Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Pictures: Laura

That's Laura. Golden Gate Bridge in the background - we're just inside the gate (so along the bay, not the ocean). I was there on another day with bad weather and there were actually surfers there. I don't know what they were thinking.

The Twitter experiment was reasonably successful so I'll do it again occasionally. If you're a twitter person (is there a name for that?) here I am.

One other kind of administrative note - I've been in a purgey mood lately. In addition to the stuff I mentioned the other day, I removed about a half dozen older shoots from the archive page, and I've identified some other shoots to remove or pair down or in one case pair down and merge two from the same model. If you want any of the old stuff don't blame me if you want something and it vanishes one day although I often keep one or two shots on the odds and ends page. Basically at this point other than those there's very little left from the first two years I was shooting nudes.

Technology

I wonder if "stuck in traffic" will become an obsolete fake excuse when everybody can just pop open the maps app and see green all the way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

eBay Notes

One of those little things you have to do with an eBay store is to basically go through and rotate inventory. The reason why is that basically as things sell you're left with the stuff that didn't sell... and over time that's all you have - a store full of the stuff nobody wanted. Oops. So a few times a year I go through and pull stuff that's a bit dated and shred them (literally - I destroy old prints) and then I go through my inventory and make sure there are 2-3 shots in the store for each model where I have prints on hand. It's been a little longer than it should have been because I've been so busy and so I removed quite a few and then added some back in, primarily for models I've shot in the last couple of months. If you like the whole instant gratification thing of buying prints I have on hand check it out.

I should maybe mention part of why I have inventory in the first place with the lab prints is that the lab has a minimum order and when somebody orders something I'm often picking up a couple of extra 8x10s. Sometimes I can combine orders and avoid this but in order to provide fast service mostly I just order prints as soon as the order comes in and just plan on selling the extras on eBay.

The other thing I should mention is that I'm going to stop listing on eBay for a bit - just a week or two. I've been kind of neglecting it - listing really randomly in terms of amount and time of day and generally not following best practices. And sometimes it's better just to say, OK, I'm just going to stop for a bit, then do a reboot and set up scheduled auctions for a couple of weeks and really do things properly.

The last thing is that I've decided to play a little game with Twitter. I mentioned I might do something like this but I've firmed it up. Tomorrow I'll post a new set with a favorite model, and only post the link to Twitter. The set will have cheap prices - what I was charging a couple of price increases ago. And just a few hours later that same day I'll set it up as a regular set and publish it normally. I have no idea if this will generate any interest or not - I only have a few followers on Twitter and I have no idea what percentage of the people who read the blog (which is much smaller than the number of people on the rest of the site daily) are even on Twitter. But what the hell, if nobody extra adds me or buys anything it's still just a tiny bit of extra work and no real harm done.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stripper Kelp

I said exactly one week ago "One bit of good news is that I've had very little trouble with flakes and the like lately." Apparently I jinxed it because I have a new story. I had a model show up with no ID. A just turned 18, very, very cute, very young looking Filipina. Who apparently dances at a gentleman's establishment in the city for a living, so you hope she really is 18, but even if you're not shooting 2257 content (and I don't luckily) there's some basic due diligence that every nude photographer with any sense does, and that includes checking ID and keeping a copy. I even do that for portrait shoots, just so if there's ever any question I have it.

I've done a couple of hundred model shoots and I've never had a model show up with no ID. I do make it clear what the rules are and that they have to bring one and what kind. So what a dilema. I ended up driving her back to the subway (and what an awkward drive that was!)

Luckily everything was set up in the studio already so the only time lost was takng her to/from the station which is very close. I'd be a lot more angry and a lot less amused if I had the one hour setup/one hour teardown I had when I was shooting in the living room...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Updates

First off, thanks again for the folks who have been going to the support the site link and clicking through to Amazon. I just got another little gift certificate code from them. It's not big bucks, but it just takes a moment, it's free, and if it means I can buy the occasional hard drive or book then that's pretty cool.

I'm working on the next set - I'm hoping for early in the week but we'll see. I had a couple of nice gals contact me about shooting and I'll hopefully be shooting them soon and that tends to slow things down a bit. I have enough shoots banked that I'm being extra super picky about models but it's amazing how you can find time when the right gal contacts you.

I've been toying with an idea, which is to launch the set a day early and only post the link on my twitter account. Make the prices really cheap for a day, then publish the usual way. I might try it just once as an experiment but if it works it might be kind of fun to do it occasionally. If I do, I won't be warning people too close to the event, so if you might want to take advantage of that watch me sooner rather than later.

The funeral for the four Oakland police officers killed recently is tomorrow morning (I used to be a couple of blocks from the Oakland border - I'm a bit further now). It's public - in a sports arena. They're apparently anticipating a huge turnout because the arena holds around 20,000 people and they're using the stadium next door for overflow (using the big TV screens). It's also going to be live on TV. All of Oakland PD will be there - all of the other regional police departments will be covering for them, so if any bad guys are reading this don't get any clever ideas! I think it would be an exceptionally bad day to piss off a cop.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Pictures: Iona Lynn

Iona Lynn was kind enough to drop by the house just about a month ago - that's how far behind I am - and we got in some good studio time. I talk a lot about how I'm a pretty systematic/iterative guy and one thing I learned on this shoot was that you can't see my house number at night! Luckily she called and I went out and waved, but we ended up installing a new set of house numbers right below the outside light.

Oddly enough the numbers on the two sides of the street get out of sync, so if you're looking at the wrong side it looks like you missed it. It does eventually correct a house or two down where the numbers on my side make a big jump to catch up. Odd. I'd really never noticed - when I first started coming here I just looked for the "for sale" sign - but that's a line to include in the model directions.

I'm hoping to get the next set up in roughly a week.

Today's house adventure - stuck furnace valve. Sigh. All better now but that's not a cheap part and not something I'd want to install myself (anything involving a gas line, really).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Facebook

I've had a facebook account for a long time just to check it out but never did anything with it. But I've added it over on the sidebar and will probably be playing with it some in the next few days.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Light Painting

So first off - I'm no light painting expert and don't claim to be. I've done it a few times, and I've done things that have similar technical problems (like shooting fire spinners) but this was my first time really sitting down with a model and a bunch of flashlights and other light sources and going for it.

So for those who don't know what the hell I'm talking about - imagine you have a dark area, and a camera on a tripod. You set it to take, say, a five second exposure. The shutter opens. You shine a light on what you want to be illuminated, and move around being careful not to get any light on yourself or to stay in one place for too long. People actually do this outside with giant areas and big lights but let's imagine it in a studio. Oh, and don't point the flashlight anywhere near the camera unless you don't mind weird light streaks showing up in the shot.



So there you go. I think it's a nice shot. Note that if you didn't like the look of the flashlight above the model you could just erase it or be more careful. Note also that if you give the flashlight to the model she's likely to paint a dirty picture when she thinks you're not paying enough attention.

But what if this goes terribly wrong? You might need to click on this one to see what's going on.



Yeah, that's me. I was mostly backlighting her, and she's lit up OK but not really what I intended. But more interestingly I spent a lot of time behind her, and mostly in one place... and the light reflected back at me.

Creepy, huh?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whew!

Well, I got through a little sequence of three shoots in three days. I now have a ton of material to edit. House moving/renovation is still occupying a lot of time but the list is getting shorter. I'll post a set around Monday, plus or minus a day, and then we'll see how it goes after that.

This particular shot is just something I decided to check out because it was some oddball lighting and I thought I'd see how it looked.

One bit of good news is that I've had very little trouble with flakes and the like lately. I've had the occasional person blow off a pre-meet but I have it set up so that doesn't cost me any time (it's not like I wait for them somewhere - I have them call when they get to someplace within a couple of blocks of my house and no call just means I don't get interrupted with whatever I was working on). And then of course I know not to hire them for an actual shoot, which usually involves at least a little planning.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Double Duh

The good news is that the light painting went well enough - there were at least a few keepers and I learned a lot for next time. It got dark in the studio early enough that it wasn't any real problem although we did end up shooting a bit later than I'd originally thought... which is extra fun because I had a morning shoot today and had to get all my gear ready for another shoot before going to bed and then get up early to be ready when she arrived. It went well though.

Why the cows? It's the first frame I took!




OK, maybe people will like the last frame better...


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Well duh

So around the beginning of the month I scheduled a shoot for tonight after dark so I could do some light painting and various kinds of other long exposure work. I suggested 7:00pm which is kind of a nice start time because it gets me done at a reasonable hour and sunset was at 6:10ish and it was nice and dark by 7:00.

Well, the model couldn't do it before today, so we scheduled for today, no big deal. Now, sunset advances something under minute per day so today it's still setting around 6:20, right?

Uh, daylight savings time. Sunset's at 7:20 and I'm guessing it's going to be dark at 8:00 (which would have been 7:00... oh, you know the drill). I just realized this when I looked out the window at 6:20 and it's perfectly light out.

Now, we have paperwork to do, although she's very professional and tends to be early, and hey, beautiful naked woman, I'll figure out something to do if it's not dark enough.

Hopefully she won't tease me too much!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Yosemite shots up

I've added some shots from my recent Yosemite trip to my little Landscape section. They're the snowy ones on top - check 'em out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flamingos!

It's very odd to go out in the morning to find 50 pink flamingos on the lawn, especially when your lawn is itsy bitsy. Thankfully the Flamingo Surprise folks take them away before the neighbors show up with flaming torches and pitchforks... (They also put up a sign with a message suitable for the occasion and their logo and phone number - which is good, because the neighbors know they're a surprise, and therefore not your fault...)

My other flamingo story involves seeing flamingos and penguins in the wild on the same day. (I don't know how many places in the world you can do that, but in my case it was the Galapagos Islands).

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Model: Kristen

OK, I'm up to a Feb 19th shoot with Kristen. I think that was the first shoot showing off the floor, and the first where I was playing with gels in the new space - some of which didn't work, so that section's smaller in the final set than it was in terms of shooting time. Actually that's kind of an interesting thing to point out - if say 50% of a shoot is pretty much old standards I know will work... it was probably 20% of the actual shooting time. There's just a higher keeper ratio and almost no setup time for certain things. There's some lighting setups I do nearly every shoot because I know I can spend literally just 10 minutes on it and get a couple of keepers.

I have four nude and the snowy Yosemite sets to go, and I literally have four shoots planned next week so I don't know what my editing timeframe will be. If I have a little time each day hopefully I can get the Yosemite stuff out - I don't think it's going to be that much work, it's more a question of just sitting down and doing it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

eBay

One of the things that drives sellers nuts on eBay (one of the many, many things - they're really driving the business into the ground) is that the site itself is flaky. They're always fiddling with things and they upload half-assed versions and they're always doing tests on live customers. They say it's to get data on which is more effective but from the customer's perspective the interface just changes oddly and then changes back and they have no idea what's going on. It just adds to the general level of flakiness.

Anyway, today's oddity was listing some items I got a big bold warning starting with "Thank you for participating in global trade on eBay. In order to begin selling your items on eBay sites not associated with your home country, you will need to take a few steps:" This is a message you would get listing on, say, the German site if you have a US account or vice versa. But I was just listing five items, popped open five identical windows, and got this on two of them. It was no big deal, I just hit reload and the message vanished.

But it's just typical - so typical that I knew it would probably just go away in a moment, and if not I could check the powerseller board, but this stuff doesn't inspire confidence when they're announcing they're going to totally change the way searching works in April. Again. Just like they do every year, and things get harder to find each time...

It's very frustrating because eBay was so great back in the day, and it's still a great way to find certain items, but it's always been despite their management rather than because of it and you would think after a decade of this they would stop this downward spiral...

Update: Later in that same listing session, another error...

We want to keep eBay a safe place to buy and sell, so we need a little more information from you to confirm your identity.

And then nothing - no requests for anything, no more text, that was it. I had to hit back a couple of times and go forward, and then I got the global message again, and hit reload on that, and submit, and my item listed...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pictures of fire

I've been taking pictures of fireplace fires for years now - usually when I'm down in Monterey. There's a particular conference grounds that has fireplaces in some of the rooms and on a lucky year it's just something I do. Anyway, here's this year's pictures of fire.

Monday, March 09, 2009

ZZZZzzzzzzz

I'm very sleepy - often am after shoots, actually, but I've been working hard on house stuff and not getting enough sleep and it's catching up with me.

That's the last shot of today's shoot. I have five model shoots banked, as well as some non-nude stuff. I've been editing some Monterey pictures and one nude shoot and hope to have both up by the end of the week but no promises. Then probably Yosemite the week after that and then another model the next week. But I'm really just guessing.

The good news is that the move of the actual house is almost done (not the garage though - that still needs work). Yesterday we moved a 55 gallon fish tank which believe me is no picnic. You can't move one full (even if you were strong enough the tank can't hold the weight unsupported - it's hundreds of pounds) and so you have to tear everything down, take all the water out, put the plants in bags (live plants), catch the fish, put those in bags, move everything, set it up, fill it with water, and go through a process to get them used to the new water. It basically takes all day and you spend a lot of it just getting soaked with fish water. Yuck! I'll take a picture of it at some point - it's a lovely tank with the live plants and all. The fish all seem to have made it OK - it's a concern even with a very short move, really.

So the good news is that other than dealing with the garage the old house is mostly going to be in the hands of professionals - getting the last things fixed up that I don't have time/energy/ability to do (like refinishing the floors) and then the actual selling it part (oh, that). So I can finish up with the unpacking here and other than the kitchen floor thing the to do list isn't too crazy. And I have I think three shoots scheduled next week. But I'm hoping to have things basically stable at both places and lots of shoots banked before another project I'm involved with hits its next stage...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Free domestic shipping!

There's actually lots of news, so even if you're outside the US you may want to read to the end.

First off, that's Finch, if you haven't seen her new set yet, you should.

Secondly, I have only one copy left of my latest book, Nudes. It's on eBay and I don't plan on stocking any more, at least for a while, although you'll be able to get unsigned copies from the publisher. For links see the books page. Basically it's just a complexity I'm trying to avoid at the moment. But one good side effect is that it makes my shipping options easier which leads us to number three...

...free domestic shipping. No two print minimum, no oddball price set to avoid free shipping on book orders. I don't have to say "Free shipping as long as..." I can just say "Free domestic shipping" and be done with it. I'm not sure it will make a big difference to most customers since most customers buy multiple prints, but every bit helps, right?

The fourth thing is that I'm offering 20x30 prints on a trial basis. I changed my template for the last, oh, 10-20 shoots to include 20x30 prints. I wasn't counting, it was more of a gut feel thing of "This one's recent, why not?". Note that I haven't added it to the discount template yet so if you see a print set in the first couple of days where I tend to list lab prints at the "floor" (aka "eBay auction") price that I don't go below to give regulars less incentive to bargain hunt on eBay, it's not there yet. I may or may not add it. We'll see.

If it's popular I may go through more carefully and add in a few more sets, or if you want to buy any print at 20x30 just email me (link on right sidebar) and we'll talk.

I've avoided prints that large historically just because they're darn big and I don't know many people who have a space for a print that big except over the couch and nudes aren't really traditional couch art. But there's no real reason not to let folks decide for themselves. Most pictures should look fine at that size at a normal viewing distance - but if you stick your face in close you won't get any more detail than a 16x20. It won't be jaggy or anything, just don't expect to see every pore popping out. Probably just as well, really.

Anyway, we'll try it for a while. If there are unexpected problems I can always pull the option, or for that matter it may get pulled due to lack of interest. I tend to pull options that don't really sell. People can always email me if they want something special and the more options you add the more you distract from the buttons people actually want to be hitting...

Monday, March 02, 2009

New Pictures: Finch

I ended up doing the new Finch set because it was pretty straightforward. I have I think three banked (plus some nice outdoor work that I'm going to do next), and five shoots scheduled in the next three weeks.

Canon 5D Mark II Video

That's Maria - just trying to get back in the habit of illustrating these.

I've mentioned Sully Sullenberger's amazing landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River before. Here's some cool video of the plane being towed to its new location. It's just plain a cool video, but on a technical level it's also interesting that it was shot with a 5D Mark II - does a good job with some pretty iffy lighting conditions.

I'd like one but it's pretty hard to justify. I have a 5D for studio and I'll use a 40D when I need speed or the crop is advantageous. The vast majority of the new features apply to things I do occasionally but not to the actual stuff that makes me money (believe it or not I'm not shooting at ISO 3200 with studio strobes, duh). Well, maybe if I get a good price when I sell my little shack of a house.

Speaking of which, the computer's moved so I can do editing much, much more easily now. I'll be doing some today - I have a knee that's bugging me and it's raining so it strikes me as more of a catch-up-on-the-business day than a move-contents-of-the-china-cabinet day. I'm going to do shoots out of order - I'm just going to cherry pick whichever one looks most straightforward.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Followup on iterative stuff

I mentioned in my last post about iterative stuff, and sometimes wanting to see it big and then trying it again and fine tuning. I tend to do it shoot-to-shoot because I don't want to spend a lot of model time looking at pictures, and there's generally no rush to perfect a technique. I'm perfectly happy spreading the learning over a couple of shoots.

But there's actually a couple of ways to tighten that cycle up with digital, and I'll probably be using one or another in an upcoming shoot where I'm really going to be focusing on some specific things I've been meaning to try and fine tuning more on the spot. I have it scheduled with my current favorite guinea pig model.

The first is that you can always just have a laptop handy and copy a few files over and check them out. For casual use this is probably the most sensible and frankly probably what I'll be doing.

If you really want instant results, especially if you really have a commercial team going, you shoot tethered. You actually hook a USB cable from the camera to a computer and with the right software you can display the pictures in real time on a big monitor. It's very common in commercial work to do this and a lot of pros have gotten away from metering and so forth to just using the images themselves. (This is what people try to do with the little LCD on the back of the camera but it's just not accurate enough).

There are also various wireless solutions, some more professional than others. They're popular with folks like sports photographers who are running around (can't be physically tethered) and who have people waiting to receive the shots and start working with them immediately. The downside is that the really usable ones are strangely expensive.

The other advantage of this kind of system is that your client can see the results coming in and feel assured that you know what you're doing. Assuming of course that your work doesn't require a lot of post processing to look good - otherwise better to hide the results until they're ready for viewing! But in a perfect world you can get client approval that they like the images and there's no risk of a reshoot.

And of course even if you want a copy on film you can fine tune everything with the digital, just as you would have used a Polaroid, and then take the film at the end.

But you have to figure out what works for you. In my example of the dirty window - there's no way I'm going to clean and dry the window while the model's on the clock, so the information isn't of any value. Better just to not spend too much time on it and move on.

It's also good to take a step back and realize that actual planning would solve the problem too. I could have just had a friend sit there and try it out. Even just opening the window and looking out I'd have noticed that I should move the ladder that was restricting my angles. If you do even some basic shoot planning you can gain a lot of efficiency (shooting with different lighting in an order that minimizes setup time) but at the same time I think you have to be willing to just say OK, I have lots of great shots already, and I see an opportunity, let's see what happens if we go down that path...
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