Internet upgrade at home

Got my Belgacom ADSL line upgraded today to VDSL. Download speed came from 4Mbps up to around 15Mbps, and more importantly the uplink went from 0.5Mbps up to 1.5Mbps – very helpful for uploading photos to retouching agency, and to stock agencies. (I am talking about real tested speed)

The nice thing that the upgrade was free to me (including VDSL modem), because Belgacom has improved their subscription plan that I was already using. But I had to ask for upgrade myself.

The only negative part is that the websites that were slow remain slow regardless the speed of my internet connection….


One more photo from session with Thomas and Emmily

This is one more photo from the same session with Thomas and Emmily:

Thomas and Emily

This picture was planned, based on several advertisement photos. It’s not a copy of any specific picture, but I had a particular image in my mind which I tried to create. I’ve got what I wanted and I like the result. Even though the concept might be arguable with sunglasses shown in the darkness 🙂


Photography studio found

I had an issue with a place for taking studio photos. I’ve done it at home for some time but it wasn’t a good option. I have too little space, and reflections from walls create a color cast on the pictures. I photographed in some places abroad, but I didn’t have a good place in Belgium that I could use regularly.

Finally I found a studio near Mechelen and tried it last Sunday. The location is good – not too far from Leuven (less than 40 minutes by car), close to a railway station (though small one), and close to Mechelen too. Also good that it’s large enough and have high ceiling. Very good price; and rather good selection of backgrounds. The only imperfection is that the lighting kit could have been better, and selection of softboxes/light modifiers isn’t large. But that isn’t a big issue taking into account the items I could bring myself in addition to those already in studio. It is also very convenient that the studio is accessible 24/7 via pre-paid badge system and online reservation.

One picture from that shoot:

Thomas and Emily
Copyright Mikhail Lavrenov


Update on stock photography improvement plan

This is end of the year update on my stock photography improvement plan.

Although I wasn’t yet able to achieve all of my targets, I am happy with the progress.

Since beginning of October I had 4 photo sessions specifically for stock – i.e. much higher rate that I had ever before. Unfortunately due to personal reasons I wasn’t able to organize any sessions in December otherwise the number would have been even higher. For the same reason I wasn’t able to produce consistently 100 stock pictures per month – something I definitely need to address. In 2 months I produced around 220 pictures (fully processed and ready to upload).

As I already mentioned in my previous update I am satisfied with the partial outsourcing I made. I only outsourced retouching part, i.e. I am still doing myself RAW processing, white balance, brightness/contrast, masking and keywording. I only outsourced the least creative part and it saves me quite a lot of time. I will certainly continue using that service.

As I mentioned in my plan I didn’t waste time processing non-stock photos for stock. Combination of this, plus higher number of stock-oriented photo sessions plus outsourcing resulted significantly increased output. The only reason I stayed below target was personal circumstances that consumed a lot of my time that I could have devoted to photography.

Thus the adjustment of my plan is that I will aim to produce around 150 good stock photos monthly – that will allow me to stay above 100 even when I will need to take some breaks.

I believe I made a good progress with item 5.1 of my original plan – take better photos i.e. to improve various small elements such as model’s smile, clean background etc.

Point 5.2 from my original plan is still open. It was about making analysis of what subjects sell well and make sellable photos. The word “analyse” here is related to both evaluation of the market bestsellers and evaluation of my own portfolio and my own bestsellers.

While I keep doing some basic analysis I plan to work seriously on item 5.2 later, after the previous items will be successfully implemented and will become a normal routine.


First full month with outsourced retouching

This is the first report about progress of my stock photography improvement plan.

October was the first full month when I used outsourcing for retouching. Also, I focused on production of photos specially for stock. Thus I didn’t loose time processing my random family/friends pictures for stock.

I must say I am quite happy that I decided to outsource. I easily produced 100 stock photos (which was my target for this year) and I feel that I can quite easily produce even more.

A positive side effect was improved acceptance rate. My acceptance rate at istock was around 75%, but in October it went up to ~98%. I believe it happened mainly because I didn’t spend time on non-stock photos; and didn’t experiment with processing/filters etc, making just straightforward adjustments and editing.

In October I had 2 stock photo sessions. In November I already had 1 and 1 in scheduled for this weekend.


Sunday shoot in Leuven

The better plan you make, the higher are chances it will fail. So was with my last shoot – the plan was to shoot Thomas in railway station but we were kicked out by police.

Indeed they were formally right – but we were not on people’s way and I wasn’t photographing the station itself; and I photographed in the same station several times in the past… (I think it’s clear by now that I didn’t bother with the official permission). So we had to switch to plan ‘B’ and photograph Thomas near the station but outside.

Although I know the place I still visited it in advance to check possible spots for taking pictures (both in station and around it), and that was helpful. The session lasted only 2 hours but we didn’t loose any time, so it was productive.

I was pleasantly surprised with Thomas. He is only doing modeling for 8 months but he is doing it very well. He understood pretty well what I wanted from him and he did it all nicely and quite naturally.

Just one picture so far as I didn’t have time for retouche/processing:
Thomas


New tripod – Slik Pro 330DX

I just purchased a new tripod a couple of weeks ago.

My 10 years old Manfrotto 190 is still in good order. However it is
* too heavy
* too big
* too cold in the winter (no rubber coating)

I wanted to get a replacement. I don’t use tripod daily so I didn’t want to spend too much. However I do use one regularly so it should be a decent tripod that could hold my DSLR with lens. Thus I was looking for a device that:
* is reasonably light (though no extreme needed);
* is small enough to put in my travel bag for air travels;
* has rubber coating;
* doesn’t cost a fortune;
* is stable at full open and can hold Canon EOS 5D Mk II with lens

I found that Slik Pro 330DX seems to be a good match to the points above. It is surprisingly stable despite quite thin legs at the end; and the central column is very easy to remove.

I thought about taking Slik Pro 330 without default head and attaching a lighter and smaller ballhead, but at the end I decided that it’s not worth the extra cost for my needs.

The picture is from Slik catalog, © Slik (http://www.slik.com)

Taking my stock photography to the next level

After doing stock photography for a few years I reached lately (yet another) plateau. Adding new photos to portfolio doesn’t improve sales. This isn’t an unusual situation; but in addition to that I am not satisfied with my past pace of growth. I believe I now learned enough to seriously take my stock photography to the next level.

There are few quite obvious (to me) areas that I need to address:

1) I need to take more pictures specially for stock.

So far most of pictures taken by my camera aren’t made specially for stock. At the same time O noticed that pictures taken specially for stock take less time to post-process; and session organized specially for stock generates many more usable photos. Thus the conclusion is simple:

2) Don’t spend time processing non-stock photos for stock.

Post-processing (selecting good photos from the shoot; RAW processing; editing in photoshop, keywording) takes several times more time than shooting. One of the main reasons I didn’t organize too many shoots specially for stock was too big back-log of unprocessed photos. The previous point will address that to a big extend. Further reduction of post-processing time can be achieved with another simple step:

3) Be more selective processing photos for stock. Don’t waste time trying to improve imperfect pictures.

Still, processing pictures takes a lot of time and it is still much longer than shoot even if I select pictures more carefully. So the next focus point is to reduce post-processing time. So, my next step is:

4) Outsource part of post-processing.

This one is being tested right now. I decided to try to outsource retouching work to India. Retouching is a routine procedure that takes a significant portion of my time now but isn’t very expensive when done by somebody else. I will keep other, more creative parts of post-processing for myself.

This is now in test mode – I found a company to do the work (via a recommendation), tried a few pictures with them, agreed on price and send them the very first batch. I hope it will work.

As a possible next step I consider outsourcing keywording but that is yet to be decided.

So to summarize all of the above: I need to take more pictures, be more selective which ones to process and need to reduce post-processing time. Yet another step to improve my stock photography is:

5) Take better photos.

Technically my photos are already good – vast majority of my pictures are accepted by agencies without problems. However I need to take better stock photos. There are two parts in that task:

5.1) One is relatively simple and is to improve various small elements such as model’s smile, clean background etc.
5.2) The other is much more difficult – to analyse what subjects sell well and make sellable photos. The word “analyse” here is related to both evaluation of the market bestsellers and evaluation of my own portfolio and my own bestsellers.

I plan to work seriously on item 5.2 later, after the previous items will be successfully implemented and will become a normal routine.

My plan for the remaining months this year is to implement items 1 to 5.1 and to produce at least 100 good photos monthly. If it will work well I will need to increase the number next year and to start seriously working on item 5.2.


Shutterstock meeting in Denmark

A few days ago a group of photographers from Shutterstock had a good time together in Aarhus (Denmark). The meeting was organized via Shutterstock forum. Starting with a group dinner on Friday night we spent the next day in photo studio of Yuri Arcurs – the world’s most selling microstock photographer. Yuri very kindly organized a tour in his studio followed by shoot of a few of his models. Yuri is a very nice guy, easy to talk to; and he is sharing a lot of good advise to other photographers. We all had a great time, and here is a short video about the event:



Leuven from above

A few days ago I visited the bell tower of Leuven University Library (located on Ladeuze plein). The tower hosts one of the largest carillons in Europe (it even was the largest for some time). Normally the tower isn’t accessible to the public, but it’s possible to visit it once or twice a year, with the excursion to carillon followed by a nice concert of carillon music.

The excursion was lead by Luc Rombouts, carillionist and the official bell ringer of Leuven.

The picture above shows the University Library with the tower photographed in twilight (more than a year ago). We visited the tower under bright daylight, and almost whole Leuven can be observed from the tower.

The first picture is the view at Stella Artois and the channel to Mechelen:
Leuven from above
The second photo is the view at Leuven station (with construction works on the other side of the railway) and new city hall:
Leuven from above

And here is the rest of it.