Saturday, June 19, 2021

How to make $$$ on Instagram (*)

The latest in my series
on the Quarantine Beard
(*) Or so I was told.

Also in this issue: 
The Pilot I never showed you
Next Time in Cameracraft
In the Pipeline

How to make $$$ on Instagram

The pandemic was still raging.  I was still in Boston, waiting for my Sony A1 camera to arrive so I could start writing the book on it.  I guess you could say I was "between projects".  Usually when there's not much to do I read a book or two and expand my horizons.  I found one advertised online whose title promised to make a lot of money on Instagram without spending any money and not spending a lot of time.

Usually I'm skeptical of such titles whose outcomes sound too good to be true and come with a steep price.  Especially when it comes to online marketing, where every advertising dollar I've ever spent has been a wasted dollar.  But Instagram sounded like a platform worth exploring for selling camera-specific books, since many enthusiasts hashtag the camera they're using when they post.  They identify themselves.  And, unlike Facebook, you don't have to be "friends" in order to communicate with others with similar interests.  So I sprung for the book and started reading.

Friday, May 21, 2021


In This Issue:
  • Why take photos?
  • AUA (Ask Us Anything - a Gary and Tony video event)
  • Seminars, the Next Generation
  • Two new ebooks out!!
  • 15 things about the Sony A1 you probably didn't know (even if you read all the online reviews)
  • More!

Why Do We Take Pictures?
Vietnam, 2018

Well, I can tell you my story.  For most people, the reason is so we can have snapshots.  Snapshots jog a neuron in the person looking at it, and bring back a fond memory (but not to others who don't have the shared experience).

For me it’s a little different.   Like a lot of people, I grew up reading National Geographic and I fell in love with the idea that these photographers were out exploring the world and bringing back stories.  I had built the association in my mind that owning a camera somehow gave you that license to explore – to see places you’ve never seen, and meet people you’d never otherwise have a chance to meet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

My Last Post about the "Monster Adapter" (LA-EA4r)

The Monster adapter was originally mentioned in my blog post from July, 2020.  It is a printed circuit board designed to replace the one in Sony's LA-EA4 adapter, allowing your Sony and Minolta A-mount lenses to benefit from the new features (like tracking and Eye-AF) found in most modern E-mount bodies.  (The biggest benefit going to owners of the Minolta 500mm f/8).  I've been playing with this adapter since last July, essentially being a beta tester and keeping a private email list heavy on details to those who expressed interest early on.

The product has matured significantly since that time, and just recently I created a video comparing Sony's new LA-EA5 (which only works on 3 camera bodies - the A1, the A7R IV, and A6600) with the LA-EA4r "Monster Adapter" which works on most bodies having phase-detect AF baked into the sensor.  Which one is better?  And will I take on this product personally?

Geeking with Gary - Cloud Server on a Raspberry Pi

[Editor's note: This has little to do with photography.  I do this from time to time.]

Two Christmases ago someone gave me a Raspberry Pi.  You know, a full single-board computer which runs Linux and can pretty much do anything for a whopping $35 U.S. dollars.  “Hey, I’m a geek, and I hate that Dropbox' free account limits me to only three computers.  I have this single-board computer and a 2 TB hard drive lying around.  I’ll turn that little board into my own personal cloud server, so I can access my files from anywhere in the world - for free!  AND I can configure it to be my own personal Virtual Private Network (VPN) - also for free!  Muahahaha!!  What could possibly go wrong?” 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Giant Softbox - for Free!

Also in this issue
Shooting the Northern Lights with Video
Three Ebooks released (and one in the pipeline)
Contest Winners
We're moving (again!)
A Giant Softbox for Free
And much more...

Shooting the Northern Lights with Video

My wife and I were watching a cool movie one night entitled “Under an Arctic Sky”, where a bunch of 20-somethings went to Iceland in wintertime to surf. (Pretty amazing cinemaphotography. You can see the trailer for it here). Toward the end of the movie (and the trailer) there’s footage showing them surfing at night, in darkness, with the Northern Lights painting a picturesque backdrop. “That had to have been shot with an A7S!” I exclaimed, thoroughly annoying my wife who hates it when I talk about technical BTS stuff during a movie.  “That’s the only camera sensitive enough to shoot useable footage in such low light!!”  Sure enough, as the movie progressed you can see them handling the Sony gear, and at the end, you can see that Sony was actually a sponsor.  Ever since the original A7S came out, cutting-edge filmmakers have been using it to shooting things previously unshootable.  The example that really sticks in my mind is this nighttime drone shot (again, the Aurora Borealis) using the original Sony A7S and a 20mm f/1.4 lens.  There's another one called "Moonwalk", also sponsored by Sony.  Just amazing. 

I bring this up as a prelude to my announcement that the long-awaited, most-thorough-book on the Sony A7S III is now out!  (It would have been out sooner had Adobe not moved all of the legacy arrows and shapes out of the shape tool in Photoshop and not told anybody.)  All of the new menus, all of the new video modes, even the new HEIF files are all explained, in 703 pages of insane technical (yet completely understandable) detail.  Get your copy now, available in .pdf, .epub, .azw3, and printed versions!! 

Other e-book announcements: 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Wireless Flash vs. the Adjustment Brush

My first shooting gig in Boston was a cool venture called Backyartists, a company started by two experienced early childhood educators. Backyartists mostly caters to local families with pre-school aged children, but they also ship out seasonal and holiday boxes of open-ended process art and sensory activities for kids ages 3-9.  Today I was taking marketing shots of their Friendship & Love box, for Valentine’s Day.

My goal was to create images they couldn't easily make with their smartphones.  I used an f/2.8 lens shooting wide open so the background would be beautifully de-focused, and had their backs to the sun so that their hair (or hats in this case) were illuminated, giving them a certain glow.  Wireless flash (with my usual paper diffuser) was used to illuminate the faces, completing the look.  If I do a good job, you won't even notice that I used a flash, although you might subconsciously pick up that there was something special about the pictures.  (Click on any image to view larger and sharper.)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Two good reasons to turn off the Focus Assist light...

Also in this issue:
  • Why we moved
  • Two new books out!  (And two more in the queue!)

Reader Bill Gordon writes: "One comment on the auto illumination feature. You and every other author I’ve ever read says there is no reason to turn it off. But there is one place where you need to shut it off. A museum. Generally there is no flash allowed in a museum and this feature will get you yelled at every time. My mother lost a day of shooting once because she couldn’t figure out how to shut it off in the field. Just sayin….."

So now using the Focus Assist Lamp is the equivalent of using a tripod - it gets you in trouble for no good reason.  

There's another reason to turn that feature off, and I was reminded of it when trying to take the above self-portrait (as part of my Quarantine Beard series).  But this shot was going to be different -- this time instead of using studio lighting, the light from my face would come solely from the flame in the faux pipe.  Sony A7C, ISO 6400, 1/10th of a second, f/2.8 using the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 lens, and framed and taken using Sony’s smartphone app.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Camera with the lowest noise? Check out this shocking discovery...

Also in this issue:

* Monster Adapter Update
* Geeking with Gary - Un-Throttling Unlimited Hotspot Data

[Editor's Note: I'm on the road this week - we're selling our lovely home in Southern California and moving to Boston.  We're traveling in a motor home, exiting the vehicle only to refuel because so many are not taking the pandemic seriously.  We have to get there before our furniture does so no time for sightseeing or doing vacation-y things.  So this blog post will be necessarily short.]

The Camera with the Lowest Noise?

I'm actually writing e-books on both the Sony A7S III and the Sony A7C cameras at the same time.  And of course, as I always do when I write books about cameras, I wonder about things.  "I wonder if a high ISO shot taken with the 24 megapixel A7C has noticeably more noise compared to the 12 megapixel low-noise king, the Sony A7S III?"

So I took a couple of informal test shots at ISO 10,000, and zoomed into the shadow areas where the noise is most likely to show up.  The noise looked the same to me.  (Click on any image to view larger).  (You can also download the original RAW files from here.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

What's worth keeping?

We're moving to Boston.  Long story.

As with any move, we're going through and weeding out material possessions we don't need anymore.  And that goes for the archives as well.  When I was younger I felt that old images, like fine wine, might become more valuable over time, and therefore it was imprudent to throw old pictures away, even when they didn't "make the cut".  You never know about the future.  That's a foundational principle of stock photography.

I benefitted from this philosophy a few times.  

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Three Tricks

Me, doing my best Orson Welles impersonation
Also in this issue:
  • Articles That Didn't Make it to Cameracraft Magazine
  • Sony's new Webcam software - comparison
  • Being a Virtual Speaker at your Photo Club
  • Giving Back with the Virtual Reading Project
  • In the Pipeline

Articles That Never Made It to Cameracraft

I pitch a lot of ideas for articles for Cameracraft magazine; most get accepted but some do not for various reasons.  The subjects still fascinate me, though.  Here are a couple that didn't make it (and I wish I had permission to show you some of their examples.  But you can click on the links below to see some remarkable works):
  • Photographer Esther Honig did a fascinating experiment - she took a picture of a model and sent it to photo retouchers in 27 different countries and asked them to "enhance" the image according to their cultural preferences.  Beauty is a subjective thing but it amazes me how entire cultures can buy into a certain ideal.
  • Seth Casteel takes pictures of dogs underwater and cats in mid-air.  I have no idea how he got the cat shots - they are super sharp (no autofocus works that fast), extraordinarily well-lit, and the cat is often looking directly at the camera.  I was hoping to do an article about him to learn how he did it; alas my emails and instagram messages were never answered.
  • Haruhiko Kawaguchi is a Japanese photographer who approaches people on the street and convinces them to come to his studio, get naked, get into a vacuum-sealed bag, and have their pictures taken.  To me the images are the least interesting part; what's amazing is how he convinces total strangers to do this.  (Warning: Probably Not Safe For Work.) (On the other hand, you're probably working from home right now. :-) )
Cameracraft is a substantial read with superb images and repro. It’s not an obscure art fest either. Every two months it’s a shot of inspiration, with solid technical content, and it’s written by experts, not interns.  Subscribe today and experience the last "proper" photo magazine standing!

The Three Tricks

There are three projects I've been getting a lot of questions on regarding how they were done.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Topaz AI - As good as they claim?

Also in this Issue:

  • Monster Adapter Update
  • A Virtual Zoom Lecture for your Photo Club
  • In the Pipeline

Topaz AI - As Good as They Claim?

[Editor's note: This is an expanded version of an article which appeared in a recent edition of Cameracraft magazine.]

AI has been the buzzword in the technology industry for the last 30 years.  But when Topaz used it as a branding for their latest collection of image enhancement tools, the phrase they should have used is “deep learning”; a technique in which a learning algorithm is trained with thousands of before & after images to allow the computer to slowly learn what a good cleanup looks like.  Most people who have spent years learning how to do these things by hand in Lightroom and Photoshop may not think these new tools are anything special; for they can’t possibly improve upon a skilled retoucher.  I thought I would spend a few days testing that theory.