Tuesday, November 3, 2009

First full month with outsourced retouching

This is the first report about progress of my stock photography improvement plan.

October was the first full month when I used outsourcing for retouching. Also, I focused on production of photos specially for stock. Thus I didn't loose time processing my random family/friends pictures for stock.

I must say I am quite happy that I decided to outsource. I easily produced 100 stock photos (which was my target for this year) and I feel that I can quite easily produce even more.

A positive side effect was improved acceptance rate. My acceptance rate at istock was around 75%, but in October it went up to ~98%. I believe it happened mainly because I didn't spend time on non-stock photos; and didn't experiment with processing/filters etc, making just straightforward adjustments and editing.

In October I had 2 stock photo sessions. In November I already had 1 and 1 in scheduled for this weekend.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday shoot in Leuven

The better plan you make, the higher are chances it will fail. So was with my last shoot - the plan was to shoot Thomas in railway station but we were kicked out by police.

Indeed they were formally right - but we were not on people's way and I wasn't photographing the station itself; and I photographed in the same station several times in the past... (I think it's clear by now that I didn't bother with the official permission). So we had to switch to plan 'B' and photograph Thomas near the station but outside.

Although I know the place I still visited it in advance to check possible spots for taking pictures (both in station and around it), and that was helpful. The session lasted only 2 hours but we didn't loose any time, so it was productive.

I was pleasantly surprised with Thomas. He is only doing modeling for 8 months but he is doing it very well. He understood pretty well what I wanted from him and he did it all nicely and quite naturally.

Just one picture so far as I didn't have time for retouche/processing:

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Friday, September 25, 2009

New tripod - Slik Pro 330DX

I just purchased a new tripod a couple of weeks ago.

My 10 years old Manfrotto 190 is still in good order. However it is
* too heavy
* too big
* too cold in the winter (no rubber coating)

I wanted to get a replacement. I don't use tripod daily so I didn't want to spend too much. However I do use one regularly so it should be a decent tripod that could hold my DSLR with lens. Thus I was looking for a device that:
* is reasonably light (though no extreme needed);
* is small enough to put in my travel bag for air travels;
* has rubber coating;
* doesn't cost a fortune;
* is stable at full open and can hold Canon EOS 5D Mk II with lens

I found that Slik Pro 330DX seems to be a good match to the points above. It is surprisingly stable despite quite thin legs at the end; and the central column is very easy to remove.

I thought about taking Slik Pro 330 without default head and attaching a lighter and smaller ballhead, but at the end I decided that it's not worth the extra cost for my needs.

The picture is from Slik catalog, © Slik (http://www.slik.com)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taking my stock photography to the next level

After doing stock photography for a few years I reached lately (yet another) plateau. Adding new photos to portfolio doesn't improve sales. This isn't an unusual situation; but in addition to that I am not satisfied with my past pace of growth. I believe I now learned enough to seriously take my stock photography to the next level.

There are few quite obvious (to me) areas that I need to address:

1) I need to take more pictures specially for stock.

So far most of pictures taken by my camera aren't made specially for stock. At the same time O noticed that pictures taken specially for stock take less time to post-process; and session organized specially for stock generates many more usable photos. Thus the conclusion is simple:

2) Don't spend time processing non-stock photos for stock.

Post-processing (selecting good photos from the shoot; RAW processing; editing in photoshop, keywording) takes several times more time than shooting. One of the main reasons I didn't organize too many shoots specially for stock was too big back-log of unprocessed photos. The previous point will address that to a big extend. Further reduction of post-processing time can be achieved with another simple step:

3) Be more selective processing photos for stock. Don't waste time trying to improve imperfect pictures.

Still, processing pictures takes a lot of time and it is still much longer than shoot even if I select pictures more carefully. So the next focus point is to reduce post-processing time. So, my next step is:

4) Outsource part of post-processing.

This one is being tested right now. I decided to try to outsource retouching work to India. Retouching is a routine procedure that takes a significant portion of my time now but isn't very expensive when done by somebody else. I will keep other, more creative parts of post-processing for myself.

This is now in test mode - I found a company to do the work (via a recommendation), tried a few pictures with them, agreed on price and send them the very first batch. I hope it will work.

As a possible next step I consider outsourcing keywording but that is yet to be decided.

So to summarize all of the above: I need to take more pictures, be more selective which ones to process and need to reduce post-processing time. Yet another step to improve my stock photography is:

5) Take better photos.

Technically my photos are already good - vast majority of my pictures are accepted by agencies without problems. However I need to take better stock photos. There are two parts in that task:

5.1) One is relatively simple and is to improve various small elements such as model's smile, clean background etc.
5.2) The other is much more difficult - to analyse what subjects sell well and make sellable photos. The word "analyse" here is related to both evaluation of the market bestsellers and evaluation of my own portfolio and my own bestsellers.

I plan to work seriously on item 5.2 later, after the previous items will be successfully implemented and will become a normal routine.

My plan for the remaining months this year is to implement items 1 to 5.1 and to produce at least 100 good photos monthly. If it will work well I will need to increase the number next year and to start seriously working on item 5.2.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Shutterstock meeting in Denmark

A few days ago a group of photographers from Shutterstock had a good time together in Aarhus (Denmark). The meeting was organized via Shutterstock forum. Starting with a group dinner on Friday night we spent the next day in photo studio of Yuri Arcurs - the world's most selling microstock photographer. Yuri very kindly organized a tour in his studio followed by shoot of a few of his models. Yuri is a very nice guy, easy to talk to; and he is sharing a lot of good advise to other photographers. We all had a great time, and here is a short video about the event:

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Leuven from above

A few days ago I visited the bell tower of Leuven University Library (located on Ladeuze plein). The tower hosts one of the largest carillons in Europe (it even was the largest for some time). Normally the tower isn't accessible to the public, but it's possible to visit it once or twice a year, with the excursion to carillon followed by a nice concert of carillon music.

The excursion was lead by Luc Rombouts, carillionist and the official bell ringer of Leuven.

The picture above shows the University Library with the tower photographed in twilight (more than a year ago). We visited the tower under bright daylight, and almost whole Leuven can be observed from the tower.

The first picture is the view at Stella Artois and the channel to Mechelen:
Leuven from above
The second photo is the view at Leuven station (with construction works on the other side of the railway) and new city hall:
Leuven from above

And here is the rest of it.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Updated guide about selling photos online

I updated the guide about selling photos online - http://stock.miklav.com/

Part 4 of the guide needs to be extended further, it's in my "to do" list.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Updated design of my website miklav.com

I changed significantly the content and structure of my website. Graphic design stays the same, but I added Retouche and Wedding sections and updated photo gallery.

Come and see updated miklav.com! :)

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leuven - pictures of Oude Markt

To continue on previous post - a few pics from Oude Markt in Leuven. Oude Markt is a nice medieval square in the center of the city. Cobblestone surface, old buildings on all 4 sides full of cafes, bars and restaurants. You can see how it looks in a usual week day evening.

Oude markt

Oude markt

Oude markt

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Pictures of Leuven

I didn't realize that I have too few pictures of my home town until I got a request from a customer a few weeks ago. Luckily the weather is nice lately so I went to the center of Leuven to take some pictures.
Leuven stadhuis
The City Hall of Leuven is nice, so I took some photos at the end of the day, when the lights started to turn on but the sky wasn't completely dark yet.

A few more pictures of the City Hall
Leuven stadhuis

City Hall of Leuven
I went also to Oude Markt the same day. For those who doesn't know Leuven Oude Markt is a nice old square surrounded by medieval buildings - it is full of bars and restaurants and some people call it the "largest bar in Europe". It will be the subject of my next blog post.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some of my tools

Just a quick note about a couple of tools that I use in my photography process.

As part of my backup process I record my photos on DVDs. I don't like simplified consumer version of Nero software that came with my DVD writer, so I tried some free tools. I tried several of them which I didn't like - some for uncomfortable interface (e.g. many clicks needed to add a folder to a disk); some failed during recording (which I wouldn't expect to happen at all these days with mature technology). Finally I chosen imgburn that I prefer over the others: http://www.imgburn.com - reasonable interface; some advanced features, and good reliability.

The other tool that I use often is FTP client. Again I tried several options and for the last year I use Filezilla: http://filezilla-project.org, which I know also recommended by many other users.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good time to photograph tulips

It's great time to photograph tulips now while they are blooming. It's a long weekend in Belgium and in neighbor countries and the weather is nice. A good place to go is Keukenhof in Netherlands, not far from Hague. Thousands of tulips of all different sorts and colors, and many other flowers.
Red passion

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Trying macro photography

I've tried macro photography with Canon EF 85mm f1.8 lens having +4 lens attached; and with old manual Russian-made Helios-44 lens + cheap Chinese extension ring.

The option with EF 85mm and +4 lens means full electronic control with autofocus.

Cheap extension ring is a piece of metal only, no electronic connection between camera and lens. This is why I used old Helios-44 - because it has manual aperture control.

The result with EF85 is in general good, but chromatic aberrations are strong on contrasty edges (depending on particular scene of course).

Helios-44 resulted much less CA however the transition between area in focus and completely unsharp part isn't very pleasant to my eye. EF85 produces a softer blur.

I must note however that the comparison isn't fair because I tried 2 lens in different conditions. Now as I noticed some interesting point I'll need to find some time to make a real comparison.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Testing CF cards transfer speed with Transcend and Hama card readers

A few days ago I became a happy owner of new Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera. Thus I decided to buy a larger compact flash card. I wanted 32GB with a good speed. However the price of top-range brand name cards seemed a bit too high so I decided to make a compromise - i.e. to get large capacity and reasonable speed, but not the fastest possible.

I bought Silicon Power 200x card and I got interesting results testing data transfer speed.

I did a basic test on my PC, using USB card reader. My older cards shown on the picture are rated 100x (PQI) and 133x (Transcend). They both demonstrate read speed of about 40 MB/s (reading large file from card to hard drive of my PC). However the card from Silicon Power has only shown 16 MB/s in my initial test with Transcend M5 card reader. I repeated the test few times with the same result. At first I was very disappointed, but when I repeated my tests with Hama card reader I've got the speed of ~44 MB/s from the same card!

The writing speed is approximately the same for Silicon Power and for 133x Transcend and is about 9 MB/s (100x PQI is notably slower).

I paid about 70 Eur for the Silicon Power card while the brand name 266x-300x cards are priced above 150 Eur, so I am very happy now with the saving I got :)

My main surprise is that cheap Hama reader overperformed the Transcend by so much - but only on 32GB card. The tests with 8GB and 2 GB cards didn't show a difference between 2 card readers. FYI Hama reader is a box from blue transparent plastic and called 'Cardreader 19 in 1'. It has partnumber 00055114. I've got one in Germany for 9 or 10 Euro. (The one from Transcend looks nicer - it's a square white glossy box in "Mac-style" but it failed miserably with large card.)

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Finding photo models

There are several ways to find models. Relatives and friends might be easy to access, but they are not necessarily good models. Another possibility is to use special web sites where models and photographers find each other. Make-up artists can be found the same way.

Quite often the same model can be found on different sites at the same time. Sites provide different options and different communication channels to the users.

Probably the most popular in Belgium is http://modellennet.be. Currently it lists more than 2000 models (mostly from Belgium and some from the Netherlands). In Dutch.

Another popular site is http://www.eye-on.net (former photograaf.be). Current list is above 800 models. The site is in Dutch. It is supposed to grow beyond a basic meeting place for photographers and models, but these services are yet to be developed.

Less popular is http://models.handelsgids.be/?zoekenHome/

Speaking about Dutch model the most popular site is http://DutchHeaven.nl

Very popular international site: http://www.modelmayhem.com. It is not so popular in Belgium (only 300 models) as it is in some other countries, but is it a good resource for photographers. The site is in English.

Site popular in Germany: http://www.model-kartei.de. It lists more than 20,000 models, and on top many make-up artists, studios for hire, etc. Although the site is in German it is quite easy to search for models if you learn a few basic words.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Leuven station in twilight

One more photo of Leuven railway station that I made almost a year ago. This time you could see a large version if you click on picture (and then click "All sizes" above the picture).

Leuven station

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Winter photos

Unusually for Belgium we've got real winter this year - lot's of snow and freezing all week. It was a nice sunny day yesterday so I went out to make a few pictures. This one is made in Heverlee bos:
Heverlee bos

It was -10 centigrade and I didn't have any issues with the camera at that temperature. However fully charged batteries died extremely quickly - it was showing "battery low" after about 15 minutes of use. Fortunately I have a good habit of always having several charged batteries with me. By the way Canon compatible battery behaved better than original Canon. It was showing "battery low" but kept working, while Canon battery quickly went down.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Data backup

I was keeping in mind for a long time that I need to improve my data backup strategy. This topic was recently discussed in one of the internet forums I read; and following that discussion I finally made a move :) I should have done that earlier, but luckily I am not too late because I didn't loose any data yet.

Until now I was backing up my RAW files + edited PSD files on 2 recordable DVDs, both stored at home. Personal non-photography data was occasionally copied on another hard drive on the same PC. Although my personal experience with recordable CDs and DVDs is good I've read many times about CDs/DVDs becoming unreadable after several years. Also saving the data on the same PC (even on a separate hard drive) isn't safe at all.

So my new plan is the following:
* Keep making a copy on DVD, but just one copy. That's for RAW + edited PSD files.
* Make 2 copies on 2 external hard drives (different brands). One of them stored off-site (swapped monthly). RAW + PSD + personal non-photography data.
* Keep a copy of most important data in online storage - I've chosen Amazon S3 for reasonable price and good SLA. To keep costs low this will only be used for selected most important RAW files and selected personal data.

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