Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Days You Just Get Lucky

It's true. Somedays you do. This time just last week, I was feeling anything but lucky. Those are the times when it is important to take a deep breath, close your eyes and try to count your blessings. Today is a much better day already. A new potential assignment for a restaurant chain opening it's first Hawaii outlets in Honolulu was waiting on the studio answering machine when I arrived at work this morning. Then there are those days, like the morning when I woke early, just as the sun was rising and as soon as I stepped outside, the scene above was stretching out across an ethereal canvas of sky. Cloud drama at it's best. Those are the times when you just grab the nearest available camera, exhale and push the shutter.  No thought necessary... just being in the right place at the right time and still creatively engaged; the photographic equivalent to automatic writing.

And then there are days when the Missus is on the computer, searching the local real-estate listings and comes across a series of my photographs advertising a property for sale without my prior knowledge or permission. A couple of sternly worded letters and two weeks later and a fat check arrives in today's mail.  This time, little luck was involved. Had I not followed thru when completing the original assignment to capture those images.... entering all the EXIF & ITPC Data in the proper INFO Window fields of each file, delivered a very precise use license included in the original invoice and registered the complete body of work with the US Copyright Offices, I would have had little recourse and very little clout when it came time to negotiate a license for secondary use with the infringers. Of course, none of this kept the infringing parties from moaning incessantly about the 4-figure plus price tag for the license. Screen grabs of the infringing websites, copies of the original license and excerpts from Federal Copyright Law put a quick end to all of that. As soon as the parties realized that they were facing penalties that could have totaled more than a million dollars, the 4-figure license fee began to smell like a bargain.

And speaking of meta-data, EXIF & ITPC info embedded with your image files, there appears to finally be some momentum behind attempts to force Google to stop it's practice of stripping meta-data from image files. Google, unfortunately, is not alone in this practice. Facebook, Flickr and other social network & photo-sharing sites all remove meta-data when images are uploaded to the server. 

There are couple of good, brief articles on the problem located at the Gunar Blog (just click on the links below):

In the age of digital distribution of images, words, music and just about every other form of content, protecting yourself is becoming more & more imperative. Watermarks, tracking services and other means of image location and identification are being developed and coming into play, making it a little easier for us to track down where our work is being published electronically. That said, the simple act of filling out the info window fields with your copyright notice, contact info and license information can go a long way in helping you find your work as this information is in text form and readable by web crawlers & bots that compile this sort of info. Thus, by simply performing a search of your name, chances are that links to published images that contain your meta-data may/will turn up in those search results.

Even closer to home, while conducting research to press the infringement issues I describe above, it was discovered that our local island Board of Realtors not only strips meta-data info from photo files when they are uploaded to the system's Multiple Listings Service server but they also have the hubris to apply the watermark © RAM (RAM=Realtors Association of Maui) to all images displayed on their website. Note that I was also successful in having the RAM watermark removed from images belonging to me that are hosted on that server and having it replaced with a watermark giving proper notice & attribution of the work. Further efforts are being instigated at this time to end their practice of adding the ©RAM watermark to all images supplied to the local MLS. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

A New Week Begins And A Wrap-Up of the Last...

Still reeling from the sudden, tragic loss of my long-time canine companion, the seminal opening event that kicked off the week past, things could only get better. Still, the adjustment has been difficult and I expect it to be for some time. I regularly catch myself looking for him, listening for the sound of the tinkling dog-tags outside the door, moving in the bed at night to press up against him at the place where he usually slept by my feet, getting up automatically at the customary meal-time to prepare his bowl... habits developed over a time of ten years that will take some time yet to get used to no longer doing.

Tragedies aside, much effort & thought, considerable sheets of fine-art paper & quantities of ink were expended in the production of the new portfolio last week. I'm happy to say that it is almost finished now... just a few cuts to make and a couple of new pages to print and I'll be armed and ready to hit the streets of H-lulu for meetings with every art-buyer that will let me thru the door. Plans are now being readied to set up appointments with agencies & photo editors for the end of September... a time when things are typically a little slower in the islands and late enough in the summer to catch most of the intended targets post-vacation time & just before the heavy Holiday advertising/publishing cycles begin in earnest.

In between the running back & forth from the workstation to the printer, I was also running back & forth between the studio and the Hyatt Regency in Kaanapali where this year's 2nd annual Maui Photo Festival was taking place. There were many great lectures, hands-on workshops and opportunities to chat with colleagues and friends, moments spent with photographic heros, cocktail receptions & dinners to occupy one's time. There were so many programs being offered, I found it difficult to choose the ones I could actually attend.

Highlights of the week for me were (in no particular order or ranking) dinner and several other opportunities to hang with, get to know better and converse at length with combat photographers Stacy Pearsall & Andy Dunaway & their lovely kids. Stacy & Andy are based out of South Carolina and travelled to our island for their second year as principal presenters at this year's Festival. New friends that I will certainly be keeping in touch with. 

One of the first how-to books on illustration photography I purchased when first starting out in this business was one written by New York based photographer Jack Reznicki... a well-know & highly respected photographer, lecturer & consultant. Jack was also making his second appearance at this year's festival. My one big regret of last year's event was not having the time to get to know him a little better. This year, I was able to attend two of his lectures, one on copyright, the other on the paperwork and business of photography. Both were excellent and informative... too bad so few of my local colleagues were in attendance. Jack & I also had an extended one-on-one lunch together on saturday afternoon where we talked about the business, swapped horror stories and compared mutual friends in the industry. 

Great quotes from Jack:
"We sell our talent... we license our images"
" Get it it writing...."
 Lori Barbey is not only a fine wedding photographer, but also the photo editor of Bonnier Publishing Group's Islands Magazine. Lori was also making her second appearance at this year's event. Funny, witty, charming... all this and more. I had the pleasure of also having dinner with her during the Presenter's Dinner and later in the week got her review of my brand-new portfolio. 

Best quote during Lori's review of my portfolio"
"Your book doesn't scream Hawaii... that's a good thing..."

Saturday afternoon it was show time. A four hour presentation on Food Photography presented by yours truly. A standing room only crowed turned up for the first two-hour part of the session where we began with a discussion on "landing" the assignment and getting the information required to estimate/bid the job, some of the tools & techniques employed, etc. Joining me for this presentation were Lewis Carlyle, photo editor of the upscale & trendy urban lifestyle journal Meridian & Executive Chef/Restaurant Owner Christian Jorgenson. A lively discussion ensued, covering many of the finer points of what considerations a photo editor might make when assigning a photographer to what a restaurant owner might need when considering a marketing budget for photography. The attendees were inquisitive and attentive and I think they got their money's worth with having the rare opportunity to ask questions directly of an art buyer.

The second part of the session began with me setting up and beginning an actual food shot with delicacies prepared from Christian's restaurant. The class was then divided up into three teams and everyone had a go at using studio lighting and taking a stab at producing their own food photography. From what I saw, there were a few excellent attempts made by several class participants.

Also in attendance during the presentation was Lynn Erfer of the Maui Visitors Bureau who promises a blog entry on the workshop in the near future. I look forward to seeing it.

Thanks everyone for the great week!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Man's Best Friend Is Gone

It was 4:30 am. I was sitting on my lanai swilling coffee and trying to wake-up in preparation for my 6 am radio show when I heard the sickening thud, the squeal of tires and the scraping of scattering gravel. Immediately, I called for Max. He had followed me outside in the pre-dawn darkness. In the restored silence of early morning, there was no familiar sound of rattling dog tags in the distance. My heart sank as I hurried roadside, eyes straining in the blackness to make out shapes that might indicate the source of that horrible thud. Nothing... no car, no sound. Then I saw him. His still form was lying in the damp grass across the road, warm to the touch but there was no life left.  

Max. Sexy beast, canine magnificent, superb snuggler, incessant smiler. He came to us almost ten years ago, a rescue from the animal shelter. Intended to be a watch dog, Max had other plans and immediately marched into our home and made himself comfortable. It was only a couple of months later, during a rare & violent thunder storm that he was overtaken with fear and jumped into our bed, quivering and cowering as he nestled snugly between us. And there he remained every night afterwards. 

Max.. amazing animal, much loved by everyone who met him. He smiled, he danced at dinner time, he talked and greeted those he loved with a long, low, modulated howl. He had his own cat who loved him dearly and followed him everywhere. At night, they would lie together at the foot of the bed as Max would lick her fur until she was soaking wet. The cat is prowling the house now, looking for her friend. She is already missing him. So am I.

Carefully wrapped in a clean sheet and lying in the bed of the pick-up truck, Max waits now for me to transport his remains to the the vet where he will be cremated. I dread the task.

Max is pictured above with my father, circa December 2001.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eat, Pray, Zzzzzzz

We pause, momentarily, from our regularly scheduled blogging to venture into the realm of literary & cinema critique...

I'm more of a Sh*t, Shower, Shave kind of guy. Even so, when I first encountered the phenomena that has evolved into the Eat, Pray, Love franchise several years ago, I was curious... having read that part of the book's tale unfolds on my beloved island of Bali and in one of my favorite villages there no less... 

Borrowing a copy from a friend, I immediately jumped ahead to read the sections pertaining to author EG's experiences in Ubud, a once sleepy village soon to be overrun with middle-aged, sooth-seeking divorcees haggling fiercely in the local marketplaces to save a penny on the myriad hand-carved wooden door-knockers shaped like giant penises (peni?, penis?, penis'?). But that's because of the movie release, a topic we'll get to soon enough. As I began to read the book... or at least the part occurring in Ubud, I grew more despondent... and soon was fighting the urge to throw up in my mouth with each newly turned page. So full were these pages with shallow, venal, banal, pseudo-spiritual bat-shittery that I barely finished the chapter. It goes without saying that the remaining parts of the book went unexplored, at least by me.

And I haven't seen the movie either. This may leave me unqualified to offer any succinct commentary on either the book or the film. Comedian Lewis Black has, however, done both and offers the following, taken from last night's The Daily Show With John Stewart:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Love For The Paparazzi

A story published in yesterday's Hollywood Reporter  describes how the celebrity-stalking Paparazzi, or more precisely... the picture distribution agencies representing , negotiating on behalf of and distributing the work of celebrity photographers, have banded together to tackle one of the more pressing issues brought about by the new digital publishing models being adopted by magazines whose stock in trade has been the publishing of photographs of the rich, famous & notorious. Specifically, according to the article, these agencies have banded together to embargo photo use in People Magazine until they can successfully negotiate additional use compensation for the magazine's iPad application.

This is good news for photographers, writers, illustrators and all content providers earning their daily bread by providing the fruits of their labors to editorial publishers. Similar pricing models may eventually come into being for advertising use as companies promoting their brand become more reliant of the growing popularity of apps for smart phones, medial tablets and other content delivery tools yet to be brought to market.

Andrew Wallenstein writes for THR:
While the standoff centers on one publication for now, just about any other brand that makes photos of the rich and famous their stock in trade is watching nervously from the sidelines. Whatever deal they strike could set the terms of trade for the industry going forward.

Mr. Wallenstein continues:
Photo agencies are taking a keen interest in the iPad because while online usage of their snapshots commands a fraction of what their fees earn from print usage, they recognize the potential for the tablet market to be a game-changer. 
"They realized that in most cases People.com was not making ad revenue or subscription money off extended use of their photos," said Brandy Navarre, vp at X17, a photo agency that plans to negotiate separately from its unified front of competitors. "But when you're talking about paid apps supplemented by advertisements, that's something different altogether."
 Take the time to read the THR article... and then begin thinking about how this applies to the way you license your own work. The entire story can be found HERE.

While the crux of this story centers on celebrity image use and People Magazine for the moment, the broader issue here is traditional print  and/or secondary online publishing. With the declining advertising revenues, rapidly changing reader demographics and newly evolving tools for content delivery forcing competitive publications to turn to web-based publishing as either their primary publishing venue or as an e-supplement for their new tech-savy readership, the need to address these issues surrounding the additional licensing fees for image use these in new, often secondary/supplemental digital publications is even more pressing if we are to remain economically viable in the foreseeable future.

 Increasingly, online publications are being monetized... that is, they are selling advertising space on their websites and exploring this new avenue of revenue generation. Without the content provided by photographers, illustrators & writers, publishers have nothing to sell as they attempt to mine these new veins of potential gold. The picture agencies cited in the THR article recognize the importance of this issue and even though the agencies involved may be arch-rivals, they have thrown their collective might together to take a strong stand that can and should eventually benefit  all of us in the long run by throwing the matter squarely on the table. 

It's not a matter of US vs. THEM... or of creator vs. publisher, or it shouldn't be. It's simply a matter of what's fair is fair. Without editorial publishers, we would be hard pressed to generate income from our work. Without our work, publishers would be hard pressed to sell advertising or generate any interest in their product(s). Life would be grand if we could all work together to  explore these new potentials for revenue.

Thanks to Rob at A Photo Editor for the find.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aloha Conrad

It was with great sadness that I learned this morning, via a tearful call from a listener during my tuesday morning radio show, of the passing of a much beloved member of Maui's musical tribe. Conrad Ahia, son of Sam and elder brother of the musical Ahia family of Lahaina, passed to the other side sometime last night after being diagnosed with and fighting a tumor in his brain. 

Always quick with a big smile and a song, Conrad will be missed by friends & family alike.  Though I didn't know him well, I had the opportunity to work with Conrad and the rest of his family (father Sam, brother Howard and sister Lisa I know much better) preparing photography for the family CD release AHIA, way back in 1994. The portraits of family members were included in the CD packaging and beautiful, hand-made 16x20 silver gelatin prints I made still hang in the family home. I still remember those sessions well... a studio filled with creativity, laughter and music.

Aloha Conrad. Rest in Peace.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Found Image, Feeling A Pulse, Celebrity Lifestyle and Some Other Stuff

Scene At A Street Fair ©2010

Every now and then while searching through the image archives, you find images or portions of images that catch your attention and were previously overlooked. Such was the case yesterday, while looking for images to fulfill a stock request for an inflight magazine, I came across an image (several, actually) that fit the needs of the request. In the bottom left corner of the one of the overall photos, the scene posted above caught my eye. It occupied no more that maybe 10% of the overall image, yet when cropped & isolated... this section of the photo began to fall apart and take on a very painterly quality. I'm no fan of attempting to transform photographs into anything that appears to look like a painting, generally speaking, thru the use of Photoshop® filters, etc. I'm a photographer... I make photographs. If I wanted to paint, I'd paint (given I had one iota of skill or talent in that medium. I don't). That said, the simple act of isolating and cropping a small roughly 1"x 2" section of the overall image file and then resizing it to 8.5"x11" created the textural feel. No PS filters and only slight Levels adjustments were used. This is how it ended up and I rather like it. 

For the past couple of months I'm happy to report that there seems to be a slight pulse newly evident in the commercial & editorial photography world around these parts. Between the political campaign image assignments booked in June & July, several new advertising jobs and quite a few editorial assignments & stock requests, I'm cautiously happy to report that the cash hemorrhage of the past seven months to keep the studio afloat has, at least temporarily, come to an end. Should the trend continue, it looks as though we may again be restored to a state of grace and something approaching profitability. 

Earlier this week, we received an assignment to contribute to a portfolio of architectural & interior design photographs of an island home owned by a well-known star of screen, stage & tube. The home had already been photographed previously by two other local photographers... the work they produced competent. Being that the home has recently been put on the market for a cool $19 mil. and listed by the exclusive Sotheby's International Realty, part of the marketing strategy involved publishing the home in the beautiful magazine Sotheby's Portfolio. And, while the previous photographers did a competent job of portraying the super-sized scale of the property, there was really nothing in the previous work that defined the intimacy & fabulous interior design of this home or told the story of the direct beachfront location on one of Maui's finest stretches of sand. Monday, assistant Barry and I arrived in the early morning and worked to just before sunset capturing images more suitable for the editorial layout of Portfolio. Posted below are a few of my favorite images of the day. Just got word yesterday that Portfolio has now seen the new work and has committed to publishing a full editorial feature on the home. Word also came that one of the images is in the running for the coveted cover position of the magazine, competing with two other luxury properties.

Next week, an advertising job for the Merriman's Hawaii Restaurant Group, operated by innovative & renown Chef Peter Merriman, is on the books. Now to keep this new momentum going indefinitely.

To that end, a couple of much needed projects that have been put on the back burner for the past year or so due to lack of funds have been moved up to front burner status. The big one... a major portfolio reorganization, is now underway. New, brushed aluminum, screwpost binders complete with logo laser-etching and a ream of fine, high-quality printing substrate to match have been ordered and should arrive by the end of next week. The culling of images for portfolio inclusion has begun. Once completed, it's time to board a plane and make the rounds to put in face-time at all the major Oahu agencies & design firms as the last email promo campaign generated several calls for the book from agencies & designers I have yet to work with. This effort should contribute greatly to keeping to work ball rolling!