Monday, September 29, 2008

Everybody Needs a Good Charger: La Cross BC-900

I just put in my order for the La Crosse Technology BC-900 on Amazon for $40. With an extra SB-20 (actually, two more, but one isn't working) I'm going to need to have more Ni-MH batteries in the rotation. Plus, my son just got a Game Boy Advance, which is pretty frugal on batteries, but it'll be nice to have some rechargeables for it. My goal is to never buy an alkaline battery again!

My existing charger is as old as it could possibly be, a Radioshack fast-charging model bought soon after NiMHs came out. Let's just say it does a good job of making the batteries VERY hot, which is horrible for battery life.

If you charge a decent number of batteries (running flashes, for example!), it is worth getting a "good" charger for battery conditioning. If you charge a LOT of batteries, you could get a second 8-cell slow charger, but you'll still want to be able to test and condition batteries with a good charger. Good chargers like the BC-900:

  1. Charge each cell individually (so you don't have to match discharge state)
  2. Give you status on the condition of each cell in mAH capacity (so you can toss the bad ones)
  3. Monitor temperature when charging (the number one destroyer of NiMH batteries)
  4. Never overcharge the batteries
  5. Do conditioning cycles (discharge fully, then recharge)
  6. Give you full control over charging rate (if you have time, do the safer, slow charge)
I'll review the BC-900 when I get it, but Amazon has great reviews on the BC-900 and it's competitors. The high-level survey is:
  • La Crosse Technology BC-900 AlphaPower Battery Charger ($40 shipped) Actually the older model, although it charges at higher currents than the BC700 (1000mA and 1800mA). Includes 4AA and 4AAA batteries (not great capacity, but you can always use more batteries), 4 C and 4 D adapters (letting you put your AA batteries into units that take C or D batteries -- my daughter has a toy that could use those!), and a carrying case (which I don't really care about).
  • La Crosse Technology BC-700 Alpha Power Battery Charger ($30 shipped) This is the newer model and it may have slightly newer firmware (charging logic). Nothing has been published about firmware differences though, so I expect they're slight if anything. Doesn't include batteries, adapters, or case. But cheaper!
  • Maha Powerex MH-C9000 WizardOne Charger-Analyzer ($64 shipped) The big momma charger on the block, allowing 2000mA charging rates for all four batteries (the BC-900 can only charge at 1800mA for two). More expensive, though, and the user interface is annoying. Does include a few more reconditioning/break-in features that the La Crosse chargers don't have. I think it includes 4 batteries, but I haven't been able to confirm.
  • Sony BCG-34HRMF4 Battery Charger with LCD Display and 4 AA Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries ($29 shipped) This is probably the best of the rest, but it lacks a display of the actual capacity of the batteries and instead displays 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, full for each cell. The price includes 4 AA batteries (2300mAh, I think). If you are really tight on money, this might be a good option.
(mouse-over those links to see current prices)

I went with the BC-900 because I'd like to have that extra 33% charging rate in case I need to get some batteries charged in a hurry and the extras (8 batteries, adapters, case) make the extra $10 worth it. I'll let you know how it works when I get it!

Also, it is worth noting that the prices on these chargers fluctuate A LOT and it appears they're currently lower than they've ever been before. It's a good time to buy!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Few Things I Learned in Nice, France

I meant to post this a few days ago (in the middle of my trip) but it kept getting put off... I'll have more pictures in a few days once I get home to a computer that can actually handle images without slowing way down...

Anyway, here's a few things I learned in Nice, France:

  • Look both ways before you cross the street. Then... look again just in case. Those little scooters move fast!
  • You can tell a lot about what a culture values based on shelf-space in a supermarket. The French value cheese, hard-crusted bread, olive oil, and hosiery. Americans value fresh milk in volume and breakfast cereal.
  • ATMs are a better way to get euros than currency exchange. Some people say they have hefty fees (although my statement hasn't reflected any huge fees). But, either way, withdraw in large chunks just to be safe.
  • Apparently, if your waiter says his credit card machine is broken, that means you have the wrong kind of credit card (I guess American cards do not have a microchip to make them "smart" like European cards). I got that once at a local restaurant. In other words, never assume you can just use credit!
  • You CAN drink the water. At least in the cities.
  • It is hard to buy food in volume, at least in the city. I'm not even sure if they have a Costco equivalent here! As an example, at right is a standard size of tomato sauce. As in the second largest (the largest is about a pint!).
  • The most important word to know is 'toilette'. At least three times I've been in a museum/restaurant/etc and asked for a bathroom and was met with very strange looks. One time, I completely forgot the French word and tried restroom, bathroom, etc. All I got was a blank look. So I went back and asked the guys I was with for the word, and when I said toilette to the server it was an immediate look of understanding.
  • Tipping is not really mandatory, but it's ok to leave a little if you want to. That, and no taxes, means that a dish listed on the menu for 15 euros will cost you... 15 euros. It has been glorious not to worry about the extra cost of items!
  • Nobody owns a cloths dryer. That's what your window is for! Although, my hotel expressly forbids hanging clothes to dry on the balcony!
  • Some toilets have two buttons. These can be confusing, especially when I don't know which button is for Number 1 and which is for Number 2. I love the idea though, and it'd be great for our house at night ("If it's yellow, let it mellow...").
  • If you can, avoid taxis. Apparently I'm going to be paying 30 euros tomorrow (about $45) for a 6 km ride to the airport. Most buses are $1 and trains are quite inexpensive too.
  • After five years of French in high school (and a delay of 13 years), 90% of French people speak better English than I speak French. Of the other 10%, most would not want to get into a conversation with a tourist anyway. (In the interest of not making anyone angry, I should say that almost everyone here is very nice and friendly -- they just all speak English very well!)
Anyway, I'll get more pictures up in a few days. I enjoyed my stay, but I'm definitely ready to go home now!

Microstock: First Sale!

I had my first microstock sale ever at Fotolia yesterday and it turns out to be the very first photo I uploaded to any microstock site!

Of course, I can't get too excited, because someone ordered the smallest possible size and I made a grand total of 33 cents. But it is something, at least :)

BTW, I've got about four posts in various stages of completion which I'll get up when I return to the States. My time in Nice has been a good vacation, although I haven't been focusing on photography too much (in other words -- don't expect any great pictures from it).

Also, today I'm hoping to visit a photography museum here in Nice. Hopefully it's nice! (har, har, har)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Microstock: More Rejections

I had a few more rejects from Dreamstime (12 of 16 images approved, 4 images pending) which are listed on this page. Also, of 19 submissions to Fotolia, 11 were approved, which is about what I expected. Dreamstime is more lenient than Fotolia, at least from what I've heard. I'll post more about my recent experiences with Fotolia in the future -- the tentative title is called 'Fun with Keywording the Second Time'...

The light-painted cash shot that opens the post isn't too much of a surprise; microstock hates underexposure, especially if certain items (like the coins) aren't recognizable. I should have known better on that one. Oddly enough, Fotolia approved the image. Other low key images haven't done well, including the Angry Blender (didn't bother submitting it to Fotolia) and Jeju Sunrise (FT rejected, DT pending). On all these images I actually spent a lot of time playing with the image to improve contrast -- I tried doing an HDR-type process on Jeju Sunrise but the sand had a lot of artifacts so I put that off and submitted the low-key version.

My two bee images took a hit too on both sites, although I went in to the process knowing the detail wasn't quite there in both images. The second image I went back and forth on submitting it because the composition just didn't seem right (and that nasty shadow on the bee's back) but went ahead and submitted it anyway.

Both images were rejected from DT for poor lighting/contrast/exposure and subject too common or two specific. The better of the images (the first) made it through at Fotolia though and the second was rejected for quality of the photograph.

Really surprising with the rejection of both fuchsia shots at Fotolia for overabundant photo category. While they have a ton of fuchsia shots, one one is on black and it seems significantly different from my shots. Personally, I was a bit surprised the shots were accepted at Dreamstime because I blew some highlights and couldn't get them back. Oh well...

Even more surprising was Fotolia's rejection of my Green Stairway shot from Jeju. They said that:

The photographs in the Fotolia database are intended for sale as illustration of brochures, magazines, websites, and presentations. Your photographic work is excellent but does not meet the needs of the Fotolia customer base.
Sorry, but I disagree on that one. It's a solid image that has more merit than many of my other shots that were accepted!

Finally, Fotolia rejected three shots which included the Stanford dish (I don't have them elsewhere on the site, but they are pretty good -- I'll see if I can add them to this post tonight). They cited quality of the photograph, but I really don't see that. Those images were technically pretty good and I feel like they maybe rejected for another reason. Oh well, I'll see how they do at Dreamstime in a few days.

This post might seem like a big complaint about my rejections, but it is anything but. In 75% of cases, I agree with the rejections (and I feel that some of my shots should have been rejected but weren't). More importantly, I'm putting this stuff up to give anyone new to microstock an idea of what is declined, refused, and rejected.

The rejections don't bother me that much. At this point, I'm getting more worried about the commercial nature of my portfolio in general and the economics of it all. But that's another post altogether...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Microstock: First Refusal

Dreamstime gave me my first refusal today for the Angry Blender image above, stating:

  • We have reviewed your file and this is not quite what we're looking for.
  • Lack of composition. Please visit the Stock Photo Utilities section of our site or the message boards for more information on how to produce stock-oriented images.
  • Poor lighting setup, poor contrast or incorrect exposure.
I've looked over the image again, and I have to admit -- I agree.

There isn't enough contrast in the face to draw the eye to it. Granted, this is one of my favorite images, but I need to dodge the "face" of the blender a bit more. But... I'm not going to bother, because let's face it -- it wouldn't do that well in stock anyway. Honestly... who could need an angry blender for their layout?

While it is a bummer to get an image rejected, I'm pretty surprised it hadn't happened yet (nine of ten images have passed). I'll take a 90% acceptance rate anytime.

P.S. Currently, the approval wait at Dreamstime is 5-6 days along with 1-2 days of wait for indexing into search. This means a wait of about a week from submission to images getting views. Don't expect to make money fast, that's for sure!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Microstock: Current Update

There's a number of things I want to comment on related to microstock, so I'll just lump them all into one post.

Currently I've got three images approved at Dreamstime (still 100% acceptance!) with 13 more pending. I've also got four more in various stages of keywording and editing that should be submitted tomorrow at the latest. I even decided against submitting two (pretty nice, IMHO) shots of Alcatraz after I realized there were near-identical shots already in the Dreamstime system.

Overall, I'd say I dread keywording the most since images tend to stay in the pre-keyworded stage longer than any other stage (except maybe the "add more blue to the sky" stage -- see tutorial here!). Overall, I probably spend more time editing submissions than I need to -- the users of the images likely edit them some too. But, it is nice to know that I'm building a folder of quality, edited images (including IPTC tags) that I can submit where ever I want.

That said, I've got three images active at Dreamstime with a combined 35 views and no sales. I'm beginning to suspect that my typical subjects (birds, nature, travel, etc.) and style (dark backgrounds if I do isolation) probably will not sell that well in microstock. But, by the time I go to the conference in France in less than two weeks, I'd like to have fifty images submitted, and I'm bound to make some sales with that many images live.

I'm still going to wait a bit before applying to the bigger agencies (IStock and Shutterstock) because they need portfolios to review and I want to see which of my images sell well. But, I was looking through Arcurs's two minute agency overview and I noticed his second place earner is Fotolia, which doesn't require an application process to submit images. So I think my next submission location, starting in a few days, will be Fotolia.

Actually, I should mention, the general buzz on Fotolia is quite inconsistent. People tend to be polarized about the site, either making lots of sales or very few at all. There's also rumors of nasty, quasi-identity theft, drivers license submission requirements and a much reduced acceptance rate. At this point though, I'm just going to give them a shot. After I get 20 images uploaded to Dreamstime, I'll take that twenty and submit them to Fotolia and see what happens.

And guess what? The first person to leave a comment with a Fotolia referral link (or a web page with your referral links) will get my Fotolia referral!

Just my way of rewarding one of my readers!

(I'm also curious to see how long it will take before someone actually offers me a link -- if it takes more than a day or two, I'll just go with Yuri Arcurs's link, as much as the Yuri Arcurs Distribution Network weirds me out!)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Flashing Hummingbirds

Friday night, as we ate dinner out on the back patio, the hummingbirds were still buzzing around the feeder above our heads. So, in typical Strobist "light-it-if-it-moves" fashion, I though, "I wonder if I can get some light on them with a flash?"

About half an hour later I had the shots on this page.

They aren't perfect. In particular, to keep the background (the sky) from ghosting horribly at the 1/250 sec sync speed I had to crank the flash up and close down the aperture (anywhere from f/8 to f/13). Even with that, there was still decent ghosting.

Also, the hummers were a bit wary of me and my equipment so I couldn't stand up and had to shoot up at them (with the flash in shallow camera right aiming up at them too).

After the first few sequences of shots the birds stayed away from me in general, possibly because every time they tried to eat there was a loud clicking noise and flashing lights!

Also, two of the male Anna's hummingbirds were having a little turf war and everytime one came near the feeder the other would start buzz-bombing runs at it.

I'd like to try it again, but I want to figure out a way to get a better (darker) background, a more pleasing angle, and a closer shot.

I also need to figure out why I had noticeable noise in the blue sky at ISO 100. Maybe the blue filters are more sensitive to noise? Something in the back of my memory tells me there's a connection between our lack of blue sensitivity and a camera's.

At least I got a Microstock shot out of it! (the second one from the top)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Microstock: A Keywording How-to

Selling images in microstock requires getting past a number of obstacles:

  1. You need to acquire an image (i.e. take the picture).
  2. You need to post-process that image.
  3. You need to upload, keyword, and classify the image.
  4. You need to get the image approved by the microstock site.
  5. You need to get people to see the image.
  6. You need people to buy the image once they've seen it.
Of these obstacles, I'd say the biggest problem is just getting people to see the image (#5). If they don't see it, they can't buy it. #1 is important, but let's face it, if you can't do #1, you shouldn't be in microstock. But actually getting people to look at your image and consider it for purchase is what drives your profit.

The biggest bottleneck for getting past #5 (aside from which site you use -- I'm not getting into that right now) is keywording. Keywords are the ONLY WAY someone will ever look at your image instead of the other millions on the site. But, let's face it, keywords are probably one of the least fun parts of microstock.

You could, of course, pay for someone to keyword your images for you. Dreamstime, in fact, offers an option for someone to keyword each image for $0.40. There's other places on the net that will do it for $1 or more an image. If you know your images will sell, that's probably a good deal. And professional keywording likely has good value because they (should) know what will get your image seen. But, for a beginner, paying for keywording is silly because likely only a small percentage of your images will ever sell. So it is worth learning to keyword.

I'll explain how I manage workflow later, so for now, let me explain what I've been doing for keywording.

First, I'll take a look at my image and enumerate every possible word I can think of that directly hits the topic of my image. I usually avoid very general words (like animal, although it probably doesn't hurt to have it) and focus on obvious things. For instance, take my first submission (which needs to be re-keyworded anyway):

Snowy Egret in Autumn

First, I write out a title and description. I don't usually go all out on the descriptions -- as far as I can tell, they are not as important as keywords. In this case, the description is: A Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) wading in a stream in Autumn. (BTW, the picture was actually taken in December which probably isn't technically autumn season. But it looks like autumn, so...)

Next, I enumerate all the keywords I can think of including any words in my description. In this case, I can come up with:
snowy egret autumn bird egret egretta thula fall stream wading walking water white leaf leaves
Formatting doesn't matter much -- as far as I can tell the sites strip out formatting anyway. In particular, this means that 'snowy egret' is treated as two words. I also make sure to get the scientific name in case someone searches on it.

The fact of the matter is I might have missed some keywords.

I could sit around and ponder for a while to come up with more, but that would take a while.

Or, I could search at the microstock site for images that have sold well and look through their keywords for ideas. Of course, this requires a bunch of searches which make take some time. Or...

I could use Yuri Arcurs's! (And yes, I realize the real web address is not, but gets redirected there.) PhotoKeywords automates the search for you -- just put in some keywords, select images that are similar to yours, then select the keywords you want to use and it puts them in a handy list for you!

In this case, I searched with snowy egret and selected about 30 words, most of which I didn't have:
animal, aquatic, ardeidae, avian, beak, beauty, bill, bird, egret, egretta, feather, fisher, grace, heron, marsh, nature, neoaves, neognathae, neornithes, park, plumage, snowy, snowy-egret, swamp, thula, water, waterfowl, wetland, white, wilderness
Note that a lot of these I didn't think of, including general bird things (avian, beak, feather, etc), further classification terms (neoaves, neognathae, etc), and environmental things (wetland, wilderness, etc).

Now, I could carefully search through these words, format them, and get rid of duplicates. Or, I could just paste all my words into the Dreamstime interface and let it sort them for me! The final keyword list that results is:
animal aquatic ardeidae autumn avian beak beauty bill bird egret egretta fall feather fisher grace heron leaf leaves marsh nature neoaves neognathae neornithes park plumage snowy stream swamp thula wading walking water waterfowl wetland white wilderness
You can see this same keyword list on the Dreamstime page for my image (click the image above).

Ok, I hope that brief intro to an effective keywording scheme is helpful to you. Or if you are experienced and there are tricks you use that I haven't mentioned, please post in the comments! Keywording is something that you can get pretty good at quickly, but there is always room to improve.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Microstock: First Image Approved!

I logged in to Dreamstime this morning and found that my first image was approved!

1 for 1, baby!

Of course, one view and no sales = no money yet.

My profile is here.

Update: Hmmm... If I search for my image, I can't find it. Maybe it takes a while to get indexed into their search? Or maybe the search engine doesn't show your own images? (no, because it also doesn't show up if I log out).

Update #2 (9/5): I just got this from Dreamstime:

"Congratulations, your image has been approved and will be available online soon. Please note that it may take up to 24-48 hours for the image to show up in all areas of the website."
That explains it -- it takes a little while for images to get into search. And, lo and behold, my image shows up in search now. It has four views so far, but not sure how many are mine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Microstock: Update and Random Comments

Some my recent activities relating to MicroStock and ideas floating around in my grey matter:

  • Approx 68 hours left until my first image is reviewed.
  • The search function at Dreamstime is working for me again, and the word of the day is intimidating. Yes, I knew Dreamstime has a few million photos (currently 3,668,371 from 44,500 photographers) but until I actually started searching and see the competition, I didn't really comprehend what that means. To put it narrowly, a search for snowy egret yields 235 images. Some are worse than my image, but many are better; think about it -- how can you compete with over 200 other images?
  • I'm not too convinced my egret image will be accepted... See above point.
  • I received $5 in my account for linking Dreamstime. That was pretty easy money.
  • Yesterday I spent over 10 hours tutoring and driving between sessions... on Labor Day. How'd most people's day off get to be my busiest day in over six months? But I made way more than I will make in microstock in the forseeable future.
  • I've started searching through my archives for stock-worthy images. I've chosen out maybe 100 images so far (about half-way done) of which maybe 20-30 will be submitted. I'm really liking Bibble Pro for the job though -- tagging can be done within the program so I can save a lot of time (hypothetically, we'll see when I start uploading). The goal is to upload a bunch to Dreamstime, then the ones that succeed will be part of the pool I draw from to go through the multi-image application at other sites.
  • I just bought a second SB-20 on eBay today for $25 (inc. shipping). It's no secret I think the SB-20 is the best used flash deal out there (see my review)!
  • The motivation for the SB-20 was to allow me to try out Zach's white seamless tutorials... which has really inspired me and I think I can pull it off in my garage with not much trouble. But I need that second background light!
That's it for now!