Wednesday, October 27, 2010


There's some work I'll still do for free. Today I lugged 2 AB400's, 2 SB-600's, 4 umbrellas, 6 lightstands, my new Yongnuo radio triggers, and a 4' roll of white seamless to my daughters first grade classroom. Carrying all of that gear reminded me of my days as a divemaster, when I'd carry my gear, an instructor's gear, and sometimes student gear as well. I'd look and feel like a shambling mound of baggage...

This was the setup:

I shot about 47 kids in an hour and a half. 2-5 shots of each, depending on the kid and the results. Then, I spend the afternoon cropping, dodging the background a bit, and generally tweaking the images in lightroom. Two images of my final 103 hit photoshop for a quick touch. The result?

I suppose we could call today's efforts "marketing"? "Personal work"? Call it what you will, I had a heck of a fun day. The punchline? I get to do it all over again tomorrow for my preschooler's class! Think I'll get to bed early...

Not one misfire on the Yongnuo's. This was their first real test, and I must say, I'm sold. And they only set me back $80 for 2 transmitters and 2 receivers.  (The N1 Nikon set for my D300s is a little more expensive than some of the other sets. Buying the right set for your camera lets you also use them as a wireless shutter release! I haven't tried this yet but I will soon.)

10/28 Edit, the Preschoolers:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting paid to take pictures.

After casually showing people my work month after month, shooting soccer games, karate classes, school events, etc., and posting the pictures, I suppose it was inevitable. Someone asked, "Where did you take that?" Someone later asked, "You took that? Nice."

A few months later it was, "Could you take our Christmas card photo next year?" and "My daughter's birthday is coming up, can you do pictures like Sears can?" Or, "Can you take a picture for me sometime?"

Still later, it's become, "Are you free this weekend to shoot ____? How much?"

This was really hard for me. How much? "I'll do it for free because I love taking portraits!" Then, "Oh, whatever you think it is worth." Poor self image? Maybe.

Now, many months later, I'm up to: "I charge $X for a sitting, which does not include the prints. I'll post the images and you can order any prints, t-shirts, mugs, whatever you like. These are the prices."

I'm still charging less than I want to, but I'm not busy with jobs. If I ever get busy, I'll assume I am good enough to charge more. In the meantime, I am having the time of my life, and learning more and more every day.

The photo above is my favorite from yesterday's shoot. I love it. (Yes I know there is a tiny bit of tree growing out of her head. I made a mistake. I wish I'd bent my knees one more inch. But I love it anyway.)

Sky: 55mm f/9 1/250 sec.
Subject:  SB-600 in an umbrella above camera, full power, aimed down onto subject's face.

Monday, October 4, 2010

October is off to a good start.

To expand on a recent theme, I got back into the studio with model #2 this morning, and grabbed about 100 frames. 25 or so made the cut, and I've already edited 7. On shots like this, the editing goes as follows:
  • Nuke any intruders. (Paper seams/wrinkles, umbrellas at the edges, hair or dirt on the floor.)
  • Sanitize. In a shot like this, I avoided some with advanced application of gaffer tape, but there was a lot of cloning and repair tool work inside the case. Motherboard logo, gfx card logo, printing on the cables, etc. I helped myself a lot by dressing my model in logo-free clothes.
  • Check that the in-camera isolation went well. Sometimes there's a few stray hairs floating in space...
  • Cleanup any visible smudges or ugly spots.
  • Lighten the floor a bit. (It's getting dirty, so I quickly mask it off and lighten it just a little.)
  • Check for CA. (Purple fringing.) Here, I had a bit at the right edge of the computer case, which was right at the leading edge of my main light. (super high contrast...) Easy enough to remove from a nice straight edge. (Thanks Nicolesy, I tried your method and it was better than the process I'd been using.)
Fifteen to twenty minutes per image, I'd guess. This much effort makes me more selective about my picks. I think I might also just upload the first 10 or so, and wait on the reviewers' verdict. Then, edit and upload the rest later if things go well.

There's lots of variations on the above, with various other implements of construction/destruction. And I still have at least one more set I want to attempt before I try putting that computer back together... I'm starting to lose faith that it's going to make it through POST after all this abuse...

Parting thought #1: If it takes 2-3 years for an image to earn it's money, then why on earth do I waste my time checking my earnings 50 times a day? I have the awesome PicNiche contributor toolbar, two iPhone apps, and I leave browsers on two different computers open to my iStock earnings page. I just can't help it. I swear, the day they invent a cyber-implant that rings a bell in your ear for every sale, I'll probably be the first in line.

And #2: $117.08 for September. Best month ever.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September Fun

It's been fun getting back into the studio with the kids, and working on some new (and some old) image ideas. I had pretty good luck with acceptances for the latest Karate shoot (example below), and have high hopes for the latest "computer (dis)repair" series. The computer images were a bit of a pain to edit, as I had to clone/repair out logos and branding all over the place... In the future, I might spend more time up front physically covering up and/or removing more of the logos. But on this shoot, I used a computer that I thought I might want to actually put back together, so I didn't want to be filing, scraping, or cutting things apart.

I can definitely see improvement in my work, comparing images from last year to this year. Not only are the images looking closer to what I set out to capture, but I also find myself happier with them overall. Not just technically, but artistically. (Plus who doesn't like looking at pictures of their kids?)

Sorry about the watermarks, but I want to be very careful about my new exclusive status at iStockphoto. It's working out well. September will be my best month ever, with my monthly earnings exceeding $100 for the first time. Not enough to start scaling back my other work, but a guy can dream...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back in the studio

After taking it very easy over the summer, we got back into the studio today and had some fun. The above image was my favorite of the day.

As I mentioned, I've been shooting a lot, just not for stock. Since school started back up, I've volunteered (or been volunteered) to be the official 1st grade class photographer, daisy troop photographer, and soccer team photographer. This is all on a volunteer basis, but I'm loading all of the images onto Smugmug. I'll consider it a nice bonus if a few grateful parents order some prints to help cover the cost of my annual membership there. But the above duties give me the opportunity to shoot a LOT, where the results actually matter to someone other than myself. Plus it's a ton of fun shooting all these kids, and I've had so many parents already approach me with compliments on my work. One even booked a portrait shoot- my first!

Since I went exclusive at iStock, my sales have gone up significantly. Must be the improved search engine placement. I feel a strong motivation to "feed the beast" and start uploading more regularly. My upload limit has increased from 15 images per week to 60 per week. I'm wondering how hard it would be to actually produce that many. 8-9 finished images per day, on top of work, taking care of the kids, and my other photography, seems like a lot. But then, 15 was too few, so I'm happy, even if I don't use all of those slots every week.

Yes, I read about the changes at No, I don't think they spell the demise of the agency. And no, I'm not sorry I went exclusive there.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I've been shooting a fair amount lately, but not for stock and not for pay. Call it a personal project I guess. I'm definitely learning a lot and keeping myself in practice, though. I didn't make a conscious decision to take a break, but I just haven't seemed to find the time this summer to set up a decent stock shoot. I'm starting to get the itch, though, so we'll see what I manage to come up with this week... One great thing about stock photography, though,  is that when I take a break from adding new images, the existing ones keep on working. One shoot in particular generates a sale almost every day. Now, I just need to figure out how to shoot more like that! I do understand why these images are selling, but I don't think that what we did was deliberate at the time. The model and I were simply playing around.

Meanwhile, there have been milestones.

1) I've reached the 250 sale mark at iStockphoto, and with my 69% acceptance rate there, I was qualified to go exclusive. So I did, after deactivating my portfolios at Shutterstock and Fotolia. I'm looking forward to only having to upload at one place, and hoping that better search placement gives me enough of a boost at iStockphoto to compensate for the cessation of sales elsewhere. I will certainly keep you posted.

2) My brother noticed one of my images of Model #1 in Sports Illustrated! It's a tiny 1 cm x 1 cm picture, and it probably only made us a dollar or two, but I must confess that this one made me pretty happy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Series: Karate Girl

As the number of photos featuring model #1 in her gi grows, we've hit the point where it made sense to group them in a lightbox, with a link to the lightbox in each image's description. I described how I built these links in an earlier post, and others have described similar procedures as well. (Search the iStockphoto forums or google for more help.)

These images are selling slowly, but I consider the set a personal project, with the following benefits:

1) I am learning a lot, trying to light a fair-skinned blonde girl in a white suit against a white background. Right out of the camera, some images are slightly too dark for my taste. In such images, the gi separates clearly from the background but the skin tones are too dark. And underexposed skin can be brought back up in post, but it looks noisy and wrong. In other images, the skin looks great and the face is crisp and sharp, but the right-side edge of the uniform fades right in to the background. Eventually, I'll get skin tones and razor-sharp facial features, while still separating the white gi from the background, all the way around. I can't put a light right on her face, she'll move out of it as she jumps around kicking and punching... Maybe I can partially block off a second light, so that it's neck-level and above...

2) I've learned my lesson about isolating the subject completely. Every time I cut her out, feet and all, I get rejections. If I leave the white floor slightly less than pure white, and leave some shadow, I have far better luck with the inspectors. 

3) I continue to refine my lighting setup. Currently it is: White seamless paper background, lit by 2 AB-400's metered to f:15. Large parabolic Paul Buff umbrella/lightbox on an AB-400 camera right, feathered across the front of the subject, metered to f:8. Reflector camera left for fill. The floor is painted white epoxy, with some grit to make it less slippery that also textures it just a bit. Minimal post processing is required, unless she moves way off her mark. Occasionaly, she'll be way out of position, but give me such a great look that I'll spend whatever time I need to cleaning up the image in post. Maybe I shouldn't fall too much in love with an image that's way off in-camera, but sometimes I just can't help myself. I tell myself I'm learning better editing skills in the hours of cutting-out, clone stamping, and level and color adjusting.

4) As my model earns each new belt, we shoot a new session or two. She learns Karate, I learn to shoot and process images, and mom gets lots of great pictures of her kid. Win/Win/Win. Oh and we get paid (a little).