Friday, April 30, 2010

One good way to measure a year: Shutter Actuations

Once I was comfortable with my new D300s, I decided not to keep the old D90 sitting on the shelf as a backup. So, I sold it on Craigslist. A potential buyer asked how many shutter actuations it had, which I initially couldn't answer.

I'd had it just over a year, every day of which I took between 0 (shame, shame) and 4-500 pictures. Probably 30 a day on average, so I guessed 10-15k. But, suddenly I *had* to know the actual figure, and no matter how much I looked, I couldn't find it anywhere in-camera.

Opanda Iexif 2.3 to the rescue! 18,504 shutter releases. (Just open any image from the camera with IExif, and scroll around to find all sorts of cool embedded info.)

Poking around a bit more, I noticed that my Lightroom catalog had grown by only about 6-7k images in that same year.

What did I learn?
  1. I shot approximately 50% more than I thought I did in the past year.
  2. I throw out about two images for every one I keep.
Upon deeper reflection, of those thousands of new images on my drives, I'm pretty sure that only a few hundred are any good. I think I shoot a lot that I shouldn't bother with, and I keep a lot that I really should be tossing. I'm going to look into a better selection process.

Oh, and an image from yesterday's stock shoot:
Just a bit underexposed. Looked fine on the back of the camera, but I should have looked more carefully at the histogram. Not catastrophic, but needed a little brightening, then some noise reduction and smoothing in the darker tones. And then some color correction, which still isn't perfect. I'd switched my shutter speed to 1/250, the flash sync speed of the D300s, but I am wondering if the delays that come from optically triggering the AB-400's (which also sync at 1/250) are moving some of the light outside of my exposure window.

There's three things I can think of trying:
  1. more power
  2. shoot at 1/500, 1/250, and 1/125 with the same strobe settings, and compare exposures
  3. use a sync cable
We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Online Lighting Diagram Creator

I'm playing with a really cool online lighting diagram creator today, you can find it here:

I used it to create a diagram of my current setup, which is:

It's still not perfect, but I'm a little bit constrained by the space I'm in, which is pretty narrow. Also, the walls and ceiling are white, and the floor is white tileboard, so I do have a bit of light everywhere no matter what I do.

Typically, I have to do a lot of floor cleanup in Photoshop, and with the model pretty far from the background, I need to stay above 50 mm or so to keep the equipment out of the shots. I want more space to work in!

Failing that, I do have a few ideas to try out, more on these later.

Here's a shot using the current setup:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Optical slaves, a cautionary tale.

I spent about an hour last night thinking my new camera was defective. After repositioning a few of my strobes, trying for whiter backgrounds with less spill onto my subject, I took a few test shots, and noticed that my background wasn't blowing out. This was not completely unexpected, I had moved the lights after all... I watched carefully to make sure that all the strobes were firing for every shot, and they were.

So, I bumped the power a little on the strobes, from 1/2 or so to 3/4 (AB-400's). No luck. Wondering how far off I was, I opened up a lot, from f/8 to f/4. Nope. Dropped from 1/250 to 1/125. That started to help, now some of the background was blowing out. Bumped the AB's to full power, and now I had it, but this seemed like way too much light.

Spot metering with the light meter I almost never use, the background read f/22. So why no blowout? Worse still, as I kept shooting, the background would blow out sometimes, but not always. Had I really moved the lights that much? I didn't think so, but I put them back where they were, and the problems remained.

Before pitching a fit, I sat down and went through all the camera settings, hoping a clue would hit me. And that's when I noticed it. The on-camera flash was set to manual, as usual. But A and B were set to TTL! Ugh. So, my TTL pre-communications were firing all the strobes. After they fired, or at the end of their output, my shutter opened and an image was recorded. Obviously, all of this was way too fast to see by eye. It looked like everything was working fine, until I checked the exposure, that is.

Switching off the A and B units in the commander mode menu fixed everything, almost. Now, at 1/125 f/4 and all strobes at full, EVERYTHING was blown out. Way blown out. Back to about 3/8 power on the strobes, f/8 and 1/250. All better after a few more deep breaths.

Perhaps I should try a sync cord, now that I have a camera with a port... But more importantly, I need to remember the lesson: When it seems like my gear isn't working properly, assume user error, and re-check the setup.

Don't *always* shoot just for stock...

The more I think about building my image libraries at the microstock sites, the more I find myself taking a certain type of pictures. For me, these are fairly evenly-lit shots on pure white, and are full body, waist up, or head and shoulders. In a costume or performing a generalized action, with or without props. After a while, these shots start to look less and less interesting.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to snap a few shots, just for me. Or to process them a little differently, perhaps even in a way unsuitable for stock...

Looking at these makes me happy, in a way that no earnings report ever will.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Baby

Don't get me wrong, I love my D90, but after living with several frustrations for a while, I decided to upgrade.

My reasoning:
  1. Focus. I had problems with the outer autofocus points of the D90. Usually, they'd work fine, but often enough I'd end up with slightly out-of-focus images. I usually didn't notice this while shooting, but only after importing to Lightroom. Grr.
  2. Buffer. I don't burst-shoot in the studio, but I do shoot a lot of images quickly sometimes. Especially when the models are "in the zone". It was extremely frustrating to press the shutter, and get no picture because the buffer was full. Saying, "Perfect! Hold that pose, don't move!" to a 6-yr old is pointless.
  3. I like new toys, and this one has: 
  • A FAR better viewfinder- 100% coverage and so much brighter! I can't emphasize this point enough, looking through the viewfinder was like love at first sight...
  • Dual memory slots (I'll use in backup mode.)
  • Loads of button/knob controls, vs. menu selections.
  • A more solid build, and weather sealing.
  • More, but the above are what mattered most to me when making the decision.
In general, I would prefer to hold off on an upgrade until my current gear is holding me back. In this case, I was starting to feel like it was, even if only slightly.

I did consider the full frame models, but decided against them based on price, the DX lenses I own and love, and the reach of the DX sensor for sports and macro shooting. And I don't shoot that much in low light. Maybe someday...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today's Shoot

Looking back over some of my older images, I really liked some of my tighter shots, so today I shot a little closer...
I went back to my favorite lens, the Nikor 80-200 1:2.8 AF-S. I also moved my lights around a lot, but still have 2 on the background, 1 overhead and behind the model, 1 in a big parabolic softbox camera right, and a reflector camera left.

I'm much happier with the lighting on my model here than in some of my recent images. Here's two more from today:

On White: Isolated vs. Clean

The image above was accepted at Shutterstock and Fotolia, then rejected by iStockphoto. Unfortunately, as usual, the rejection message was completely unhelpful, as it gives only a vague hint of what the problem is.

The execution of isolation contains stray areas that are either too feathered or rough.

OK. The hair, the feet? The toes? Is it too feathered? Is it too rough? Is there a minor problem somewhere, or is it more of a larger, overall problem?

Yesterday, before this rejection, I was showing a friend the set of isolated images. Personally, I don't love them. They look to much like the model is just floating there. But, they would be easier to insert into a composite image. I decided like this better:

So, I did a few re-edits, and resubmitted versions like the one above, with a little bit of the white floor visible, and a bit of a shadow. Even if a buyer is looking at the images for use in a composite later, they still have to look good on their own, right? We'll see if the iStock inspectors agree, but what do you think?

UPDADE 4/21: It seems the iStock inspectors like these better, the first two resubmits have been accepted. Hopefully there's more to come, but at least I think I learned a little more about what not to do...

UPDATE 4/24: Just about all of the edits, and some new shots where I left the shadow in, have been accepted. It seems that although Fotolia and Shutterstock inspectors don't mind the fully cut-out versions, the iStock inspectors prefer a little shadow and some floor around the feet and legs that's not quite 255 white...

Monday, April 12, 2010

First image found in use!

Michelle at The Sixty Second Parent was kind enough to send me a heads-up. An image of Model #2 having a tea party can be found here.

Although I've tried TinEye and various google searches, this is the only image so far I've seen in use. I look forward to finding the next!


The five from yesterday, plus three more I finished up this morning, were already accepted at Shutterstock. I'm loving their responsiveness. (And their approvals!)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle

I'm slowly getting back into the shoot/select/edit/keyword/submit cycle. While I seem to have forgotten some of the Photoshop keyboard shortcuts I used to use, and I feel extremely rusty, I'm figuring it all back out. And I've begun using a feature of the PicNiche toolbar for Firefox, the FTP uploader.

I used to use an FTP client to upload to each site (except iStock, for which DeepMeta is awesome). PicNiche makes it easier, simply toggle on whichever sites you want the files to go to, then drag your files from the explorer window (I use a PC) into the toolbar's FTP Upload area. Then click "go". Multiple files to multiple sites in one simple operation, a great feature I should have been using all along!

iStockphoto is closed for uploads due to some technical issues, but I uploaded 4 files to both Shutterstock and Fotolia on Friday, and saw 100% acceptance at both by this morning. (Did they get faster in my absence?) I uploaded 5 more today to each, with 3 still in editing from the same shoot.

Friday's Batch:

Today's Batch:

Just a note on today's batch. I'm not thrilled with the blown out spot on the top of her head. I'm still fussing with an overhead strobe I'm using to try blowing out the floor. It's still not perfect in camera, so I have to clean up the white floor around my model anyway, so I may take out that light and try it somewhere else... Still working on the perfect setup for my 4 lights. Briefly, I have:

1 strobe on each side of the white seamless backdrop
1 strobe on camera right, in a bit parabolic umbrella (reflected mode)
1 reflector at camera left for fill
1 strobe overhead, behind model but obviously spilling onto her, or bouncing too much light

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I haven't retouched this one, and I probably won't. I'm seeing too much wrong with it. I'm happy that I'm back in the "studio", but I feel like I'm fighting with my equipment.

1) I almost got the lighting, but my main is too far to camera right, and the reflector on camera left must be aimed incorrectly. See how much darker the left side of the image is than the right? Not intentional, and I don't like it. Unfortunately, I couldn't see it on the back of the camera in my test shots. Sure, I could probably use the gradient tool in Lightroom to fix this, but I want it right in the camera.

2) Focus. I usually love my 17-55mm 2.8 DX lens. For general use it's awesome, and it's the lens most often on my camera. But here, it's just not focusing:

I'm using autofocus normally, selecting a focus point already near this eye so I don't have to move much to recompose. Shooting at the 55mm end of the lens just as I normally would... The camera thinks it's got focus. I should be able to see individual eyelashes, but I'm not even close.

Tomorrow I'll try my 60mm Micro and 80-200 at 80mm for comparison.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


After the big move to CA, and Model #1 starting Kindergarten, I took a bit of a break from shooting stock. Model #1 was sick of having a camera in her face all the time anyway...

Besides, I was getting a little too obsessed toward the end of last year. I was entering every acceptance, sale, payout, etc. by hand into an Access database, generating charts and graphs to stare at for hours, reading too many blogs, and listening to too many podcasts. Some of this was helpful, and some was a huge waste of time and effort.

Time to take stock (sorry, I couldn't help that one...) and regroup. Today's progress:

  • The 3D Studio: I really love this place. Support emails answered in minutes, images up for sale almost immediately after upload, super fast and super lenient image review (not sure anything was ever rejected...), but there was one problem. Not one sale in about 9 months there. It hurt to do so, but I deleted my images from the site and closed my contributor account there. A step toward going exclusive elsewhere...
  • iStockphoto: Going strong. Now more earnings there than everywhere else combined, by the look of it. Seriously considering exclusivity, but 153/250 downloads to qualify, so I have some time to think it over.
  • StockXpert: Bought by iStockphoto, and apparently my credits there will transfer over. This might put me over the next payout hurdle! (No idea how many credits I had there.)
  • Fotolia: $62 in credit, transferred to paypal. Another payout, and I wasn't even paying attention to my balance there. I had to scan and send in a .jpg of my drivers license to enable payout.
  • Dreamstime: I stopped uploading here once I realized that if I ever did decide to go exclusive somewhere else, that I'd have to wait 6 months due to their lock-in policy. It's in their user agreement, so I did agree to it, even though I never actually read it. (I know, good job genius...) Now I apparently have to disable each image manually, and enter a reason for every one. 57 image disables to go.... I have a $17 balance, which I assume they will be keeping when I close the account.
  • Shutterstock: Halfway to another payout, with sporadic sales. I bet if I uploaded something, sales here would pick back up.
  • Bigstockphoto: $21 balance, very slow sales. Since these guys have (had?) a 90-day lock-in, similar to Dreamstime, I probably won't upload anything new here, and may just close this account as well.
Even just loggin in to all these sites was tiring. How did I upload, keyword, title, and track the sales at all of them? I'll cut back to a reasonable few sites to make this more manageable. Meantime, I'm going to start uploading again, and posting my progress.