Golden Gate in HDR, as show by Chester Bullock

This HDR image came out far better than I expected it to in the wind and water vapor surrounding me. It has been chosen as an editor’s pick at HDRSpotting.com, and HDR afficionado website. And now you can hang it on the wall of your home or office by placing an order from my online gallery. White space has been added to the gallery version, allowing proper cropping for standard prints and frames.

Also, if you like my work, consider becoming a fan of my Facebook page. On January 31, I will select one fan at random to receive a $50 gift certificate to my online gallery (for a print purchase only, not for session fees).

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Torrey's Reflection - Tonemapped

For as long as HDR has been a processing option, there has been debate about whether or not a single tonemapped image constitutes and HDR image. Classic thinking would say no. However, Photomatix is capable of taking a RAW image and doing the tonemapping actions that come with HDR processing. In fact, the guy who is now producing the best HDR books, Trey Ratcliff, encourages you to try the technique. So I did, and you see the result above.

I personally am happy with it. Some photographers like heavily tonemapped HDR, some don’t. For me it depends on the image. More importantly though, the image consuming public likes it, and wants more of it. To that end, I guess I will do my part and keep contributing.

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Another picture of our lights

HDR Lights
After I took a picture of our holiday lights a couple of weeks ago, the snow melted, and we added a few more lights. Tuesday night it started to snow, so Wednesday morning I went out and took some pics, then combined them into an HDR. Didn’t come out to bad at all.

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DIY Monday – Dancing Milk

Please note, this image nor the accompanying writeup are mine. I am just linking to this because I thought it was very creative and ultra cool.

From Blue to Yellow in a Drop (by Morphicx)

Here’s how to get this shot:
1) Step 1
2) Step 2
3) Step 3

What kinds of cool things are you trying?

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Practical HDRI: High Dynamic Range Imaging for Photographers Practical HDRI: High Dynamic Range Imaging for Photographers by Jack Howard is the latest book I have read on the subject. I haven’t touched my Photomatix software (indeed, even my camera) for some time. Reading through this book helped inspire me to get back out shooting photos, and also to see if Olympus was doing anything to help with the capture of HDR images. As it turns out, the recently released Olympus E-620 has far better support for proper image bracketing to get the exposures you need.

The book itself is fairly short – just 168 pages. But these pages are full of good information and practical examples using more than just one software package. What I like most about it is the frankness of the author when it comes to producing realistic HDR images, as opposed to some of the cartoonish extremes that have come to symbolize the genre. I much prefer a realistic image that has great depth in all ranges between the darkest and lightest sections of the image. In addition to the software examples (Photoshop CS3, Photomatix and FDRTools), the author tells you what to watch for when capturing the images, well before they see the computer.

All in all this was a very worthwhile book, with more than enough interesting bits for the novice and experienced alike. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for more information on HDRI.

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Bad Attitude

Bad Attitude
I don’t take a lot of editorial types of images. But when I drove by this building yesterday, I had to.

I don’t think that the unions are the only reason the Big 3 are having problems, but I do think they are a significant contributing factor. Unions have been corrupt enterprises for longer than I have been alive. They serve the egotistic needs of the leaders, and don’t really care for the common laborer. The notable exceptions would be when it comes to collecting dues or forcing new employees to join. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to be part of a union. They take part of your wages, tell you when to strike, and who to vote for. They don’t pay your full wage when you are on strike, and they don’t understand the notion of working together in a synergistic way so that everyone gets what they need. They would rather see a company go under (and all of it’s employees out of work) than do the right thing.

And then there are signs like this, which just continue to foster the bigotry and arrogance that the US is so well known for. I guarantee you that the Fluke multimeter’s that electricians love so much are not made in the US. Does that mean you can’t bring your gear bag to class (the union training also uses this parking lot)?

If you didn’t already see it, this is one example of the power of an image. Look at everything that this image brought out in me. What does it bring out in you?

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Online image galleries – I don’t get it

Lakewood High School Cheerleaders 2008-09
Like any photographer with an online presence, I wanted to be able to sell prints of my images online. I have a number of images that I think are worthy of hanging on the walls of homes and businesses (corporate art I guess), and I also have portraits that I have done of various people (mainly my daughter’s senior pictures and the Lakewood High School Cheerleaders). In either case, it is the ultimate convenience for my customers to be able to review their images online, tell me if they want any of them retouched, then be able to order the final versions in whatever dimensions or on whatever material (canvas wrap, coffee mug, etc) they want.

I took these things into consideration when I started looking for an online gallery source. I could have done it myself, using Gallery2 or similar software, but I honestly didn’t want to handle the back-end pieces of fulfillment. A one stop shop was a good idea. So I researched the different sites out there. Smugmug is widely regarded as the market leader. The there is Zenfolio and a bunch of others.

I have friends on Smugmug, and I never really liked how the sites looked. I know customization is possible, but I was hoping to avoid that. Zenfolio, however, had a nice, clean interface. The ordering process was straightforward. They let me do coupons and all that sort of stuff. The only thing they were lacking was digital downloads. This is a pretty big deal in this day and age. A number of other sites offer this. As recently as July, they indicated this was a priority and they were working on it. As recently as 10/28 though, they made it crystal clear that we won’t see it in the immediate future.

Instead, Zenfolio is putting their development focus on allowing comments on photos. I have a couple issues with this.
1. Zenfolio is not Flickr. It is a commerce site. Comments are secondary in nature to the sales process.
2. Digital downloads offer immediate $$ returns. As a photographer looking to make money from my images, this is a priority to me.

I have already lost at least one sale that I know of because I didn’t have an immediate download option available. And that was someone who took the time to let me know. How many opportunities have their been that I was not aware of?

It’s my own fault really. I have this need to be different, and give “new guys” a chance even when it might not make the most sense. I have learned my lesson though. I am signing up for my Smugmug free trial today and will start using their tools to migrate my stuff away from Zenfolio. The good news is that the “Print of the Week” entries will now be available as digital downloads, so you can use them as a desktop, print them for yourself at home, or however you want to use it. Commercial licensing will also be available if you want to use one of my images for an ad campaign or something similar. I’ll let you know as soon as this is available.

By the way – if you have found this post and are a dissatisfied Zenfolio / Flickr / Picassa / Phanfare / Yahoo / Photosite customer, go to smugglr.smugmug.com and see how you can migrate your stuff to Smugmug, and save significantly on your first year with them.

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Composite Images

Happy Halloween  (by bridgepix)
Photo by bridgepix
I have been reading a lot lately – books, magazines, online articles and blog entries (always been a voracious reader really). I have been noticing a trend in all the materials I have been reading – composite images are ok.

When I say composite, I mean images that are created using pieces of other images. For example, there is an article(PDF) in this months AfterCapture about a well respected (and well paid) photographer who is creating wonderful compositions (the theme in the article is Halloween related).

A book I have been reading recently, Shooting & Selling Your Photographs, also has a couple of examples where the author has sold composite images for respectable sums of money.

I am sure this has purists screaming, and artists gleaming. It’s the perfect hybrid for this medium though, in my eyes. You can still deliver an image that people want. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is really what it is all about – deliver what the customer wants. And that is why the purists scream. But I am not making images just for myself, to remember something exactly as it was. And if I do, then I don’t really modify it that much.

I see a lot of potential here. I think real estate photographers have already been doing this for some time, and clearly advertising does it. So if it will help me to make more marketable images, who am I to argue. I have a Photoshop class coming up soon. I hope it will give me the skills needed to make these images look natural. Can’t wait to try it.

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Using Photomatix to Blend Exposures

Photomatix Test 3
When you are shooting a room with a great view, it is a good idea to show that view, if you can. But that is more complicated when you think about the exposure levels outside versus inside the room. Since I was in an awesome location recently (the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, Colorado), I decided to use the property to do some practice on. I have posted a few images from this test in the Photography For Real Estate Flickr group (yes, it is a Flickr complement to Larry Lohrman’s excellent site/ blog) and have received some useful feedback from it.
(more…)

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Where to host a gallery?

Inspiration - Color Trying to determine where to host an online gallery is a pretty big deal. There are a plethora of choices, from software to host your own on your own website, to full fledged service offerings that will host all your images, maybe do some marketing for them, and offer a shopping cart system. It seems that every day a new one crops up, and one or two fold. It’s pretty difficult to keep up with them. On top of that, they all have different pricing, which factors into decisions as well.

So, what is an up and coming photographer to do? I have sat back for as long as I could and watched how other people built their sites and learned from them regarding what they did and didn’t like about certain sites. And then I decided to wait until I had to make a decision. For normal hosting of my photos, along with the community features, I really like Flickr. But Flickr doesn’t offer any ecommerce capabilities, and that site isn’t really geared towards sales at all.

Then I stumbled across Imagekind (via Flickr). They have an entry level offering that is free, so I put some pictures on it to see what happened. I linked to it from this site (“Prints For Sale“). I have 16 images there, and they have garnered 96 views, 3 comments, and 0 sales. Certainly I was hoping something would sell, but so far, nada.

Then I did the Lakewood High School cheerleader shoot last weekend, and I needed substantially more capacity, along with some other features. I took this as an opportunity to try out another service – Zenfolio. They have a two week free trial offer that gives you all of the features of the top level account, but limits you to 1GB of storage. There are some pro’s and con’s to the service, but all in all I am happy with it. So much so, that I have subscribed to it for a year. I am not 100% sure how I am going to market my prints on this site, but it definitely made it easy for me to keep the cheerleader pictures private for each girl. Additionally, I was commissioned earlier this week (at the last minute) to do a corporate headshot. I was able to quickly setup a “gallery” for the headshot proofs to go into. After the shoot, I uploaded the pics, my watermark was automatically applied, and the company was able to choose which image they wanted to buy. The bonus? That commission covered the cost of the Zenfolio site for the year. Now, anything I make off of print sales from the cheerleaders will be profit. Not too bad a deal at all.

I am aware that Smugmug is the heavy hitter in this industry, but for some reason I didn’t like what I saw there. I certainly have some issues with the Zenfolio people, but I have taken it up with them and it sounds like they are working on things. I’ll continue on there for the duration of my subscription, but I will also keep an eye out on the competition. If someone clearly does it better, at a similar price point, it would make sense to move. But if Zenfolio proves they can meet my needs, I’ll stay on, and likely become a strong advocate (for whatever that is worth). I work in a customer service type of industry too, and I know what my standards are. Let’s see if Zenfolio can keep up.

BTW – I am probably giving up on Imagekind for now. I’ll still keep the WordPress plugin for Imagekind up and running. I don’t know for sure if anyone is using it, but I suspect some are. Let me know if you do.

Also, I am going to stop writing posts on Saturdays. 5 days a week of my random thoughts, experiences, rants, raves and reviews ought to be plenty for everyone.

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