Monday, May 7, 2012

Space Photography

Excellent article at Luminous Landscape featuring the space photography of astronaut Captain Alan Poindexter.  A very nice article accompanies the photos by Capt. Poindexter describing shooting in space and the training given to astronauts on how to take photographs.

Link, HERE.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Full Moon Saturday Night

Supposedly the biggest moon rising of the year occurred on the night of May 5, but not in my neck of the woods.  It looked no bigger or brighter than usual.  The images above were shot with a Canon 40D and a 70-200mm F4 L lens.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Redheaded Woodpecker

The Redheaded Woodpecker was hanging out around my house so I got this set of picture of it with my Canon 70-200mm f4 on my Canon 5D.  The two middle shots were made with a monopod.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hasselblad Space Cameras

Hasselblad USA’s web site has a nice set of pages on famous photos made with their cameras in NASA space programs from Gemini to the Shuttle.  I found it through my own investigation of  some guy that claimed no one went to the moon and it was a hoax with Stanley Kubrick doing the fake footage.  I don’t believe this of course!  Yes, our guys went and came back safely.  But one thing this man said (whose name I don’t recall) was that Hasselblad, who supplied the cameras didn’t promote that fact on their web site.  Well, that’s a lie.  They do--big time!  As well they should as it was a major accomplishment for them.  
So go HERE to see the cameras and HERE to read the history of Hasselblad camera’s used in space.
Always double-check what you read online.

Friday, April 27, 2012

iStockphoto’s Long Lingering Death

iStockphoto has a long history of controversial actions that make it appear as if adults are not in charge.  It started in early 2006 when Bruce Livingstone,  founder of iStockphoto in 2000, announced he had sold it to stock powerhouse Getty Images.  A huge debate raged in the forums on the future of iStock that was the most alarming for the Exclusives who had all of their eggs in one basket.  One comment that stood out for me from that time was when one of the more clueless posters wrote, "They couldn't beat us so they joined us."   I cringed at reading that.  No, poor soul, the big fish gobbled up the little fish.  And you and we are in the belly.
This was the start of the long decline.
In their latest move, a recent announcement stated that phone support for contributors was being terminated in what was termed a cost cutting move.  Only contacting support via e-mail is henceforth allowed.  It's amazing that a company, any company, would make such a preposterous decision as this.  I can't imagine a more insulting or disrespectful way to treat people that are the soul reason for your success.  It shows somewhere up the corporate chain, a contempt for the people that made iStock what it is, or was.  And to add a dash of incompetence to the mix, the contributor agreement (i.e., contract) clearly states that phone support is to be supplied to all contributors!  It appears they drew their guns and fired too fast.  An update on that should be forthcoming.  
Anyway, it's ironic that a photographer, videographer or illustrator in the higher bracket, earning Getty/iStock $50,000 to $100,00 a year in sales can't get phone support when a guy buying a $1 image can.  
It wasn't clear at first but it certainly is now that Getty bought iStockphoto for one purpose, and that was to rein in the competition.  Sadly, many in the iStock community have never grasped this basic fact.  A generally smart bunch, they keep bringing up ideasmany quite goodregarding what management needs to do to get iStock to maximize its full potential in the marketplace, to produce happy buyers and happy contributors providing quality content. 
But it's hopelessly naive.  Their words are ignored and their pleadings never heeded.  Some people there actually think the Getty cabal actually cares what they think.  Maybe in the Livingston days but not now.  The business model is crowd sourcingget people to work for next to nothing.  It's an ancient tradition for those in Power.  That's why some Microstocks move the financial goals just as people are starting to make money and get ahead so the crowd sourcing model stays intact.  iStock did that when they changed the royalty structure in 2010 and made it performance based.   Meaning, sell a certain number of images and keep your royalty rate.  Don't and lose it.  I didn't and my 20% dropped to around 15%.  It's another way to remind the peasants at the gate that the gate is still shut. 
What was slow and subtle is now a blitz of blatant dismantling of the pioneering Microstock firm and the diluting of its content.  The last six years has been a routine of unpleasant announcements, followed by anguish in the site forums to calm being restored, only to have the same sequence of events play themselves out again, and again.  As time has gone on it's never let up.  Every new announcement is filled with trepidation for what lies ahead.  
Take a look at what has gone down in the past six years:  A brief history of events include changing the royalty structure so that many photographers/illustrators earn less, based on an absurd idea that the previous process was "unsustainable."  This from a company whose financial stats indicated that it is highly profitable since the content is not produced by them but by iStock members.  Salt was rubbed in the wound by having a now fired Admin tell contributors that, "Money won't make you happy...";  after massive credit card fraud in early 2011, Getty/iStock decided that the contributors would suffer the "clawbacks" not them.  One photographer reportedly lost over $5,000 in a clawback which is clearly a result of iStock's incompetent online security; they launched the higher priced Vetta Collection just to later dilute it with outside images from Getty's other stock collections; Getty photos don't need to pass through the rigorous file inspection which has raised the ire of many; the offering of logo designs just to terminate the project after a long period of inaction; PNG file format announced just to later be dumped after contributors had put many hours of work converting images over to the new format; launched Editorial images only to dump a ton of Getty editorial photographs to compete with member's images; constant tweaking of the search system resulting in feast or famine for members and making sure Getty, Vetta, and exclusive contributor's images have priority; Getty photos from their other online sites (known as collections) have flooded in and all are immune to exclusivity.  Meaning, these images are still for sale on other Getty-owned web sites which no iStock exclusive member is allowed to do; and finally, the afore mentioned canceling of phone support for all contributors.  
(This is just a brief history.  Go to iStockphoto's forums for the full history of controversies not covered here.)
Frankly, I don't know why photographers and illustrators that are Exclusive to iStock stay exclusive. Getty-iStock maintains what amounts to a basically abusive relationship with its suppliers.  They’ve committed enough outrages to have been sued many times over, yet strangely, they have avoided that fate so far.  I do acknowledge that it's a lot of work to go independent and start from scratch rebuilding multiple portfolios to a host of different stock agencies.  And that work also includes doing a lot of side labor such as key words,  description, selection of categories and so on.  I imagine if one has a large portfolio the job would take weeks, if not months, to accomplish. The future is staring the Exclusives in the eye.  There is nothing left but continued dominance of Getty's interests over that of iStock and its members and a flood of Getty content (which includes some hearty dreck) from all over the globe.  
So what do we have here?  More of the same actually.  Getty didn't buy iStock to make it boom, it bought it to remake it into a vassal state.  It's hard to imagine things getting much worse but I bet it can.  Many features on the site don't work right and haven't for years with apparently little incentive to ever fix them.  (We are told it's oh, so, complicated but the other stock agencies don't appear to suffer this malady and their sites are well maintained.)  iStock has the worst royalty rates in the business and that won't be getting better anytime soon.  Many Exclusives have turned in their crowns and are moving their content to other stock sites.  Sales are still pretty good, good enough for people to hang on a while longer.  It's good that an aspiring photographer can still sell images especially if he or she got in early onmeaning around 2005.  Now is not a good time for a rookie to sign up.  Continuing sales for the established are the only bright spot I see, providing they can tolerate the disrespect they will be subject to.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why I No Longer Subscribe to Outdoor Photographer Magazine

First and foremost, Outdoor Photographer (OP) magazine is nothing more than a pretty picture book. It pretends to sometimes offer advice and help on technique and often falls short. By using banner cover blurbs such as “Landscape Masters Reveal Their Secrets,” which often amounts to some alleged “master” who you’ve never heard of before telling readers to use a tripod and a polarizing filter. Duh…

Though no magazine will ever admit to it, the advertisers have great influence over editorial content since ad revenue is what keeps a magazine afloat, not subscription sales. OP is no exception and the whole magazine is really one, large advertising vehicle, down to ads that are designed look like articles (those are listed in small type as ads). Hence, the editorial content that for all intents and purposes is useless for helping photographers and more helpful for the sellers of products. Products, I may add, that never get critiqued for quality so never a bad review to be seen. If you want to know the worth of camera, lens, or other related accessory, go to the Internet.

The Old Boy’s Club
Not to pick on my home-boys, but this is a male-centric publication. All the monthly columnists, and most of the featured photographers are all exclusively male. The only time you see a woman in OP is when she is a model in an ad. To be fair, they have featured women photographers in the past but they are few and far between.

The Old Boy’s Club extends far past women, as many men are not included as well--such as men of color. That’s right, it’s a white man’s club there. I am a firm believer that photographers of quality should be given proper acknowledgement, but I find it hard to believe that they are all Caucasians. It’s a closed circle and the same faces are seen over and over again in many of the featured articles and the gravy jobs–the covers.

The Galen Rowell Appreciation Society
Before his death in a plane crash in 2002, Galen Rowell was a pioneer of sorts in nature photography, with many national magazine assignments, numerous published books on everything from photography to mountaineering and many prestigious awards. Rowell became the king of “adventure photography” where, you guessed it, Galen Rowell is the star of the show. A famous shot shows him dangling off the side of a cliff, camera in hand. How heroic! (An iconic shot that ironically was taken by someone else other than Rowell.) Rowell and his wife Carol perished in a plane crash in 2002. For many years OP featured his monthly column where to me, he came off as conceited and elitist. And never a year goes by without him getting a mention of one sort or another.

A case in point is when he wrote about taking a group of photographers on a workshop to Machu Picchu. He complained how the place is becoming a hub for Eco Tourism. Ha! As if the group of photographers that Rowell is hiking in with aren’t Eco Tourists as well, just with better camera gear. And of course would not the Great One consider himself a tourist with all of his celebrated jaunts around the globe? Apparently not with an ego this big.

In an OP article published shortly before his death, Rowell discusses not giving out specific locations for where he took a particular shot. He found it necessary to minimize, in his words, the “excessive impact” on the environment in an area. But hey, it was okay from him to go there–just not the rest of you rabble. I can understand his concern to keep pristine places pristine. One hates to be hiking through what resembles virgin territory just to find a Coke can by the trail. Rowell wants us to trust him, and him alone, to be a good steward of nature. He probably doesn’t realize he’s coming off as an elitist. As if the rest of us can’t be as well.

Rowell also benefited greatly from his relationship with OP when he started selling the Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters. All he needed was a quarter page ad in OP because the editorial department was ready to hype the usage of this alleged superior and certainly pricey ($100) product every time they could. Rowell saw no shame in mentioning the filter in his columns, complete with photographic examples utilizing the filter as well.

And this is still ongoing. A case in point in how this is done is in the December 2010 issue, which featured the article, “25 Pro Gear Choices.” Coming in at number seven is the Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filter. Who was the professional photographer endorsing it? The esteemed Art Wolfe, another member of the Old Boys’ Club, who just happened to have one of his landscape shots (yes, mountains reflected in a lake…once again) on the cover of the December issue. Grease those palms, boys! Actually, sort of amazing considering Rowell is no longer around to see the benefits of the endorsement though his heirs probably do. At OP he’s like Elvis…never far from the heart!

And it doesn’t end with Rowell’s death. They’ve brought in his son Tony to write articles and showing off his photos. It’s akin to the NBC losing their beloved news personality Tim Russert from a sudden heart attack and then later bringing in his son Luke to be a talking head. It’s a sign of a “special” relationship going on–a very tribal thing. I don’t see how this benefits anyone except those living in the closed circle. It’s almost like they are paying homage to a fallen Hero.

Having said all of this, Galen Rowell was a photographer of some merit though what he lacks in artistic vision, he makes up for in technical prowess. With his passing, OP lost a lot of its Green prestige that Rowell brought them having been so deeply involved in the environmental movement and promoting awareness through his photography and in his well-written articles and books regarding ecological issues.

The Theme Issues
There is the annual landscape issue, the “ask the Pros” issue, the Fall Color issue, the Holiday Buyers Guide issue and the list goes on and on, the same themes every year, the same thing said every year. That is a good reason not to subscribe anymore. One could do a one-year sub, stack the issues in a pile, and you would have all the information you would ever gleam from the publication.

I always thought the fall color theme issue was the biggest letdown of the year. You’ll get a beautiful cover with gorgeous fall leaves. On the inside, you’ll usually get one article–that’s right one article–regarding shooting pictures in the fall season. It will be the usual fluff piece telling you to use a polarizing filter. The rest of the issue resembles any other issue. It’s disappointing and misleading to the reader, as it basically offers nothing of substance.

(A good example of this is the October 2009 issue. One article is about filters for use in shooting fall color. And of course, Galen’s filter gets a mention as do the other advertisers.)

The End Result
I don’t begrudge the owners of OP (Werner) for wanting to make their magazine successful. But in conducting operations this way they are not helping out the end reader with fluff pieces, non-critical product announcements and featuring the photographic work of a bunch of middle-aged white guys who often use their column space to promote their business interests. It all results in one, massive conflict of interest of which the participants have no shame.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Buy Used

The Enticing the Light web site has posted on article on what a hit the Japanese camera manufacturers have took during the recent 9.0 earthquake and resulting aftershocks. All of the majors, Nikon, Canon, Ricoh, Fuji, Olympus and Sony have been affected. Sony in particular has been forced to shut down 7 plants. Fujifilm was forced to halt production of its popular Fuji X100 and Canon has closed one lens production plant for a month. And besides that their chip manufacturing has taken a hit as well. One can expect to see shortages in all kinds of electronic items being produced in Japan for a while.

The word on the street is, if you need something buy it now. Either it’ll be out of stock for an indefinite time or else the price will rise. And the price and availably of used camera gear might be affected as well. The “pre-owned” option is looking even better.

What To Look For
I always recommend buying used. I buy used gear from, Adorama, or B& You’ll get a warranty from these companies, 30-60 days, plus good return terms if you are not happy with it. Try eBay at your own risk. I’ve done okay with them but prefer lenses as opposed to bodies if I buy from there.

Canon 5D shown above is one of my used buys that I got from B&H. (The lens shown was bought new.) If you can’t afford the $2,500 5D Mark II price tag then the original 12 MP version is not a bad choice if a photographer needs to move to full-frame. I got mine for around $1,100. Though it won’t have some the newer features such as sensor dust removal and video recording, the image quality is outstanding.

It was rated a “9” and was in fine condition, with only a little paint wear on the hotshoe. I’ve been very pleased with it and it came with everything, box, manual, CD-ROM, battery, charger and all cables. With Keh, some things might be missing. You will at least get the DSLR basics, in this case, the battery and charger, which are the two main accessories, you will need with a digital camera. That is why I would rather do business with B&H. If you buy from B&H, you have to move fast as items sell quickly. They usually have just a few samples of a particular piece of gear. Keh and Adorama on the other hand, are loaded with equipment so you can take more time considering your purchase.

Other good cameras are the Nikon D200 and D300 and the Cannon 40D and 50D. If you are just starting out, a Canon 20D or 30D, or a Nikon D70 are good for novices.

I have a 40D and don’t see myself ever parting with it. The image quality, noise control up to ISO 400, overall handling and automatic sensor cleaning make it a fine professional tool for a partial frame sensor camera. The used price has shot up as well. Last year, a friend traded his in for a Canon 7D and got a higher than expected trade-in offer from Adorama. When he inquired as to why, he was told that the 40D was more sought after. I’ve seen the used price over the last year go up $100 or more (current street price: $600-$650). I have no answers for this or who is purchasing this camera in such quantities.

While the prices are good the one downside is that if it breaks on you no warranty support to get it fixed. And repairs are costly as I found out a few years ago when I accidentally dropped my 17-40mm zoom on the floor and the impact damage cost me $200 in repair fees.

Another thing to consider is more pixels doesn’t mean more detail. It means you are getting bigger picture dimensions; more real estate, which is good for cropping. This is evidence of camera manufacture’s marketing departments influencing camera development. More pixels does not mean greater improvements in image quality. However, in my experience, I would say that going from a partial frame sensor to a full-frame sensor does offer an increase in resolution that is noticeable. The full-frame images from my Canon 5D have more “pop” to them. It seems to me, that my 17-40mm zoom images look nice on my 40D but on a 5D they look like I used a tripod with a shutter release cable. The 17-40mm is a totally different lens on a full-frame camera. I didn’t realize it was that sharp!

As always, there are plenty of resources online for researching a new piece of gear. Check out your favorite photographers and see what kind of equipment they use. The wise take their time before they buy.