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An Update on Things

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post here but then again, I’ve been pretty busy elsewhere. The new job is going extremely well and there are many reasons for that but the one thing that I have noticed is how much I actually enjoy being employed in such a varied role.

My previous jobs, and my photography business, were essentially very specialised. I would concentrate on one thing at a time in incredible detail. Be it one line of code out of hundreds of thousands or one small part of one image or histogram, they all lead to a certain inward looking, insular working life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still doing all those things in my current role, but these are interspersed with many other activities.

On the coding front, the new corporate web site is in the latter stages of development and testing and is due for release on the 1st April (what a day to choose). It’s driven by the usual blend of php and mySql and really seems to work well. I’m very happy with the way it’s come together. I don’t think there’s another site in the market sector quite like it.

On the image front, I’ve been doing quite a bit of photography for the department and this is set to continue. I have a big portraiture shoot this Monday with a few others lined up after that one. In terms of stock photography sales, things have been varied. They are still coming in but prices seem to be quite a bit lower than when I first started. That, I guess, is entirely to be expected.

I did have one very good sale in excess of $750 a little while a go. A relatively difficult image to reproduce, hence the high price I suppose.

In other news, our dog …. the one that features in this picture blog and this preamble has recently passed away. Murphy was sometimes grumpy, often silly, but always lovely. He was only 6 years old, which is far too young really, and we all miss him very much still.

But what does it all mean?

I’ve had the following composite image kicking around in my collection for quite some time now. It was created as a concept book cover but though I am satisfied with the results I’ve kind of lost my way when it comes to pinning down what it all means. Despair, desolation, misery?

The reason I’m digging it up now is that I’m considering submitting it to my photo agency and as part of the submission process I need to provide some keywords for the image so that image researchers might be able to find it.

So here’s the thing. I’d be very grateful for any help with the keywords. What does this image mean to you? How does it make you feel? What might you type into a search box to find it?

Image spotting – a neat trick

There’s a lot to do when preparing imagery for submission to a stock photography agency. Disregarding subject matter and meta-data you have to make sure your histograms are up to scratch, your images are as sharp as can be, your filenames are acceptable, your images are within the correct saved file size range and uncompressed size range, your files are in the correct image format, you’re using the correct colour space and your images have been thoroughly spotted. This post is about the last of these; image spotting.

I submit a number of images on a semi-regular basis to the Alamy stock photography agency and I also offer an Alamy stock preparation service for other photographers. Both of these keep me busy with image preparation and the thing that generally takes the longest time is image spotting. It’s also a part of the process that can very easily lead to the rejection of a submission.

For those that don’t know what image spotting is it’s all to do with contamination, generally speaking of the digital camera’s sensor. Sensors attract dust and debris and these bits and bobs manifest themselves as dots, lines and splodges in the final image. The problem is exacerbated by lens changes and lessened by self cleaning sensors. Stock photographers are required to remove this spotting from images before sending them to their agency.

Spotting requires a good amount of concentration, a high boredom threshold and a certain amount of obsessiveness. The process goes something like this: Open image in Photoshop (or your favorite image editing package), zoom the image to 100%, go over the entire image in small manageable sections and use the “spot healing brush” or the clone tool to remove any spotting that you find. Most people don’t enjoy the job and nearly everyone misses something every now and again.

Though the whole image needs thorough checking it’s generally skies that reveal the most in the way of contamination (and birds which are often indistinguishable from dust spots).

Take this 100% crop from an image for example:


It’s dirty. Filthy dirty. Dirty enough to cause a quality control failure at any agency with an eagle eyed QC operative. Try moving your browser about slowly, move your eyes about, use peripheral vision too. There, top left … an inch from the top and just over an inch in from the left. A spot.

But there’s another. A big one. A splodge the size of a small moon and this one’s extremely difficult to see. But wait! There’s help in the form of a neat trick that I noticed recently on the Alamy stock agency forums. Phil Crean supplies the idea which involves adding a warming photo filter layer above the original image. In Photoshop this is done by Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Photo Filter->Warming Filter. This is what you get:


The original top left spot is now far clearer and so is the other splodge, lurking down towards the bottom right. Can you see it? In Photoshop CS57 use Select->Cleaning->Find Dirt, you should get this:


If only Photoshop could do that last bit. Anyhow, you should be able to see both bits of stuff now. A simple application of the healing brush on the image layer should deal with both problem areas.

Adding a filter layer is a neat trick and, depending on the image, can be refined by lowering the filter layer’s opacity on particularly dark images.

I would say now go and have fun but we both know that’s not going to happen.

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New photographs uploaded

I’ve uploaded a new collection of photographs to the gallery. These are only loosely connected by the fact that they were all taken on the Caribbean Island of Barbados during a recent trip there.

Bajan Sunset.
Speightstown Street.
Boat at sunset.
Sun loungers at sunset.
Speightstown Pier.
Wild Green Monkey.

I know, a lot of sunsets, but you know, you’re on a beach, you have a camera and the sun goes down.

The boat one was particularly exhausting to take as I was not happy with the position of the boat in the frame. To correct it I had to run at full pelt up the beach jumping over anything that got in my way. Run, run, run; lens cap off; camera up; hold breath; shoot. Phew. I looked very silly indeed.

Here’s a lightbox of photographs from the trip that I’ve submitted to my stock agency.

AlamyUpload and Alamy QC

Alamy have just rolled out their AlamyUpload service which allows contributors to upload images onto the Alamy system instead of having to mess about with all those CD and DVD submissions. I tried it out for the first time the other day and it all went very smoothly indeed. Well done to Alamy on that front.

I have also been reading about what seems like increased problems being experienced by some contributors regarding getting images through Alamy’s quality control. Now this may not be a bad thing; after all there have been complaints in the past regarding the quality of some of Alamy’s images. All is fair in love and war and if Alamy are seriously engaging in a QA strategy that raises the quality of their collection then good luck to them. Very wise indeed.

However, one complaint I have seen does concern me. That one relates to images being rejected for softness. Alamy do not allow any sharpening of any sort on contributions. Yet we have all experienced the soft images that come out of our digital cameras and we all know how well they can respond to sharpening. So there is a zone here of significant subjectivity.

Alamy take on a great number of images. There is going to be inconsistency in this subjective area and it is going to be an area of friction with the contributing community. Making images can be a difficult and drawn out process. It also costs contributers much in the way of time and money. To have a submission rejected when one cannot in all honesty see the reasoning behind the rejection must be extraordinarily frustrating.

Alamy blog

Well, that’s nice. Alamy have started up their own blog.

I was feeling a little sheepish all day yesterday as I stumbled upon their blog before the official release and announced it in the AlamyPro Yahoo group while also leaving a comment on the blog (first one, yay, though it was deleted when the blog went ‘live’). I quickly received a phone call from Alamy who were wondering how I had found out about it given that it was unreleased and unannounced. “I just followed the link on your web site”, I said. Ooops.

Anyhow, it’s now been officially announced and one of the things I expected to happen has happened. The comment section contains a fair sprinkling of questions that are entirely unrelated to the posting and which would better be directed at member services by email. But there you go, that’s people for you.

Alamy, I think, are going to have some community management issues. There’s only one way really to maintain a high level of information to noise in the comments and that’s to be pretty stringent with comment moderation. Either turn moderation on, which I hate in a community but which is sometimes necessary, or be pretty determined with the delete function. With so many contributing photographers it’s going to be a handful.

Trads vs LaughingStock

For those of you who do not lend your hand to the business of stock photography it will likely have gone unnoticed that the stock photography business is going through some significant changes. One of those changes is the explosion of microstock sites and the effect they are having on the stock landscape. For those that do not know, microstock is an image sales model where customers can download and use Royalty Free images for very small amounts of money, often as low as $1. The agency gets a percentage of the fee and the photographer usually gets a smaller percentage. Anyhow, it’s causing agitation between photographers selling images for higher amounts and the microstock shooters. Now that you have a veneer understanding of the battlefield it would be a good time to get to the point of this posting which is to direct you to this article on EPUK which had me laughing out loud:

There is, to put it mildly, little love lost between the microshooters and traditional stock photographers, and in particular microshooters and Getty stock photographers. The former disparagingly refer to the latter as Trads, while the latter, who prefer to describe themselves as artists, respond by calling the microshooters Laughing Stock. While the iStockers were celebrating the Getty deal in February, their new colleagues didn’t exactly welcome them into the family. Some of Getty’s artistes have an extraordinarily high opinion of themselves, and their reaction to the Getty-iStock nuptials was largely that of Lord Muck learning that his daughter had decided to elope with a Millwall fan.


An image hunting for a concept

Sometimes, just sometimes, I create an image that screams out stock to me but fails to provide any further indication of why that might be the case. This is one of those images.


I mean, what is the concept there? Sure there’s some kind of juxtaposition thing going on. There’s surprise perhaps. Maybe even something clever in terms of mixing/blending contexts. But what does it all mean?

It no longer screams out to me but is, instead, constantly whispering …… stock ….. stock …… but I just can’t see it.

Alamy plans ftp upload service for all photographers

The stock photography agency, Alamy, is preparing to move its photographer image submission process from a postal based CD/DVD submission one to a digital file upload one using ftp. The new service called AlamyUpload is still in development but in preparation Alamy now asks photographers to send images as JPEGs instead of Tiffs, though at the same 48mb size.

Personally I think that they are making a mistake in not running both CD/DVD and ftp submissions together. Certainly I have already read complaints from a number of photographers. Regardless of available broadband services there is a certain amount of pain involved in having to upload hundreds of images. A change in workflow will be required for many, perhaps preparing and uploading images in small batches ‘on the fly’ rather than gathering a large number of photographs together before a final DVD submission.

We shall have to wait and see how this works out. Perhaps Alamy will drop their 48mb size requirements when the system finally goes live. Compression gets these sizes down to reasonable levels but there are some worries about quality when it comes to decompressing these files back to 48mb from a jpg source especially for photographers with relatively low resolution kit, say 6 megapixel.