Monday, December 28, 2009

The Photography 401 Scam

From an email I received a while back:


I'm Eric and I'm an art director in an independent agency here in Dubai, U.A.E.

I have seen some of your works here in devianart and I think they're great!

You see, we are currently working on a calendar for 2010 and we're featuring MACRO PHOTOGRAPHS with interesting colors and unexpected details of ordinary everyday objects ( or animals and humans maybe ).

I'm just wondering if you would like to be featured in this 2010 calendar.

I'll be honest with you though, We are on a very strict budget, which is basically none.

If you decide to agree, All we can offer you is your work being seen throughout the whole year in a lot of desks all over the world.

I cannot tell you which company we are doing this for at the moment because it's confidential at this point.
But we will give you a copy of the finished calendar design in pdf format before we send it out so you could see it first.

If you can reply to this asap, like now....that would be great!!

I'll be waiting for your favorable reply

Thanks and have a great day!"

So the art director gets paid, and the folks who print and distribute the calendar get paid, but the guy who took the photos (the poor SOB who's the reason why people are buying the calendar in the first place) doesn't get paid?! I sent the email to Tom Stack and Associates (Tom handles my portfolio) and I never heard from Eric again. There are so many people out there who are willing to fall for this "I can't afford to pay you even though I'm making out like a bandit" scam that they'll keep trying until they find someone who is willing to trade their work for a photo credit, and it's the reason why there's no money in photography anymore...

Footnote: The reason why the scam works is that people get all excited when someone contacts them for images. They think that because someone is asking for their work then that must mean that their photos are really good, and getting them published is a form of validation. What the photographer doesn't realize is that the publisher is phishing for people who will agree to give away their images for nothing but a photo credit -Eric's email is a prime example. He didn't know what direction he was going to take the calendar because he didn't know who would agree to give away their work. He'd just keep trying until someone said yes and then he'd use their images to develop the theme of the calendar. Target enough people and eventually you'll find someone who's willing to say yes -it's the same reason why the Nigerian 401 scams work. If the technique wasn't successful then it wouldn't be used.

Trust me when I tell you that if someone wants to use your specific images then they will pay you for them...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another Daily Dozen

Slurp VI
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
This image of a bated honeybee feeding on a Rosemary flower was selected by National Geographic as one of the Daily Dozen for December 21st 2009 :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Odds and Ends

Miner Maintenance
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Normally I make a "Macro Resolutions" post at about this time, listing the things that I'm going to work on in the coming year. But this year I could sum up part of what I want to do with "take better photos". The rest is a little too specific to mention unless I want someone else to beat me to it so I'm gonna stay quiet :)

The photo that I'm including with this post is an example of the kind of macro that I really like to do because it tells a story. I've got nothing against shooting a critter that's too lethargic to move -there are plenty of those images in my gallery. But shooting active subjects is ultimately more interesting, and challenging, so you'll see me doing more of it in the coming year. With the way the local weather is expected to change I may be back to shooting critters in just a few weeks -way too warm for December.

Someone recently asked me about the Hama adjustable flash shoe and being the crash test dummy that I am I ordered a set. They are almost identical to the Kaiser adjustable flash shoe (minor differences). I think that the Hama has a better tension mechanism for the rocker arm, but I wouldn't hesitate recommending either one. Neither set will lock into the flash mount that comes with the MT-24EX, but that's easy to fix just by cutting a couple of notches into the base plate of the flash shoe with a Dremel tool :)

After comparing my 40D with the 7D using DXO's Image Quality Database I've lost all interest in getting a 7D -just too noisy at ISO 100 for shooting macro. IMHO the last good 1.6x crop factor camera that Canon produced was the Xti, and I keep hoping that they will roll their latest sensor improvements into a 10 MP "60D". Even a 1.3x crop factor sensor that can take EF-S lenses (using a smaller area of the sensor when an EF-S lens is connected) would be great! But I just don't see it happening until just about every Canon photographer switches to Nikon out of frustration. I'd sell all of my gear and make the switch if it wasn't for the MPE-65mm macro lens -it's the only reason why I'm still a Canon shooter...

Note to Canon: No one really needs more than 10 MP in a DSLR -they just need to be 10 million really good pixels...

I did win a photography contest, but I can't talk about it yet and it's driving me nuts! Like knowing what you're getting for Christmas but you have to wait to open the box. The 15th of January is the announcement date.

I hope you and yours have a happy and safe holiday! Take care :)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Macro Spotlight - Grzehoofr

From time to time I like to bring attention to the incredible talent that exists in the amateur macro community. Unless your a member of at least a dozen different forums you'll never get a chance to see, or appreciate, their work. I ran into an extremely talented shooter from Poland over at the Juza Nature Forum, macro section named Grzehoofr that just blew me away. It's not the level of detail in his work, or his compositional skills, or his lighting -it's all of the above. In my opinion macro photographers like Grzehoofr (see his gallery over at Picasa) represent the benchmark in macro -they are the people that you'll be measured against in the not so distant future. Here's a sample that I pulled out of his gallery -it's one of many incredible photos...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Topaz Labs

Slurp VII
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
I put a lot of time and effort this year to improve my techniques, lighting, and composition -so much that post processing had become the weakest aspect of my shooting. I just don't have the time or patience to sit down and learn a lot about Photoshop Elements, and CS4 is just too stinkin' expensive. But something had to give because my weak post processing was really starting to impact the quality of my photography...

About a month ago one of my coworkers, and a talented pano shooter, Scott Knauss, mentioned Topaz Labs and asked me if I had tried any of their plug-ins. Being the crash test dummy that I am I downloaded a few of them and requested a temporary license key so I could test drive them (the test license is good for 30 days).

I've since registered Topaz Labs Detail, Adjust, and DeNoise. I use Detail and Denoise on my macro images now, and Adjust on my closeup and landscape images (for those few times that I actually take the MPE-65mm macro lens off of my camera). The image included with this post was processed as follows:

I first open the image in the Element's RAW editor and make any necessary changes to the exposure and white balance (usually setting the temperature of my light to 5800 K). I then open the image in the Elements main editor and use the healing brush to rub out any dust spots. I then run Topaz DeNoise and use the standard RAW preset. It takes a little while for DeNoise to analyze an image, but it's worth it -to me it does a better job of preserving detail than NoiseWare Pro.

Once I've removed the image noise I sharpen the photo with Topaz Detail using the Micro Contrast preset. With Detail I also adjust the highlights and shadows (if necessary) and add a little saturation. Once Detail is finished I create a Levels adjustment layer and set a black point.

I can not emphasize that last step enough -setting a black point will really make your photos "pop"!

All that's left is to save the image as a PSD (in case I want to go back and make any changes) and a JPG. At the risk of sounding like I've been paid to write a review: Topaz Labs has allowed me to bring my post processing to a level where it's no longer the weakest aspect of my photography. If any of you have been using Topaz Labs plug-ins and have any tips for me then please leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Speed Bump Deconstruction

Speed Bump
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Of all the images that I've written deconstructions on you might not think that a shot of a snail deserves its own writeup -not like it's going anywhere anytime soon right? Well there's actually a lot more going on in this shot than you might notice at first, and there are a few tricks and tips that are worth mentioning.

This is a field studio image, completely manipulated, and there is only one element that was captured by chance...

I've been seeing a lot of these snails the last few months and they're tiny -most no more than a centimeter in diameter. The plant that it's on has some large leaves that are easy to grip without ripping, and in this shot I'm holding onto the leaf and using my fingers to create the "speed bump". Pretty much a standard Left Hand Brace shot as far as keeping the camera steady goes.

The tricky part when shooting snails, damselflies, or any creature that has eyes on a stalk is getting those peepers and the main body of the critter in focus. Although it looks like I'm shooting the snail almost side on I'm really getting it head first because it started to turn. I'm holding the camera so that the top of the frame is deeper into the scene than the bottom, and that's why so much of the leaf and the snail are in focus. I'm also using my hand to turn the leaf down to get it as parallel to the plane of acceptable focus as possible. The end effect is a "magic angle" between the camera and the scene that creates the illusion that there is a lot of depth when there really isn't. I've simply shortened the front to back distance between the top of the snail's shell to the bottom of the leaf, and then angled the camera to take advantage of it. Do it often enough and it just becomes second nature.

Last, but not least, I got lucky: The snail looked right at the bump I had created in the leaf :)