Take a picture, why don't ya?
Asset management extends beyond tracking electronic files to touch most aspects of business. After all, a site’s assets can range from the hardware on every desktop to the digital media assets that are manipulated on that hardware.
As most chief information officers will agree, it’s necessary to track equipment and manage desktop configurations. When including intellectual assets and proprietary business information, however, the solutions to managing assets are both difficult to come by and critical to the success of a company.
Digital photograph vendor PhotoDisc of Seattle, for example, found it necessary to create different cross-platform systems to address its various types of assets. To maintain management and control, PhotoDisc splits assets into different categories: hardware and software, a data mart, and its image library.
An important aspect of tracking hardware and software, of course, is to avoid losing those assets. With close to 250 desktop computers (many employees have multiple machines) and several servers, PhotoDisc has considerable money tied up in hardware.
“We don’t do anything really flashy” to safeguard PhotoDisc’s hardware, said Chris Birkeland, vice president of operations. A box the size of a desktop or tower system cannot be easily moved without the awareness of company personnel. PhotoDisc puts bar codes on every device worth $500 or more. The information then goes into FAS2000, a fixed asset system software package from Best Software Inc. of Reston, Va., that sits on top of a Microsoft Access database.
Big Brother bar codes
That still leaves the computer components. It would be unwieldy and impractical to open each computer and tag expensive components, so PhotoDisc uses Microsoft’s Systems Management Server (SMS), which monitors the hardware and software content of computers on the network. By using bar codes on the computers themselves – whether Intel-standard PC, Mac or Unix machines – PhotoDisc has identified each system and can provide that information to SMS, which keeps track of what is on the computers attached to the network.
“We utilize that so that every time someone logs-in in the morning, it audits their machines and keeps a log in a SQL database,” Birkeland said. The information available to SMS depends on the type of desktop machine. For Macs, PCs and Unix systems, SMS can read the amount of RAM, the number and capacity of hard drives, and the installed cards.
In a cross-platform environment, it is more difficult to manage software assets. Although SMS can register the software installed on a PC, it cannot do so for a Mac or Unix. This is a limitation because PhotoDisc uses the audit information to review software licensing, to watch for any unauthorized software downloaded from the Internet, and as an aid to help-desk employees in providing support.
But SMS is aimed primarily at PCs because Macs and Unix systems are specialty graphics machines. Whether it provides details for hardware or software, the audit information is stored in a database on a Windows NT server. There are two types of audits: a daily scan that seeks newly installed software and a weekly, in-depth scan that updates the machine’s profile. Full scans are held to a weekly basis because they slow log-in time.
“One of the things on the horizon that we are going to look at is the Zero Admin Toolkit,” Birkeland said. “SMS is working all right, but there’s a hassle factor for the users. [We] want to try to remove as much visual interaction with your machine as possible.”
The most important asset in the company is probably the library of more than 65,000 unique images that provides the basis for PhotoDisc’s products and services. To sell to customers with Macs or PCs, cross-platform maintenance of those images is an important company goal.
Each image is scanned into JPEG and TIFF file formats and in resolutions from 150 Kbytes to 28.5 Mbytes. “We don’t have different compression ratios. The compression ratios are all the same,” said Gary Hawkey, director of production. “We have a master image, and we take that master image and downsize it to [the target size], then compress it. In any kind of system like this, if you don’t have a master image, you’re in trouble. You need to have pristine source data.”
So that they can’t be accidentally deleted, the master images are archived on a server from Sun Microsystems Inc. An optical jukebox carries all the compressed files for near-line storage, with master images offloaded to digital linear tape. Level 5 RAID with a 500-Gbyte capacity houses all scanning and retouching work in progress. “We really wanted to go NT, but we just couldn’t find the support,” Hawkey said. “Every vendor that we went to [for] a really clean solution for the optical jukebox and the RAID system steered us away from NT.”
All scanned images have associated keywords for future research and retrieval, a process that Hawkey called “a continual work in progress.” On the technical side, PhotoDisc is considering moving the keywords from the Microsoft Access database that it currently uses to another SQL Server database, and it may change some of the indexing routines. But the real difficulty with keywords lies in the ambiguity of English.
“Let’s say you type in the word orange. If you were to translate the word into different languages, [there would be confusion] because the color and the fruit are two different words. So the system has to find out ‘Did you mean the color or did you mean the fruit? Or did you mean both?’ ” Hawkey said.
PhotoDisc may fix this by having the system ask about problematic words or terms. But no solution can lean totally on software. “It really gets tricky when people search for metaphorical things,” Hawkey said, because users may think of things in different ways than people creating the keywords.
One type of intellectual capital that belongs among the PhotoDisc asset collection is marketing data: the customer database and transactional history. This is vital for the marketing and sales groups to determine the types of products that sell and the specific customers who buy them. To safeguard the information and manage its use, PhotoDisc keeps it in a data mart.
Birkeland said PhotoDisc switched from Microsoft Access to the Microsoft SQL Server on a Windows NT server. “We use log-in level security for access to particular tables. People utilize mostly Microsoft Access to run queries and request information from the database.”
Cross-platform capabilities are not as important for the data mart. PhotoDisc employees typically add information and queries from PCs, while Unix and Mac stations are devoted to scanning and retouching images 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Even so, PhotoDisc has laid the groundwork for access to thedata from Web browsers, making management and use of the data mart possible across platforms. Among the reporting technologies under evaluation is PhotoDisc’s intranet, which currently contains such things as common company forms, employee directories, commonly asked technical support questions, and tracking numbers that customer service uses to track shipped goods. By using HAHTsite by HAHT Software Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., PhotoDisc can enable dynamic access to SQL databases through a browser, effectively running reports.
“Then you don’t have to have Access,” Birkeland said. “There’s a lot of protection and security in that area as well. Utilizing browser technology across platforms is a great way to go cross-platform.”
PhotoDisc has a separate Web server with RAID storage for electronic commerce, which allows customers to purchase single images. The company ensures that the images on the Web server are the latest versions.
“We upload it off of the [main image server]. We have central file management and a person responsible for that,” Hawkey said. The distribution of files throughout the company is controlled, although this can become tricky when modifying images or changing keywords. “That’s why the master is so critical and that everything feeds off that. Unless you have a good sense of reference data, you’ll never get it aligned. We’re big on batch-processing around here,” he said.
PhotoDisc has had to extend the idea of asset management to its CD-ROM products so customers, after buying an image collection, can see thumbnails of the images, select the ones they want, then choose the needed resolution. This is fairly straightforward in a Web paradigm, since all a user needs is a Web browser. For CD image collections, though, the work is more complex. Paradoxically, while JPEG and TIFF images would seem to cross over platforms fairly easily, there have been problems with them. In the early ’90s there were problems with various versions of TIFF files also. Finding tools that were cross-platform could be difficult, with image tools at one point tending to be scarce on the PC side.
“One of the cross-platform challenges we had was image browsing tools,” Birkeland said. Until recently, he said, when the company had applications for both Macintosh and PC platforms, staffers had to build separate databases for each one on the CD. The databases, which needed to include the various resolutions of images, were large. To ship a hybrid CD required not only dual browsers, but also dual databases.
In addition, it is hard to track which version of an image a customer has.
Once you determine what you like to shoot the most and what you’re best at, this will determine the market(s) that you target to sell your work. One advantage that you have over an established, full-time pro is that you don’t have to shoot things that don’t interest you. By specializing, you’ll probably develop your craft more than a photographer who generalizes, and you’ll enjoy doing it.
In the process, it’s important to develop your own personal style. While you’re learning, or doing photography for your own enjoyment, it’s fine to imitate someone whose work you admire. However, when you want to sell your photography, it’s time to strike out on your own. Besides, if a photo buyer prefers your mentor’s style, they’ll probably call that photographer – not you.
Find out all you can about your potential client before sending unsolicited photos. Remember the adage, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” It’s a good idea to query the publication or company first with a letter, outlining several ideas for photos or photo/text packages. When the potential client wants to see your work, submit only your best – no weak or inappropriate images. Whenever possible, familiarize yourself with the client’s needs. Spend time researching the company or publication, know what types of photos they prefer, and what they’ve used in the past.
Learn to Write
With many publications, such as community newspapers and magazines (like this one), it’s easier to sell photo/text packages than individual photos. So, in addition to your photographic education, you might consider taking a journalism class or two. If you’re not a seasoned writer but you’ve got a great idea, the editors at the publication can polish your work into a usable article. If writing is just not your thing, consider teaming up with a writer and splitting the profits.
Your photography can decorate the walls of homes and offices, and it is a great way to display your images for other potential buyers to see. Interior decorators are a very good source for this type of work as they can recommend you to a number of their clients. Begin by finding out if there’s a local American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in your area, contact them and ask for a membership list. (You can also check the local Yellow Pages under Interior Design), then approach these decorators.
You can also go to offices, restaurants, hotels and banks and speak with their management or director of public relations about displaying your photos on their walls. Keep an eye out for places that are redecorating. You might be able to work out an arrangement where you can include your name and phone number with your photography, so that people can contact you about buying your work if they like it.
In recent years, photography has experienced a growth in popularity as a collectible art form. If you do fine art photography, besides displaying your wares on the walls of local restaurants or businesses, you might want to approach gallery owners. There are some photography galleries, but many are primarily art galleries that have special photography shows throughout the year, or spotlight photographers from time to time.
In this type of market, it’s especially important to establish your own individual photographic style. To capture the attention of a gallery director, you must have work that makes a statement. Gallery owners have a definite idea what will sell to their clientele. Before you approach a retail gallery, be sure you have an understanding of its client’s needs.
Nonprofit galleries can offer less-experienced photographers a lot of opportunity, especially if they are sponsored by an educational facility or by a cooperative. Profits from sales in these galleries are generally lower than with retail galleries, since their primary goal is to expose the public to a variety of art forms and new artists, or photographers.
If you’re always abreast of local and national current events, you can shoot pictures to submit to your local newspaper, or even provide photos for the national media when a local story grabs their attention. If photojournalism is your primary focus, major newspapers and news services, such as Associated Press, often need good stringers around the country.
To begin, you can photograph events of local interest and send them to your community newspaper. For example, if you belong to a service club, you can photograph an event such as the installation of new officers. You can also cover rallies, visits by politicians and many other community events. Although the pay at local weekly papers is often minimal – or even nonexistent – you can at least get your pictures published with a photo credit. It’s a great way to familiarize editors and the community with your work.
Photos of local school or community sports teams can also be sold to local newspapers, or to the teams themselves and their families. Many teams often want group portraits or their awards dinners photographed. There are even a few companies that make trading cards, buttons and other products that you can sell to sports teams. If you love sports and action photography – and don’t mind working on weekends – you might be able to turn this into a great sideline business.
Opportunities abound for portrait photographers in every city across the country. With families, there are formal and informal portraits, passports, new baby photos and wedding photography. Schools have yearbooks and class portraits. Local businesses often need executive portraits for their in-house publications and annual reports.
If portraiture is your chosen field of expertise, you must have access to a studio (many photographers utilize part of their home for this purpose). There are also times when you’ll be called upon to photograph events in the field, especially weddings. As a beginning portrait photographer, let people know about your services by putting ads in local papers or contact schools to bid for class portraits. Happy customers will be your best source of advertising.
You can start locally in this market by photographing restaurants, hotels, churches, schools, and a wide variety of businesses. With some computer software programs, you can even produce your own postcards and greeting cards and then sell them in large quantities back to these businesses. They, in turn, can sell them to their customers.
When you’re ready to start approaching greeting card, calendar and poster companies, just remember that there are more than 1000 greeting card companies in the United States alone, and they produce billions of paper products. A great many of them work with free-lancers. Again, it’s important to look at retail greeting cards, calendars, note cards, etc., to see what’s selling.
After your research, query companies you’re interested in working with and send them a stock photo list. These organizations usually receive thousands of submissions regularly and they often prefer to know what you have before you send it. This can also lead to future sales even if your particular stock inventory doesn’t meet their immediate needs.
Although it’s a highly competitive market, there are tens of thousands of magazines published every month. These include trade, special-interest, business, association, regional and general-interest consumer magazines. Chances are that some are looking for the type of photography that you do. Again, go to newsstands and libraries to research the various types of publications that are out there. When you find several publications that may be able to use your special talents, call or write to them and request submission guidelines and an editorial calendar. These guidelines will inform you of the magazine’s policies, their photographic needs, and their pay rates.
When you contact these people again, be prepared to let them know what your specialties are (since you’ve done your research, you know that your work is appropriate for them), and suggest five to six photographic ideas or photo/text packages. Your chances of acceptance are far greater when you offer options, instead of just one idea.
As you develop working relationships with one or more publications, you will probably start getting assignments from them, and you may be able to negotiate higher rates.
Stock Photo Agencies
Stock houses are great places to market your existing photos, especially if you have a lot of high-quality images and are continually productive. These agencies market the use of these photos in return for a percentage of the rate received, usually around 50%.
Stock agencies are ideal for those who would rather not market their own work, and can negotiate higher prices than you might ask for. However, the world of stock photography is a highly competitive one, and you must consistently produce saleable images – and lots of them – in order to succeed. Photo needs vary from agency to agency, but a common request of stock houses is images of people in professional and leisure-time activities. Model and property releases are a must.
Do research to find stock houses that market the type of work you like to shoot, and approach them with a list of your stock subjects and your portfolio. For lists of legitimate stock agencies, contact ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), 609/799-8300; or PACA (Picture Agency Council of America), 800/457-7222.
Don’t Give Up!
It’s easy to give up after a few rejections (and we’ve all experienced them). Learn to consider each rejection letter a lesson learned, and continue to submit and tailor your submissions to the needs of the client. Whenever possible, try to get feedback from the client or photo editor.
This gorge just above Athabasca Falls in the Canadian Rockies was one of those compositions that was very easy to recognize. A bridge had been built across the waterway and looking upriver, the wonderful composition was immediately apparent. Two things struck me: First, the irregular, upside-down “V” design of the gorge was very artistic; secondly, the colors in the scene were quite unique. The icy looking water was cyan, and this was juxtaposed against the cold, gray granite walls of the gorge.
When composing a photograph, the precise position of the camera can be critical. I studied the gorge through the viewfinder on my Mamiya RZ67 II as I moved from right to left. Even a foot or two made a difference in the shape of the “V.” When I found the most pleasing composition through the lens, I set up my tripod in that location.
My lens of choice was the 250mm medium telephoto, comparable approximately to a 135mm telephoto in the 35mm format. It was important to use a lens with a relatively narrow angle of view because there were several I elements just outside the picture area that would have ruined the shot, if included. There were a few unattractive clumps of vegetation and, unfortunately, a few pieces of litter. The lens I used allowed me to carefully crop out the unwanted elements.
The tonalities in this composition are primarily medium gray, and any TTL meter will give you a correct exposure (assuming it is calibrated correctly). However, I don’t use a built-in reflective meter – even on the RZ – because I prefer to depend on my own personal way of interpreting exposure. I usually use an incident light meter, which measures the light falling on a scene. However, the meter must be in the same lighting conditions as the subject being photographed. In this situation, my camera position was in sunlight, while the granite gorge was in shadow. I couldn’t walk over the gorge to take the reading, so it was impossible for me to use the incident meter. Instead, I used a hand-held reflective meter, which operates under the same principle as a built-in TTL meter. It measures the light reflecting back to the camera from the subject.
My reflective meter is the Minolta Spot Meter F, which has a 1 [degree] spot metering capability. In other words, I can measure the exposure on a tiny portion of the scene before me. While this is a very useful feature, it can also be confusing. The technique for obtaining a proper exposure is to select a medium gray area of the composition and take a reading from it. The specific target doesn’t have to be gray in color, but its tonality should be in the middle, between light and dark.
There were two recognizable spots from which I could easily take an accurate reading. The medium-toned blue water in the center left of the inverted “V” gave me a correct exposure, as did the gray rock in the lower right corner. I chose the rock. The reading was 1/125 at f/4 on Fujichrome Velvia, rated at El 40.
I needed significant depth of field, however. I wanted the entire length of the gorge rendered as sharply as possible. Out-of-focus foregrounds are rarely attractive, and most landscapes consist of such fine detail in textures and natural designs that they demand a high degree of resolution. Extrapolating my reading, I set the camera for 1/2 second at f/32. I focused about 1/3 into the frame to maximize the depth of field. This is my shortcut for calculating hyperfocal distance.
Finally, when there were no cars on the bridge that might have produced vibrations, I used the mirror lock-up feature and a cable release to make the exposure.
One of my favorite techniques for capturing a person on film in a studio is to use only a single light source. This simplified approach suits me well. It is quick to set up, less intimidating to inexperienced models, and easy to accomplish in any indoor situation, at home or abroad. In addition, for those on a limited budget, it is easy to afford.
More importantly, though, with a single light I can create dramatic illumination that seems to reveal a person’s character more so than with other types of lighting.
Tungsten vs. Strobe
Any kind of single strobe or photoflood can be used for this technique. Both types of lights can be controlled to achieve the desired effect. They can be diffused, focused to a narrow beam, and easily repositioned. The decision you have to make has to do with three factors; cost, light output, and heat.
Any flash, no matter how inexpensive, will cost more than a reflector and a light bulb. The latter can be purchased at a hardware store for under $10. Flash units range from less than $100 to a lot more if you purchase a studio power pack.
The second factor is light output. A 500-watt bulb in a reflector puts out a lot of light, but it is very harsh on your subject’s eyes. Squinting does not contribute to a natural-looking portrait. A 100-watt bulb is significantly less bright, of course, but the depth of field available to you is much more limited. In order to use small lens apertures, you need enough light for a correct exposure.
While you can get good results from a small, affordable flash, the amount of light available is several f-stops less than that provided by more expensive Speedotron or Balcar studio units. In addition, the more advanced units feature built-in modeling lights which provide a visual preview of the results. Just as with the 100-watt light bulb, the depth of field choices you have are reduced. To use f/11 or f/16, a faster film must be used, or the flash must be placed very close to the subject.
Most portrait photographers insist on lighting a person such that he or she appears separated from the background. In an outdoor portrait during daylight hours, this is easy to do simply by using the ambient light. In a studio, a bright background in back of dark hair (or light hair against a dark background) creates the contrast necessary for separation. If a dark background is used with a dark-haired subject, a hair light is employed to create the separation.
The portrait that accompanies this article shows no separation at all between the young girl and the black background. I purposely juxtaposed a model with black hair in front of a black backdrop to meld the two together. Notice what happens to the face. There’s virtually nothing else to look at. Everything in the composition is dark except the only thing that really matters.
By using one light and directing the illumination on the face only, I literally force a viewer’s attention on my subject’s face. With portraits of glamour models, business executives, groups of people, and a bride and groom, this technique isn’t appropriate. But for dramatic individual portrayals, it is simple to do and very effective.
If the one light used does not provide a significant level of illumination, you will be forced to use a fast film starting in the ISO 400 range. Medium telephoto lenses are used for most portraits, and this means that to keep the entire face in focus – from the tip of the nose to the ears – a lens aperture of f/8 or smaller is required in most cases (depending upon how close the camera position is to the subject). Small apertures in turn require more light.
If the single light source isn’t bright enough, fast films (or slower films that you push one or two stops) are the only options. Kodak’s T-Max 400 is a good choice, as is Fuji’s Neopan 400 or 1600 or Ilford’s Delta 400. These films are relatively fine grained despite their speed.
On the other hand, a more powerful light source will give you more choices. You can choose a sharp, ultra fine-grained film, or a faster, grainy film can also be used for a more coarse look. Agfapan 25 is an excellent fine-grained film that produces tack sharp negatives. When I use a grainy film like Kodak Tri-X (I usually rate it at EI 320) with a powerful light source, it’s often necessary to cut the power of the output because even with my smallest lens aperture the light may be too bright. This can be done with neutral density gels over the flash, or a polarizing filter can be placed over the camera lens for roughly a two f-stop reduction in exposure.
One-light portraits are very stylized. They are compelling and poignant, and I think they are more effective with certain kinds of expressions and body language. Quiet, introspective, and pensive moments are conducive to being portrayed with a single light source. I ask my subjects to sit erect (a slouched posture is never attractive) and look down or off to one side significantly away from the lens axis. (Shooting a person looking slightly to one side of the lens drives me crazy. I think it’s ridiculous.)
Usually, I ask them to close their lips. I might ask for a hint of a smile (with no teeth showing), or a more somber or thoughtful expression.
On occasions when I ask my subjects to look into the lens, I am looking for different qualities depending on the subject. In children, I want to elicit their innocence. Large, luminous eyes in a young face should be level with the camera (too many adults point the cameras down at children). In a young woman, I might ask her to lower her face somewhat with her eyes looking intently into the lens. This makes her eyes appear a bit larger and more sensual.
In a man, strength and assuredness are traits I try to capture. To that end, I might place my single light more to the side and ask for a serious and/or intense expression.
A single light source creates contrasty shadows, so be sure to pay special attention to the shadows on the face and upper body of your subjects. Move the light to a different position until you like what you see. Side lighting offers the most dramatic contrast, where one side of the face is dark. Rembrandt or 45 [degrees] lighting creates classic shadows on the face, while front lighting places shadows on either side of the face and under the nose (if the light is raised high enough) to form the famous “butterfly” shadow.
1 Go flying!
Summer means hot, but it’s the perfect season for an early-morning or late-afternoon hike. The temperature is most pleasant then, and by fortuitous coincidence, these are also the best times for most outdoor photography: The low-angle sunlight produces long shadows that add interest to scenic shots, and the warm illumination enhances people and wildlife portraits. It’s beautiful early and late in the day, and a wonderful time to explore the world around you with your camera, whether that world is your local neighborhood or a national park. Look for exciting lighting, grand vistas and small details, and try different lens focal lengths.
2 Make an outdoor portrait!
Direct noon sunlight is terrible for people pictures, because its harshness makes subjects squint, and its high angle causes eyes to disappear into black pockets of shadow. But when the sun is low in the sky, your subject can face it without squinting, giving you a beautiful directional light source. Summer provides a longer “window” of early and late light for your shooting pleasure (we’d suggest late afternoon for most subjects, as few of us look our photogenic best first thing in the morning, and the build-up of industrial haze during the day makes afternoon light more red-orange compared to the more yellow light of early morning – important if you’re shooting in color). You can face your subject directly toward the sun for front lighting, or at an angle for more facial modeling (use a white, silver or gold photo reflector or large sheet of white poster board to bounce light into the shadow areas). If you want softer light, try open shade. Or turn your subject away from the sun and use a large reflector to “bounce” light back onto the subject’s face.
3 Get wet!
Summer is the season of water fun, and provides many opportunities to get great photos of these activities. But instead of just shooting as a passive spectator, look for new angles and, when possible, try to get into the action. Here, photographers found a bridge overlooking a kayaker, went for a swim to get a close-up view of a rowboat, and captured a water skier from the back of the tow boat. Be sure to protect your camera from the elements (use a waterproof or weatherproof camera, or an underwater housing – relatively inexpensive ones like those from Ewa Marine provide great protection). Use fast shutter speeds to “freeze” action, or slow speeds to blur it. Try panning the camera to track a moving subject at a slow shutter speed, to really emphasize the subject’s speed against a blurred background.
4 Face the music!
Summer is a wonderful time for outdoor concerts, and with a decent eat and a zoom lens, you can get some nice shots from your seat. Four things to keep in mind: First, some concerts don’t permit photography – don’t try to sneak a camera in to these. Second, concerts that do permit photography generally don’t permit the use of flash. The solution? Fast film – Fujicolor Super G Plus 800 allowed the photographer to catch Carlene Carter in concert (below) with a handheld 35mm SLR and 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens. Third, because of the dramatic lighting at concerts, it’s best to use a spot meter (or, as done here, the SLR’s built-in spot-metering capability) to read the main subject, so the reading isn’t adversely influenced by darker or brighter areas of the scene. Fourth, remember to enjoy the music!
5 Bag a beastie!
Professional wildlife photographers spend weeks, months, even lifetimes in the field to get their amazing animal shots. But you can get some very nice ones at your local zoo, seashore or park. You’re not trying to fool anyone into thinking you spent weeks on safari – you just want some great animal shots. Tips: Take a telephoto zoom lens, go early in the day (when the crowds are sparse), check your backgrounds for distracting elements, and look for good lighting. And don’t forget about human “beasties” – they can be the most fascinating subjects of all!
6 Get a (night) life!
Warm summer nights make for comfortable shooting and provide lots to shoot. Great night subjects include city skylines, busy boulevards, neon signs, night lights reflected in glass and water, and night life in general. Use fast film and you can capture the many moods of the night by existing light. Use a tripod and you can make long exposures to blur moving traffic while stationary elements of the scene remain sharp.