Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Business of Colorspace

What colorspace to deliver in ?

Every photographer has an opinion, and there are about 30 experts for every different colorspace. Some swear by sRGB, others swear by ColorMatch, still others insist on Adobe 1998, and then there are the clients who insist on CMYK, and then when you ask them what profile, they haven no idea what you're talking about.

Realizing, however, that it is now your responsibility to handle colorspace issues means you are at step 1. This also often means that the client will lay the blame on you when the image doesn't look the way it should.

First things first through - what colorspace is your camera capturing images in when it's capturing raw images? Answer: It's not. Capturing images in raw, means that no colorspace is defined. The colorspace is chosen and assigned by the raw conversion software, like Camera Raw, Capture One, and so on. The colorspace set in the camera when you're shooting raw is just a tag, the raw data is not diminished by your choice. The raw data from the sensor is just that, raw light values coming from the sensor.

ProPhotoRGB has colors in it that are not in Adobe 1998. Adobe 1998 has colors in it that are not in sRGB. When you are making your conversions in your raw converter, and making your general corrections there as well, having the widest gamut will serve you best to make your corrections and adjustments. However, can the client handle that? You need to know, or risk a client who feels you underserved them.

So, what clients get what colorspace?

Well, many photographers point to ColorMatch as the one which most closely resembles CMYK, and when your work is going to a CMYK printing output, what you deliver, when delivered in the ColorMatch colorspace, will yield results as close as possible to what the final output will look like.

If your client is outputting to a premium grade press, with six color output, the images will appear best in a broader gamut colorspace like ProPhotoRGB, or BruceRGB. You'll know these clients though. They are spending a lot of money on their output, and they will make you aware of details in a very specific fashion, talking about setting your white point to something like 246, and your black point to 11, and they will be asking for uncompressed TIFs, at a very specific DPI, which will NEVER be something as generic as "300". The likelihood is that most of you will encounter only one of these clients a year. And these are the clients, more often than not, that are not bickering with you over post production charges, and you were likely paid a premium creative fee and fairly priced licensing.

If you are expecting your client to send your files to a Fuji Frontier, Noritsu, or other one-hour-type lab, your safest bet is going to be sRGB. Sending these clients file in a wider colorspace like Adobe 1998 will mean, when they send it to the lab straight from your CD, almost always the files will come out looking milky.

If your client is going to have your images on the web, again, delivering the final files to them as sRGB is going to be safest. They (or their web team) will most likely not convert it themselves.

For about 80% of my clients, they do not know what colorspace is, let alone, what colorspace they want. For these, after I optimize the files in my editing suite, I convert them to sRGB, and burn them to a CD as JPEG's.

For clients who INSIST on a CMYK colorspace, but won't tell me which one, or provide a profile to convert to, it's SWOP v2. Period. However, I ALSO provide them with a file in ColorMatch, and advise them:

"Enclosed is the final file, converted to CMYK, as you have requested. Because we did not recieve a specific colorspace or device profile specification, we have chosen a standardized CMYK colorspace, SWOP v2. We have also provided the same file in an RGB colorspace called ColorMatch. This colorspace most closely resembles CMYK, but has not been converted. If you, or your printer, has a color profile for the printer your are outputting on, we recommend a conversion from that ColorMatch RGB file to your device-specific CMYK profile for optimum results."
This notice not only provides our clients with the maximum amount of information and flexibility, but also conveys to them the level of attention to detail we give to every project and to the clients needs.

You may have a difference of opinion about the specifics of the above, but what should not be in dispute is your very real obligation to be responsible for the proper colorspace for your client. Understanding colorspace, and how to best serve your clients through it, is but one reason why not only do we never deliver raw files, we have solid justification for our post-production charges.
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Friday, April 6, 2007

Service Contracts

Do you have a service contract for anything? Do you know what one is?

A service contract is essentially a variation on an extended warranty. Apple Care is one that is immensely valuable. For a few hundred dollars, you get protection on your laptop in the event that your machine dies, almost for any reason. Repairs too.

Also from from Apple is Pro Care, which, for $99 a year, means you can not only schedule time to go into an Apple store to get expert help for your machine, and expedited repairs, but you can also get free training for many of the applications you use, and if you've found the Apple Store Genius Bars filled to capacity whenever you try to schedule an appointment the day of, you know that you'd love to schedule it days in advance -- when it's most convenient for you, not when there happens to be an opening.

For my home office, I have a type of service contract called a preventative maintenance agreement with my heating and air-conditioning company. For $250 a year, they come out and check my system and properly set it for Winter and then again for Summer. If it needs replacement parts, Freon, or other non-major work, they cover it. If my condenser or central unit goes down, they put me in priority line to get it replaced at a discount, and the labor charges to do so are included. When that happened, I checked, and the price they were charging me for the unit alone was less than I could find it at Home Depot, and the vendor's charge included the install. I also pay a fee every month to my security system services provider so that whenever there is a problem with a sensor, they come out - for free - and repair it, or replace it.

Adobe offers a two year maintenance agreement as a part of their Transactional Licensing Program (TLP) that allows you to pay one price and secure maintenance releases and however many upgrades occur during the term of the agreement. It's available through whomever is your preferred Adobe partner.

When you have tools that you cannot operate without, having coverage and cost controls to limit your losses and expedite the return to normal operations can make a world of difference.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hail Early Risers!

My office opens at 10am, (but I do take calls if they come in earlier than that), and stays open until 6pm. I frequently stay up late to do paperwork, and every once in awhile I get a call from the west coast at 9pm where the caller is surprised to reach me, saying "oh, I was expecting to get voicemail...".

Why does my staff arrive at 10? Because I am usually up late the night before, and thus "sleep in", and it's an easier commute for them, so everybody wins. Of course, I get up early when an assignment calls for it, but when asked about scheduling a shoot, my first effort is to arrive on site by 11am, and begin shooting at noon.

Yet, I am inspired by a line I read from a William Blake poem:

"Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night."
Perhaps I could be more productive during the morning, and thus be able to accomplish more throughout the day.

Check this blog entry - Two Ways to Use Your New Found Early Morning Hours, which suggests, 1) The first co-strategy is that of making sure that the last half-hour of the day prepares us to “hit the ground running” the next morning, and 2) The second strategy is to choose appropriate tasks upon which to work the following morning. Read the rest of the blog for more details, but it sure looks like a good idea.

Now, the trick will be convincing the folks in the office here to arrive earlier. Wish me luck.
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Monday, April 2, 2007

USA Today

As USA Today's freelance photographers toil away, chasing the newly minted boys of summer, look for an angle during the NCAA playoffs, or carefully lighting the latest celebrity for the front page of Life, the penny-pinching tighwad bean counters have foisted upon the desk editors of the "Nation's Newspaper" the latest rights grab that has riled up many a photographer. I've had several requests -- "John, you gotta comment on this...".

Mind you, I hold little ill will against the assignment editors, and other folks of the photo department out in the newly built tower that overlooks some of the most expensive real estate along the Dulles Corridor towards Tysons Corner and Silicon Alley, where AOL makes it's headquarters (but not for long). Someone, somewhere deep on a sub-level, looking to buck up to an office with a window, got a new CPU that could handle the more advanced features of Excel, and tweaked a formula that said that the chain could save untold dollars just be changing a few lines in their photographer's contracts. Now, this accountant trainee is hoping to see some daylight. Have we not forgotten about how the accounting departments of the likes of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, brought scandal and disaster to their name? Not all brilliant ideas put forth by the accounting department result in things that are good for the company. This latest one - stripping revenue from photographers, and failing to account for increases in expenses over the last decade, is just the latest idea that they dreamed up to avoid being outsourced to India, and justify their existence. The latest contract language is about as good an idea as throwing a cross-stitch across your rectum.

I've seen more than an image or two of mine grace the pages of USA Today, and USA Weekend, and I've read the contract, and here seems to be a few sticking points:

In over 20 years, USA Today's only increased their assignment fee from $225 to $375. Wahoo! Who's shooting those assignments? I'd guess people who expect revenue on the back end from stock. No more.

It used to be that the compensation for transmitting made sense, since we were scanning and transmitting. However now, it's $25 for however many images they want. Does that justify a high speed wireless card, and your time to do so? Well, there's a problem, because you have accepted "day rate", as your mode of business, meaning they have you for eight hours. So, when you cover an assignment goes an hour, or six hours, they still have you (in their minds) until the end of an eight hour day. So, the $25 is not a compensation for your time, but rather, a subsidy of your equipment costs to do so. In their cover letter, they continue the misuse of the term "day rate". It should be described as an "assignment rate". Being "on assignment" means making photos, or travelling to make photos, or back from making photos. Doing post-production isn't the same in my book. It should be seperate.

Gannett also wants all rights, forever, and can use your images in not just editorial, but also advertising, without additional compensation. Anything Gannet deems they want to use it for. So, when USA Today wants to use your photos, either in context, or as a stand-alone image to advertise it's paper in an elevator on the screens there, in airports on billboards, on buses, transit terminals, and so on, you're SOL.

You grant them a 30 day exclusive. And, if you shoot RAW, you MUST ALSO send those, along with JPEGs. That's gona bog down your high-speed connection!

You're also subject to a half-day rate of $250. And, while a half-day MIGHT work for an 8am-noon assignment, or a 6pm-10pm assignment, when that midday assignment from 10-2 comes about, you're doing a half-day that precludes you from actually doing a full day for anyone else. Nice! I do hope that our friendly photo editors don't hand out too many of those half-dayers and instead opt for all full day assignments. I guess it all comes down to how you clock your time. I'd say that, like a plummer, you clock door-to-door. Meaning, that once you leave your home, the clock starts, and it does not end until you are home safe. 4 hours and 1 minute? Yep, that's now a full day in my book.

The contract also states: "you agree to provide USA Today with ALL of the Works you take while on assignment regardless of the form of those Works (e.g. photographs, video, audio, digital files, negatives, transparencies), so that when you begin capturing audio and video for them, you have to manage all that as well (for no more money), and that time is coming sooner rather than later.

Wait, though. If you're a staffer, keep reading. This is where it goes south for you. If enough of the freelancers sign this thing, that's gonna make your lifespan as a staffer that much shorter. Some other bean counter is cross-comparing that nice salary, gear allowance, and your vacation/401k/health insurance against the daily cost of a freelancer, and these cuts affect you. Believe it.

Wait, though. If you're an editor, keep reading. It's going to get harder and harder to find consistently qualified photographers. Maybe not this year, but with $5k camera expenses needing to be made, how long before your photographers are shooting with outdated equipment, and you're then forced to go to your pals at the agencies to get those images that everyone else is getting, making your paper look that much more like the rest of the newsprint out there? What when your freelance pool becomes a puddle, and then you can't get assignments covered?

I know that if the editors received well written letters of objection from it's freelancers, en masse, they'd carry your water the rest of the way. They'd take those objections to their superiors, who would push back at the sub-level accountant trainee's boss, saying "hey, this won't work. We are getting too much push back from our vendors." However, are you willing to push back? If not now, then when? Your letter must outline that the changes to the terms of the contact are unacceptable, and push your income level below cost, and, as such, you cannot continue to work for them, and then you must mean it. It must be a personal e-mail, professionally presented, and not some cut-and-paste job from something someone else wrote.

Let's applaud USA Today where it's deserved. They are not demanding copyright. But, well, that's like being a victim of spouse abuse and saying to the judge during a trial - "but he only beat me where I could hide it with clothing." You should not be thankful for copyright retention, it should be a given. You should be able to be a spouse with the given that you're never beaten. Even if every other news organization doesn't demand copyright, that does not mean USA Today's not demanding it should be cause for celebration. In the middle east, it's normal for men to beat their wives, but that doesn't make it acceptable by any stretch. So, one-handed applause from me on copyright retention.

If photographer's don't stand together, then we will fail alone. As I cited in a pervious post recently, you can either be a good example of a horrible warning.

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Billability Reaches New Heights

Everyone's got an angle to the Anna Nicole Smith story, and I mean everyone. One of the "trashy" blogs I read to keep up instead of buying the National Enquirier during checkout is Here's an article about how much the baby's daddy is being billed for an attorney. The final bill?

In all, the packet of bills Birkhead received today totaled 112 pages. Opri offered Birkhead a bargain: Instead of the $620,492.84 bill, she offered him a discount at $511,365.09, but only if he accepts immediately. Opri wrote, "I'm still willing to accept the discounted billing at this time, but only without further discussion."
Now THAT'S one helluva bill, and a very nice 18% discount for timely payment.

Why do I point this out? Because one of the most methodical professional services providers I know of is the attorney. They bill per copy, and use a copier's built in capability of tracking copies, per client. Many bill in quarter hour or sixth-hour (that'd be every 10 minutes) increments. Check this article out for an explanation of how attorneys bill, and how to handle the initial negotiations with an attorney.

You do have an attorney, don't you? If you don't, you should establish a relationship with one at your earliest convenience. Not to begin a billable relationship and start paying them, but to know one, and know what they can do. Perhaps though, you have a contract you are using (or would like updated). That would be a fine way to begin a relationship. And, for most attorneys, when you sit down with them, to explain what you need, that visit is free. The rest, you pay for.

Your photography should, in a tangential way, compare to a lawyers. Pre-production meetings, pre-production, conference calls, assignment fees, travel fees (often 50% of your per-day assignment fee) and post-production, cell charges, couriers, duplicate CD's, shoot permits, and so on, and so on, and so on. Whenever you are working on behalf of a client, you are either eating the cost of that time, or properly billing for it.
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Sunday, April 1, 2007

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