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.


Friday, March 18, 2011

iStockphoto And The Big Call

iStockphoto was the first stock site I signed up with in 2005. I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with them. Peculiar rejections claiming image faults where there are none, and a host of business actions over the years that made it look like the adults were not in control. They did however do a good thing for me—allow me to achieve my goal of shooting and selling stock photos and in the process propel me into areas of photography I’ve never explored. It helped me improve the quality of my work. I’ve since branched out to other sites

iStock early on wanted people to be exclusive to them. It makes for good marketing leverage to have a loyal group of contributors providing content that can’t be found anywhere else. I’ve been tempted many times but only went exclusive for video clips. I’m glad I stayed independent. So much has changed there, starting with being bought by Getty Images in 2006, which were in turn bought up by a private equity firm Hellman Friedman in 2008. New owners always means thing will change and often in undesirable ways. (Starting in 2010, Getty owned stock companies can now post images for sale on Istock’s site. They can also retain their web sites for sale through them as well. No exclusive stock artist is allowed to do that. Exclusive can now mean whatever Getty-Hellman Friedman wants it to.)

The Fraud
After a series of screwy events that are too many to go into here, iStockphoto announced in December of 2010, around Christmas, that credit card fraud had occurred. The amount of fraud has never been revealed. Much to the dismay of the contributors, iStock announced that all members would bear the burden of the losses. Naturally, they were in an uproar of this! Then, it was announced in March that the fraud had continued through January and February of this year as well. I was hit with this round but only out $1.80 so I know I got off easy. One of the bigger sellers, Sean Locke posted on iStock‘s forum that he had lost over $5,000. So far, that is most of any photographer on there that has been admitted to. The idea that Getty-iStock had no intention of reimbursing any of the contributors over this is probably the biggest outrage committed by this company. Many people are wondering when the class action is going to start. Frankly, I don’t know why a majority of the exclusives haven’t left by now.

So far, there has been no apology. Not even a sense of regret from iStock management that this event happened. That is the way of corporate America—when something screws up, never admit anything.

The Big Pow-Wow
So, in order to placate the unruly mob and plug the leaks it was announced that a conference call would be enacted with six members and they would all exclusives, allowing no non-exclusives to take part in the process. Each person had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. How is that for transparency? Many questioned that and some hoped that Sean Lock would not be involved. He was one of the Six.

And what many forecast came to pass. Mr. Locke posted a vaguely worded statement on iStock’s forum full of happy talk and how the unnamed powers-that-be are working to insure this never happens again. The usual lemmings appeared to offer their gratitude for a statement filled with nothing but air.

Nancy Louie (Nano), another member of the Six also posted her thoughts about the call stating “What I did find overall were some sincere answers and disclosure for some hard lines of questioning.” How nice. Disclosure, but only for a select few. Real disclosure would actually be telling us something, right?

However, over at the Microstock Group Forum, Mr. Locke had a different reception for his non-disclosure, disclosure. When asked about what was said at the conference call, he erupted with this response:

“Either you think we're reasonably smart enough, or at least one of us is that you are able to go, "Yeah, they're positive about the outlook, so I'm good". So either you do or you don't, and I totally get it that someone would want explicit details. Heck, we didn't even get those. However, it seems we did mostly feel that ongoing work will address this (from the forum posts).”

A rebuttal from Stockastic (name unknown):

“In any other business, I think a non-report of an alleged discussion of an unspecified agenda between un-named participants would be nothing but material for jokes. Here, at this intersection of web investors, IT geeks, internet crooks, IP lawyers, black-clad art school graduates, and photographers receiving 19 cents per sale, it apparently makes sense.”


Where Do We Go From Here?
iStockphoto has been in Bungle Mode for some time now. This current credit card fraud nightmare has been the worst so far. If they think that having one of their top and most trusted photographers issue a bland statement to assuage the contributors concerns and anger, think again. That was a massive fail. We still don’t know anything. We don’t know the level of the fraud, why it was allowed to go on in the first place, why there is no insurance for this sort of thing, or whether or not law enforcement is investigating the case. And, no promise that it might not happen again.

It is also strange that the fraud is so rampant at iStock when it doesn’t seem to be affecting the other stock sites such as Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Fotolia. In fact, nobody has heard of it happening at the other Getty owned online stock sites, of which there are quite a few.

Who knows? Perhaps some good will come out of all of this mess. For the sake of the company, they had better do something. All I can see is, once Getty bought them, things have never been the same or as good. I think everybody can see that.

On the other hand, I am reminded of what Getty did shortly after they bought iStock. They bought a stock company in Ireland. No soon had they acquired it, they laid off all the staff, gave them all generous severance packages and took the company apart. That’s the kind of thing the big companies do to the little ones. “Competition is a sin,” as John D. Rockefeller once said. It’s a sin to them all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rosy Maple Moth

Nice batch of Easter colors for this Rosy Maple Moth. I saw this insect on my way in from getting the mail one day. Rushed in to get the camera and fired off a series of frames. The moth never moved so it made a good subject to capture. No rush for this shot. Shot with hand-held Canon 40D and 60mm Macro. Natural light and ISO 400. It plays to get out of the house!

Image © 2011 by George Bailey

Monday, March 14, 2011

Welcome To Microstock Blues!

This is my first posting for my photography blog. I’ll be posting here on various subjects and issues dealing with photography. I have over 30 years experience of working in photography, which also includes stints in graphic and web design. My early interest was in art so I’ve done everything in that field from commissioned portraits, to logos, to 3D computer generated designs. I currently sell my photographs and illustrations through a variety of Microstocks such as iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and many others.

Here, I’ll be dealing with the various aspects of Microstock, the online selling of photography and illustrations, photography technique and help in making sure photographers have better success in the field. I won't be shying away from any controversial issues as well.

Come along for the ride!

Best to all, George Bailey