Thursday, June 5, 2008

Returning to the (Digital) Darkroom

For the past 9 years, I have been engaged in the painstaking process of converting analog images to digital. We've scanned, outsourced, and otherwise processed negatives and slides, from 35mm to 4x5, even a few 6cmx17cm panoramic transparencies. Over time, lt's been a major project. We certainly have been happy with the turnkey results from JaincoTech (Jaincotech, 11/14/07). Yet, with tens of thousands of individual images we wanted to convert, we've looked internally for images that we wanted to scan ourselves.

For several years now, we've used our Nikon LS-8000 scanner. The results it's produced have been great, and in a very automated fashion, albeit limited to 5 35mm slides per tray. Our early tests yielded banding and solarization, which, once we did some research (Luminous Landscape's review, and Bigger Is Sometimes Better article), we learned that those limitations could be overcome by using the multi-pass feature of the scanner (sometimes called the Superfine mode), something that wasn't a problem on the LS-9000 scanner, which addressed that known problem. This scanner yields a 120mb 16bit (I think it's actually 14bit, but who's counting), and delivers as it's baseline file a TIF. The image information in that TIF is deep, so we can go back and correct the digital image after the scanner's auto-exposure/auto-focus efforts. Yet, the serious downside to this process has been that each scan takes about 4 minutes to accomplish.

How to make things faster, and more efficient?

(Continued after the Jump)

With the arrival of our Nikon D3 and Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III camera last December (Nikon vs. Canon - Introduction), we revisited our options. The Canon has as it's file size from it's chip, an image comparable in pixels to the LS-8000. Again, a 60+ mb file, with a substantial bit depth. Surely, the D3 would produce amazing results too, but we're testing the Mark III because it's native file size is comparable to our scanner. Further, you may well not need a 60mb native file - instead, a 36mb native file is probably perfectly fine, and easily up-sizable to whatever size you'd need. This isn't about Canon vs. Nikon, both work for this project. Next, we began looking into macro lenses. Across the board, the 65mm 1:1 macro lenswas reported to be the sharpest, albeit the most expensive, at about $865 or so for my Canon camera (Luminous Landscape's review, here). One downside of the lens though, is that if you wanted a "film-sourced" black border (i.e. capturing the film area outside of the image area), a 1:1 lens is slightly problematic. Since almost all my images are mounted slides, this isn't an issue for me, but if you wanted to be able to pull back 1 to 2 mm to capture that film area, you might choose a different lens. However, I can see the rounded corners of the slide mounts I am copying, and since I am not un-mounting slides to digitize them, this lens is just the right choice for me. (note the corner, viewed here as a 100% view, shows even the rough edge of the paper mount, so magnified. Also note - it's an extremely sharp/defined edge, thus, in focus!)

Content with the camera and lens choice, we needed an adapter. A little research yielded the Extend-a-Slide (PhotoSolve - Xtend-a-Slide), a machined aluminum, black anodized device that, for it's simplicity, is really well engineered. It works with step-up rings, on most any macro lens. On it's front, you can mount a magnetic adapter for strips of negatives, individual mounted slides, or a speed-loader for multiple mounted slides. On top of that, what you might first consider to be a cheap locking device - the nylon screw which locks the slide in place, is actually well considered. If there was a metal screw, the force of locking the slide would create a metal marring of the inside tube, and so, with the clearances these tubes have, that would be a problem, so the nylon screw is actually a good thing, and moreover, very strong. There are other solutions, most more expensive, some much more expensive. Peter Krogh discusses his solution - Scans and Camera Scans - Camera Scan Sample - over at the DAM Forum. I had the opportunity to look at Peter's rig, and it's hard core - definitely a rock-solid solution as well.

With those issues solved, I thought I was set. Yet, issues like slide mount depth, and proper framing, meant I had to actually look through the lens, and, with my naked eye, judge focus and framing/alignment. Not good. The naked eye, without any magnification, can get it close, but not perfect. Certainly not like we used to when mounting a negative in an enlarger and using a grain focuser, back in the day.

Enter Liveview. Now, this isn't unique to Canon, Nikon has it as well (On both the D3, and D300, as reviewed here). And, since I am manually focusing, any limitations like auto-focus not being active in liveview isn't an issue. However, I am tasked with looking at the screen on the back of the camera, and using that screen to judge. Not ergonomically the best with the camera mounted looking down, much like an old enlarger (for ease of sliding the images in and out, a la a darkroom set up), and the screen on the back of the camera is a bit small. However, by utilizing the camera's external video jack, I can plug in a TV monitor to it, and voila! I can see my image on a large screen (I have chosen a 7" one as more than enough). Note, we're not using the abillity to see the liveview on the computer screen, as there is a mico-lag in the time from focus change to the affect appearing on the screen, so we're using the external video jack for immediate response times, as if it was on the back of the camera. This is certainly better than my naked eye in the viewfinder, and also better than the small LCD on the back of the screen. In order to best see the image, I place a maglite 3D-cell flashlight (in an empty CD spindle) below the mount, and now I am looking at a brightly lit image on the screen, and I just remove the flashlight before I make the exposure, a move that is familiar, my muscle memory remembers the placement and removal of the 10x grain focuser I would place and remove from the easel when printing negatives. Yet, I am only seeing the image full frame.

Both Nikon and Canon allow you to zoom in when using liveview. On Nikon, once in liveview, pressing the magnifying glass button on the left of the camera, along with the thumbwheel allows you to zoom in deep into the image, a two-fingered maneuver, but easy to do. On the Canon, simply pressing the button in the center of the back wheel engages liveview, and the "+" magnifier button allows you to jump to 5x, and then 10x, to see, very critically, your image. Looking at the image, and then making a minute adjustment to the lens, I saw the grain of the image snap in, and was immediately struck with the memory of watching the grain snap into focus when looking into that old school grain focuser. It was surely a familiar feel, I almost felt giddy with the nostalgic feel.

Further, liveview allowed me to properly center and straighten the image, when I was in full-frame liveview (i.e. not magnified), and the camera was set at iso100, f5.6, 1/250th, and with the flash at 1/2 power and the camera set to flash color balance, I am now getting amazing results. Where my focus point of a specific image isn't in the center, both cameras have joystick capabilities to navigate to the best position in the image, however, even when not zoomed in to that point, you can see the grain in focus elsewhere in the image are. Now, I am capturing these images at 4x a minute, rather than 1 every 4 minutes, a 16x speed increase. Since I am only copying properly exposed images, I don't want to use the camera/flash auto-exposure feature, so the flash is on manual. Capturing in RAW, I actually have better latitude with image information than I did with the scanner.

Lastly, the camera is connected to a computer, so the images are streamed straight to a hard drive. Once viewable in the Image Browser software, I am able to rename the original RAW file with a more meaningful file name. In post production, we'll convert this image to a DNG, applying any corrections, and embed our metadata, all in the neat wrapper that is DNG.

It was very nostalgic to have that "darkroom" feel to the process. To see the image grain, to re-experience the placement of the grain-focuser (now the illuminating flashlight), and the removal of the image, before triggering the shutter and converting, once and for all, my analog images into digital.

I am not suggesting you go out and get these cameras to do your own copywork. I am also saying you an do this with either the D3 or the EOS 1Ds Mark III (or any camera with liveview). But if you're looking for reasons to get the camera with these capabilities, and then put them to good use when you're not using them for an assignment, this is an excellent way to leverage these tools when they would otherwise be sitting on a shelf.

Now, we can finalize the conversion of our analog images, and allow us to monetize those images that have been languishing in filing cabinets, not being seen by clients.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Longitudinal Accounting - It's Impact on Your Business

When you get a check from a client for $2k, you don't immediately say to yourself "wow, I just profited $2k." You recognize that you'll have to pay taxes, and cover your overhead, with a portion of that money. In other words, you realize that that gross income does not equal net profit. To not look at things this way, you would wrongly take the approach that your "Accounts Recievable" department is the most profitable department in the company. No one looks at things that way.

What if, as the result of an $85 photoshop workshop, you learned to edit your images faster, and more efficiently? How long would it take for that expense to be a long-term cost savings to the business?

(Continued after the Jump)

If you knew that the shutter life of a prosumer camera (say, Nikon D80, D300, Canon 5D, 40D, etc) is 50,000 frames, and the cost to replace a shutter is $1100, and the cost of a Nikon D3/EOS 1D Mark III is $5k, but that that camera has a 200k frame mean time until failure shutter life, is it at all possible that not only is it more cost effective to buy the professional grade equipment, but moreover, not just the loss of the income from the assignment you were working when that shutter failed, but also the lost revenue, over time, from the dissatisfied client who won't hire you again, coupled with the cost to you to earn a new client (proportioned marketing/advertising costs, and so forth), would you first opt for the professional grade equipment?

If you knew that choosing an off-brand/third-party flash unit with your camera would yield a higher number of images that require exposure corrections after-the-fact, as compared to a strobe manufactured by the same maker of your camera, at what point would you make the greater upfront investment in the Canon/Nikon strobe, as compared with the initial reduction in cost of the flash in the first place?

And, let's look, for a moment, at the next wave of photography - multimedia. Doing the math, a photojournalist earning $45k a year, is paid about $22 an hour. Many of these photojournalists are now migrating to video, which, in most arenas, are shooting to tape, which means that for every hour of tape shot, that's an hour ingesting that footage. By contrast, the purchasing of a more expensive camera that writes to a memory card, or a direct-to-hard-drive device like a FireStor, can make a huge difference. After just 54 hours of tape, a $1200 camera-cost-increase or a $1200 FireStor becomes a quantifiable savings, If a photojournalist shoots 2 hours of tape in a day, at $22 an hour. This does not even begin to take into account the value of getting the finished video project out faster, meeting deadlines, and so forth.

The cost of your education is usually amortized over your career. It's easy to see this when you have student loans to pay, but when you don't, your cost - in both time and money - is not only appropriately amortized over the span of your career, but so too, do you amortize the cost of continuing education - like that $85 photoshop workshop.

we don't use these words - longitudinal accounting - to describe what we do, but it is what we do, if we think about it. We (should) look at everything along the line of impact, and the concepts, across the spectrum of photography and specifically across every photographer's business, applies. Considering all aspects and facets of your business, and how efficiencies in one arena can have a significant impact in other arenas allows you to become more profitable, and more efficient.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Business of Having A Different Perspective

If everyone has the same perspective, then how are you going to differentiate yourself?

Today I was on assignment at The White House. The President was welcoming the NCAA National Championship Kansas University Jayhawks to the Rose Garden, as he does all chamionship teams.

When I walked into the Rose Garden, with my colleagues, I surveyed the landscape of the setup.

(Continued after the Jump)

I immediately "laid claim" to my position, near the center, in the rear. Then I took a step back - literally, to the corner of the garden, and contemplated the setup. All of my colleagues, save for two, were in the back. They all wanted the straight-on shot. I contemplated some more. Then I went to the corner closest to the podium, traditionally known as the cutaway position, because of it's ability to capture a side-angle on the goings-on. Here, one long colleague of mine was positioned. I contemplated this angle, and decided that, if everyone else was going to get the head-on shot, I'd like to do something different - take a different perspective.

I also concluded that, when the President was done making his remarks, he would turn around - with his back to the audience, and greet the players behind him, although I didn't know if they would be on the same level as he was, or stacked up on the stairs. Yet, I knew I'd get a side angle.

Then I walked around again to the back, and realized that the President's podium would be obstructing all the shots from the rear of the President interacting with the team. That sealed it for me - stick with the side angle, even when almost everyone else was in the back.

True to form, the image above, when viewed from the back, had the podium blocking much of the frame (see the setup/test shot below):

I had thoughts that I might make a few frames from the front, then a few from the back, but when the players came out, and those making the presentation (shirt, hat, ball) were all on the right side, that clinched it for me to remain where I was. Further, if you triangulate where my back-position is relative to where the image at the top was made, the podium would have been smack in the middle of the outstretched arms between the President and the player on the far right - who happens to be headed to the NBA. (Use the barely visible flag in the top image to compare to the flag's position and the steps in the test image above.)

Without question, my colleagues making images from the rear made great images. Mine isn't, per se, better, it's different. It's a different perspective, which will make for something unique that I was able to bring to the table for this assignment. Here's to hoping my editors agree.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Orphan Works - A Unique Set of "Myths" and "Facts"

Recently, the well meaning folks at Public Knowledge purported to demystify the Orphan Works bills, suggesting their own series of "Myths", and offering up "facts" (Orphan Works Myths and Facts). The problem is, the PK folks just can't have their own set of facts. To that end, we've taken the opportunity to "bust", correct, clarify, shoot holes in, or otherwise offer a contributing attorney’s criticism of the PK "Facts".

PK posited Myth #1: The bills would take away copyright protection from every work a visual artist ever created!
The bills do not take away artists’ rights. The bills set a limit on damages for users of a copyrighted work where the copyright owner could not be found, despite a search conducted in accordance with detailed guidelines that the bills lays out. Under these guidelines, lack of identifying information on a work would not be an excuse to use a work. After such a diligent search, in the unlikely event that an owner came forward after the use had started, the user would have to pay him a “reasonable compensation” for the use. The owner would also be entitled to an injunction in situations where the work was not incorporated into a new work. The bottom line is that good faith users are shielded from liability, and owners are paid if they surface.
A Far more accurate take: The bills do take away the right to statutory damages for infringement in the case of false negatives. False negatives are very likely in the case of visual arts and other copyrights as most of the available databases either don’t cover a particular category of copyright at all (such as visual art) or require a metadata search (which has been rejected by many courts, including Judge Patel in the Napster case). The bills do not require “detailed guidelines”, just “best practices” which have yet to be determined and won’t be determined before the law would go into effect (1/1/2009)).
(Continued, after the Jump)

PK posited Myth #2: The bills would mandate registration of all visual arts in expensive, private registries.
Neither bill contains such a mandate. Owners’ failure to register would not absolve users of their search obligations. The purpose behind the “visual registries” provisions is to help artists keep ownership information associated with their works and to help users find owners. In order to achieve this purpose, the bills contemplate the development of electronic databases of visual works in the market place. The bills do not require artists to use these services, nor do they require the services to charge a registration fee. Services that operate in the current marketplace, and provide services free of cost, could easily evolve into the visual registries contemplated by the bills. The bottom line is that the bills aim to encourage the market to solve a problem to help owners be found, but the bills do not require owners to register with these services.
A Far more accurate take: It is true the neither bill requires a mandatory registration as that would be a clear violation of Berne, NAFTA, TRIPS, WIPO and WTO treaties. The substantive effect of the bills, however, which is what must be considered, is that the likelihood of false negatives increases exponentially if works are not registered in a searchable database. That means that artists must take the risk that if they are not digitizing their entire catalogs they will be orphaned.
PK posited Myth #3: Unavailability of statutory damages means that owners cannot get compensated.
Both bills would require a user to pay a reasonable compensation to an emerging owner. This compensation is defined as the amount the parties would have agreed upon had they negotiated a license before the use began. If a user refuses to negotiate with the emerging owner in good faith or pay the compensation within a reasonable time, both bills currently provide that the user would be liable for all the remedies currently available under copyright law including statutory damages, which could be as high as $150,000 per work. Statutory damages of this sort are really punitive damages, and since owners will be reasonably compensated to be “made whole,” user communities have proposed limiting damages to at most paying the owner’s attorneys fees. A user’s desire to avoid having to go to court and pay double attorneys fees (his own and the owner’s) would provide a good incentive to any user to negotiate an appropriate license. Thus, the bills would provide a fail-safe means of ensuring that owners get compensated.
A Far more accurate take:What is missing from this “Fact” is that the liability only arises if the user is (a) found by the copyright owner, and (b) sued by the copyright owner. Public Knowledge may not like statutory damages and pejoratively describes the standard of 100 years as “punitive”, but statutory damages are a right of artists that is being taken away by this bill. There is nothing in the current marketplace that would suggest that users intend to behave within the proscriptions of the law. If infringement is this rampant WITH statutory damages, imagine what it will be like WITHOUT statutory damages as a stick.
PK posited Myth #4: The bills would institute registration formalities in contravention to international treaty obligations.
The bills impose no new registration requirements on owners. While existing law does not require owners to register their works to claim copyright, it does obligate owners to register their works prior to infringement in order to receive statutory damages. The orphan works bills do not mandate any additional registrations beyond current law, neither to the Copyright Office nor to registries certified by the Copyright Office. To qualify for protection under the bills, a user may have to search both of these sources for the information about the owner. However, a user’s obligation to search these resources does not create any requirement on owners to register their work.
A Far more accurate take:The substantive effect of the bills is to require registration and will almost assuredly be found to violate Berne. The registration burden is entirely on the copyright owner—the user is not even required to give constructive notice of the infringement by filing with the Copyright Office—which likely is a violation of 17 USC 205.
PK posited Myth #5: Under the proposed new bills, since the entirely of an infringed work can be included in a derivative use, then the copyright of the derivative will amount to a copyright of the original.
A derivative is based off the original, but that does not allow the user (who is also the owner of the derivative) to somehow take over the copyright of the original. Nor would the bills allow the user to claim any additional rights from the original work.
A Far more accurate take:There should be no new copyright afforded to a “derivative” without the consent of the copyright owner. These bills change the law as it applies to derivative works, and takes away the copyright owner’s right to consent to any derivative.
PK posited Myth #6: Any user could fake a “dilligent search” and use the orphan works limitatin to infringe. Couldn’t a bad actor falsify the records of their search?
Orphan works legislation does not make an owner more vulnerable to bad actors, nor will it make infringement any easier for bad actors. A user that fakes a diligent effort would be considered a bad faith user, and would be on the hook for the full panoply of remedies under copyright law. If a user is going to claim this orphan works limitation, he’s going to have to plead it up front in court, and again up front in the discovery process. This prevents him from hiding information or prolonging discovery. Also, the “pleading with particularity” requirement means that the infringer’s lawyer must sign his name to the fraudulent conduct. Even in worst case scenario, where a court does not find fraud, the owner still recovers reasonable compensation. The fact that the infringer must pay reasonable compensation makes fraud extremely unlikely. Why perjure yourself in federal court about conducting a search, when you’ll still be required to pay compensation. If you’re going to lie, you’re best off claiming that you never copied the owner’s work in the first place, and any similarities between your work and his are coincidental.
A Far more accurate take:It is more likely that many actors (good or bad) will simply lose their records or be unable to prove how they’ve complied with whatever search requirements there are once a copyright owner comes forward. The point isn’t that the “bad actor” will falsify search records, it is that the message of the statute is “search just hard enough not to find the copyright owner”. Since the bill would permit more than one set of “best practices”, anyone—including Public Knowledge--could develop a set of “best practices” for a diligent search that would be worthless if the point is to find the copyright owner. The concern is not that someone will lie to avoid liability, it’s that the bill allows them to steal fair and square because it is so one sided and out of touch with commercial realities.

There's a lot of misinformation floating around about these bills. I can't say it enough - READ THE BILLS. Here's the links: ( S.2913 and H.R. 5889). If they don't make sense, re-read them. Try to find loopholes that you yourself could exploit, and then realize that someone somewhere is going to monetize whatever loopholes you find - and quite possibly with your creative endeavors!

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Proper Attire Whilst Making Pictures

Many a time I have been working an assignment that had me properly attired wearing jeans and a polo shirt. Usually, it was at a very informal outdoor event, where even wearing Khaki's and a button down would make me look out of place. Then, I get a call for an unexpected assignment in an office building. Proper attire? Nothing less than Khaki's and a button down, preferrably a suit, and were I without a tie, I would be out of place. Carrying a set of appropriate clothes to change into is just as second nature as carrying equipment - stowed in my car - that would allow me to take other assignments should the call come in for it. For newspaper photographers, these multiple-assignments-per-day issues arise, and most are prepared to handle the variety that is their everyday life.

Messages like "dress the part", "dress for success", "dress for the job you want, not the job you have", and so forth all carry the same message - your attire matters, and says a lot about you.

What does wearing jeans and an untucked shirt say about you when you're shooting a wedding at a top notch hotel?

(Continued after the Jump)

It says you're either inconsiderate, or just plain stupid.

Yesterday, I was making a delivery to a client at the same hotel where I had done an assignment for them the night before. I'd seen the rehearsal taking place, and so, when I arrived to make my delivery, I saw the photographer doing all of the posed images, so, curious that I am about who it was (I thought, perhaps a friend I knew, but it was not) and how they were working, I observed. However, as I continued to observe, I discerned that he was wearing jeans. Then I realized he didn't even have his shirt tucked in.

Yet, he was in a five star hotel here in DC, and everyone else was dressed to the nines. The bride and groom were all in their glory. This image was made with my iPhone (I hadn't planned to be making images, just a delivery) as family members in the wedding party were being photographed.

As I was leaving, I passed the bride, and asked who her photographer was, and she told me. So, I did a little research, and he doesn't have a website that I could find, and there is little else on the web about him (but I did locate some videos of him showing off his new apartment). He seemed nice enough, and had pro-level gear, but he just didn't didn't have the right attire.

If you're thinking of finding some excuse to defend this wardrobe malfunction, understand that I don't care that he was doing these images before the ceremony, and that maybe he would tuck his shirt in once the ceremony was about to begin. It remained that he was engaged in work and interacting with the entire bridal party and parents while looking disheveled. Bad form. Bad bad bad.

Oh, and it does get worse. The shirt was unbuttoned a button or two too many in the front, and his footwear choice was white athletic shoes. Somebody needs to read Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion!

Previously I wrote about other attire issues - specifically the wearing of flip flops (Leave The Flip Flops For The Politicians, 5/23/07) and discussed just how bad that is. So too, jeans on assignments like this. You are a professional, act - and dress, that way!

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