Lori Carey Photography

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

My blog is called OffTopic for a reason; although I stick with subjects related to photography, I reserve the right to write about whatever happens to be on my mind. Hey, at least I'm not just regurgitating information from other blogs or websites, right? ;) In a radical departure from my usual tone I'm going to vent today. Sorry, can't help it. I just turned down an opportunity to shoot a multi-million dollar house because I know that I do not have the skills to pull off an architectural shoot of that caliber and do it justice. I am not an architectural photographer. I do, however, know someone who is a fantastic architectural photographer who will do justice to a $15 million home (and yes, that name was passed on).

What got me going is repeatedly having to deal with the growing acceptance of mediocrity as the expected norm in all areas of our lives. I could go on and on with examples; it's become incredibly pervasive. It's probably my number one pet peeve. There was a time when I used to let this kind of thing go; I used to just shake my head, chuckle to myself while mumbling something unkind and then move on. But I'm just getting a little tired of it.

This time it was Rangefinder Magazine that set me off. Rangefinder calls itself "The Magazine for Professional Photographers", so I hold it to high standards. Recently they have been publishing a monthly series of articles on Profitable Website Management written by a professional photographer who also has a background in "Web development", among other things (sales, information security...). I'm not naming names...if you want to know you will have to do the research yourself. It's not my style to call people out that way and the information is relatively easy to find.

The October article (yes, I am that far behind in my reading) was about blogging applications. That's a great topic since more and more photographers are discovering how to integrate blogging into their overall marketing plan, and many stock photographers specifically are starting to consider the importance of having their own website so they are not relying solely on the agencies any more.

Now I don't know about you, but when I read an article written by someone claiming to know what he/she is talking about, in a magazine aimed at professionals, I expect the information to be accurate. Especially when the information given is stated as fact, not opinion. And most especially when the author starts out by denigrating other photographers' blogs, making the statement that they don't know any better or just don't care.

So I was really surprised to see that this "expert" made the statement that free blogging applications are unsuitable for professional purposes, one of the main reasons being the amount of advertisements the application places on the free blogs. This expert stated that the only applications that were worthwhile for business purposes were the ones that cost money. That statement really bothered me because a lot of folks who don't know any better will read that, believe it, and needlessly spend money. And in this tough economy no one needs to spend money if they don't have to. It may even lead some folks to decide that they can't start a blog because they can't afford one of the paid blogging applications, which is a real shame.

I took a look at the author's blog (it's called research and fact checking, something from which both the author and Rangefinder could benefit). It is a Xanga blog that has been up and running for a little more than six months. I'm going to guess that the author paid for an upgraded version since there is no advertising on his blog. There are several broken/dead end links. While the blog is all about photography, his bio lists a completely unrelated occupation. And yes, there are posts on his blog talking about the poor job other photographers do with their websites.

Let me be clear, I do NOT claim to be an expert at websites and blogs. Less than a year ago I knew only very basic html and absolutely nothing about CSS. I'm still finding my way around in this world and I'm always trying to learn as much as possible. I am in no position to criticize anyone else's blog. But when I look at my free Blogger blog and the authors paid blog, I've gotta tell you that I like my free blog a whole lot better than his paid one. It's completely integrated with my website, there is absolutely no advertising on it (I still can't figure out why he said that), I can customize it any way I want to for FREE, anything that is there is there because I want it to be there (no dead end links) and if I were to obtain a domain name for it I'd doubt that many people would be able to tell that it was a free Blogger blog. So it really pains me that the author states that free blogs are worthless.

The author also advocates uploading photos to a blog, rather than linking them, to save time. I have two issues with this. First, clicking on any of the uploaded photos takes the viewer to a page that is useless from a business perspective. Usually it is just a browser window with that image, some of the authors' images take you to page where you can comment on the photo. By taking the time to create a link, one can lead the viewer directly to the image or gallery on your website. Uploading the photos also doesn't allow one to utilize ALT text. Not only is ALT text strongly recommended for all images on a webpage, it has a tremendous impact on search engine results. Google spiders can't see pictures! Maybe this isn't quite as important for a wedding/portrait photographer, but isn't the whole point of a blog to drive traffic to your website, and therefore drive business? Why have the images linked to a dead end page? I think these are very important things to address in an article that purports to instruct photographers how to set up a blog for business purposes. Do yourself a favor, take the time to properly place your images in your blog. You will be amazed at the increase in search result hits.

Like I said earlier, I did do some research and I read through some of the authors blog posts. I know the background of how and why this series of articles was written. It reminded me of a guy (or woman) who's had a digital camera for a year and decides that he is ready to start shooting weddings. Rangefinder is the one who said "yes, we'll hire you". I'm only mad at the author because he has a habit of trashing others. If you're going to take that stance you'd best be ready to stand up to scrutiny. Sorry if that's mean.

I'm reminded of an acquaintance who is a graphic designer by trade. She enjoys point-and-shoot photography and she has a great eye, as one would expect of a graphic designer. She does not, however, know the first thing about even the most basic technical aspects of photography (such as apertures and shutter speeds). She recently had a client who needed some furniture photographed for a brochure, and (I suppose) to save the client money my acquaintance did it herself instead of hiring a photographer. It was a white sofa on a green lawn on a sunny day. Anyone who knows anything about photography can guess exactly what happened; the green grass looked fantastic and the whites were completely blown out with absolutely no detail. She showed me the brochure with pride, and what was I going to say? Next time hire a real photographer? She didn't even realize that the whites were blown out and apparently her client didn't care. Her client was happy and she got paid, just like the guy who wrote the article with misinformation for Rangefinder got paid.

And yes, I am painfully aware of the irony here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another tense weekend in southern California

We're okay here in south Orange County (so far...), but we have several friends close to the fires up north in the Brea-Yorba Linda-Chino Hills area. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the affected areas. The amount of damage in residential areas has been frightening.

My weekend is booked solid with prior commitments, leaving me no time to try to photograph the fires. As I was driving north yesterday I realized how crazy it was to have the top down on the jeep. If I got near enough, the falling soot and embers could do some serious damage, and even the soft top wouldn't help. I really need to put the hard top on if I plan to get closer to the fires.

Spent yesterday in Huntington Beach. Managed to grab a quick shot in between stops (from a parking lot - ugh! Sorry, only chance I had) of what the sky looked like in the early afternoon. This is the plume of smoke directly overhead; on either side the sky was bright blue. Air quality was horrible and I was happy that we were spending the day indoors.

I can see the plume from my backyard (it's so big that probably everyone in California can see it!) and it looks like the winds have died down in that area for now because it's starting to go vertical. We're still under Red Flag warning until 4:00pm this afternoon. Living in a house surrounded by dry hills, I can't help but scan the horizon on a regular basis.

The sunset last night was gorgeous. I climbed onto the roof of a building but still couldn't get the shot I wanted. By the time we raced to a more suitable location it was too late. On the drive home I saw a blood red moon but by the time I had stopped it had already cleared. Having a tough time being in the right place at the right time this weekend. Hoping to try to fit in some shooting this evening, but not sure if my schedule will accommodate.

Nothing after the jump.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Urgent Update to My LicenseStream Review

When I initially reviewed ImageSpan's LicenseStream here on my blog I had mentioned that one of my concerns was the inability to see how images are priced when using the automated interface. However, since I had tested a few scenarios and received quotes that I felt were reasonable, I decided to implement the automation and trust that everything would be okay.

Since my review was published several people have taken the opportunity to test out LicenseStream's interface using my photos, and boy did we get a surprise! While many people reported receiving acceptable price quotes, two photographers let me know about completely outrageous quotes. My thanks to Gary Crabbe of Enlightened Images and Tina Manley for bringing this to my attention. Gary actually received a quote of $10,000 for internal corporate web use, and Tina received a quote $2,000 higher than the price her publisher was complaining about! Real-world pricing is imperative if the automated side of LicenseStream is going to work.

So first, I strongly recommend that if you are using, or contemplating using LicenseStream on your website, you use the "Contact Me" model until ImageSpan puts a fix in place. If a potential buyer received one of those quotes, not only would you lose the sale, you'd probably lose the customer (unless it was someone with whom you had already developed a relationship and who knew it was just an error).

This eliminates the feature that most independent photographers are mainly interested in; the automation. LicenseStream needs to get this addressed ASAP. Based on the feedback that I am hearing, photographers are quickly loosing interest as the word spreads about this problem.

Second, if you have already coded images on your website using the method I explained in this post, I have a very easy way for you to change it that does not require making any changes to your content in LicenseStream itself.

Remember this code we used to create the link directly to your LicenseStream interface?

The "c" that I circled in red indicates the licensing model, in this case Custom License. You may have a "b" or a "p" if you used the Category License or Quick License models. To change it to the "Contact Me" model, all you need to do is change that letter to an "r". Still a bit time consuming in that you will need to do this for each image you've linked to LicenseStream, but not nearly as bad as needing to use LicenseStream to regenerate the code or change any settings.

One more thing I wanted to mention, really prompted by Gary Crabbe's post in which he stated that he found the licensing interface clunky. I had to think about that for a while because it seemed natural to me, and then I realized it was because I have been using the PLUS license generator, and later the embedder and decoder, since they were in beta. The LicenseStream license generator IS the PLUS license generator, so it was natural for me to use.

If you are not familiar with the PLUS Coalition and the license generator and embedder, I encourage you to become so. It was announced this morning that three major publishers are adopting the PLUS standards, and they have encouraged all photographers to begin embedding PLUS-generated licenses within the year.

Nothing after the jump. I'm off to change my letters!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

South Coyote Canyon, Sheep Camp and The Slot - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Part II

Yikes, I have been crazy busy lately!

In an effort to speed things along here and get back on track, I'm going to fast track to Day 2 and The Slot in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Our evening in Sheep Camp was spent socializing, so in my role as a mentor I didn't get an opportunity to sneak away to shoot. Sunrise and sunset isn't the best at Sheep Camp anyway because it is surrounded by mountains; it loses the light too early in the afternoon, and it doesn't get sun in the morning until after the magic hour.

The big surprise of the night was having Mel and Lisa Wade of Offroad Evolution show up in the middle of the night with the kids in tow. Mel has been doing some absolutely incredible must-have stuff for the JK's and I know he had been very busy getting ready for SEMA, so it was really great that they found the time to come hang out with us for the weekend. I'll bet the South Coyote Canyon trail was a lot more fun to do in the dark!

The next morning most of the remaining group head back home early, but a few of us stuck around to run another trail and do a little hiking before getting back on the road. WayOfLife chose The Slot because it's a scenic trail with a narrow slot canyon to explore and we always appreciate the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs.

The Slot is on the other side of Borrego Springs on the east side of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and it winds its way through a tilted Borrego Formation Sandstone. The trail is easy and incredibly scenic as it overlooks the badlands. The only challenging spot is a descent down a very steep and loose sand hill that is really much easier than it looks. Bill still had the wheel so I jumped out to grab some shots of the jeeps, and I must say that the jeeps had an easier time getting down that hill than I did on foot!

We let this guy pass through so he didn't have to wait for the line of jeeps:

We decided to stop when the slot narrowed. Although it is possible to drive further in (if you don't mind risking a little body damage), with eight jeeps we needed to leave ourselves sufficient turn-around room.

The Slot is thought to have started as a crack or joint during the deformation of the badlands, the slot forming as runoff funneled into the crack, deepening it more than widening it. It gets incredibly narrow in some spots and you have to literally squeeze your way through.

The sun was shining on the upper walls of The Slot, but down below it was cool and shaded, a nice relief from the warm 95 degree desert day. Yeah, I forgot to mention on Day 1 that the temperature was a bit higher than expected. Not bad, unless you're working hard to set up camp in the middle of the day!

Owls and ravens love to build their nests up on the ledges and the floor of The Slot is littered with feathers and other evidence.

I would not want to be standing under here during an earthquake. Something to always keep in mind when hiking out here. This area was hit with a 4.2 magnitude quake on April 30, 2008, strong enough to jostle a few rocks loose.

After hiking through The Slot, we managed to get the jeeps turned around (my 2DR had a much easier time than the 4DRs did!) and start heading back toward pavement.

WayOfLife, Mel Wade, and Trailbud at the front of the line. Those bags on the back of our jeeps are burlap trash sacks WayOfLife made up for us. We use them to haul our trash out of camp, as well as cleanups along the trail anywhere we see trash. Unfortunately mine has been used so much that this was its last trip; it started shredding and ended up in the dumpster with the rest of the trash. I'm going to have to get WayOfLife to divulge his source because I don't know what I'm going to do without it.

It really is quite beautiful back here:

Back on pavement we aired up and head into town for a relaxing lunch out of the heat. That's when I found out that my control arm bushings were shot, which explained why my jeep had been handling the way it was on the road. Now my rear axle was rolling every time I stepped on the gas or the brake. Trailbud knew exactly what the problem was when I said it was clunking when I stepped on the gas, so at least it was easy to identify. FT sent me upgraded replacements and we finally got them put in last weekend.

So it was another successful trip with no carnage, lots of fun and great camaraderie. It was fun to meet so many new people and introduce them to what we like do (although there were a few I never did get to meet before they left that afternoon), and I hope many of them decide to join us for other trips. I bought the jeep for my photography, but I've made so many good friends because of it that I don't even mind putting my photography in the back seat once in a while.

Kudos again to WayOfLife and the rest of the mentor team for pulling off a successful event with such an amazingly large group of jeeps. Maybe we need to stop having so much fun to keep the numbers down!

Nothing more after the jump

Friday, November 7, 2008

South Coyote Canyon, Sheep Camp and The Slot - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Part I

Coyote Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is closed to all use every year between June 1 and September 30 to allow the endangered Peninsular (Desert) Bighorn sheep unrestricted access to the important water source of Coyote Creek. It has become our tradition to venture out to Sheep Camp via the South Coyote Canyon trail shortly after the canyon re-opens every year with the folks from Project-JK, usually as a "newbie" run to introduce others to the desert environment, teach them the proper way to handle and use their jeeps' capabilities on the different types of terrain, talk with them about the necessary gear and equipment for venturing into remote regions of the desert, and reinforce the Leave No Trace principles. We are very privileged in California to have such a diversity of open trails to provide endless opportunity for discovery, but we realize that it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility to not only do our part to protect the environment, but to teach others as well and maintain a zero-tolerance policy on our outings. For many folks, it is the first time they have taken their jeep off pavement. For others, it is the first time they will forge a deep water crossing and navigate a rocky climb. And there are even others for whom it is the first time they will venture into the desert environment.

The success of past newbie runs has caused an explosion in the number of people signing up. This year's Coyote Canyon run had 30 newbies and 8 mentors, a very large group to coordinate and keep moving on the trail, and I've got to hand it to WayOfLife and the rest of the mentor team for smoothly pulling it off. Less than half of the group chose to spend the night at Sheep Camp, making for a large but manageable group.

Trailbud and I, accompanied by my better half and his son Ryan, were the advance team; we got on the trail about two hours before the main group to check in at the visitor center, make sure there were no surprises on the trail, and to secure the campsite. I let Bill take the wheel since he's done so much work on my jeep the past two weeks and deserves to have a little fun, and we led the way which meant I also got to be the lucky one to jump out and run ahead to make sure the course was clear before proceeding at a blind obstacle. It's much less work to be number two, or at least be the driver and have a passenger to send out! The guys had warned me that we had no time for photos on the way in to camp, but I still managed to grab a few of them on the trail.

The first thing I noticed on this trip was that the Teddy Bear Cholla was so blackened and withered everywhere we went that I initially thought a fire had scorched the desert floor. Teddy Bear Cholla is one of the hardiest and most drought resistant desert plants in Anza-Borrego, and I have never before seen it in such a drastic state. What was really surprising, though, is that the Ocotillo was in bloom. The park reports that September rain (the desert got rain and I didn't???) has resulted in sporadic wildflower blooms in a few areas. That's one of my favorite things about the desert; it has its own seasons and you never know what you will find. I remember finding a carpet of wildflowers in full bloom at Amboy Crater last January.

Most of the South Coyote Canyon trail is loose sand and an easy drive. It's not uncommon to see 2WD and even passenger cars up until the second water crossing, which is 100 yards long and can be quite deep in years with good rain. This year it was only about 18 inches deep. And less experienced drivers who make it past the second crossing are usually deterred by the notorious half mile climb through the steep rocky pinch.

If you had planned to do South Coyote Canyon for the fun of water crossing #2 and the rocky hill climb, I am sad to report that the park service has completley tamed the trail and it is now a mere shadow of its former self. While the crossing is still fun as you drive along the river bed through the green tunnel of trees, all of the big rocks have now been removed from the river bed. No more surprises waiting to catch the unaware. The little ledge at the top of the climb that used to intimidate newbies is no more. Worse than that, the hill climb has had all of the larger rocks boulders removed and is now no more challenging than driving over cobblestones. They even blasted and removed half of the big rock at the top that used to threaten body damage as you navigated the tight bend at the top.

More people will now have access to Sheep Camp, good for them I suppose, but sad for me and those of us who prefer to go places where few others can. Although it's been tamed, it is still a scenic drive through a beautiful area of the desert, and the remote and primitive Sheep Camp will always be one of my favorite places to spend the night. Unfortunately, it no longer makes a good training trail as we had always used the climb to teach proper technique, and proper tire placement is no longer as important as it had been.

Hit the jump for the rest of the trail report.

Since we were making such great time on the trail, despite the photo ban I made the guys stop for the poser shot on the only remaining rock on the climb because it's just not a jeep run without a great flex shot.

Here's Trailbud and his 4DR:

And Bill in my 2DR:

Sheep Camp is located in Sheep Canyon, and is accessed via a side trail off the South Coyote Canyon trail. The trail to the camp is just very loose sand and easy to navigate. Despite stopping to talk to a group of jeepers at the bottom of the climb (they really wanted to check out the JKs, and having both a 2DR and 4DR to show off kept us talking for a good twenty minutes), we made it to Sheep Camp in record time and began setting up. Bill handled the tent while I set up the kitchen area (we always set up one main kitchen area so we can socialize while we cook) and for a change I had the opportunity to take a few photos of this beautiful location before the main group showed up.

Trailbud coming in to camp:

And the surroundings:

This is the actual "camp" itself:

There is a fire ring, and a pit toilet a short hike away. This is where we set up the kitchen. This is also what allows to do the one thing that we always do here and no where else; show trail videos! It's always a big hit with the newbies, and of course the regulars get excited because WayOfLifette makes everyone look like a star in her videos. I didn't get any photos of it this year, but here is a shot I took last year:

Part Two will pick up from here and continue this trail report. I know this is a somewhat strange place to stop, but I don't want to wait any longer between posts and I have a 4:30am wakeup call tomorrow. I can't finish tonight if I want to grab any sleep. ;)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Integrating LicenseStream into an existing website

I sometimes take for granted all of the knowledge I've been picking up from Denise, Allen and John over at SmugMug's dgrin forum where they voluntarily spend a huge amount of time helping the clueless among us figure out how to customize our websites. It's easy to forget that less than a year ago I was completely clueless about CSS and only had a rudimentary understanding of html, so I really struggled to do the simplest things with my website. I am eternally grateful to people who take the time to post detailed tutorials on how to do the simplest things (and even more so to three people above who are always willing to dig through someone's bad code and help them fix it!), because as I worked my way through increasingly difficult tutorials it all started to make sense. While I'm still not even close to being an advanced user, it is now easy for me to figure out how to do a lot of customization.

So, realizing that there are a lot of folks out there who are in the same position I was just a few short months ago (and prompted by a few e-mail requests), this post is a detailed explanation of how to modify the LicenseStream thumbnail code to work with your existing website if you don't want to use the LicenseStream thumbnails. This method works especially well with a SmugMug site, but will work with any website that allows you to enter html code.

After uploading your image to License Stream and making sure that your caption, keywords and restrictions are all complete and correct as I showed in my previous post, the next step is to "publish" your image. You can do this by selecting the "P" icon at the bottom of the thumbnail either in the Manage Content screen or from the Publish>Publish to Web tab at the top of the screen. Clicking on the icon will bring you to the Publish Content screen. At the top you will be able to review the image and information to verify that everything is correct. Beneath that is the area used to publish to GoogleBase. The bottom section is for publishing to your website.

Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the page and select the correct license model, then click on "Update Ex-Bed Code" first! Ah yes, speaking of the licensing models, I had mentioned in my last post that I couldn't find where I had learned what the different models entailed. Best I can find is to go to the License>License Content tab at the top of your page. Select "Browse Content" and click on the "L" icon on one of your thumbnails. You can then play around with the different license models and see the parameters for each. I use Custom License, but you may choose to use a simpler license model to make buying an easier process for your buyers.

After updating the ex-bed code, you will need to copy the code in the box next to the thumbnail. Make sure you use the code from your own images and not the code I used here or you will be sending your buyers to license my photos!

The code will look similar to this:

**Please note that although I do know how to convert code to character entities so it will display properly in a blog post, for the sake of simplicity (and to save myself a lot of time) I have just copied the code into image files today (and was obviously sloppy about cropping the one above, but hey, it's Sunday. :) **

The first part of the code generates the thumbnail image, exactly as it looks in the box on the screen. The part highlighted in yellow below puts the words "License this Image" below the thumbnail and creates the clickable link that takes buyers directly into your licensing interface in LicenseStream.

Copy the highlighted section and paste it into Notepad or other text editor (don't ever use Word or similar word processing software to write/edit code). Depending on how your website is set up, you will probably need to surround this code with html tags, and I chose to change the color of the font to red, so my edited code looks like this:

You can use any font tags you choose to modify the text, or even change the words of the text, so feel free to play with different colors, font sizes, etc.

If you are integrating this with a SmugMug website, I think the best way to do it is to embed the link in the photo caption. To do this, find the correct photo on your website, select "Edit Caption" and at the very start of your caption add <html>. Your caption should follow, then your modified LicenseStream code, then close it with </html>. You can add <br> tags to add some space between the caption and the link, or any other html code you choose if you want to get fancy. My captions look like this in my edit box (The writing is a bit on the small side here, so if you'd like a bigger version just click on the text to view it at a larger size. You will need to use your browser's back button to return to this page):

That code results in this:

Of course, the exact look will depend on how you have your galleries set up. My galleries are all in SmugMug style with large thumbs on the left of the browser window and a large image on the right (and the larger your browser, the larger the main image will be). This method also looks very good with journal style galleries. I haven't played with any of the other gallery styles yet, but if any SmugMuggers are using a different style gallery and run into problems, feel free to get in touch with me and I'd be happy to help you with it.

You will need to follow this entire process for every single image that you want to link. The LicenseStream code is specific to each image, so you must generate new code for each image you wish to link.

With the linked "License This Image" at the bottom of your photos, anyone who clicks on the link will be brought directly to your LicenseStream licensing interface. If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to click the link yourself and poke around so you can see exactly what your buyer is going to see and the process they will use to license your images. You can cancel out your shopping cart before actually paying, so make sure you familiarize yourself with all steps of the process.

If the process of linking individual images one by one is too tedious and time consuming for you, another alternative is to provide a link from your website directly to your LicenseStream Web Gallery. Unless you've been poking around a lot like I have, you may not be aware that you have an online gallery that can be activated. From the Publish tab at the top of the page select "Manage Gallery". That will bring you to the Gallery Manager screen where you can upload a profile picture, fill in your bio, and choose a name and title for your gallery. Look for the green button labeled "Put Online" to, what else, put your gallery online.

Below that is a section that allows you to send out invitation e-mails, and below that is the section containing the code for the link to your gallery. Just take that code and, using the same process as above, insert the code anywhere you can insert html on your website. For SmugMuggers likely places would be either in a gallery description edit box or on an html page. This is a very basic link that consists merely of the words "Visit my Gallery on LicenseStream" in blue text, so people with advanced skills will mostly likely want to spend some time customizing the code.

I hope this helps anyone trying to find the best way to integrate LicenseStream into their existing website, and I would love to hear from anyone who has found other ways of integrating it.

Happy Licensing!