Saturday, January 31, 2009

Menzies' Wallflower

That's Menzies' Wallflower. It's endangered, and only lives in a small area of sand dunes on the California coast and in particular is almost gone in Monterey. I know this because there was a convenient sign explaining why they had little wire cages over many of them. (The cages are for deer, not people). I found one without a cage to shoot with a long lens.

I was in Monterey for a couple of days, tagging along at a scientific conference. It was like living in The Big Bang Theory (the TV show, not the creation of the universe). I have a bunch of special orders piled up (mostly people getting in ahead of the price increase I imagine) and I'll get those ordered momentarily.

Shoots in the new studio start Wednesday. I have one last shoot from the old place to edit - I'm not sure of the timing but hopefully those will get done in a timely fashion. But for the next couple of weeks I'm taking a bit of "shoot first, edit later" so I can get some shots banked. I still have the major part of the move to do, the old house to fix/list/sell, and other life disturbances planned so it's hard to do really long term planning but if I can get somebody nice into the studio, that's great.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Model: Laura

OK, the set with Laura is up now. I haven't been using props much lately so I may as well explain the light bulb shots - UPS delivered the bulb during the shoot so we did a few shots with it. Simple explanation, huh?

Note that I'm doing the introductory pricing based on the "old" (current) rates, which means Feb 1st they'll not only go up to current pricing but the new rates. Just the way the timing worked out, but the upshot is that they're $30 now or $50 then.

Oh, and here's a good euphemism I heard the other day - I'm not "raising prices" I'm "streamlining my prices". (Actually I heard it in the context of layoffs - it's not "rightsizing" anymore it's "streamlining").

Monday, January 26, 2009

CyberSyncs

Click on it to see her laugh!

I rented a small truck today and moved a lot of stuff that's too large for the Honda but not so large as to require movers (bookcases, etc.) which included a bunch of rolls of seamless paper. The stuff tends to pile up - you get to the end of the roll and it's getting dirty but you can maybe get one last messy shoot out of it or something so you save it... and then you never actually do messy shoots so it just piles up. Oops. I'll have to see if I can fix that.

I mentioned I have a new trigger system and would post a mini-review, and I want a break from editing the set I'm planning on posting tomorrow, so now's a good time.

For those who don't know, to trigger an off camera flash there are a couple of ways. You can run a cable or you can use an optical trigger or you can use a radio trigger. Radio triggers give you the most freedom and reliability, especially when you use one per light. In my case I own six receivers and two transmitters.

The gold standard for these are probably PocketWizards, which are around $200 each. Maybe a bit less, so call it $1500 for the set. Ouch! So I started out life with some cheap eBay triggers (not that reliable, work over short distances, but $50ish for one transmitter/receiver pair) and upgraded a while back to the White Lightning version. These were basically the same design as the eBay ones but with better service and from a stable company so I could add on over time as I added lights. By the end of 2007 or early 2008 I had four active lights (plus a spare) and every one had a receiver, and I have two transmitters (I could actually use three - one for the main camera, one for the light meter, one for a film camera).

Unfortunately their Chinese maker started cheapening out, substituting parts, and generally screwing them so after a big debacle of returns and pain they discontinued these units. Mine were OK since they were older but part of the point was to be able to add on, and suddenly I can't. Ouch.

Well, they designed a new set from scratch, called the CyberSyncs. And because White Lightning (who is owned by the same guy as Alien Bees - they're on both sites) is very service oriented they offered a very generous trade in. Additionally they came out with "plus" receivers which will hopefully allow control of the lights once they ship the "plus" transmitter (aka "Cyber Commander") - not just triggering but changing the power and so forth. They also have battery operated models which are becoming popular because they can also be used to power small battery powered flashes, allowing for very portable setups.

And even the plus versions are half as much as PocketWizards, and after the generous rebate they're a quarter as much, so that's all good.

I've done a couple of shoots with them plus some testing. They work great - fired every time, if you multiply number of lights for a given shot by number of frames it should be well over a thousand flashes. I haven't gone for distance but they're supposed to work over hundreds of feet. I did get a 3rd party cable that lets you hook up a receiver to your camera and that works to trigger the camera. Unfortunately the cable was miswired but you can get it to work (just put the switch in the off position and it turns on and vice versa) and they were totally unhelpful so I'm not exactly going to plug those @#$#@s but suffice to say the CyberSync part works great (and it's the same cable you would use with a PocketWizard - it's specific to the camera, not the trigger).

It's nice to be able to trigger your camera not only for the usual reasons - self portraits or whatever - but just as an example sports and wedding and other event photographers will ditch extra cameras places that they just can't get to during the event. Like right over the basket, or behind the altar. Will I use it much? I have no idea, but it's good to have the cable just in case.

So all in all, it's a nice system. The immediate benefits are the camera triggering and the small flash triggering, it's more future proof (since it's the current system and I can buy more of them0 and when the Cyber Commander ("plus" transmitter) comes out that should be pretty nice to be able to control the lights remotely. As an example now when I have a light up high I have to stand on a stool and adjust it while the model holds a light meter down below. It's still nicer than not having a meter at all (then you have to keep getting down, into position, take a shot, chimp, get back on the stool...) but it should be a nice benefit.

OK, back to editing...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Getting there...

I've installed the baseboard, so the studio's officially done in terms of remodeling. I've moved a fair amount of gear over but it's all in bags in the middle of the floor - nothing's organized and there's some key stuff that I won't move over quite yet. Like, oh, a camera! But I'll be able to start shooting there shortly.

The shot over to the left there is from the set I'm currently editing. I'm hoping to have it up by Tuesday, because I'm going to be distracted for a couple of days after that. So it will either be up Tuesday or in a week...

The good news is that I have a few shoots scheduled and I posted a craigslist ad for models and got over a dozen replies in the first few hours. Shouldn't be too hard to find some good ones and get things rolling again (knock on wood).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cute!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Well that's that

Well, that's that. I'll leave the details mysterious for now, and write up a proper post shoot notes later but I just did the last shoot in the old studio. I did two in two days so that I'd only have to set it up one last time.

The new wireless system is still working great - flashes every time, yay. I'll write up something on that in a day or two.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post Shoot Notes: Bob!


OK, she's not really named Bob.

The test chart one's the first frame, the other one's just a shot I liked from the thumbnails. It's just a beauty dish with a grid.

I tried a couple of little things different - some appear to have worked better than others but I'll get them dialed in some other time. But mostly just a new but nice (and lovely!) model and doing some simple stuff and getting back into the flow of things. I was running behind getting everything set up so the planning was, um, nonexistent but it worked out OK.

Gear-wise the only thing new is a new wireless setup. Looks like every light fired for every frame. We did some jumping and other shots that require shooting a fair number of frames. Probably I'd just have one or two failures with the old setup so it's not like I was having big problems - I got the new units mostly as a forwards compatibility thing but also because they can trigger regular battery strobes off-camera and can trigger the camera. I'll post a mini-review of what I'm using later after another shoot or two. One issue is that I'm trying to get something resolved with a 3rd party cable that's miswired and I'm hoping for a resolution so I can talk about everything at once.

I have another studio shoot tomorrow and then all the gear moves into the new place. Hopefully I'll do the baseboard Friday and I'll really be ready to roll.

One thing I need to think about is the fact that I can rent/lend it out as a studio - it's pretty self contained and always set up so if somebody's going to be in the area it's not like having somebody shooting in my living room, which is what I'm doing now. It would probably be just for people I know or are at least friends of friends but as long as people know what they're getting (small but decent, nothing fancy but it all works) it can be a help. Sometimes you'll have a photographer who's on vacation and borrowing studios as they go, or they don't have a home studio and the regular rental places are all booked but they need to do something on a certain date or something. So it probably wouldn't be a real commercial venture or anything, more of a "bail out a buddy" thing.

Anyway, I'll try to get these edited sooner rather than later... it should be before the price increase (Feb 1st) but if not I'll have these at the lower prices for a little while just so nobody thinks I stalled on purpose. :-)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Server Update

As I write this the server's down. I've scheduled Blogger to post it at 11:00am (PST) - the site's supposed to be back up at 10:00am. We'll see if it goes through or not.

The more I think about the outage the more irritated I am. I run multiple sites and let friends/relatives use one of the domains for email. (These were all set up before services like gmail were common/reliable). So I'm a kind of mini-ISP, as it were. And they sent me notice at 8:00pm local time - 11:00pm back east - saying the servers would be out starting at 7:00am. So I send email to all these people sometime after 8:00pm, depending on when I happen to check it (which isn't that often since I'm working on the new place). What if they don't check? What if I lived in New York?

So everybody checks their email in the morning, and the server's down. Or maybe I had some auctions scheduled - too bad, they won't have pictures when they close. Too bad if you were selling something valuable. It's not like you're paying for a business-grade account... oh, wait, you are? Well, tough.

And to say, well, it's OK, because we're "going green" - I'm sorry, you must have ordered all the stuff and set this up weeks ago. I think if you had sent me the email notifying me a day or two ahead somehow the environment would be OK. It's not like the benefits from the surprise factor. The polar bears would have been just as happy if I were notified in advance. Anyway, everybody knows the real reason a company saves power is to save money - if they were really interested in going green they wouldn't run a huge datacenter - they're massive power hogs even if you do make a few little improvements here and there. If they really cared they wouldn't just have moved the servers to San Diego where they need even more air conditioning than before.

This is kind of a last straw. I've had support problems recently, downtime, a botched server move, and now just general idiocy. I've removed Lunarpages from the sidebar. Until I do a full republish it won't disappear everywhere but if you can read this hopefully the main page has been updated. I'll remove the link from the support the site page when things are back up and I'm back from some errands. I think I'm paid up until the end of the year so I won't be moving instantly, or at all if things settle down, but as of now I don't feel like I can recommend them.

Update: There's a thread about this on their forums. Title "Total lack of common sense and consideration". Sounds about right. I've also noticed that my server seems to be coming up and down fairly randomly. Not good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Server craziness

Blinds up, light changed, smoke detector moved, baseboard purchased (sitting on bench). It needs to be painted and installed, neither of which is very difficult but both of which are somewhat time consuming. There's a little paint touchup. And that's basically it in terms of the studio other than the actual moving part.

I'm not sure if it was blogger's fault or my hosting company or what, but apparently yesterday the blog reverted to its status on Christmas. I'm republishing and it should be OK, but how odd. I kind of think it might be Blogger since they show a republish on the 15th and I didn't write anything then and that's when it reverted.

Also, with just a few hour's notice apparently the server's supposed to be down for a good part of tomorrow. Perhaps some people will read this in time, but gee, wouldn't it have been nice to get more than 11 hours notice? Also how pathetic that they're saying it's for electrical changes to "go green" instead of "holy crap our electric bill's high, let's see what we can do about that."

I have a model meet and two shoots scheduled in the next few days. I have quite a few things scheduled out the next few weeks. And once I get things running in the new studio (Jan 25ish) I'm going to try to schedule quite a few shoots over roughly the next six weeks. There's a convergence of events after that and I might have to slow down shooting for a while, so it's better to have some shoots banked for later. (So shoot like crazy now, edit later.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Macworld postscript

Part one of two...

Apparently the Market Street Cinema (MSC) (a local strip club) was offering half price admission or even free admission during certain hours with your Macworld badge and somebody was asking if they'd missed anything, since I mentioned I went to Macworld and I am presumed to have some expertise in the whole naked women department.

The short answer is "probably not".

The long answer is that while my direct experience is pretty minimal I do work with strippers occasionally... actually I'm not sure if that's true. A few of the models on here have at some point worked in such a club, but I don't think at the time I shot them. But between gossip from them and the occasional bachelor party invite I do have a basic knowledge of the "locals clubs" (less so about the touristy places on/around Broadway). And MSC used to be known somewhat affectionately as "the cesspool"... before it went downhill. Let that one sink in for a bit. There was one gal there that I'd loved to have worked with - in addition to being known as a performance artist she did a wonderful contortion act at MSC - but last I heard she was on the run in South America hiding out from Homeland Security. That's what the San Francisco Chronicle said at the time anyway. And remember, those were the good old days and she was the best thing they had going.

So I dunno, it's possible that it's somehow perked up, but it seems to me that if you have a limited amount of time in the city probably there are better things you could be doing. (Try Crazy Horse if you really are focused on the naked women thing).

Part two of two...

They're actually giving out free expo registrations for MacWorld 2010, I think because the show may be killed if Apple's abandoning it, and they want to go to companies and say, "See, we have so and so many people registered already!". You don' tneed a code or anything, you just need this URL. Don't blame me if they send way too many updates - they do seem a bit email happy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Little Updates

The new place is proceeding along. Here are the floors at the end of the process. Since then, the shutters are gone, holes filled (they were held on with a weird mix of screws and nails). They need a little touchup paint and then the new blinds will go in. They've arrived finally. The new light still hasn't - need to call them. I've noticed that they're bad about letting you know when things have actually come in. The toilet through that door has a new flapper valve (so it won't leak). It's probably about time to buy/paint/install the baseboard.

I have two studio shoots scheduled next week (not sure which studio frankly) and have a low key search out for anybody willing to work outdoors in the next week or so. The weather here has been mostly cold, sometimes wet. Today it's blustery. It's a bit of a hard sell. Once the new space is a little further along I'll probably be playing catchup - I actually would like to shoot a ton in Feb/March and bank some shots because I'm going to be busy with another project right after that and I'm not sure how it's going to impact everything yet.

My stock of books is back to normal, so no worries there if you want a copy of Nudes.

Some people have been asking me how the economy's effecting me. It's been mixed. The portrait work has been very slow. Which in the short term's fine - if I got a late-notice maternity shoot it would be hard to fit it in right now. But once I have a permanent space it should be easier to do shorter shoots like portrait work, or to give first timer models a shot with a one hour shoot... or whatever. Point is, it's flexible.

eBay sales have been up and down. They were actually really strong the second half of the year despite my attempts to divert as much as possible to direct sales, and then almost stopped Jan 1st. You can hear the tumbleweeds rolling through the eBay store at the moment, but it's always been choppy. You'll sell a thousand dollars one week, and then nothing the next. People who try it often don't stick with it and you really do need to be a little patient with it. But direct sales have been pretty good pretty consistently, and I've had a big uptick in platinum print sales. I don't know if that's a fluke or what, but I've been fitting in platinum printing fairly regularly.

So, yeah, it's been mixed and it's hard to draw any conclusions, really. I have my next price adjustment scheduled soon which will complicate matters. I haven't raised prices very often but it doesn't seem to make that much difference in sales. The first time there was a slowdown for a couple of weeks until people realized I was serious, but other than that people pretty much seem to ignore it. I think most of my regulars realize they're still underpriced and figure they'll get while the getting's good...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Studio update



Well, we're getting there. Here's a shot from before we owned it compared to how it looks today. Hopefully the new light and blinds will arrive soon - that will make a big difference to how it looks. There's also some other stuff to do but it won't be as obvious in a small picture.

(That wood's fir or something - we knew it would be blotchy even after finishing but it looks pretty OK, it's perfectly functional, and it was cheaper than adding even a low end floating floor.)

Update: Looks even better totally dry... but it's way too stinky to do any work in there for a bit. The blinds have arrived and will be installed shortly. I measured and the actual floor is about 11.5 feet by 18 feet, and the room itself is about a foot larger in either dimension (the difference being the bench area). That's fine for my purposes.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Macworld

I went to Macworld yesterday. It was moderately interesting. I haven't been in years - I used to go a lot in the early/mid 90s and actually worked booths. That was when you could find developers, testers, etc. actually working the booths instead of sales and marketing people. It was more of an industry insiders thing - lots of networking. Every booth gave out free stuff - pens, t-shirts, tribbles (at the Berkeley Systems booth because of the new Star Trek screen saver - I have one somewhere).

This year? Nikon provided free bags to put in... product literature, which is all anybody had. Who wants product literature? If I want to know more I'll make a note to look you up on the Internet. Heck, there were people standing in front of booths looking up products on their iPhones instead of just talking to the people in the booth. I grabbed a bag out of habit and literally never used it. You can see a picture on my twitter - I snapped a few pictures on the way just to try out the whole live thing. But as a result everybody was carrying these identical yellow Nikon bags - I'm sure the Canon guys were like "Duh, what the hell?" - pretty much like normal. (I shoot Canon but their marketing deparment's pretty clueless compared to Nikon, let's face it.)

Actually, that's not quite true -a few companies had something to wear where you could theoretically get a prize. The only cool ones were bunny ears from some company... but I have no idea which company, so perhaps not as effective as they could have been. Hopefully there was lots of word of mouth but I never bothered to ask.

I ran into a former magazine editor/tech writer who was pretty much ethics-free back in the day and Googled him after and found that he'd kind of worked his way down the food chain until he was fired from his last job and now in theory is a freelancer but I couldn't find anything he'd written in years. I guess that stuff does bite you in the butt eventually. Kind of nice to know but I'm sure a whole new batch of weasels have taken his place.

Product-wise lots of people selling backup/storage/drive recovery services, even more than normal, and targeting them for ever tighter audiences. (Do you really need a storage system that's hyper optimized for one kind of data? Like it really matters what's IN the file?) Lots of products that will automatically correct photographs of flaws that could easily have been avoided before the shot was taken. Lots of people selling iPod accessories. Lots people selling cameras, or camera mounts, or lighting gear (take your product photography in house and avoid paying a photographer! Whoo hoo!). An Acura booth??? Why? A lot of it wasn't really Mac related, it was just stuff that they thought Mac people would like to buy.

But it was free (for me anyway), and I do enjoy people watching, and what the heck.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The power of sanding





Between these two pictures the trim's been painted white (it was kind of a yellowish white before) and the floor's been sanded. I didn't go in - there's sawdust everywhere and people running around with sanders but here's a peek. Eventually it will get a couple of coats of urethane. It's fir, so it's soft and won't look pretty forever, but it should be fine for my purposes and it's cheaper even than putting in a low grade of laminate (and I can always add a floating floor later).

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Next Price Increase

The next price increase will be the first week in February, 2009. Exact date to be determined later (I'm going to be busy around then).

These are "list prices" on the website and eBay store. For eBay auctions they get started somewhat lower - as an example the eBay auction price for an 8x10 lab print is $39.95. That's also the price for a couple of days after a new set is listed so that people don't feel like they have to go to eBay to get the best deal (but only if they're keeping an eye on the site... or just lucky).

Note that some prices are staying the same. I'm using this change to adjust the ratios between different print types to make them more consistent. So an 11x14 is always twice as much as an 8x10, and a 16x20 is three times. Silver and cyanotype are three times more than a lab print of the same size. Platinum is four times. Cyanotype over platinum is currently just the sum of the parts.

Silver Fiber prints are going up the most because I'd always said the current prices were artificially low to get some test prints rolling, and I decided just recently instead of adjusting those alone and then doing the overall adjustment later I'd just bundle it all together. So there's a bit of sticker shock there, but at least everybody has plenty of warning.

Going forward I'll basically try to keep these ratios intact, although there may be some rounding involved in the future. I also might adjust platinum to five times as an example. But I mostly expect things will proceed along together.

Lab prints:
8x10 $49.95
11x14 $99.95
16x20 $149.95

Silver prints:
8x10 $149.95
11x14 $299.95
16x20 $449.95

Handmade prints:
cyanotype $149.95
platinum $199.95
cyanotype over platinum $349.95

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Model: SaraKay

They went faster than I thought, so I went ahead and uploaded them. Check 'em out - an outdoor shoot with SaraKay. I decided to use the regular PayPal template and put off a Google Checkout test - maybe next time.

I'd been meaning to shoot with SaraKay for ages - we've been talking about shooting on and off for quite some time and the scheduling never quite worked out.

I have some assorted stuff scheduled over the next couple of weeks - some more tentative than others but we'll see how it goes.

Happy new year!

I'm hoping to have the SaraKay pictures up tomorrow, but in the meantime, a studio status report.

The new electric outlets are hooked up (two 20 amp circuits).
I've added pulls to the cabinet doors.
The floor's getting refinished next week.
I ordered some honeycomb blinds to replace the shutters - they'll probably be here well after the floor's done.
The new light fixture's still on order.
The trim between the two colors and around the windows has to be painted still.
Baseboard needs to be painted and installed after the floor's refinished.
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