Monthly Archive: February 2009

Strobist: PocketWizard FlexTT5 and MiniTT1: Full Review

Strobist: PocketWizard FlexTT5 and MiniTT1: Full Review.

In the world of photographic lighting tools, this might be one of the most impressive new items out there.  There is another product, called RadioPopper, that does something similar (different method, same functional result) but this coming from PocketWizard is a pretty big deal.  

Basically, when you take a flash off-camera, you get the benefit of much better “modeling” to the light.  More shape, more natural look than a head-on flash, etc.  However, you have thus far had the options of radio-based systems that can “see” around walls but give you no control once you set it at the remote location.  The systems offered by Nikon and Canon do let you control the remote flashes right from the camera, and the flashes will fire exactly the amount of light that the camera says to, but those are IR systems, which require line-of-sight.

This system uses radio, and lets you do through-the-lens, “what the camera says” light output.  Pretty amazing.

adding value as a wedding photographer

While listening to This Week in Photography, Frederick van Johnson aired an interview he did with Dane Sanders, a well-known (and fantastic – check him out on flickr) wedding photographer that has written a book on getting started in the business – Fast Track Photographer.

One of the items Dane mentioned was about protecting one’s brand, and adding value to existing prices and packages as a way of combatting any decline in sales.  The alternative would be to just charge less.  I think this is very important, but that there are a lot of other things that need to be considered for wedding photographers such as myself, charging between $1000-$1500 for a base package (as compared to $2500-$3500, which is kind of the next step up).

The key part is that if you have created your brand as in a certain part of the market and as a certain type of photographer, it is important to protect that brand.  This is marketing 101, to be honest.  I’ll take myself as an example – I started out charging very low ($550) but made it very clear that it was in order to build my portfolio.  Even when I met with potential clients I stated this quite clearly.  As soon as I had 6 weddings under my belt (an arbitrary number, to be honest), I went up to $1000 for the same package.  After about a year of doing weddings at that rate, I discovered that I was meeting with more couples that saw photography as an after-thought than I wanted.  I have now gone up to $1250 for a wedding, which is apparently, based on those with whom I now meet and talk about their wedding plans, an amount that makes couples think about their overall budget and have made a specific decision to find a solid photographer to capture their memories.  You can read more about what I offer on my wedding photography site, if you want.

Throughout this process, I have pursued developing my brand as a photographer that takes a wedding seriously, offers professionalism and a personal dedication to the needs of the couple.  I book no more than 15 weddings a year and never more than 2 weekends in a row.  I have actually turned down weddings that pushed these limits (despite my honest desire to keep revenues up).  That is my brand.  That is who I am, as Allan Chen the Wedding Photographer.  My pricing has reflected that – I want to work with couples who value those parts of the brand.

Well, if I have spent so much time on that, then it’s critical that, even if inquiries are down due to the recession that I still protect that brand.  However, I also have to recognize that couples are watching their wedding budgets more closely, and have to make some hard decisions.  So the question posed to Dane Sanders was how does one keep moving forward in such a situation?

Sanders’ opinion was that it’s about adding value, rather than cutting price.  What does a couple get for that same price?  Yes, the personal touch, etc – that stays the same, of course.  I can’t be more than 100% devoted to their needs, after all.  But I could, for instance, offer an online slideshow for the same price, or add more prints, or a higher end album, something like that.  Many of these options don’t require a lot of extra time on my part (the online gallery in particular) so they are also cost-effective for me.  I think this makes a lot of sense.

The danger, though, is for photographers that charge about what I do.  If I were to take into account the time I spend on processing a wedding, my margin would be very low.  Even if I add an hour or two, it eats more and more into that margin.  If I offer an additional service as part of the package, same problem.  If I’m doing the same amount of work but am charging $3000 (because I’m in that market, or I’ve established myself to justify that price, or whatever) then the margins are better and it makes more sense.  But right now, it gets thinner and thinner.

So what am I doing, having listened to Dane Sanders and agreed with his fundamental recommendations?  


iStock: What do you want from me???

I recently applied to istock, which is an online stock photography service.  The idea is that all these photographers submit images, which advertisers, graphic artists, etc can then purchase and use according to your licensing.  It has proven quite the revenue stream in the past for many photographers.  I have no illusions that I’ll make as much off it annually as I do with wedding photography, nor do I expect to make much of it anytime soon.  But it’s worth getting my work out there.

You have to apply, though, and submit some work to qualify for it.  So you read all these things, then do a quiz – perfectly fine, as I should understand their guidelines.  Then I submit three samples.  

My first three were apparently too similar in theme.  Two of them were the following:



Fields of Green, Skies of Blue

So, I tried again.  I figured if they didn’t complain about the quality, just the thematic similarity, then perhaps I should show off something different.  So I submitted the following:


white barn

And now…apparently my photos are not up to their quality standards.  

Ugh.  I’ve now asked them whether they want me to send something in between or what.

Facebook sucks so much right now

Apparently this is account specific, but Facebook has been logging me out after about 1 minute for the last few weeks.  I’m at the point where it’s so much easier to update my status via my Blackberry that I don’t bother going to the actual FB site much anymore.  

I have written FB help twice now explaining this problem in detail.  I have seen other users log in on my machine, same browser, no settings changed, and surf around in FB for 10, 15 minutes.  I can’t get past 60 seconds.

If FB is a social networking site, maybe my friends just don’t like me…



Originally uploaded by kaiyen

My latest purchase is the Panasonic Lumix LX3, a remarkable point and shoot camera. I bought it for a trip to Thailand coming up in March and am getting used to it now.

I’m not even out of program mode but some features are already really impressive. Turn everything off, and it’s a really straightforward point and shoot. Turn on a few things, and you have a real-time histogram, you can change exposure compensation with a little joystick to adjust, and you even have modes for aperture or shutter priority, or full manual (controlled by the joystick). Really nice stuff. And it shoots in RAW.

The most impressive part, however, is the lens. It is incredibly fast – 2.0-2.8 over its admittedly small 24-60mm zoom range. But that means that I can get decent results at ISO 800, which is unheard of for a camera like this, and definitely B&W-convertible stuff at 1600.

I took this photo while walking home, obviously after a short rain storm. Most of the ones I took that night I turned into black and white as they were quite noisy. This one I liked for its simplicity and kept it in color.

Stocks up despite falling revenues – can we say market volatility?

Continental, AMR soar with falling oil prices – MarketWatch

This makes no sense.  Continental was leading the pack on declining revenues, helping to cause a market-wide drop just a week ago, perhaps less (will look up those links in a bit).  Now, just because oil prices are dropping, the hope for increased profits (or…maybe just decreased losses?) has everyone feeling good about airlines again. 

Perhaps the least examined aspect of this entire crisis is the psychological effect.  Massive volatility like this and the impact market-wide points towards the lack of confidence, the over-emphasis on even small points of positive activity, etc. 

Laptops & classes – the slippery slope

Let me preface this a bit – I work at a law school.  Unlike most other groups at a university, where the laptop ownership rate might be very high but the “actually carry laptop to class” rate might be quite a bit lower, just about every law student owns a laptop, and uses it in class.  

Also, first year classes (1L) are almost always large, lecture-style sessions.  Even the faculty that are most steeped in the socratic method, calling out students randomly, can ask any one student a question only so often when there might be 80 students in a room (that’s about what our 1L classes are like).  So a student has to know his or her stuff, but the opportunity to drift off now and then over a 1.5 hour class is non-trivial.

Therefore, the question of laptops in classrooms is rather magnified for law classes, and is a touchy subject at times with law faculty.  Basically, the concern is that students are surfing the web and, depending on how broad one wishes to draw the lines, simply tempted to distraction via the web.  The temptation alone is too much.  There has been much subjective opinion that generally argues that laptops and web access is bad.  There has been a bit of anecdotal commentary about how laptops might be better than they are worse.  And there have been two recent articles about how, at the least, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  You’ll find my blog entries with links to the articles here and here.  

Many faculty at several law schools have asked their respective technology groups about blocking internet access during class.  The gist is that it’s controversial.

Yesterday, a 1L came to me with a rather interesting idea.  Basically, some way of either blocking internet access during class via a “blacklist”-style system based on who is enrolled in what class and when that class meets or allowing access but monitoring what students are doing.  

Please read on – this post is getting a bit long for the front page, but please read on…


sunlit and winding path

sunlit and winding path

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

I have been trying to carry a camera with me everywhere I go. I think I’ve mentioned this before. Not as a “photo a day” project, as sometimes it’s a film camera, but the goal is to be ready when the light is right, when the scene presents itself, etc.

I walk by this bench and very small stone pathway 100 times a day. This time, the light was hitting it just right that it made me stop. I cropped the image a bit but this is all about the light.

And yes, I wish those cars weren’t back there. But I didn’t have a forklift handy so they stayed.

Toxic Assets – finally doing something about it

Geithner Unveils Revised Bank Plan – BusinessWeek

Paul Krugman, the economist, wrote a while ago about how one of the factors in any stimulus plan was that government spending alone would not be enough.  The government had to get “toxic assets” (bad mortgages, etc) off of bank balance sheets so that those credit institutions could start lending again.  This is a pretty critical aspect.  Even if it’s just psychological, our lenders are not lending, and our economy is based on 1) consumption and 2) borrowing (because, in general, we never have as much money as we’d like to spend).  The machine just starts to break down at that point.

Jon Stewart, in assessing all the tax problems Obama’s appointments have had, commented that Geithner got through because he’s the only one that can save our economy.  Good first step, IMO.

Oh, btw – key point is that there is going to be a test to see whether banks can really lend or not.  I like requirements for giving out up to $1 trillion.