some). I'd rather spend the time shooting new material. But sometimes it makes sense, and I think with this set it made sense to make a few changes in enough shots that I just sat down and got it done. I thought the changes were enough to make it worth mentioning.

It's still a bit quirky - I think it's the only set where I actually kept a color chart image in the final images!

Anyway, check it out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Purge

I've mentioned before that after I post a set I'll revisit it periodically and just kind of slim it down - get a little harsher and pickier and remove some images. It's easier with some distance and you'll also get situations where I was really excited because I got some cool lighting to work but three sets later I'm already doing it much better and the old ones don't quite have the appeal they did when new.

I also periodically move entire sets from the main image page to the archive, and sometimes remove a set entirely although that's been pretty rare. But you know what, it's time to pick up the pace, and over the last couple of weeks I've kind of been poking at this - moving or removing a couple of sets here or there and it's added up to quite a few sets. This is mostly stuff from late 2003 to early 2005 with a couple of sets that are more recent.

One thing I did to make it easier on myself is to make a little odds and ends page that you can get to from the archive. It has 1-2 shots from a bunch of shoots that I like enough that I wouldn't want to toss the set. In some cases they have nostalgic value (like there's a picture from each of my first two outdoor shoots). So this lets me get past that issue.

I think I'm done with this pass on moving things around (or mostly anyway) but I'll probably keep poking away at trimming down some of the sets that I haven't gone through lately. Feel free to give me a shout if you notice something broken, and it's still broken after you wait a minute and reload the page (address is on the sidebar to the right).

The advantage to you? It's easier to find the good stuff.

I'm also still working on Miette's pictures (the 27th model shoot of the year) and I have one set I'm going to do a little retouching on and relaunch - more on that later.

This is perhaps also a good time to remind people that my oldest two books will be retired Jan 1st, 2009.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gas Prices

Today was a big errand day, working my way south doing things like getting my flu shot (Kaiser) and buying a pumpkin (Ardenwood farm which for the first time in 40 years didn't do a massive pumpkin patch but still had nice pumpkins for sale (grown elsewhere) - hopefully they'll be fully back next year). And at one point I bought gas. Along the same street I noted these prices (dropping the 9/10) all on the same street within a mile of each other.



Chevron - $3.21
Shell - $3.31 (these guys are always a bit more expensive)
Arco - $3.05 (cash only price)
Costco - $2.79 (cash only member only price).

Costco tends to follow the daily price very aggressively - it's clear the other stations figure gas has gotten so much cheaper people are glad to pay $3.25ish without comparison shopping. But a 40-50 cent per gallon spread's pretty impressive!

Oh, and that's Miette. Her set's coming along nicely and hopefully I'll have it up in a couple of days.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Post Shoot Notes: Miette



Here's two images from my shoot today with Miette. One with the color chart because I haven't done that in a while, and one with that high key lighting I've done the last few shoots.

That light's actually kind of a nice example of how I play with a certain kind of light - the difference isn't super obvious if you check an earlier set like Merilyn's with that light, versus a recent one like Orixx's but behind the scenes I've actually been changing the way I get that effect even though it looks very similar in the final version.

Keep in mind also that I just grabbed one that looked nice from the thumbnails - it's not the best image most likely. But behind the scenes I have a lot more control now depending on exactly how I want it to look, and the earlier ones had a lot of fiddling in Photoshop to get a few keepers and the recent ones look pretty much like that in-camera. In fact today was the first day I felt comfortable enough to shoot a few frames of film with that light - we'll see how it turns out much later because I'm going to develop it with something else I'm planning on taking next week.

That kind of repetition's really important if you really want to master this stuff. And by master it I don't mean taking a bunch of shots and applying enough Photoshop filters that you think it looks cool, not really knowing the final result. There's nothing wrong with that, but usually it means they couldn't do it again on purpose. That's cool if you're a more casual shooter or don't shoot that much but what if you have a portrait client show up, and point to a picture and say I want that lighting and a similar pose that will work well with my body type, well, you had better be able to do that. And do it in-camera if you don't want to send them away, process the shots, and then call them back later. I let my portrait clients pick right after the session and it's a big time saver for all of us. But they don't know what can and can't be done in Photoshop - it has to be right in-camera.

It also makes you fast - it's so cool being able to do in five minutes what used to take an hour, especially when you have portrait clients. You might do some fine tuning for their exact body type, but it's so much nicer if you can get things darn close right away. They're more confident in what you're doing, and it goes much faster, and it's just better for everybody.

Of course, on the flip side, you have to keep trying new things too, and I do that every shoot. Sometimes it's not totally obvious (similar look with different modifiers, just checking which way looks better) and sometimes you'll never see the result because it's icky, but that's OK - every shoot there's some lighting I have nailed, and something I'm fine tuning, and something new and although set-to-set they may be somewhat similar if you look at sets a month or two apart there's a steady progression, let alone six months or a year. And again - especially in the raw files - Photoshop can sometimes fix up the older ones.

I highly recommend anybody who wants to push their technical skills a bit further to go do some shots for a friend that they want and see if you can do it or not. Because if you can't, chances are you can't reproduce your artistic vision either, and you've fooled yourself by limiting your vision to what you already know how to do.

The actual background in both images is grey paper, by the way...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some nice stuff

So since I think the blog's been sounding much grouchier than I actually am, here's some other stuff...

I went to a great Flogging Molly concert Monday night at the Fillmore. The place was packed - I've never been to a sold out show at the Fillmore before. There are no seats (well, a few on the side, but not enough to matter) so everybody's just packed in, sweating on each other, and if you're old like me trying to avoid the crazy moshing that took up a ton of the floor. People were drinking so much I saw a gal collapse and get taken away after the second opening act - she never even made it to the main act. It's pretty old school - it's the one place I'm likely to be at where people still hold up actual lighters (instead of something safer), and nobody seems to mind if you smoke as long as there's no tobacco involved. Apparently it was much calmer at the show the previous night but it's always a bit odd seeing a concert there.

I got a "tactical beverage entry tool" from LaRue tactical who clearly has a sense of humor. They tend to throw one in if you buy something, so if you're a rifle guy you probably have one of these or know about them anyway, but they were new to me. It doesn't look like much but it's a great little product - you can use the center area to twist off bottle caps, or one of the feet turns out to be perfect to pop off bottle caps, and the tail and rear foot let you open up cans where the tab snapped off or whatever. The eyehole's a good size to tie it to something so it doesn't walk away.

And it sounds silly, but every time I use this thing it just makes me happy - it's such a clever design, and it's nicely made, and it just plain works. And with everybody selling tactical-this and tactical-that (because it's black and they think they can sell it for more that way) it's nice to see somebody who doesn't take it too seriously.

Also if anybody wants to see how Yosemite is looking right now, I have some snapshots over at the hobby/travel/whatever site. (That's where this picture is from - that's milkweed).

One final thing... I've made some changes to international (non-US) shipping. I figured out how to have different pricing for Canada and Mexico - $12 instead of $15. And I put in free shipping for orders over $150. The individual picture pages don't say anything about this yet, but you'll see it in checkout. (and if you don't, email me - the address is in the sidebar over there on the right)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fleet Week Pictures

For those interested - I have some shots from Fleet Week up over on the travel/hobby/misc site. That's Alcatraz in the background - interesting to see all the folks watching the show from there - I'll have to try that sometime. It should be a cool photo angle with the city in the background.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Crappy prints

Well, color me disappointed. I just got two silver fiber prints made from digital files today (that I mentioned earlier) and they're horrible. Extremely soft, no details. If they were made conventionally I'd say the enlarger was out of focus although I'm not sure how possible that is with these digital laser enlargers. I sent them unsharpened files, but they're supposed to take care of that and in any case I don't think that's the whole story - the quality's just plain bad. I would have been far better off with a $2 Costco print or just printing something out on my Epson.

I was so sure that these would be wonderful prints that I actually had already rewritten all the "about prints" stuff to include this option, redid all my templates, regenerated every page on the website with the pricing - I just had to make sure my test prints looked like they should and hit upload. "Trust but verify", basically - I know what a good fiber print should look like and if they looked like that I'd be set. And now I have to roll back to old versions (luckily I have them!) and regenerate everything.

I paid $90 for two prints, too - I really wish I'd just tried one to start but I wanted to try two different kinds of images as a better test. Again, I had no expectations something like this would happen.

I've written to the company - we'll see if I get a timely response. I'll give them a little time to either fix their problem or if they can't do any better provide a refund before mentioning their name. But if any of you were looking forward to this option, my apologies, and I guess that teaches me to believe marketing hype at all.

Update: I hadn't even bothered to compare them to the prints from my regular lab because there didn't seem like much point, but I did and sure enough you would want the regular lab print over the silver fiber print every time - and neither compares to a platinum print. Interestingly enough on one image there's a tiny bit more shadow detail than with the lab print, but the whole image is rather low contrast - I think they just pulled everything way in to avoid risking clipping, but with platinum it would have had more shadow detail than either and much blacker blacks. With the lab print a small adjustment would have given better results than the fiber print.

Something's seriously wrong here! Although I have to say - I'm feeling the love for my regular lab right now...

Update: They called and while they're very polite/friendly I'm not sure they entirely understand the issue. They're redoing the order and we'll see if the results are any better, but the conversation focused on this sharpening issue and I still don't think that's the whole story. But even if they manage to produce a decent print this time around it takes two weeks to get a print from them, and my customers aren't going to wait a month while I try multiple times to get a decent result out of the lab, and with my volume it's going to be massively frustrating for all concerned.

It's a real shame, because I've been getting requests for traditional (non-inkjet, non-cprint) images in larger sizes than I can do in platinum, and I probably would have been ordering quite a few 11x14 and 16x20 prints from them.

But who knows, maybe they'll thrill me on try two... in the meantime I'll continue reverting the entire site back to the version without fiber prints as an option...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Darn Birds



I've been going through my fleet week pictures, and found something kind of odd. The first shot is an attempt at getting one of the Blue Angels down in ground clutter which can sometimes be interesting. It's not that great of a shot either on an artistic or technical level, and in particular I think the focus jumped to the boat, but they're moving so fast you just kind of accept that the keeper rate may not be great but sometimes you'll get something unexpected.

Well, look at the second shot - it's a crop of the first one so you can see the gull in formation.

Kinda fun.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Yosemite and Books

I just got back from a couple of days in Yosemite (which is why I let the initial pricing on the Anni set run a bit longer than normal). Click the picture to see the stars - this is a night shot. I'm sure I'll post some pictures eventually but I have some other shots to do first (fleet week/Blue Angels).

The other bit of news is that some copies of the newest book, Nudes, have arrived. If you go to the books page there's a link to order, or you can click through to eBay.

Friday, October 17, 2008

eBay's screwed

They're having all kinds of technical glitches (like search was totally broken the other day) but that's not what this is about - you know how eBay had kind of entered the language, almost synonymous with well, you need to buy something weird or cheap, that's where you go.

I was walking behind a family with a toddler today and there was some involved joking about how the toddler wanted to take pictures and the mom and dad were hassling each other "Oh, he can use mom's camera." says the dad. And then one of them said, "Well, maybe we should - we can get one cheap on craigslist."

Uh, oh...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Huh

I know I've been sounding cranky lately on the blog (which is odd because I've been in a good mood) but perhaps this will help make up for it. (if you don't see it below, you can see it here).


How to ask for things

I mentioned about a year ago about a particular kind of sales pitch that really irritates me - basically when they're trying to sell you some service to improve your business (or whatever) but they're really insulting about it. So instead of just saying "we do great jobs with lawns" it's like a guy leaving you a note on your door saying "your lawn really, really sucks. It's the ugliest in the neighborhood. Oh, and by the way, I do lawns." And you know, even if I agree and I just haven't gotten to it yet, that's the last person I'm going to have help out.

I actually haven't gotten a whole lot of those lately - maybe people are figuring out that it's a bad approach - but with the economic scare now it's more like "You must be really desperate to sell anything! You had better offer me a huge discount!". Um, no. And welcome to my blocked bidder list... and like some of those notes in the earlier post, there's a kind of form letter quality to it - you wonder if they're just fishing with a ton of people to see what they can get, or they're running a scam and step 1 is just to identify some people so desperate that they'll put up with being insulted and deal anyway. Very strange.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Model: Anni

I just uploaded the new set with Anni. I set the introductory pricing thing out a couple of days out further than usual, because I may not be able to get to it until then anyway and there's no point in confusing people and having that version of the page up well after the end date. Anyway, if you want some prints at the same rate I start them on eBay and don't enjoy the "eBay magic" here's your chance to get the best possible price. (Actually, it's even better than that, because I never list anywhere near all of them on eBay, and here you get free domestic shipping for orders over $70.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Post shoot notes: Fleet Week!

Lots of great ship and airshow action today - click the picture to see it larger. As usual, I just grabbed a fun one (who couldn't peek at the Blue Angels pictures?) but I'll finish up my recent model shoot before diving into these. Speaking of which I'm hoping to have the new shoot online in a Monday/Tuesday kind of timeframe.

Politics

So it's getting harder and harder to read blogs right now - you'll get some interesting blog about pottery, or art, or raising their kids and it's all very interesting and then all of a sudden they'll throw in some lunatic rant about whichever Presidential candidate they don't like. And instead of bringing up any of the many legitimate concerns one might have about either candidate, they bring up some lunatic rumor they heard from a friend of a friend who's on some political forum, and you can barely recognize the original version in their mangled retelling, and the original version's been debunked anyway.

In an extreme version on one website I visit there's one photographer I know who in addition to his regular account has a sockpuppet account for some of his naughtier work who has had recent political rants on BOTH accounts. Kind of double dipping, as it were. Personally I think he just likes attention, but not all attention is good.

Geeze, people, if you're going to rant about this stuff, at least do some basic fact checking first! Or keep it vague, like "That other candidate sucks!" Or perhaps do it on a political forum where not only will people be more interested in what you have to say, they'll correct some of your crazier ideas so you won't look like a total moron in front of the people who are usually so impressed with your knowledge of basketweaving or whatever it is your blog's normally about.

And if you post stupid rants anyway, and then go on to delete the comments of people trying to gently correct you because you've quoted three urban legends with no basis in fact, you get extra points for that. Or if you end your post telling people in advance that you'll delete their comments, because Waaah! somebody disagreeing with you would hurt your feelings. Lies Waaah! All lies! But if you did that, you wouldn't be able to post "Why do those stupid members of the other party believe X? How stupid!" or "How can they believe both X and Y at the same time? What hypocrisy!" Because, what, if you actually communicated with a member of the other party, and found out that they don't believe X that wouldn't be any fun? Or if only the most extreme edge of the party believes that, and the rest of the party has disavowed them? For 20 years? And they haven't had any power since then? Gosh, you might even find out they're people and everything. And really, where's the fun in that?

Yes, I do feel better now, thank you for asking.

Update: This wasn't about any one person - I literally have four or five recent posts by different people in mind. I heard second hand that somebody thought this was about them and got upset and there really was no need, although if more than half of this post sounds familiar maybe you should think about what I'm saying, even if it isn't specifically about you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Some book news

For no obvious reason, sales of my latest book Nudes, have perked up a bit and my fancy inventory control ("Hmm, that pile's getting low") wasn't up to the task. I have one copy left which is listed on eBay, but after that there could be a delay while fresh copies are slowly winding their way to me via the cheapest possible shipping method (oops). So if you have your heart set on getting one soon, I'd suggest picking it up, buying an unsigned copy of that or my prior books from the publisher, or just planning on waiting a bit if need be.

Speaking of the prior books, I've generally been making a push towards highlighting the newer material (I just did a big eBay store revamp, removing older items, I've pushed a bunch of sets from the current page to the archive page, and even retired a couple of older sets altogether). In that vein I'll be retiring the two older books, "San Francisco Nudes" and "Simplicity" on Jan 1st, 2009.

Update: Oops, well, minutes after I posted this somebody bought the last copy. So go with the publisher, or if you want a signed one use the shopping cart on the books page and I'll ship one when I get it (might be a couple of weeks).

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Odds and Ends

So I'm going to declare the approach of listing new sets at eBay auction prices for a couple of days a success. Some regulars took advantage of it and it didn't really seem to have any downside. Regulars can get what they want without dealing with eBay and seeing what is and isn't listed, and it helps keep my eBay fees under control. And I'm not undercutting normal pricing since it's just for new sets, and it's no lower than the lowest eBay scenario.

I just ordered a couple of prints using Ilford's new true silver fiber process. For folks who don't know what that means - there are two kinds of traditional black and white prints, RC and fiber. Fiber's the higher end process - very pretty, very archival. If you went into a gallery and bought a print you would expect it to be fiber. It's pretty much the highest quality mainstream black and white process - not quite up to the level of a platinum print, but it's not like very many people can make those.

The interesting new twist is that they've figured out how to take a digital file, use a laser to expose fiber paper at crazy high resolution/quality and then they just wet process it normally. So you get a regular fiber print when all's said and done. I believe there are just a couple of labs who do this - I know of only one in the UK and one in the US.

They're expensive so they wouldn't be a whole lot cheaper than my platinum prints but they can make larger sizes (I've had a lot of requests for large platinum prints but I can't physically make one without buying/building a lot of stuff). Plus probably more people understand what a silver fiber print is versus a platinum print so they might be popular for that reason. On the downside silver isn't as stable as platinum, it doesn't have that totally handmade aspect (with the brushmarks) although it is wet processed, and platinum has a larger tonal range. But they should be prettier and much more archival than the lab prints.

I'll update when I get them - I'm not expecting them for a couple of weeks - but hopefully it will be something I'll be offering by the end of the month.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Post Shoot Notes: Anni

Three weeks until her due date...

Monday, October 06, 2008

New Model: Orixx

I just uploaded the latest shoot - Orixx.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Little Updates

I went to the sausage and suds festival - my little town has a lot of sausage and other food companies (something to do with a really good waste water treatment plant) so I'm happy. I actually don't drink so the suds are wasted on me, but there's something nice about sausage cooked with lots of their friends so the whole area has a cloud hanging over it that you can smell for a mile away.

The Orixx set should go up Monday morning or afternoon, doing the introductory rates thing again until Wednesday at noon. I'll officially decide to continue it or not after this set, so no promises after this one, but it does let regulars grab some shots without seeing if they'll show up on eBay or not and it's just nicer for everybody.

I have this kelpy traveling model that I'll never work with because she cancelled one shoot (because she was going to be in a different part of the state - didn't realize California couldn't be driven across in an hour apparently) and then she effectively cancelled another shoot later that summer by trying to squeeze more money out of me just before ths shoot. And basically she's in town four times a year and always asks me to shoot with her.

Well, this trip I've gotten multiple notes from her, because she found me on a photographer's forum and is spamming me there as well. And I'm wondering - when will it end? Every time some comes through, will she write to me once from the modeling site, and once from a nude art site I'm on, and one replying to the email thread from our prior failed shoots, and...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Great Big Sea!

Last night I got to see Great Big Sea in concert - they're a Canadian band (from Newfoundland) and while they tour quite a bit they don't make it down this far south very often. They do a nice mix of traditional/new songs and I've always heard they're wonderful in concert but this is the first chance to see them in person. Turns out they were even better than I'd heard. Plus - first row, was with a beautiful woman, and I ended up with a pick which is a nice keepsake.

It was a nice long concert and we headed out tired but happy. And then of course it turns out that they closed the entire freeway just before the bridge and we got led on a half hour tour down one ramp, a couple of turns, and back on the last onramp before the bridge. You would think they would have had warning signs on the way over so we could have gone another way but nooooo.....

I would have liked to sleep in (one of the nice things about being a starving artist - I set my own hours) but I had a pre-meet at 9:30am at a local coffee place. That I'd rescheduled because her work allegedly changed her hours. And then of course she no showed - thanks! In a sense this is exactly why I do these meetings - I only wasted 15 minutes on her instead of a whole studio setup/teardown - but I think I'm going to go back to bed....
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