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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is the lowest price the best deal?

There are all kinds of deals to be had on camera equipment, but you have to know what you're looking at. Common sense should dictate that if most outlets are charging the same approximate price for a camera kit and one is charging significantly less something isn't quite right. Lets pick a perfect example- There is a site called that is my recent favorite.

I fielded a phone call today, the caller having a "Nikon question". This question came from a woman who claimed to have paid $4000.00 for a Nikon D7000 kit that came with 2 Sigma lenses (She was incapable of telling me which ones) along with some other things she was unable to describe to me. I looked at the site and saw what I suspected- Scam. Nothing more, nothing less. She figured it out too late and they wanted to charge her a $500.00 restocking fee.


Just in case you forgot- its

One of my favorite examples on that site is the Nikon D3s with two lenses "and more" for $4659.00. Heres the funny part- The lenses are the Nikon 18-55 VR and 55-200 VR units which are.......wait for it........DX lenses! What does that mean? They are specifically engineered for use only with the Nikon crop frame sensor range of cameras, currently the D3000 through the D300. Also included is a "TTL Macro Ringlight Flash", a "Digital Case" (What ever thats supposed to be)

The other red flag? The posted selling price is below the actual cost of all that merchandise. There just isnt that kind of profit margin in this stuff, people.

Another red flag- Nowhere does it state they are authorized dealers of any brand they carry. The say: "Full US warranty on all the products we sell". The question is whose warranty?

Down at the bottom of the page there si a listing of "Top Selling Products For This Item". My favorites are the "Three Year Protection Plan" for $499.99, the "Vertical Camera battery Grip" for $139.99 (Its a D3s- It has it built in.) and the "AC Charger Cord" for $129.99.

Who is it again?

Over the past 4 years that I've worked on the retail side of the camera business, I've seen all kinds of scams. This one is quite possibly the most blatant.

I'd advise anybody you know to stay away from these guys and those like them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Camera bags and related stuff

I've been in camera bag hell for most of my professional career. What does that mean? Essentially this- There is no such thing as the perfect camera bag. One has this, the other has that and some are just complete crap.

I used to like Kata's line of upper end bags (The inserts on their lower end bags compress to the thickness of paper) until three of their upper management team were being introduced to me by their importer's representative and while one of them pretended I wasn't even there, the other two looked at me like I was nothing but dirt. I informed them at that moment my only future interest in Kata was making sure everybody I knew in the photographic industry was how they truly felt about their customers. I dont care if Kata becomes the last manufacturer of camera bags in the world. If they do, I'll buy bubble wrap by the yard.

I also used to be quite enamored with LowePro but for the past few years it seems (In my opinion) that they stopped actually talking to photographers in order to get design input for their bags. I have a LowePro bag thats about 20 years old and I'll never get rid of it but none of their new products suit my needs.

How about Tamrac? They have two lines. One is their upper end, made here in the US and they're extremely durable. I like them and own a couple. Their other line (Made in China), which is much easier to find is great looking stuff and after about two years (Or less depending on use) the internal padding gets flattened out to the point that its like there is none at all. I cant recommend those for any use.

Tenba is one of my favorites. From the looks of things it appears that they actually include photographers in their design phase and as a result have some very cool and useful products. I'll be buying one of their "Shootout" backpacks in the next month or so. Their "Black Label" line of satchels and shoulder bags are very cool as well. I also own one of those. Their line is of great interest to me.

Another brand is Think Tank. I've never used them but from what I can see they look to be on the same level as Tenba, which in my opinion is damned good. They have some cool modular systems which are easily configured to an individual's needs.

So, I guess the next thing to cover is how does a person select the right one? First off- There is no such thing as the "perfect" camera bag, so stop looking for it. You stand a better chance of finding the mythological golden fleece. How do you determine what the best bag for you is? Obviously you start with how much gear you expect to be carrying? Does it need to adhere to the criteria set for flying on commercial airliners? There are many questions and as a result of needs, many of us end up with different kinds of bags for different situations. For example, when I'm just out and about I usually carry a minimal load out of one body, and usually three lenses such as my 105mm Macro, 24-70 and 70-200. Add in extra memory cards in their storage cases, a cleaning kit and a few other small accessories. That also allows me to use my smallest case which incidentially fits perfectly into the right pannier of my motorcycle.

For traveling by air, I usually have two bags to take on board because I never, ever check my camera gear. Ever. Did I mention that I never check my camera gear? (Damned good way to get it stolen/damaged) My two carry ons are a backpack for my camera gear and my laptop bag. I rarely carry them all together in one because frankly, it's just too damned heavy. My gear is heavy enough as it is.

So, there you have it- My view of camera bags. As I said- Each of us has their needs when it comes to them, singular or multiple and they may all be different. One last thing: When you decide its time to buy (another), take your gear with you to the store and actually try to fit everything in it.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Update on the update

So for now I'm building Flickr galleries for my art and fun (Hell- they're both. I love photography, remember?)

Heres how it is so far: My main page (You should see the link to the right) is as described in my previous post. My actual site will be permanent showing of my commercial works. Updates and new artwork will be posted to my Flickr galleries.

Not quite done but getting there as time allows.

Theres a new link to the right with my "Photostream" on it.

Its a work in progress.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Web site renovation...

Sometime in the next day or so, my website will be temporarily down for a few days. A main page will still be there in the interim, which will have links to a contact form, as well as this blog. The page will say "Closed for Remodeling" but nothing related to my site will burn to the ground in a mysterious fire soon after (Much like ,any Chicago area restaurants in the past). I'm way overdue for not only an update, but some major changes. My site will primarily be for those interested in my commercial portfolio and I have yet to choose a place for my art, most likely Flickr once I review their terms of service.

I still wont be using Flash, as I'd like my site to be viewed by any device.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remembering my High School photography classes.

While working on some images this evening, I was reminded of the two photography teachers I had in High School. Freshman year I had Mr. Duenow (sp?). He was a true artist who recognized and encouraged creativity along with the passion that powered it. Never afraid to critique, but never degrading. He taught how to look at things differently, then see more.

Senior year I had Mr. Currie. He was a narrow minded, controlling person who would give low grades to anybody who deviated from his (lack of) creative vision or produced work that didn't look like it came from the camera and eye of Ansel Adams himself. If you didn't play by his rules, he would go out of his way to embarrass you in front of the other students.

Mr. Duenow taught me how to bend/change the rules. Mr. Currie (inadvertently) taught me how to fracture them.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fine art photography, and places to show.

First off: This is pure opinion, based solely on my own experience. I claim no authority outside of my own experience in these matters, so take them as you may.

OK, so you want to show your photography as artwork somewhere. I haven't shown in many galleries so I couldn't begin to tell you how to go about it beyond just ask around and see what they say. You'll never know what kind of answer you'll get until you do and I believe that one way or another it'll be educational. A few years ago I called one gallery that a friend told me was interested in the works of local photographers and when I respectfully inquired I was treated to a barrage of rudeness from the manager that I just plain didn't expect, or deserve.

A few years later I encountered a gallery manager who was very nice and totally helpful. She explained to me why my (Then current)work wasn't of the subject matter they would be able to sell in their market. More importantly she went out of her way to make sure I understood because I informed her that while I had some commercial success, I was completely unfamiliar with the world of galleries. I left, well informed and wondering if I would ever get my work into mainstream galleries. I still communicate with her now and then on her invitation to do so.

I'd like to clarify something: My primary interest is success as a commercial photographer. Thats where I make my living. Art can be fun but it rarely pays the bills. Selling it can be a real (But still gratifying) challenge. How about some other venues? Coffee shops and restaurants. I've sold a few images here and there at both and one exhibition resulted in a commercial portrait job. Some places expect a percentage of sold work (I've seen the range from 15% to 50%) so you need to price accordingly. Odds are, the venue has a pretty good idea of what sells and for how much so it never hurts to seek advice from the owner/manager. On rare occasions, they don't know or care so you have to decide for yourself. Print sizes? Framed/Unframed? How much for each? What kind of frame will you use? If the frame looks like something cheap you got at Target, your potential customer will see that and it will affect their perception of your work and price. They will never forget, either.

Pricing- Like aspiring commercial photographers, don't sell yourself short. What is your artwork seriously worth? I refuse to sell any of my images for cheap. I put far to much work into them and when I print I use some of the most expensive materials in order to insure not only the highest quality image but archival permanence as well. Images printed just for display I may choose to print on more of a budget but that rare and really depends on the occasion but I never, ever deliver a cheap product to a customer. Like at the commercial level, giving away your efforts or selling them for far less than their actual value only gets your name out there and somebody who will work for cheap, or less.

Some places will allow you to move the lighting around, others will not. I've dealt with both. Try to avoid the places that don't allow proper position of lighting or inadequate lighting. If your work isn't properly shown, it'll never be noticed. Properly lit artwork gets it noticed. If you have a chance to show somewhere and the lighting is inadequate, consider a different venue. I'm not saying don't do it- Just be aware of your options.

How about details? Last year I had a showing at an incredibly unprofessional gallery which is no longer in business (Shocking, I know!) The first problem was in their promotional materials. Luckily I caught it before it went to the printer. They misspelled my last name. The email address I was using for all correspondence was one of my "" addresses so one would think it would be fairly easy to figure out how to spell my last name properly. They also had a few of my business cards, which should have been another clue. Initially I was told that they would take a 30% commission, which I felt was quite fair. By the time I was given a contract it stated 35%, which in itself was not much more but when I inquired about it I was lied to and in such a way that I told them that they should find another artist. If they approached me about in an honest and professional manner instead of just hoping I would sign the contract and not notice I would have agreed to the higher percentage without question.

About three days before the opening, one of my friends informed me that the link on the gallery's website to mine didn't work.- It was a "broken" link, giving the typical "page not found" error. Why? Because they once again misspelled my name. I was very angry and disappointed. My first action was to register the domain in they way they misspelled it, and have it forward to my existing site. I could not believe that after all our email communications, and my having to correct them regarding the promotional materials that they were still incapable of getting it right. Given the time until the opening I chose to not say anything until I arrived at the gallery to set up my images on the walls two days later. I had already signed the contract and was expecting many friends and associates there for the opening. I was obligated to see it through.

The day before the opening the owner asked me how things were going and I explained in a very calm manner how disappointed I was regarding how things were handled regarding the spelling my my last name and the (broken) link to my site. I kept calm and businesslike, never losing my cool throughout my explanation. Then she said something that made me lose a little control. She told me that if I had checked the link when she first put it up, she could have fixed it. I responded in a quiet but irritated tone that she had never informed that there was any link, and that even the most amateur of web designers had the intelligence to make sure links worked before a site went "live". Yes, at that point I was a little insulting and I didn't care. When she tried to put the blame on me that was enough. After that explanation, I informed her that it was time to change the subject because we had an opening to prepare for and her excuses were just wasting our time. A few minutes later I overheard her talking to her "curator" about how misspelling my name was no big deal and it happened all the time. A little bit later her "curator" came in to hand me a stack of papers. These were copies she put together of my bio and artists's statement. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when I noticed that my last name was yet agin misspelled. I thanked her, handing the pile back to her and informed her that they would not be needed because frost and foremost my last name was once again misspelled and I had brought my own cards which I would use instead. One of the things I do is whenever I have a showing is make my own promotional materials to hand out in the form of 4x6 cards with my self portrait and a statement, along with my contact information.
She actually seemed surprised by my statement.

After all that the opening went well, overall and I did end up selling a couple of pieces despite the owner and curator's almost complete lack of professionalism. The last problem came when it was time to pay me, which according to the contract would take place no later than 30 days from the time of sale, both of which took place on the opening night. The owner gave me many excuses until the 45th day, when I emailed her a copy of the contract signed by both her and I with the payment terms highlighted in bright green. I got my check a few days later. A few months after that she was out of business.

I have been recently asked to show an a local venue, but not until the early part of next year (Their schedule is already filled for 2010). I've checked the place out and it is well established, well lit and has an excellent reputation in the market. I'm looking forward to how it will go and have plenty of time to plan what I will show there.

I'll keep you posted, of course.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Potential customers and respect.

Respect is important no matter where you are. The professional photographic community is
a small world when it comes to reputations. In most cases, attitudes cost jobs and money.
A client is a customer and by that very aspect they get treated like they have a million dollar
job and they want you to shoot it for them. Its the same going down the ladder. An assistant
builds their reputation by serving the photographer. An experienced assistant can just about
anticipate the photographer's needs, if not at the very least listens and gets the job done. An
experienced assistant never forgets who their client is.

I'll tell you about three assistants I've had some kind of experience with over the years. I wont be mentioning names or gender because I'm not out there to hurt anybody. One of them I have
no idea as to their status nor do I care (As you'll understand why in the next paragraph), one is actively involved in the local industry, quite good at their job but dismissive of those whom are not well established in their eyes., and one who has gone on to be a highly competent
professional shooter who has built a great reputation and portfolio.

The first one was an angry know-it-all. I was at a social gathering for photographers and assistants a few years ago and was sitting at a table involved in a conversation with a few of each. One of the assistants was talking about how their studio strobe equipment was just sitting in a closet gathering dust from not being used. This assistant also was talking rather poorly of the market, the people in it in general. Some of us were talking about our favorite lighting equipment and I mentioned one particular piece I had and how happy I was with it. The bitter one commented to me "Well, that look is overrated." in an extremely condescending and arrogant tone to which I inquired how they knew exactly what I was shooting with it and the conclusion they had drawn. Instead of realizing their mistake they continued to speak like they had far greater experience than they actually had. This was when I noticed quite a few eyes at the table starting roll up. I then chose to tell this person that maybe there was another reason as to why that fancy strobe equipment of theirs was never getting used. This didn't stop them one bit- They were on a roll. I then asked for a business card and as it was handed me I was asked if I wanted to know their rates. I told this person that I wasn't interested in the rate. I just wanted to have their card so I'd remember who NOT to hire.

The second one is the perfect example of how to not treat a potential client. To an assistant, the photographer is the client. I got the impression from this assistant that I was not well established enough to want to work for and having my name on their resume would mean nothing. Almost every time I encountered this one I would eventually be treated to a dismissive attitude. If I was talking to other people and this assistant was present I would sooner or later see an eye roll. I had invited this assistant to come check out my studio (An invitation I extend to almost all I meet) and was usually treated to a negative response regarding how far away my studio was. At a recent gathering I bought this assistant a drink and they couldn't be troubled to even say thank you, along with appearing to forget that I had a studio in the first place. The final straw for me was a recent online conversation where I was treated to a rather arrogant explanation of something they did and that was enough for me. One more I will never hire.

The last one? I met him while working as an assistant for another photographer about 6 years ago. This one was diligent, attentive, never contradicted or argued and had a great attitude. Three years later when I had a shoot where I needed an assistant this one was the first to come to mind. The shoot went very well because of how my needs were anticipated and met at every turn. This particular assistant has since gone on to be a highly accomplished photographer and each year their client list and professional portfolio grows. I'm always happy to run into this particular shooter and hear that they are doing well.

Going up that ladder, those above you are potential clients. Be it an assistant working for a photographer or a photographer shooting for a client. Customer service and respect never changes.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Had a fun day today!

I packed up my gear with every intention of heading to the studio today then I saw the sun lighting up the ice that had collected on the trees and bushes around the neighborhood so I detoured across the street to the forest preserve. Walked around and took a few shots, then I decided to head North out to the 'burbs and my old stomping grounds- The Skokie Lagoons and I found even more cool stuff to shoot, at least to me.

Here you go:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nikon once again proves that high-end compact/point and shoot cameras are best left to others.

There is a category of small, compact cameras sometimes known as "Point and Shoot" but appeal more to the enthusiast, giving features formerly limited to SLRs' like full manual controls and the ability to provide what is called a RAW file, which is a completely unprocessed file allowing for a huge range of adjustment and manipulation. As it was once said to me by a great photographer: "The difference between a Jpeg and a RAW file is the difference between a nice snapshot and a pay day."

Some of the cameras fitting the category I've mentioned are: The Panasonic Lumix LX5, Canon Powershot G12 and S95, Olympus XZ-1 and at the high end- The Leica D-Lux 5. All these cameras are at the top of their category where they not only can be used as your basic point and shoots', but also give a full range of manual controls as well as the option of a RAW file output. The G12, LX5, XZ-1 and D-Lux 5 also give the nice feature of an optional external flash, and the G12 also offers a cool options of a twist/swing out LCD display AND an optical viewfinder. The LX5 and D-Lux 5 Offer an option electronic viewfinder as well.

Now along comes the Nikon Coolpix P300. Supposedly positioned to go up against Canon's S95 and Olympus XZ-1. Excerpted from Nikon's press release: "Created for the photo enthusiast who seeks creative control but will not compromise image quality for portability, the versatile P300 features manual controls, Optical Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, and ISO sensitivity up to 3200. These features help create low noise images and faster shutter speeds, which minimize motion blur in low-light conditions like night portraits, even when handheld."

Guess what? No RAW file. For me, and anybody else interested in a camera like this- Its useless.

Nice going Nikon. Who would have thought that the manufacturer of some of the finest Digital SLRs' and optics on the market could continually screw up something your competitors have been getting right for years.

Monday's light dusting of snow.

As some of you will know, we got a light dusting of snow yesterday afternoon. I was driving in it and in my newly found decaffeinated existence found more of a sense of wonder than anger bordering on road rage. I had my Leica D-Lux4 with me (It almost always is) which had proven itself more than up to the task on numerous occasions when I wanted to take a quick shot without the burden of my full size gear.

So, driving westbound on Petersen Ave, I saw something and took the shot:

There ya go.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chicago Blizzard 2011

Photographically speaking, I found the blizzard to be singularly uninspiring. I couldn't begin to tell you why but I saw nothing that made me want to pick up my camera and go shoot. Maybe its the fact that I'm old enough to have been though (now) 4 blizzards here. I actually found it kind of relaxing just to sit on the couch in my living room and watch it all blow by, except for the parts that stuck to the outer pane of my huge living room window.

The next day was a different story. After clearing some snow around the building and going up and down the sidewalk (One of my neighbors did it the night before, so I wanted to reciprocate) I was back on the couch, enjoying the sun when it broke though the clouds and I noticed the ice on the window was melting and slowly sliding down. I grabbed my camera, fitted it up with a macro lens and "went to town", finding all kinds of cool (Maybe just to me) shapes in the diminishing forms.

The objects of my fascination:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First post.

So where to start? This is my new 'blog. You either saw the link on my new homepage or I told you about it on Face Book. I'm slowly updating my website, just a little bit at a time because really- Thats all I have the patience for. A page or two here or there, upload some new images or remove some.

If you've seen the main page of my site before, you may notice that the image has changed. It was taken in Chicago's Millennium Park back in 2005. It was during the time that the rent-a-cops being used at the park were instructed by the city to harass anyone looking like a "professional" photographer for a city issued permit. To these people, a "professional" was looked upon as anybody with a tripod and/or a big (Larger than a point and shoot) camera. The permit that they were told to look for could be obtained from the city for somewhere between two and three hundred dollars. When I was shooting that first image, a young rent-a-cop literally rolled up to me (On a Segway) and belligerently asked if I had a permit. In the ensuing debate I was able to convince him that he had better things to do  than harass me for a permit I had no intention of paying for and I got my shot.

Not long after that, various news outlets carried the story of how that was happening to all kinds of people and the city relented, loudly deciding that only commercial photo shoots and film/video productions required a permit. Nice of them to make that decision for shooting in a public park, don't you think?

Subsequent trips to the part in order to shoot more usually resulted in one of the rent-a-cops pacing slowly back and forth in front of the "Bean" when they saw me trying to shoot (I'm sure they played this game with other photographers as well). Since I was usually shooting time exposures, they never actually showed up in the image.

So back to the main reason for this- First off, my site is going through a redesign. The format will be similar but I'm changing things up. Removing some old images and adding new ones. I figure this is a great way to do incremental updates. Also, maybe I can offer up some helpful information about my photographic experiences. That and the occasional opinion.