Monday, June 13, 2016

Channeling the Buying Impulse

We all want progress.  Often the progress I most fervently desire is forward movement in my career: more jobs, better jobs.  When I hit a lull, waiting for the next opportunity is hard.  I quickly exhaust my techniques for "goosing" new business into being, and I'm left with this need, this yearning for forward movement.  If I can't get better jobs, I want better tools, better capabilities, better photos.  Buying some new piece of equipment is a nice, easy solution.  It's fast. It doesn't over-commit my time.  It's definitive, cheap progress.

The problem isn't just the rapid decrease in my bank account.  Like cotton candy, the "buying solution" lasts about as long as a sugar high.  Within days I need another fix. Photography is first and foremost about problem solving: how to work with a given light, a given architecture, a given person.  I've already got a robust set of photography tools, so I'm much better off learning how to use them better to solve problems. 

Which is basically the answer to re-channeling my impulse to buy more gear.  Shooting is a lot more satisfying than buying.  The challenge is how to shoot without having the driving purpose of a job.  A job focuses the activity, raises the stakes, and provides a nice clean finish.  But if I know that my impulse to buy more gear is really about a desire for progress, for improvement, than it becomes just a little bit easier to tame that buying impulse.  I can make that conscious effort to put down the cotton candy and make some soup.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sony a7Sii Joshua Tree Review

Continuing my extended review of the Sony a7Sii (you can read the general overview and the wedding reviews on my blog), I took it to Sequoia National Park and Joshua Tree to see how it would perform (and to deepen my knowledge of the camera).  Being mirrorless-- and a Sony-- its operation is significantly different than my other two cameras.  And in all fairness it has an incredibly high bar to pass in order to make it into my camera bag.  The Nikon D600 (my workhorse) was rated with the 3rd best DSLR sensor when it was released; my Pentax 645D was similarly at the top of its class, only within the even more demanding medium-sensor competition.  So how did the a7Sii fare?

To start let me say that I never intended the Sony to be a primary camera, only a solid backup.  I don't like having identical systems for 1st and 2nd cameras. Since cameras so rarely fail, I like my 2nd to offer something different in terms of tonal quality or features.  I want it to be something I'll use during a session even when my primary kit is functioning just fine.  To that end, the Sony doesn't disappoint.  But let me start with the specifics.

The Good
I wanted to play with the a7Sii with some landscape opportunities; I'd already found that the ever-so-slight shutter lag made it less than ideal for events and sports; I wanted to see how it performed with a still subject.  Normally, I'd chose the Pentax 645D for this job.  And let's be honest-- it's unfair to pit a 12MB full-sized sensor against at 40MB medium format sensor.  The Pentax surpasses in detail and texture.  Still, the Sony does quite well on its own terms.  While the image quality is not quite on par with even my Nikon, it's clearly ahead of smaller sensor cameras, and many full-framed ones too.  Also, the Pentax is freakin' huge; it's not suited for hardcore traveling.  The Sony is the smallest of the trio, and in some respects (silent shutter, low-profile, and tilting LCD) the most versatile.  So even though it doesn't have the same detail and textural depth, I'd still list image quality in the "good" section.

With landscape (and portraiture and architecture), you don't notice the ever-so-slight shutter lag.  The issue doesn't distract in the slightest.

The dynamic range is pretty impressive; it may even surpass my Nikon-- I'll have to test that further.  What makes it so good is that the camera resists blowing out.  You can see it in the blue skies-- I did very little to pull them out in these images.  The darker zones are sometimes a bit mushy, but the camera works hard to keep everything within range.

I'll repeat myself now: the Sony a7Sii is incredibly fun to shoot.  It just feels good.  And the versatility I mentioned before gives it a flexibility that's hard to match.  So even if my other cameras produce better images, there will still be times when I'll chose it above the rest.

A simple $20 adapter allows me to use some incredible Nikon glass. This is the 50mm f/1.2.

Because you can quickly zoom in (I've assigned the Zoom to the button nearest the shutter), focusing with a manual lens is quite quick and beautifully accurate.

The Not-So-Good
When it comes to landscape photography, the Sony really doesn't have any major flaws.  If you're a professional landscape photographer the low resolution (12MB) sensor is an obvious and insurmountable problem. But for the rest of us it does quite well.  And if you use a better lens, you'll get some of that detail and sharpness back.  12MP with excellent glass is sharper than 16MP with mediocre glass.

In scenes with a wide dynamic range, the viewfinder and LCD often make the brightest portions appear blown out.  But just on the screen-- not the image itself.  To compensate,  I took to always having the histogram up in shooting mode so I could tell what was really happening.  It's not blown out, the viewfinder/LCD just doesn't have the same dynamic range as the image.

Color.  Color? Color....  I'm pretty mixed on this one.  Shooting in RAW and converting with Adobe DNG converter, the colors are oddly muted.  Not just muted, oddly so.  You can pull a lot of richness back (in fact the raw files are quite flexible), but it takes more tweaking than with either of my other cameras.  I also, I find it needs a little more sharpening.  I think those qualities qualify as a negative.

But really, there's not much else in the negative.

The wife... tree hugging.

The Verdict
The Sony does a very good job of challenging my Nikon for travel photography.  The smaller size and versatility make it a difficult camera to leave at home.  Let's see what I do the next time I take a major trip (okay, let's be honest, I'll probably take both since the Sony can use the Nikon lenses).  The a7Sii is quite capable for landscape photography, just so long as you don't need a huge amount of detail.  Again, it wouldn't be the choice of a professional in that field, but rather a professional photographer looking for either a solid second camera or dabbling in a field that's not his/her/they specialty.

At times I felt there was some very safely "middle-ground" about the camera.  With the kit lens, it's easy for the images to be good yet unexceptional.  However, I think that with better lenses and a deeper understanding of the camera's qualities it will be possible to create some truly exceptional images.  These images, by the way, were tweaked for color and sharpness, but I didn't take the time to try and find their full potential.

The a7Sii is, of course, really designed for video.  Still images are secondary.  If you judge it as a video camera first and a still camera second, the Sony a7Sii is better than its aspirations:  I'll never grab my Nikon above the Sony for video, but there are times I'd grab the Sony first when shooting still images, which speaks volumes.  And if I had to give up one of my three cameras today, I'd let go of the Pentax.  The image quality is superb, but it can't compete on versatility.  In comparison, it's a boutique camera, a tool for a specific purpose.

Nuts!  I left my tripod at home.  This image was shot with the camera propped on my bag to reduce shake....  Also, in  the dark I couldn't find the shutter delay option, so two strikes against. me.  That functionality is a bit buried in the menu.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Creating Facebook Videos that Work

Tips for Making Facebook Videos the Sell

Today we posted an article on our other blog at Hurricane Images Inc.  Like it or not, Facebook is almost a ubiquitous presence in our lives.  And increasingly it’s become important for small businesses-- for branding, customer relations, and marketing.  Creating video for Facebook isn’t like creating video for other platforms, though. It’s a unique interaction, and if you’re going to be successful, your video should be custom built for the platform.  I'm posting the first five tips here.  If you like them, mosey on over to Hurricane Images Inc to read the next five.  And a little lagniappe.

1. Create for Facebook.  This means design your video for how people will watch it on Facebook, and upload it directly to Facebook.  Attention spans are short, 85% of videos are watched with the sound off. Facebook gives priority to their “own” content, versus Youtube links.  So design your content for the medium.  Marketing is only an expense when it doesn’t work; otherwise it’s a profitable investment.

2. Start hard.  The first three 2 seconds have to stop them in their tracks because viewers are scrolling downwards through their feed.

3. Make your visuals lively.  Seems like this goes without saying, but the visuals have to be striking.  This isn’t a medium that does well with elegance, slow moving frames, or talking heads.

4. Be unbelievable brief:  2-30 seconds is perfect.  Anything over 60 seconds is lost. What’s worse, if you bore them they’ll walk away with a negative impression.  So what if you have more to say? Create a second, longer video and link to it.  Or your website.  “Want to learn more, visit:”

5. Call to action.  Tell them what they should do.  It doesn’t have to be “buy my product;” it can be as simple as “learn more.” Go to the “Edit Video” section of your video and under the “Call to Action” section, you will find various options (Learn More, Watch More, Shop Now, Book Now, Sign Up and Download).

Want more?  Read on.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Pinterest Tools - a review of Copublish, a free management tool

Pinterest tools for selling your work

I don't enjoy social media (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.), so anything that makes interacting with those platforms easier is a real boon.  There's a lot to debate about the usefulness of these tools, too.  Having that video or image that goes "viral," attracting ridiculous amounts of attention and praise... well, who can argue against the success of that?  But if it's not a phenomenon you can consistently replicate-- or that even has a solid set of guideposts for increasing your chances-- then it's not exactly a "business activity."  That isn't to suggest social media tools aren't of value.  If you run an Etsy or online shop-- a venue that opens you up to national and international customers-- these tools have a necessary place in your marketing outreach.  Especially a tool like Pinterest which puts your product in front of people with an interest.  Connecting people with common interests is Pinterest's strength, and the network is global.

As a photographer and videographer (who is geographically limited), Pinterest is less practical; I don't benefit from admirers in Australia, or even Alabama.  But I do believe it has a small place in my toolbox.  My goal is for someone local to see my "product" and reach out.

Having a "small" place in my toolbox means I want it to take a "small" amount of time (and a small amount of cost), so I started looking for free tools to manage my posts.  Like all social media tools, regular posting is important.  I wanted a tool I could use to schedule a week's worth of posts and then ignore.  And I wanted it to be free.  There are some paid options (like, but few in the free category.  In fact, I found only one: Copublish (

So does it work?

Copublish lets you schedule your pins in advance, describe and tag them, and track their analytics (though I don't think they do this any better than Pinterest).  The interface is simple and attractive, though I found it a bit buggy.  After I set up my account, I added a new board to Pinterest.  Copublish couldn't "see" the new board.  So I un-linked my Pinterest account from Copublish and tried linking it again, but it wouldn't.  I'd give it permission to post to my Pinterest account and it would keep telling me I didn't have any accounts linked to Copublish.  I emailed tech support and they responded really quickly (like five minutes later), asking a question.  But then they didn't respond after I gave them the answer.  I suspected that the problem has related to how Copublish "refreshes" its data, so I waited and day and sure enough it was working again.  Since then I've scheduled two weeks of posts to two different boards.  On the whole, I'd rate Copublish a B-.  It's working well now, but I worry about what will happen if I add a new board.  If it can handle that, I'd upgrade it to a B+.

Ultimately, of course, the most successful Pinterest campaigns are run by people who love Pinterest, post regularly by hand, and are interacting with other users.  If Pinterest is an important tool for your business, I wouldn't skimp on your time investment.  For those of us who are social media introverts, Copublish is a handy tool.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

8 Tips for Building Intimacy in a Session

Intimate Unique engagement photos by Hurricane Images Inc

When people pay money for a photography session, the expectations are high.  Excitement builds.  The session itself becomes an experience, and adventure.  It's easy to forget how much risk is involved for the client.  They're paying money to someone they don't really know, then putting themselves in a position where they could look "bad."  There's something inherently intimate about photography.  When I shoot weddings I'm deeply aware that I'm often seeing more of the wedding than the bride and groom, and capturing the most intimate parts of it.  And weddings aren't the only "life-changing" experiences that I've had the honor of photographing at Hurricane Images Inc.

Hurricane Images Inc Named Oakland's Top Portrait Photographer in 2016

So how do you build the trust and intimacy needed to make the client comfortable and the experience memorable?  Here are eight tips:

  1. Be professional.  That means be on time, return emails and calls promptly, have a contract, and come prepared.  And don’t look like you just rolled out of bed.
  2. Listen first.  Ask questions.  By the end of the session you should know what they’re using the photos for, what they do for a living, whether they have kids, what they’re doing after this, and maybe their hobbies.
  3. Share something of yourself.  Unless they ask a specific question, I usually share something about the business of photography-- what I like about it, how long I’ve been doing it, a session that meant something or was funny.  Engage in a real conversation.
  4. Develop of list of “supportive” words: that’s great, perfect, looks good, that’s awesome, just like that....  Use them constantly.
  5. Show them the back of the camera.  If you like what you see, share it. It builds confidence and gets them excited.
  6. Never cross the touch barrier.  Except, well, sometimes you can.  The best and safest rule is to never touch a client or model; instead, mirror how you want them to be physically.  This is a great way to build trust, because it requires a certain amount of silliness.  But it would be disingenuous to say I’ve never moved a client’s elbow or brushed an errant hair out of the way when they couldn’t physically do it for themselves. But you need to have established a lot of trust before that barrier gets broken, and you need to be able to read your client well.  There are some whom I’d never dream to touching beyond the handshake.
  7. Don't rush.  I'll take a good hour to shoot a business headshot if the client isn't in a hurry.  Yes, I can do it in 15 minutes, but the only thing memorable about it will be how much those 900 seconds cost. 
  8. Enjoy yourself.  They will, too.