Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You're a shining star.

Writing to people whom you either don't know, have not heard from in years, have some professional interest in-- or other reasons, well it's a very mixed bag.

I have a pretty good track record of writing to famous people (once in a great while) and actually having them write back. I generally have some legit thing I want to say to them, I'm not just gushing or whatever. These are people too, and if they aren't too busy and you have a good point then they might just write you back. Most of the famous people whom I have written to are known in a particular field-- the latest one was a photographer. Some of these folks are now on Social Networking sites, and some of them are faking it, impersonators (I don't think I have been fooled yet). Others actually hire somebody to handle their correspondence in this way, much the way a lot of publishers are assigning ghost writers to pen books for the extremely well known (like Bill Clinton, for example.)

Hard for me to forget the day that I learned Julia Butterfly Hill never wrote "The Legacy of Luna." Know what though? Beautifully written book. Years after I read it I came across the Ghost writer advertising her services. I was crushed. She must have had an agreement to keep it to herself for a specific time period. Then, "bing!" one day the time was up and she's got bragging rights. I was crushed. I had seen Julia on her book tour, lovely person, truly. Not a great public speaker. The book was not published on recycled paper, that, I think was a mistake. And I do think that the Ghost writer, besides doing a wonderful job of writing, also succedded at being very very true to the theme of Julia's work. It made me want to meet Julia. I did. She was signing books.

I don't want to meet the photographer I've been writing to. His social networking is his undoing. He needs a ghost writer. He may need psychotherapy. He certainly needs an attitude adjustment. Quite the long rant lately about carry-on bags on the airlines. Long, angry rant. Some bragging about the old days when he flashed several twenties at the sky cap to bribe him to take ten big pro-photographer bags. A new post now, he wants to buy a workout suit which he will never work out in, but he expects to wear it to meet with clients. Perhaps he needs a pinky ring, a big smelly cigar too. I personally recommended the color lime green. Most people suggested he watch the Sopranos for tips, get a monogram, no serious answers. No matter what, the guy never says "Thank you." It's more like he's getting a kick out of posting whatever crap he wants and getting enough responses to satisfy. . . something. It can't be good for business. I now care a whole lot less just how great his photographs are, and they truly are great. I'd have been better off not knowing a lot of what I am starting to know.

My friend Francie, on the other hand, is doing all the cool things that a good hostess would do on her social networking site. Pretty much everybody loves her. She just got banned from making comments by admin. Why, nobody knows. I know she can type real fast and she participates a lot, that's why she's loved there. She'll get her rights back shortly. She's an awesome marketer who is not using the site for promoting her own business, is using it the way it was purportedly intended. Go figure.

I once wrote to a person who used to be on Sitcoms. She wrote back. Was way cool. There were things we had in common as it turned out, about spirituality. I promised not to go around blabbing about her, so I'm not. Would have liked to hear back again, and that's where I think the being famous part comes in. The celebs either get busy, or start to get worried about who they are really talking to, or wonder if what they say is going to end up in the press. Or maybe they just wake up the next day and find it strange. You know, they do get stalked, they do have security concerns, and their privacy gets violated sometimes.

Sheryl and I used to worry a lot more about keeping up a certain appearance, but now we find it more useful to be pretty open and honest about who we are and that just because we have a high priority on spiritual matters, does not mean that we live on a cloud and eat only moonbeams. If we do get famous it's going to be out of necessity. A content provider actually gets paid to advertise themselves, not the other way around. I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we lament the good old days when we used to throw twenties at the hired help to entice them to break rules and do favors for us. No, I doubt that.

I wrote to a folk artist once, Jennifer Kimball. She wrote back and was really nice. If it had been Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, who knows. Too busy I expect and too many kooks writing all the time. It's a lot in the specifics. My old friends from school who are gradually and occasionally getting in touch are probably doing it because we are at "that age" nostalgic, remembering the past. My memory shocks me sometimes though. I know how one of these guys got their first job, and I barely knew him. I remember tone and inflection and sometimes exact words of conversations which happened 30 years ago and weren't about much in particular, just little stuff. Stranger still are how some turned out: jail time, unexpected careers and advanced degrees, alcohol and drug addiction. I think that I'm always surprised at the people who never left, stayed in the same old town we grew up in. I have not gone through the old yearbooks and tried to look people up, that would be overwhelming. It's also a bit of a strange thing anyway, to correspond with the person you sat next to in 7th grade, sometimes. . . but other times it's affirming to know that you saw something special in that person way back then, and you still do now. You were right about what you saw. There's a lot of bright light out there in the world, running around, texting and all that other stuff. "You're a shining star, no matter who you are, shining bright to see, what you can truly be."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sometimes you grab the camera, sometimes you leave it alone.

Sheryl brings the light and heat of herself to the barn, wherein we escape the heat of the Arizona day. I may have mentioned it before, we sleep in there because it has no roof insulation, no heat generating electricity nor a heat generating kitchen. The house, however, gets hot throughout the day and remains that way at night. There are also two doors on opposite sides of the barn and a nice breeze blows across us all night long. Basically, the more primitive barn does not trap any heat, and since we are at about mile high altitude, it finally does cool off at night. Indeed Sheryl is using a table saw as a bedside table, and we're using a portable workbench as a head-board. It's quite nice, we like it. In the morning we have been awakened by a hummingbird hovering over the bed. Sometimes the ravens get a bit raucous, waiting to be fed.

Walking out to the barn at night I noticed these frogs in the little pond next to the house. This property has been more or less converted to an animal sanctuary. The frog on the left is completely submerged, the one on the right is only half under water.

Sheryl ran an extension cord out from the battery shack/pump house (we are off the grid here ) and started using the barn/bedroom as her office. I took this photo off the deck in the early evening. The light source is a battery powered lantern and her laptop computer only.

It might seem strange for a photographer to report on things he did not photograph, but last night the clouds at sunset were amazing, lots of subtle shifts of hues and textures, the sky itself was changing from pale blues to turquoise, electric blue and deeper shades. The clouds kept altering texture and shape as the far away winds shaped and reshaped them continuously. We sat outside enraptured for at least an hour.

Tonight there was a terrific lightning Storm to the north. So far away that we couldn't hear the thunder at all (I can hear it right now though, just a little.) Again I sat and watched the silent bolts stretching miles into the sky, flickering and hanging in the air. Sheryl didn't like it, it scares her. I loved it. Both nights I could not stand the idea of switching my mindset from awestruck spectator to one of photographer.

We are so very blessed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A little exchange i had with a friend on Facebook

Monique : When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.

Paul Hood:
Or: dramatically raise prices on fuel, thus driving a large percentage of the populace into bankruptcy and foreclosure, thus driving many financial institutions into bankruptcy. Then take one of your pennies and buy up all the ruined lending institutions for a fraction of their true value. Exert pressure on the government for a financial bail out. Now you own all the pennies and you have no competitors because you own them. Let's play monopoly !
Yesterday at 12:17pm

Paul Hood:
But then again, Monique, I prefer your idea.
Yesterday at 12:18pm

I never really cared for Monopoly..
Yesterday at 12:21pm

May you be the queen of your hive—the passionate, powerful center of your universe. May others be drawn to your happiness, like bees to a flower. And may their joy ‘gild your lily.’
Yesterday at 12:29pm

Paul Hood:
You're a gem, Monique.
Yesterday at 12:35pm

aaaww... A little tarnished but, every now and again a little sparkle shines through.
Thank you, Paul!
Yesterday at 12:46pm

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on selling your creative work via POD ( Print On Demand ) or other online companies vs all on your own

Can you spot the bull in this picture?

(A POD company, lists your creative work for sale, prints it when demanded (bought) ships the finished product, bills the customer and eventually pays you a percentage or an agreed upon fee. They also handle customer service/returns. Normally the content provider (the artist) sets the percentage or fee, is responsible for tagging and describing images, properly formatting and preparing images to fit various printed products, and performs the bulk of the marketing if they expect to sell much. Unfortunately this arrangement seems to be changing in a classic bait and switch manner wherein the POD company arbitrarily changes the terms of service-- including the amount of money you are paid for your own work.)

I got asked about selling art online, so this is my short answer.

FYI if you sell your own art or other creative work:

We have mixed feelings about Imagekind since they were bought out by Cafepress whom we figure are about the worst of the worst greedy bastards at this point. They recently reduced the income of their hard working artists by about 66% on average, or in some cases 90%. Many of these folks are handicapped, disabled, home caregivers, stay at home moms and dads, or other people who cannot simply "return to the workforce" in a standard way. Often these people spent years learning how to build up a successful home based business, creating, uploading, describing and tagging thousands of images, investing in advertising and networking. In the process they made Cafepress a huge success-- only to have their incomes gutted with only 30 days notice. Cafepress denied being in any kind of financial trouble, they simply took the commissions because they wanted the money. There is much more to the story, if you search Blogs it's all out there. The amazing thing is that it has not hit the mainstream news yet. Seriously, we are talking widows and orphans out on the street because of this greedy profit grab. Imagine losing two thirds of your total income. Sheryl and I were lucky, we only lost 66% of our grocery money. It hurt, but we will survive it. Cafepress boasts some 6.5 million content contributors, apparently they figured they could lose a few, and thought nothing of the human costs or about the real people that they are hurting.

If you're really good at doing your own marketing and driving people to your Imagekind site (again, owned by Cafepress) then you might make some sales there, otherwise they have a pretty poor rep for making sales without your direct involvement. And so, if they're just printer/shippers, then why pay them $100 a year for a premium acct? Oh yeah, you also won't get paid on a sale for 45 days because of their return policy, and your commissions have to come to $50 or more or they won't cut a check until it does. So I won't get paid for my first sale there unless I sell several more.

I had nearly 20,000 image-views on Imagekind before making my first sale (yesterday). We did much better than that on Cafepress with many of the same images before they reduced our commissions by nearly 70%.

Since then we've turned to Zazzle, another POD company as have many others.

But I personally have been rethinking the whole POD company thing as to whether it is worth the time, effort, and most of all the risk that the company may change "terms of service" on you at any time. If they do, they will most certainly change terms to favor their own profits, not yours. At that point you may find yourself in an untenable agreement with no way out except to quit-- at which point you will never recoup your time, effort, business cards, advertising costs, online links and affiliates, it can be years of efforts down the drain. Starting from scratch again is no small matter.

POD companies like this don't have the best prices on printing, because they're including a lot of their other overhead in the base price. Also, your customers won't get the personal touch like thank you notes and signed prints unless you're willing to ship your own. You may have incomplete information on your customers if you go with a POD company and you may be excluded by "contract" from directly contacting your own customers if a sale went through the "company site". My 1st sale through Imagekind went to a suburb of Dallas, Texas, and that's all I'm allowed to know. Most likely corporate is going to send them coupons and enticements to buy more art from their stable of artists, but my art will not be emphasized in any way. It's a printing and framing shop promoting their own work, not yours. They don't care at all what they print and frame nor who they benefit or harm other than themselves. It seems odd, but they have no stake in the success of individual artists. It's pretty cut-throat, and I mean that just the way that it sounds. Ever see the Michael Moore film "Pets or Food" ? I think that everyone should see it at this point in history, or at least be aware of the issues that it illustrates.

There are quite a few pros and cons to using a POD company. We sold better on one of them because we piggy-backed on their SEO. It's difficult for an individual artist's website to compete head to head with a Mega-site with 6.5 million crazed/constantly uploading artists, designers, and just plain people who think they're funny. Google likes huge websites which are always updating. That's the hook-- really it's a partnership with the artists, or it should be, because the Mega-site is nothing without their constant contributions. They are a print shop with nothing to print. They also are a website with absolutely no presence to search engines upon which they heavily rely. The contributing artists write virtually all their ad copy and build their SEO from the ground up. Unfortunately some of these companies don't see it that way-- they figure that one artist is as good as the next and there will always be more lined up behind them just waiting to be exploited. I would hate to think that they're right. I do think that they are right.

Back when I was a unionized government employee I was well aware that there were people out there clamoring for my job if I chose to leave it. My potential successors were there because what I had was better than what they had. It's always been that way. Not to say that positive change can't occur, but the artists (or worker's) true exploiter is not the company, it's the artist standing next to him, behind him, or the one living in a third world country. And the exploiters of these fine human beings are the customers who buy the products which they produce for the "Big Box" in whatever form that takes. Unfortunately on-line art companies appear to be following the Walmart model. We all exploit each other because we are so very exploitable. Every human being will reach first for the apple that's lowest on the tree, will probably gather more than he needs and sell them to his neighbors-- on and on. But what we're talking about ( in the context of art sales ) are all the apple trees, all the fruit trees, all the trees on the planet behind a barbed wire fence with a single gate.

Back to specifics: I am currently equating POD companies somewhat with "microstock" photo and graphics companies such as iStockphoto-- it's pretty much an 80/20 split there in favor of the company, and to boot the prices per image are very low even for unlimited print runs. They count on the idea that artists will think that they need to get on the mega-list in order to be seen at all, and they also count on customers who want to shop the "Big Box" for their images rather than going directly to artists, designers, photographers, videographers, even musicians and voice artists (writers?). Personally I think that charging 80% just to archive files and manage downloads is pretty excessive.

( If you're a photographer, do yourself a favor and look up Dan Heller on the web. He writes about this stuff and other photo business matters in depth.)

With the apparent trend being exploitation of the artists, one needs to weigh very carefully any supposed benefits from partnering with "corporate." It's a bit like cattle believing that they have partnered with Oscar Meyer Wieners. Out where we live, the cattle roam free. I like to think that some of them never get rounded up. I believe that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Some topical analysis of selling art, and links to deeper thoughts.

An acquaintance of mine, Dan Heller wrote an in-depth analysis of the stock-photo agency/industry. He has been his own stock photo company, with thousands of his own photos online, and he's had some dealings with big stock photo companies like Getty. Click here if you're interested. Dan Also wrote on the popular "RAW vs JPEG" argument and we happen to agree on that too.

Dan, who does not know me from Adam, really, was very helpful to me when I was approached by a souvenir dealer based out of Colorado. He wrote me several emails on that subject and on the subject of copyright also on another occasion. He's a great resource via his website, blogs etc. and I understand that he is now working as a consultant. I'd hire him in a heartbeat. This guy is a very thoughtful, meticulous and analytical thinker. I would have to warn you that you won't get pat answers nor snap judgements.

On another note, I finally, finally, finally sold something via Imagekind today. Nothing ever sold there, and we switched all our attention to Cafepress quite a while ago, thus hurting chances of sales on Imagekind all the more. If you follow this blog, you'll know that we think Cafepress is now a huge rip-off of artists and designers and we don't recommend them anymore. Cafepress happens to have bought Imagekind a year ago, so I have refrained from uploading any new images there because I don't trust that parent company anymore. I figure it's only a matter of time before they ruin Imagekind too. Yes, we still have banners for both companies on our blogs because the vast majority of our images are there and we feel touched when some far away person buys our original designs. And, if customers buy direct from our shop, we still get our proper margin.

Sheryl started uploading new stuff to Zazzle and we hear a lot of good things about that company, but it may take a awhile to really fill out a shop there. All these companies are called POD companies, which stands for "print on demand". I've written about this previously, there are quite a few up and down sides to using POD companies. The biggest downside in my opinion is when they get greedy like Cafepress did and steal so much of your profits that there's really no point in participating anymore. It looks as if companies like Cafepress are basing their business practices on stock photo companies like iStock-- where the photographer or designer gets truly tiny money. The only hope for the artist is to have literally thousands of images to sell. Companies like this are called "micro-stock" and I am not sure why, but I think the idea is to get subscribers to buy lots of images for "micro-payments."

Now, as for me selling fine art prints, I'd really rather use a local print shop, or print my own. I'm still up in the air for a print provider, but I have some ideas. In all honesty, I'd rather deal directly with my own customers anyway. This de-personalizing of art can't be a good thing in the long run. I don't even know the name of the person who bought my "Star Periwinkle" photo today. They live in Texas, they know my name ( I think ), but that's about it. I would thank them for buying if I could. I'd even sign the print. Something is missing without that level of involvement. I have also sold digital files direct to a customer, and even that was much more satisfying than having the whole thing go through a separate company.

Then there's the issue of photographer for hire where images can't be had pre-packaged. Some of you know that I do not jump for joy over the idea of being a wedding photographer-- even though I do love doing portraits and event photography. I did enjoy shooting a beach wedding, and I was once extremely underpaid for a Church wedding, and that didn't kill me. I still think that I'm at my best doing photography and writing together and so we'll have to work that one out. Some other examples of commissioned photography are product shots, or anything where the images can only be had by getting the subject in front of a camera on a schedule. Not everything can be automated away so easily.

In the old days before photography quite a few artists got paid to render families, architecture, pets, livestock-- many of them railed and gnashed their teeth over the advent of photography. A lot of them did lose jobs to technology, but a lot of them didn't. And the interesting thing is that fine art is still more highly valued than photography ( heck, I value it more highly than photography! ) So, I'm not despairing, I'm adapting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"God is other people"

What Sheryl emailed to me today:

"AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): You should closely monitor your
environment for beguiling appearances of the number seven. I have
reason to believe that seven may be involved in your current
inconveniences and dilemmas. I theorize that seven has been trying to call
attention to itself in an odd or irritating manner so as to get you to tune
in to certain benefits that could be associated with the number seven --
benefits you've been overlooking. I would even go so far as to speculate
that seven may be both the cause of and the cure for your itch. Be
especially alert for sevens that are in the vicinity of the color green or the
letter "G." Perk up your intuition anytime seven appears in
advertisements, boxes of food, tattoos, or t-shirts."

(I think the above is from Rob Brezny's astrology column/website )

Sheryl also sent me this in the same email,

"From a numerology website:

Number 7 is the most spiritual of all numbers.

You most likely have some of the following strengths and talents at your disposal if the number 7 appears in your numerology chart:

You are analytical, intellectual, focused, scientific and inventive, contemplative, meditative, spiritual and enigmatic. You are a seeker of truth and an accumulator of knowledge and wisdom.

You prefer working alone and you need space and privacy. You enjoy solitude, but you also like to display your knowledge in public. You are an abstract thinker, you are self-oriented, a perfectionist and you possess great mental strength

Here are some of the career choices that might suit you particularly well if the number 7 is predominant in your chart:

Scientist, religious leader, philosopher, scholar, preacher, sage, teacher, inventor, researcher.

Some of the following weaknesses, which are associated with the number 7, could slow down or even prevent your progress. But don't worry, it's very unlikely that all of the listed characteristics are part of your personality.

Most probably, only one or a few of them will belong to you:

Intimacy might be difficult for you. You can be cynical, selfish, egocentric, withdrawn, aloof, lonely, overly reserved and suspicions.

Maintain your independence, but be careful not to become too inward and isolated."

(I don't know where the above came from, but probably right here )

I actually don't pay any attention to Astrology anymore. I once studied it at length. I don't disregard it, it just does not get my attention these days. Numerology never really caught my attention, though it can be interesting-- especially if you have ever had certain numbers repeating themselves to you over and over again. I have not been seeing "7" everywhere.

It's also New Moon today-- which I don't normally pay much attention to, although I did once discover that I was born on a New Moon, and that every month, 5 days before the new moon I tended to get very moody and introverted. New Moon is generally considered a good time to launch new things.

A friend just wrote to me today after reading my last previous blog entry. She agreed with lot of what I said about the value of creative endeavors being degraded as a trend in our society. But she had positive suggestions as well. I have been considering combining my writing, my photography, and my love of interacting with people ( counseling ) into photographic/written essays. Our friend didn't know this, but she suggested exactly the thing which Sheryl and I have already been considering. I love it when that happens.

I'm including a paraphrased/shortened version of the email here, I edited it slightly and I know that this person values her privacy, so it's anonymous:

"Good morning to you and Sheryl. I was reading your blog, and I am saddened by the pattern our society is taking by continuing to erase the human factor from almost every creative skill we have as people. We are truly our own worst enemies. I believe that computers and technology are wonderful as a tool only to enhance the skill of a person. Your blog really bothered me today because it is only a reflection of what is to come for our future. God must be a great artist to create all of humanity and the beauty of our world. And yet we as a people are continuing as a trend to take away the gifts which God has given us and say "... you know, forget the artist and get the picture off the internet for free or cheap from a distributor."

As you know, this is happening in all areas of society. The trend has been going on for a long time and a lot of the problem has to do with the value and importance of making more money, at all human costs, whatever it takes. Those little sparks of God's creativity given to all of us as a gift; we as a society are replacing with inexpensive technology to purchase at a fraction of the cost to produce it.

When I look at your pictures on the internet I mostly see a person who is capturing the beauty of a moment in time that God has given us.

... if you would do a photographic history of special places and special people in the small towns you and Sheryl have been visiting. Would you have strong competition? I do think your art work would give you an advantage if it reflected you as a person. People want to buy books and art work from places they have been and of course you could be true to the person you are.

...make the photographic journey of the community reflect the value that we all have in all our communities, and take for granted.

You do need people in the art books. People will buy a book if grandpa is sitting, resting on the front porch, capturing that moment in time of how they remember him. We are all searching for value and our society is slowly negating the value of people.

My e-mail is not capturing all my thoughts to you... Again, thank you and Sheryl for all the kindness and help you have given me." --anonymous contributor.

This came at just the right time. I went looking for the quote "God is other people" and could not find it attributed anywhere. It appears to be a commentary on another quote "Hell is other people" by Jean Paul Sartre. Apparently this quote is widely misunderstood:

"Yes, but only if you understand it right:
"Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit has just finished a run at Imago Theater, right across the street from Kboo. The play’s three main characters arrive in hell and discover that their fate is to spend a sleepless eternity together in one small room, and that they are well suited to be each others’ torturers. As one of them says after a while, Hell is other people. But Sartre also said,

…“hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because…when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. … But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us. (From the Imago playbill)"
Source and further information:

Further information:

I'm not a student of Sartre. It seems to me that the above quotes leave out the possibility of divine intervention, especially through the vehicle of "other people."

In any case when one is looking for answers it's probably best to be sure that one is listening for them, and not too busy ranting about the questions to hear.

Of late we have not had many people appearing in our photographic work, and it's a shame because I love doing portraiture and photojournalism. We're a bit isolated out here, and we've allowed ourselves to become shy, maybe even insular. We do travel some, and it would be good for us to come out of the shell more and really dig into a project in a less casual way than we have been. Thanks again "Anonymous".

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is the real price of stock photography ?

Recently Sheryl and I were looking at Highroads magazine, which is a publication of AAA. We both noticed some really nice photography in there (and some decidedly mediocre frames as well), and so we started reading the photo credits. A really large percentage of photos came from a stock photo company called iStockphoto. On the web they purport to be one of the largest of their kind, or the most popular, or the best or some such. A stock photo company is a company which "stocks" photos, millions of them, and then sells them via digital downloads. We've been aware of stock photo companies for a long time now, and I usually have avoided looking at them because it's just too depressing.

What we found today-- best case scenario for the contributing photographer is that he sells an unlimited print run to a corporate client, and that he has secured an "exclusive" distributorship through iStockphoto wherein he get's a 40% commission instead of the usual 20%. Now, bear in mind that this is the top payment from a corporate subscriber: a nationwide or even worldwide publisher buys rights to your photo to reproduce an unlimited number of times. OK, I am having to get the calculator out again because my mind just won't process and hold onto this in my memory. The corporate client pays $72.50 and the photographer's cut is $29.00 . Yes, cover of Newsweek, Time Magazine, National Geographic, AARP; twenty nine bucks. I'm not saying that those magazines use stock photos for their covers, but they certainly could, and some of them probably have at some time in the past, at least for a portion of the cover. Back when Sheryl was working for a small publishing house they were paying at least ten times more for limited print runs to artists and photographers-- and they paid the artist directly. You might consider that a 90% reduction in pay to artists may have a long term effect on the industry.

Now, if you're a really lucky "stock" photographer, once in a while some individual who is on the "pay as you go" plan might pay a bit more, and maybe you'll get as much as $95.00, but again, that buys them a whole lot of rights to reproduce and sell your fine work.

Seems a bit askew. I have to consider that I'm on the wrong side of this equation. If you really want to make money selling fine photography: buy unlimited rights to other people's photos, and buy a color printer. The first fine print that you sell will cover the rights fee and the rest is pure profit.

Throw away the camera gear, the lighting gear, your years of knowledge, experience, skill and talent. While you are at it, throw away the future generations of photographers who aspire to a profession. There won't be one if this keeps up. And. . . who is to blame? Today's photographers for degrading their own work (and by extension, all photographers work) for pennies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Checking out Antler Attic up in Show Low

Some people prefer plastic pink flamingos, some prefer little plaster dwarves, some like a nativity scene, and others use the decomposing skulls of longhorn cattle to decorate the front yard. I admit, I like the skulls. Mother nature is an awesome sculptor.

Sheryl liked this chicken, and even more, a horse which I did not get a picture of. Wonderful metal sculpture from Mexico, now housed at Antler Attic up in Show Low. Amazing low price too, about $350 I think for such a large piece. I don't know what the Chicken is going for. I also don't know how this guy interlocks antlers the way that he does. I've never been in a store with such a huge supply of high quality stag horn material either. Tons of cool stuff there.

We went up the hill to escape the heat and it just didn't work. One of those strange days, it started out great this morning as we were home alone and woke up in the barn with a cool breeze passing through us, in and out the open doors. Had blueberries, Chiliquilies and coffee for breakfast, with bacon too.

I did some online research about photo manipulation and discovered the usual: that I often don't like HDR photography, and once in a while, depending on the piece, I love it. You can ruin any given photo with bad technique, but the interesting thing about good technique is that you can turn a mediocre photo into a great one with the right touches. There's a whole generation ( much younger than I ) up and coming with a slew of Photoshop skills, and yet in the end it all comes down to taste, and finesse. Also, it does not hurt to start out with a good photo.

So, all that research left me feeling funny, not bad exactly, but looking at composite photos in particular-- let me put it this way: I looked at a photo of a dog on a pier under a partly cloudy blue sky today. It was a nice photo, not amazing, but nice. Turns out it was three photos; a photo of a dog posed on a chair taken indoors, a photo of a pier with nobody and nothing on it, and a photo of a blue, partly cloudy sky. The photographer combined all three into one. It's a good trick, compositing, I've done it. But somehow it just messes with my head to see too much of that in a sitting.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Harry Potter, a short review, plus some details only my parents would care about

That's Emma Watson who plays Hermione. This is not my photo and I could find no info regarding copyright. I'd love to credit the photographer if I knew who he was. We'll have to call this one fair use because I'm doing a small review of her latest movie. I didn't much like it, but all the actors did a bang up job I'm sure.

We went to see "Harry Potter, The Half Blood Prince" and I'm disappointed. I don't give away plot details, but it seems to me that a lot of the fun elements of prior films in the series are all but absent. Certain characters who were high points of the earlier films, like Hagrith (Hagrid?) have only a tiny amount of screen time. I wanted to see more owls, for some reason the ghosts who were omnipresent at Hogwarts are now inexplicably gone, as in not there at all like they called in the ghost busters or something. No more shifting staircases or moving paintings-- most of the fun stuff, gone, just not there. That leaves teenagers supposedly going through angst of some kind-- sheesh, go rent "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". Even today it's a better film and you get to see how Sean Penn launched his career. Also, if you use your brain watching this particular Harry Potter, very little of it even makes much sense. Maybe they had to follow the book and the book is deficient, don't know, haven't read it.

Let's see. . . had a nice conversation with a bank officer today, a real human being. And you know, they all are, but some are slightly more human than bank officer. I used to be a banker meself, don't really miss those days. So it's Wells Fargo, and lately I have learned that it takes three trips to the bank to fix one of their mistakes. Quite a few mistakes. Got tired of that, not going back.

Missed the rodeo today, and I am curious, but it's hot out. Had a great meal at Trappers and said hello to one of our favorite people in town, Cindy.

Sheryl just sent off her query letter for her latest book. It's about us and a lot of other things. Some of my writing is in there too. Two big boxes of Reiki Bears went out in the mail, plus some of Sheryl's hand-crafted perfume. We sold two prints, one to England and one to California but we still need a new print supplier.

We are actually acclimating somewhat to the heat. Thank God we're not in Phoenix as it is even hotter there. Our long haired cat spends a lot of time sprawling out on the bathroom floor trying to stay cool. Our ghost kitty-- whom we have not yet named, still hangs about the house now and then, seems unsure of exactly what it wants. It's likely half-feral, or it could be all the way feral. Not all our household members want to adopt another cat, but it's not going away. Pretty certain that cat catches mice, and that's a good thing, especially as we are sleeping in the barn now to help avoid the heat. Mice like barns.

Of late I am in a growth spurt with the photography, but I am also getting ready to get more serious about collecting my short stories into book form. Sheryl inspires me there, to get things done and out the door. I am trying to inspire her that life's little ups and downs are not a good excuse to ruin your day on any given day. Whatever we do we try to do in accordance with the "highest benefit for all concerned." Therefore I don't really see how things can go wrong in the long run. God's plan, we give precedence to that over our plans.

I am still finding the Facebook experimenting to be a bit of a bust. Most of the people I know best aren't posting much on there. Many of the rest are posting nothing of interest or little of interest to me. Mostly it's the format, not the people. Twitter is probably worse.

That's all for now, I'd probably pick another movie to watch if I had the chance to do it over. This one just could have been a lot more fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Messing with the tone knob.

On our most recent roadtrip, daytrip actually, we went through Springerville, seen above, and wound up in Greer which is up in the mountains above Show Low, Pinetop, Lakeside about another 40 miles up. We're pretty enamored of Greer, how could you not be? It's a resort town.
This tells me that we like altitude in this part of the country, more than we like high desert. From what my climatology teacher told me a while back in college, altitude and longitude have something in common. I seem to find that I prefer sea level in the North, and high altitudes way down here in AZ. When we hit 700o feet we start to go, "yeah, now that's what I'm talking about." But when we were up in Washington, I'm sure I needed the climate moderating which came from being coastal-- too cold in the mountains there. My friend, Francie, went nuts over the picture above when I posted it to Facebook.

I just re-edited this one from our previous trip to Sedona, back In January I think that was.

Had a look recently at the photographer Sally Mann and her work. She did some really amazing large-format black and white photos of her family back in the 90's. Controversial because her kids ran around naked a lot. Later on she did a photo essay on dead bodies, and on civil war battlefields, using a very antiquated "wet-plate" technique. I think that the photos of her family are absolutely stunning. Later she got more into the "flawed on purpose" techniques to the point where she almost seems more enamored of the screw-ups than the work itself. If she had not taken the knock out portraits of her kids, I don't think she'd get the same kind of attention for dog-bones and decomposing bodies, incredibly under-exposed landscapes full of blur and dust spots, streaks and light leaks, but so it goes. She has however recognized that "picture perfect" somehow does not sell.

I'm trying to better understand fine art photography as recognized by the "experts" but so far, can't really. That stuff is all over the map. There does seem to be some prejudice towards large format film cameras and definite bias against digital photography. Other than that, I don't know but I will probably be looking into it a bit more.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Escaping the heat and going green,

Sleeping in the barn is much more comfortable than sleeping in the house these days. There's no roof insulation holding in the heat, just open rafters and the underside of the roof. The ceiling being higher, and there being several windows and two opposing doors which we block open makes for a cooler environment by the time we go to bed. There's also a little more privacy and separation from household noise.

It's odd that the much more well equipped and insulated house would be less comfortable in summer, when it is much nicer in winter. I used to think that insulation was the key to comfort, but it all depends on a lot of factors. Since it cools off at night here, we'd actually be better sleeping out in the open: except that it rains sometimes. So we're trying to emulate open air, but with a roof. Better yet would be a roof which actually reflects off heat energy ( in the Summer only ). I've always been interested in green designs and alternative energy. Used to read catalogs like "Real Goods" just to look at things like solar, wind, and green building techniques. Today there are probably better sources, haven't Googled it lately.

Another factor making the barn more comfortable at night: it's empty all day and has no electricity, no cooking, no refrigerator or other heat generating appliances, nor body heat adding to the overall ambient temperature. All of that stuff adds up. Even fans generate heat. Of course once we got out there the first thing I wanted to do was add a lamp to the mix-- it's all downhill from there.

Seems like us innovative humans are always wanting to add things, even when the real success is in the taking away.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fields of wildflowers at 7000 feet

We had a great day taking photos at higher altitude. It was cooler too. I have to admit that my motivation waxes and wanes some, depending on external circumstances. That's me in the bottom photo, being happy in a field of wildflowers. I edited the photo but Sheryl shot it. The top photo is mine.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Consider this

Sheryl's most recent newsletter (it's mine too, but Sheryl is tending to write more of them) went through a few different forms before I was willing to approve it. Why? She's on a bit of a tear over a lot of social injustices going on right now. Like, I don't know how "right" it was for our government to go bailing out huge corporations with tax dollars. Like a lot of Americans, I think it looks pretty wrong, and yet I've seen some very intelligent arguments in favor of it from some people who frankly know a lot more about economics than I do. I don't think it's necessarily fair or right, but I can see our government recognizing that letting the economy go free-fall into severe depression probably would have been worse.

When it comes to knowledge of world economic affairs, I might as well be an infant (had to tie in with the photo somehow). But, sometimes we know when we need to take action and not just shrug our shoulders and go "oh well". When it's home, family and friends at stake we sometime must stand up and take action even if we don't think of ourselves as activists or all that political. So, we put out Sheryl's activist newsletter, and immediately got some rave reviews. People were grateful for our candid honesty and acceptance of the emotional and actional life as being just as spiritual and important as anything. We also had a couple people pull themselves off the newsletter list, which is kind of ironic-- because that's a pretty obvious protest too. Oh well, can't please all the people all the time.

I've been on Facebook lately, and the good part is that I do get some contact with a few old friends of mine. The rest is up in the air. I had some minor contact too, with a photographer whom I do not know but whose work I very much admire. He's not willing to share any info with me about the business of photography, or the art, or anything. He posts silly crap on Facebook all the time. For the record, it's mostly silly crap on Facebook anywhere you look. I'm usually very lucky, that when I decide to contact a person with a reputation, some degree of fame, they usually write back. Well not this time. He wrote back as a matter of politeness to let me know that he doesn't know what to say to other photographers when they ask the kinds of questions I was asking. He said maybe I could take a class out of Santa Fe. We were in fact thinking about relocating near Santa Fe as it turns out. This photographer just put his house up for sale too, and says he's trying to dig up some work for himself, so I have to wonder how well he is currently doing in the industry anyway. Nothing like somebody asking for business advice from you when you're getting ready to sell out and get the hell out of Dodge.

I once or twice had other photographers hit me up for advice, very enthusiastic-- some come across as babyish and seem to want almost a mommy who will lead them through everything step by step. Another came on so strong wanting to pal around with me and go out on shoots together, have his girlfriend model nude for us-- it was weird and I shut him down real fast. So, I sort of know what it's like to get contacted out of the blue about things you aren't making yourself available for.

You know one of the luckiest things is that when we do get clients for the spiritual healing practice-- they are like the perfect clients. We love those sessions. And we spent a lot of time making sure that we did indeed give the right impression about ourselves. We want most of all to foster growth and evolution, not dependency (ha! tied into the photo again).

Sheryl is not blogging much right now because she's working on a book. I'm supposed to be working on mine, but I'm still shaking off the writer's dust and continuing to focus on photography as well. We're all babes in the woods in some way, and even though I've published a lot of short stories and news stories I have never put together a book. Sheryl has put out three, but she's never had a close editor like me-- a veteran of many writers workshops, so ouch, growing pains, but at least we're growing up. (How many tie-ins to the photo is that now?)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pie and Found Geometry

It was pretty damn hot today in Snowflake. We hung out at the park for awhile where there was some shade. I liked the look of the handball or raquetball court (I wouldn't know the difference). I considered doing a composite again, but really liked the underexposed version so I just fine- tuned it a bit. Flawed geometry, partly from the wide angle lens I'm using, and I left the rust stains in and some of the other oddness.

Sheryl and I both had the brilliant idea to have apricot pie with two scoops of ice-cream. It was barely enough for the two of us. We barely had lunch before we left home. Didn't really have dinner but took a nap instead and then woke up hungry.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Controlling dynamic range with layering. Also HDR, Stitching,

(The photo above is combination of two frames shot at radically different exposures, and then combined into one photo. The brighter frame was exposed at a 20th of a second, and the darker frame was exposed at a 200th of a second to show color and detail of the sky. That's a little over 3 stops difference between the two.)

Decided to finally try getting into using "layers" in Photoshop. I've only ever used it before to apply text to a photo. It turns out that in order to do that, Photoshop creates a transparent layer over the top of the image that you're working on, then you can type your text onto that layer. When you are done, you can "flatten" the image and save it as a JPEG or PNG or many other formats. You can also flatten an image at any point during editing and just keep adding layers, theoretically there isn't a limit to this technique. PNG is generally preferred for text, seems to give cleaner edges and it doesn't do the photo any harm either.

This time however, I wanted to merge the dramatic sky with the daylit foreground. The sky was much brighter than the foreground, so I took two exposures: one I metered for the foreground, and the sky was blown out and featureless. I held the camera as still as I could and then metered for the background (the sky). In that one the foreground was very dark, almost silhouette. I knew at the time that without using my tripod there'd be a good possibility of moving the camera just slightly, making it much more difficult to align the layers later on. For me, when I try something new I'm much more comfortable doing it kind of quick and dirty just to get the concept. So that's how I approached this. I also knew as I was shooting that the highly detailed tree against the sky would be a real problem. It was. And I did slightly move the camera which was a bigger problem. I settled for "strange" across the board in this photo, not worrying about getting it perfect. It's bizarre, and maybe even unproductive but when I set out to experiment I sometimes make sure that the final product would have been "born to lose." It's like giving yourself permission to really play around.

In the past I have had no interest in doing composites ( elements from two or more photos combined into one ) but I'm starting to loosen up. Even Ansel Adams did this, not in Photoshop but in the darkroom, manually combining two or more negatives onto the same print: not to do something silly like putting a dog's head on a pony, but to allow greater control over things like contrast, texture and sharpening of an image.

As to my "Old Technicolor" color scheme, well it could just be a phase that I'm going through. "Old Technicolor" combined three sets of film shot through filters, red, green and blue which were then laminated later. The result was a super dense negative with extremely rich and rather unrealistic color. I loved it. If you ever get a chance to see "Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn in a movie theatre, or "The Wizard of OZ" on film then you'll see what I mean. I was lucky enough to see Robin Hood on film for a Film Appreciation class and it left an indelible impression. I don't think it's the same on TV, not even in HD but it's still worth seeing.

My photo above reminds me of an HDR photo ( high dynamic range ) and that is sort of what it is, but not quite. HDR photos typically combine a whole bunch of frames of the same scene, always taken with a locked tripod and they span a much broader range of exposures in smaller increments, all the way from nearly black to almost entirely blown-out and over-exposed. The over-exposed shots are used to reveal detail only in the darkest shadows. The under exposed are to reveal color, tone and details in the very brightest areas. The end result looks dreamy and unreal in most cases. In a lot of cases it looks terrible, but some are trippy and pretty cool to look at.

If I were to make a prediction; pretty soon digital cameras will come with the ability to do HDR right in the camera with the touch of one button. Maybe not right away though. I haven't searched for an easy software solution lately, but I will some time because I think it will be a fun thing to have the ability to do. I admit that I'm hoping my next camera will come with HDR built in. Cameras today have a much shallower dynamic range than the human eye, but with HDR there is the capability of going way beyond what the human eye can see. The downside of course, is ugly, flat looking photos with no depth, no true sense of shape and form, unrealistic colors. . . they can look quite cartoonish. Light and shadow can be a delicate thing to mess with.

There are already some cameras which will stitch images in camera, but last time I checked the stitched images were not at full resolution which pretty much defeats the whole purpose of stitching. Stitching is not the same as layering. In layering images are laid over each other and combined through various means like removing areas of the top image to reveal the lower image. This can be done with varying degrees of opacity/transparency for some really great looking effects. Stitching is combining images edge to edge to create a larger picture. It's often used to shoot panoramic scenes. I haven't done that yet either but it looks way easier than utilizing layers well. There already is software which makes stitching pretty much a one button operation.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Muddy Water

Make no mistake, one of the easiest businesses to engage in, online or otherwise, is the get rich quick scheme. You know, those are the ones so easy to recognize because they always claim that they aren't a get rich quick scheme, right before all the testimonials about how much money so- and- so made the first month. The words, "I was able to quit my job" seem to crop up a lot. Today I looked up "How to make money with Social Networking" and I found an article. Among other things I pointed out that primarily it's Myspace and Facebook making money selling ads, and not the users of same. I also commented that while plenty of people sign up to these services to try to advertise themselves and make sales-- that NOBODY signs up to Facebook and Myspace because they want to buy stuff. In fact I would say that the vast number of people with the time to hang around on free online social networking sites are doing it because it's free entertainment-- cheaper than going out in the real world.

Ever notice how daytime television ads always assume that you're either unemployed, a housewife, or a kid home sick from school ? So I challenged the blog writer (nicely) as to whether he had ever actually made a sale via social networking. To his credit I got a very well thought out response. He said he had "made money" there, and he did it by creating an ad to promote something on the same social network which he was then paid for. Doesn't that kind of make my point? Ad writers get paid, and Facebook gets paid by anybody who runs an ad. Likely he's figured out how to get paid by touting how lucrative it is to self promote businesses on these sites, which is easier than actually promoting a business which actually produces something.

Consultancy is probably the one business in the world which does not have to show responsibility for results. Honestly, I have some experience with this: a consultant gets paid to say exactly what management wants them to say-- if management is paying them. Back when I was a Union man, our Union hired a consultancy firm to examine all the jobs/wages/responsibilities of our members. They came back with results that nearly everyone was due a significant raise in pay. What a great consulting firm that was. I'm sure we recommended them to the rest of the National Union. I'd have tipped them if I could.

Back when I worked at a failing bank, the consultancy firm hired by management said that management should squeeze more work out of fewer workers. I think I made seven bucks an hour for working my ass off at that bank. No Union.

Back to my earlier point, I'm not really knocking the guy who styles himself a marketing expert, maybe he's the best at what he does. I'm not linking to him either because he didn't ask for my critique. There's just something that bugs me about this stuff. Years ago, back when I was a reporter one of my first assignments was to go around and interview all the best/most popular businesses in Bellingham, WA. The basic question was "What is the secret of your success?". Now, for a few of them the secret was that they had cheated on the survey. But for nearly all the others, it was that they strove to be the absolute best at what they did. They didn't scrimp, cut corners or just try to get by. They all counted heavily on word of mouth and repeat customers. Not a muddy issue at all-- clear waters all the way. Now, these are brick and mortar shops, so part of the issue of being seen and recognized was already done for them. Part of success was in having a good location, or at least, good enough.

So, what does it mean if you plunk your printing business down in the middle of cyberspace amongst comments like "I'm so wasted right now" "LOL, me too" "I just ate 6 tacos" --- uh, you might want to find another street corner eh? These guys aren't looking to reproduce a manuscript, a brochure, or a run of posters, but one thing I can almost guarantee you'll get: a whole bunch of people asking you to give them a job.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Results not typical.

Came across this in one of my bookmarks, and it's all about successful use of the Internet for money making purposes. I'll have to read through it again to see if we've done absolutely everything on it and still not found the keys to the kingdom. At times these types of articles strike me very much the same as those late night TV commercials for buying "no money down" real estate. "Results not typical" is the disclaimer as soon as all the testimonials come on. We once attended a "web 2.0" seminar in Santa Cruz, our good friend treated us to it. Fortunately or unfortunately we were already doing everything that they brought up, and more. The Internet is a really big place, it's a world of it's own, and at times a very strange world. It was created for the free and unfettered sharing of information-- an educational tool. Now it's much more than that. We share a lot of free stuff, we also try to make money with the Internet. We make a little money with it. As Sheryl has been writing about: too little.

One thing I won't do is write about Michael Jackson (he just died) just because he just died. I was never a big fan. I don't comment around on other peoples blogs just to get myself noticed, I only comment if I really want to and am sincerely interested. There's a lot of sort of questionable stuff done in the name of self promotion. What's weird is that I'll now get a few hits because I said "Michael Jackson." If I said, "Micheal Jackson speaks from beyond the grave." There would probably be much more notice. Just for the record, Michael Jackson has nothing to say to me. Give me a break. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson. Sure, Michael Jackson speaking from the other side would get some notice, but since we are on the subject-- just because a psychic gets accurate information that way, it does not validate the event as "true." I say that because Sheryl and I frequently read thoughts out of the minds of others. I do that a little more than Sheryl.

I've also been told that I "broadcast" into the minds of others. Personally, I think everyone is a transceiver of sorts. It would be an easy thing then, even for the most ethical psychic, to accidentally gather information from surviving relatives and just as accidentally tell them what they want to hear. Just my personal opinion, I'm uncomfortable with afterlife communications even though from time to time, we've done it, it comes up and we deal with it. But grieving relatives are just too vulnerable, and I think our primary job as survivors is to let go of the dead, reconcile in our hearts the impermanence of life. Which brings me back to my prior point of not just doing what is popular or likely to make us money. Even the word "Psychic" at the top of my blog was a compromise for me. There's a lot of abuse in this profession, deliberate and accidental.

As far as sharing just for the sake of sharing goes: in some ways our lives out here in the desert could be considered interesting, especially in small doses. So even though I'm not on twitter right now, and don't really "get" a lot of the social networking stuff, recently I am trying to understand the appeal of Facebook. My Myspace page still lies fallow. It's possible I could become a twitterer, though I prefer the term "twit." The horror for me is that it would come to replace real human contact.

Through what little social networking I've done, I managed to comment a few times on a very fine photographer's blog, Mark Tucker . He's one of those photographers whose work doesn't just impress me, it blows me away, especially if you visit his web page. So I eventually wrote to him ( he seemed accessible enough ) about the photography business. I wrote him again about another subject which he is obviously interested in, and is very current for him. He hasn't written back, and I noticed he hasn't responded to my few comments-- so either I said something wrong, or he doesn't know how to answer me quite, or he gets bugged by other photographers way too often to respond anymore, or he's too busy ( he doesn't look too busy right now ) or he never got my emails. . . there are some things about all this Internet stuff which I just hate. The etiquette is vague and unpredictable. Mark is slightly older than I am, and from the South. He might be doing the social networking stuff as a matter of business-- and gathering annoying buzz around himself which does no good-- Oh, well. Mark is kind of famous and I am kind of blunt. Not like movie star famous but I'm sure he's got a life and a business to run. He doesn't owe me anything. I sort of plan to write him one more time just to see if I annoyed him etc. Such is this "new" medium of communication.