Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas present for myself - new lens

I made a nice Christmas present for myself - new lens Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro. Very happy with the results of the first test. Good for portraits and for closeups.
outdoor portrait
portrait: f5.6, eye: f6.3
closeup of an eye

Click here to see the full post and comments

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hackintosh on ASUS P5Q-VM motherboard

I can confirm that MAC OS X Snow Leopard works just fine on a PC based on ASUS P5Q-VM motherboard.

  • ASUS P5Q-VM motherboard
  • 7 GB RAM (historically: 3 original plus 4 upgrade)
  • ATI Radeon 4730 video card
  • dedicated full hard drive for MAC OSX
  • temporary USB keyboard (normally use PS2 one which can be enabled after setup)
  • USB mouse
Installation of MAC OSx
  • Installed new empty HDD in the system (SATA)
  • Switched BIOS to AHCI mode (which requires changes in Windows running from another HDD)
  • replaced IDE DVD drive with SATA one (IDE wont work)
  • Installed MAC OSX using NAWCOM boot CD and MAC OS Snow Leopard installation DVD
  • Installed hack pack from NAWCOM Boot CD (including PS2 keyboard driver)
  • Changed video resolution in the system settings (no need to manually install drivers, only adjust /Extra/
  • Installed sound driver (ALC1200_1063 worked, but not other ALC1200)

Remark: I select which OS to boot via BIOS by pressing F8 during initial computer startup. No need to bother with various settings in boot loaders.

Many thanks to all the people who made it possiblle and who shared their experience in various forums and blogs.

So if you have similar setup and want to build a Hackintosh yourself, you'll need the following:
- NAWCOM boot CD :
- MAC OS X Snow Leopard installation DVD (you are expected to buy it, e.g. at Amazon)
- Sound driver:
- Compatible computer
- PC keyboard works with MAC but the keys work differently. Most annoying one is that Alt is used on MAC pretty much as Ctrl is used on PC, i.e. copy/paste is Alt+C/Alt+V on MAC with PC keyboard. You can change that by using DoubleCommand utility
- By default you'll get read-only access to Windows NTFS drives (FAT32 works with read/write). You can use freeware NTFS 3G driver (note there is a commercial version available from the same vendor)
- There are MAC versions of Skype, FireFox, Filezilla available - they work just fine. And OpenOffice too.

Click here to see the full post and comments

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recent shoots

I haven't been active with stock photography since February. Too busy with my other job. However I learned a lot during the break. Not only via reading, but also via attending 2 conferences related to stock photography: CEPIC in Dublin and StockInRussia in Moscow. There wasn't anything revolutionary, but it was a great help to sort the things in my mind. Ironically, not doing stock photography for 8 months I came to the next level of understanding it.

I re-started doing stock shoots immediately after StockInRussia. Due to bad weather it had to be a studio session, and it was with several models. It was fun and I got some nice pictures, but I wasn't really satisfied. 6 models showed up instead of 4; duration of stylist's work was underestimated; the look of one model has changed before the shoot so what was planned for that model wasn't suitable. Also had to use an unknown studio which was ok but not exactly what I needed. They are all my own faults indeed - lesson learned to plan better next time.

After getting back to Belgium I had an outdoor session with a child and her mother. This was affected by the forces of nature but I am still quite happy with the result. Both the models and myself wanted to catch nice autumn look with yellow/red leaves on the trees and on the ground. Unfortunately most trees suddenly lost their foliage just 2 days before the shoot; and the weather was cold and overcast during the shoot. Luckily no rain, but it was really dark gray overcast. The grass with the leaves was very wet, so we had to exclude everything related with lying down on the leaves and playing with them. Despite the obstacles, the result was good. Using very nice models in a nice park we we've got several nice pictures at the end. I hope we will continue working together with these models in the future.

Now the weather is bad, nice autumn views have gone - thus it's the time to shoot indoors. Finding a suitable indoor location isn't that easy - I have several ideas and conversations are in progress.

Meanwhile to avoid loosing time I've done a shoot in the studio. This time only 1 model so that I can do my planning better; and I made a very detailed plan for the shoot. Not everything worked what I planned, but this is normal. Pictures look good; and I liked the model and the stylist.

Click here to see the full post and comments

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jonathan Ross in stock photography

Jonathan Ross is one of the most successful traditional stock photographers in the United States. His photography business is called Anderson Ross. Jonathan works primarily in traditional RF and RM areas but tries new directions too like microstock or video. In microstock Jonathan operates under nickname avava.

I knew Jonathan since his appearance in internet forum couple years ago. I met Jonathan in person for the first time at CEPIC conference in Dublin a few months ago where he was one of the presenters. And finally I met Jonathan a few days ago at microstock conference STOCKinRUSSIA in Moscow (Russia). Jonathan was invited as one of the key speakers, and also gave a masterclass on stock photography. You can see a short interview with Jonathan that I took during the break:

I've written down a few bullet points about what I heard from Jonathan (combined from Dublin and from Moscow):

  • Be ready for change. Traditional stock photography market changed a lot last years but it still alive and isn't dying; microstock market keeps changing too. Be ready and look for opportunities.
  • Jonathan regularly puts aside a part of his budget to try new things. He made successfull micrstock experiment back in 2008; the next test was video, and so on.
  • Plan your shoot. As Jonathan works on location, the team visits the location in advance, take some snapshots to visualize and to remember the place. Then the shoot list is written with every future picture described in 1-2 lines. The list for 5-hour-long shoot typically takes 10-12 pages.
  • Be prepared with your plan, do follow the plan, but be open to variations and new ideas during the shoot. And don't be afraid to skip some pictures if you see something doesn't work - don't spend too much time trying to make adjustment for one picture, just move on to the next one.
  • It takes time to rearrange the light setup, so when you are doing the shoot, maximize the use of each setting before you move to the next one.
  • You will find yourself repeating your own pictures again and again - with new models, in new locations yet similar to what you've done before. This is perfectly fine for several reasons.
    • Nothing is truly new in photography, so you can't be "original" with every new photo;
    • Buyers need variety. Same buyer needs same subject again and again, but they want a new picture;
    • Styles change - cloths, cars, mobile phones, etc. So same photo taken again in a couple of years will be quite different;
  • Microstock experiment Jonathan made was very successful. Jonathan produced around 3500 photos (meaning final processed portfolio); production cost was around $16.50 per photo (which is very high in microstock's standards). What Jonathan said in microstockgroup forum: "I have returned over $120,000 in two year since my upload of the 3500 with another 2000 to upload at Istock I hope that helps give a base of what my returns are. This is also slightly before 2 years so I can't say till we get to December what my 2 year sales are, I can only share what I have made to this time."
Reference links:

Click here to see the full post and comments

Monday, September 27, 2010

Belgian taxes for stock photographers

I thought it might be useful to share how taxation works in Belgium.

Remark: This is not an official tax advise and I am not responsible for any misunderstanding. I simply share what I learned from my accountant and what works for me.

Stock photography falls under simplified light taxation that applies to art/copyright works.

That means you don't need to register a business (even self-employed is not necessary), you can declare the income as your personal.

The tax applied is 15%

You are allowed to declare 50% of your overall stock income as your cost, so 15% is taken from half of your income (up to the ceiling of 13,840 Eur for income 2009 - and you can declare 25% of income as cost for the second 13,840 Eur).

On a practical side - if you are filling paper tax declaration you need to request tax office to provide you the second part (that is usually used by business); if you are filling your tax online in tax-on-web you can enter data directly.

You declare your total income per year in Euro in field 1190; and half of the a mount as cost in field 1191 (if your annual income is <13,840 Eur).

How to count the amount: Typically you don't receive any supporting documents from stock agencies (unless it's a German one). So just write down yourself every dollar amount that you transferred during reporting year from stock sites to your paypal account (or to your bank account or whatever method you used); and convert every transaction to Euro using historical exchange rate on that date (find in internet). Of course you keep Euro amount if you are receiving money from European agency. Then sum all Euro amounts and use it your for declaration. Attach your calculation to your declaration.

Click here to see the full post and comments

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It's hot here at French Riviera, but sea is warm and nice :)

Click here to see the full post and comments

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Photo editing - how to reduce artifacts

Artifacting is a native issue of digital photography. It appears on nearly all digital photos - sometimes a little, sometimes strong. Microstock agencies don't like artifacts, istockphoto is particularly known for that.

Artifacts is something quite easy to address if you apply a systematic approach. I am getting nearly 0 rejects for artifacts for the last +/- 12 months if not longer:
  • shoot exclusively in RAW , not too high ISO
  • good exposure, particularly no underexposure, and no pulling shadows up
  • very little or no sharpening when processing RAW
  • if converting RAW to separate file before opening in photoshop use TIF not jpeg
in result you should see very little artifacting (BTW check on the edge of shadows at 400%-500% zoom).

What I am doing next with 100% of my pictures is applying TopazLabs DeJPEG filter (photoshop plugin). There is an old free version and there is up to date commercial one (which isn't expensive). The "official" purpose of the plugin is different, but it helps very nicely to remove that little artifacting. The key is to apply DeJPEG at very low settings, don't overdo it. I made several presets for different degree of artifacting/noise; and I am thinking about making a tutorial about that when I have some time.

When applied at minimal settings, DeJPEG filter smooths areas without detail while keeping details sharp, and adds a very little noise. This is an example (crop enlarged to 300%):

the version "more DeJpeg" not only smoothened stronger, but also has more noise added.

Click here to see the full post and comments

Monday, June 14, 2010

CEPIC microstock conference in Dublin

I came back from microstock conference organized by CEPIC in Dublin on the 8th of June. Took some notes and some videos - will post after get them processed.

Click here to see the full post and comments

Monday, April 12, 2010

16bit vs 8bit editing in photoshop

The question discussed many times and still often asked - whether to process RAW files in 16 bit or in 8 bit mode?

The answer depends on quality of the source file and the intended use of the image. When you work with well exposed photograph and don't edit it intensively, the difference between 8bit and 16bit isn't significant. However in case you need best possible quality there is a difference.

Even if you save the final result in 8-bit file (e.g. JPG only supports 8-bit mode), there is a difference depending how you edit your file.

Whether it's a big deal or not is rather subjective.... but the difference is pretty obvious.

I made a simple example - took a well exposed image, didn't apply very much editing, didn't have too many layers. There are 2 frames in the animated gif: one is the result of 16 bit editing, converted to 8 bit at the end; the other frame is result of 8-bit editing - i.e. same file was first converted to 8 bit, then editing applied. It enlarged to 400% to make the difference more visible.

16bit vs 8bit

In case you have underexposed image, in case you have higher ISO, in case you apply intensive editing - you will see much bigger difference between 8 and 16 bit. But even this example above is sufficient for me to do my editing in 16 bit.

Click here to see the full post and comments

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Internet upgrade at home

Got my Belgacom ADSL line upgraded today to VDSL. Download speed came from 4Mbps up to around 15Mbps, and more importantly the uplink went from 0.5Mbps up to 1.5Mbps - very helpful for uploading photos to retouching agency, and to stock agencies. (I am talking about real tested speed)

The nice thing that the upgrade was free to me (including VDSL modem), because Belgacom has improved their subscription plan that I was already using. But I had to ask for upgrade myself.

The only negative part is that the websites that were slow remain slow regardless the speed of my internet connection....

Click here to see the full post and comments

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One more photo from session with Thomas and Emmily

This is one more photo from the same session with Thomas and Emmily:

Thomas and Emily

This picture was planned, based on several advertisement photos. It's not a copy of any specific picture, but I had a particular image in my mind which I tried to create. I've got what I wanted and I like the result. Even though the concept might be arguable with sunglasses shown in the darkness :)

Click here to see the full post and comments

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Photography studio found

I had an issue with a place for taking studio photos. I've done it at home for some time but it wasn't a good option. I have too little space, and reflections from walls create a color cast on the pictures. I photographed in some places abroad, but I didn't have a good place in Belgium that I could use regularly.

Finally I found a studio near Mechelen and tried it last Sunday. The location is good - not too far from Leuven (less than 40 minutes by car), close to a railway station (though small one), and close to Mechelen too. Also good that it's large enough and have high ceiling. Very good price; and rather good selection of backgrounds. The only imperfection is that the lighting kit could have been better, and selection of softboxes/light modifiers isn't large. But that isn't a big issue taking into account the items I could bring myself in addition to those already in studio. It is also very convenient that the studio is accessible 24/7 via pre-paid badge system and online reservation.

One picture from that shoot:

Thomas and Emily
Copyright Mikhail Lavrenov

Click here to see the full post and comments

Monday, January 4, 2010

Update on stock photography improvement plan

This is end of the year update on my stock photography improvement plan.

Although I wasn't yet able to achieve all of my targets, I am happy with the progress.

Since beginning of October I had 4 photo sessions specifically for stock - i.e. much higher rate that I had ever before. Unfortunately due to personal reasons I wasn't able to organize any sessions in December otherwise the number would have been even higher. For the same reason I wasn't able to produce consistently 100 stock pictures per month - something I definitely need to address. In 2 months I produced around 220 pictures (fully processed and ready to upload).

As I already mentioned in my previous update I am satisfied with the partial outsourcing I made. I only outsourced retouching part, i.e. I am still doing myself RAW processing, white balance, brightness/contrast, masking and keywording. I only outsourced the least creative part and it saves me quite a lot of time. I will certainly continue using that service.

As I mentioned in my plan I didn't waste time processing non-stock photos for stock. Combination of this, plus higher number of stock-oriented photo sessions plus outsourcing resulted significantly increased output. The only reason I stayed below target was personal circumstances that consumed a lot of my time that I could have devoted to photography.

Thus the adjustment of my plan is that I will aim to produce around 150 good stock photos monthly - that will allow me to stay above 100 even when I will need to take some breaks.

I believe I made a good progress with item 5.1 of my original plan - take better photos i.e. to improve various small elements such as model's smile, clean background etc.

Point 5.2 from my original plan is still open. It was about making analysis of 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.

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

Click here to see the full post and comments