This blog is my attempt to keep track of some of the things I learn along the way, with my Canon 7D, G12 and accessories. All images copyright Brad Calkins, not to be used without permission (or purchase). I do not attempt to monetize my blog, other than to promote my stock photo portfolio on Dreamstime.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Back to Canon...

As previously posted, I was leaning towards giving micro 4/3rds a fair shake - but I just can't get the results I can from the Canon equipment.  As I said, I would have to move to the 7D or 5D to get a bigger viewfinder.  While they are indeed more expensive than the Panasonic bodies, they are more capable for what I do...  So, I've sold my GF1 and gone back to the G12 and put the proceeds towards an update of my 40D to the 7D.  Goals I have in mind:

1. Current model for high resolution in stock photography at base ISO.  If I'm ahead of the curve now, the images I upload today will be current for longer. 
2. Smaller RAW sizes (sRAW), lower noise high ISO for personal shots that don't demand high resolution.  This is an area the micro four thirds system falls short...
3. Better AF.  Microadjust for primes, zone focusing, AF tracking, point focus, etc.  I've very curious to see how the 7D's point focus mode works.  With my 40D I very often find that shooting a flat target is very accurate, but I get front focus when shooting something on an angle like a face.  I don't think this is a microadjust problem but the physical size of the AF area picking up the front edge of the subject.  Smaller AF targets should help nail the eye of the person.
4. Video.
5. Wireless flash - sell the ST-E2 and get the flash control without any physical add-on to the body.  Sell the 40D as well.
6. Bigger viewfinder.  5D Mk II would be even nicer, of course, but the extra $1000 goes a long way with 4 kids...  The original 5D is an option as well, but used they seem to be closer to $1200 or more if you want a low shutter count.  For what I do I think full frame is overkill, and suddenly my 24-105mm doesn't zoom enough, etc.  A 7D replaces my 40D, while a 5D would supplement it - meaning I can't sell the 40D to help pay for it.
7. More customizable camera.  The more I like using my camera the more I bring it and use it - and the better the photos that result from that...  I love the little details on the 7D: depth of field button can be used to toggle AF modes, LCD viewfinder hides non active AF points, AF in live view, etc.

We'll see how happy I am with it in a few months :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Critque of my own photos

Well, I probably won't do much actual critiquing, as I'm intending to show some photos I really like...  Lately I've been focused on gear and stock photography on this blog as I sorted out my various equipment, but all along I've been happily taking shots of my kids that I really enjoy.  I intend to step it up a bit in 2011 and focus a bit on developing my style.  I find I tend to do things the 'safe' way, and while I have developed my skills in terms of exposure and getting sharp photos, I now need to turn more to composition and concept.

This shot of the kids sledding is one I think worked out nicely.  I've got my son dead center in the frame, but I think it works well because of the other kids in the upper right, and the space it leaves for him to move into...  It also has a kind of nice diagonal flow to it, from the upper right and through the sled to the bottom left.  I'm not sure if his expression is one of worry or just concentration - probably the latter as at this point he hadn't bailed yet :)  That said I think this is an example of a safe shot - but still one I really enjoy looking at.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why you want an articulated screen

For reasons I'll get into in a future post, I've finally decided to go back to the Canon G series in the form of a Canon G12.  There were a couple of deal breakers with the G10 that made me move away from the G series down the micro 4/3rds road, and now that they've been solved I'm back ;)  Those deal breakers were the lack of HD video of any kind (I'm happy with 720P), and the other was just a bit too many megapixels on the sensor.  One key feature I missed with 4/3rds is the compatibility with my Canon flashes.  

My main criticism of the Micro 4/3rds was that it really meant I would have needed to start duplicating equipment with my Canon gear to really embrace it.  In the end, I think it could be very well suited for many applications - but not if you also maintain the dSLR system.  

But back to the point of the blog, here is an example of the difference that having an articulated screen makes.  The first shot is about as good as I would normally get without a screen that flips out.  With my dSLR I would have been even higher up, not being able to hold the camera at arms length.  The 2nd shot is the result after flipping out the screen and holding the camera closer to the ground!  Forget pixel peeping for a second, this is a real difference in the image that makes it in my opinion!  Wish I hadn't clipped her foot, though :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dreamstime hits 10,000,000!


Wow - Dreamstime is going to hit 10 million online images tomorrow (Nov. 23).  To mark the occasion, buyers are getting a discount on purchases and contributors get 100% of the royalties (110% for exclusives!).  Get over there and check it out if you haven't already...  Here is a link to register.  As a contributor you don't necessarily love hearing about all new highs in the image count, but you can't slow it down by wishing about it, might as well be happy about the royalties :)

In case you haven't heard about stock photo sites, it is where you can buy a generic type photo or illustration for a few dollars and use it commercially.  Great when you need that shot of a banana peel and can't be bothered to take it yourself !

Here are a few of my latest uploads available for purchase:

Graduation mortar board


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sticking to Canon?

I decided to really put my micro 4/3 GFI to the test yesterday and get some indoor shots of the kids.  Frankly, I was a bit surprised.  While the 20mm f/1.7 does very well in low light - it is 3 stops faster than the 45-200mm zoom.  As soon as I started trying to work with the telephoto the AF was not great and the viewfinder was sluggish, even with relatively bright room lights.

My 40D, even with the f/4 zoom, was snappy and spot on for focus.  This is pretty much a deal breaker - micro 4/3 is perfect for stock photography where I tend to have time and bright light.  Small, easy to carry and cheaper, and I will continue to use it for that.  But for now I'm just going to stick with what I have.  Might as well try to learn to push the envelope on my current gear.

Flash was the other deal breaker - a big bounce flash is just huge on my GF1.  If I switch to the Panasonic flash it would be easier to use, but then I lose all the nice wireless feature of my Canon system.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Moving to micro 4/3rds?

I'm seriously considering moving to micro 4/3s for my main camera now that the GH2 is up and coming, here's why:

1. To get a larger viewfinder than my 40D I need to go to the 7D or 5D, which are $1,700 and $2,700 body only.  The flagship GH2 is about $1,000.
2. Size/weight.  I actually like a camera the size of a digital rebel, but have stayed a model up because of the larger viewfinder and better body controls.  The GH2 is a perfect balance of small, with good grip and button placement.  The GH1 wasn't bad, but the wheel on the front meant you had to take your finger off the shutter to change settings - much improved with the GH2.
3. Mirrorless.  This isn't an advantage per se, but with the GH2 they have solved most of the negative, and added a bunch of positives:
3a. EVF.  While an EVF isn't as good in some situations (low light) they really are pretty darn good, and the GH2 offers twice the refresh over the GH1.  It also offers the same size view as a 5D in a body smaller than a rebel!
3b. Mirrorless.  By getting rid of the mirror the camera functions the same way regardless of whether you are using the rear screen or the viewfinder.  With the Canons you are still changing from great phase detect AF to crappy slow contrast detect when you switch.  Only the 60D offers a flip out screen, and still a more expensive body.
3c. Sensor performance.  Too early really say on the GH2, but with my GF1 I did some testing and an HDR capture made with it looks fantastic as an 8x10, which is as big a print as I'll ever scrutinize.  I mostly put photos on my blog or in a photo book, so nothing bigger than 8x10 will be viewed closeup.  Further, I rarely shoot at high ISO, and if I do I'm happy to accept some grain.  Bottom line is that the dynamic range of these smaller sensors is still as good as my 20D was, with lower noise.  Wasn't I happy with the 20D when it came out? ;)
3d.  I'm able to get stock photos accepted from my GF1 at about the same rate as my APS-C camera, and if ever there was a test of performance viewed at 100% on the screen it is getting stock photos accepted.
4.  Because Panasonic has embraced 4/3s as their only sensor in both still and video camera, I look forward to their plans for dedicated lenses.  Unlike Sony, and probably Nikon and Canon, they are making lenses for full frame, APS-C and micro - which means most of the really good lenses are way bigger than needed.  All my nice L series lenses for my 40D are wasted to some degree - heavier and more expensive as a result.
5. There are some very cool features that Panasonic offers because they have embraced this format with no legacy equipment: 3D lens (which presumably they correct in camera to only show the view from one lens), touch AF, AF anywhere on the sensor, re-sizable AF points, face detection AF that is fast, cropping in camera at 1:1, 16:9, 3:2 and 4:3, live black and white, 40fps crop mode, 2x digital zoom in still and video.
6. Video.  I'm not a huge fan of taking the time for video, but at least this camera offers some advanced stuff like full manual control, AF during video, audio levels and a flip out screen.  It also offers some of the highest bit rates in a combocam, plus video out monitoring.  Video isn't going away.
7. Easily adapted lenses.  Using the very short mount means any lens can be adapted to this format.  Some cool stuff like tilt shift lens adapters are possible too.
8. I'm trying to get out of the constant upgrading of equipment.  With micro four thirds I can get more features, same lens coverage in a smaller kit and end up with money left over - versus dropping another $2,000 for a state of the art Canon.  No focus micro-adjust needed, either :)

What am I losing?

1. Fast lenses.  This isn't a big a deal - with my Canon my L zooms are f/4 anyways, and the 20mm f/1.7 is my perfect focal length.  My guess is that Panny will eventually step up with more options.
2. Macro.  There aren't a lot of cheap macro options.
3. High ISO - but I hardly ever actually take advantage of it.
4. Weather sealing and durability.  There is no question that my L lenses are tough, but they are also really expensive.  I can replace a lot of 20mm pancake lenses before I'd pay for a 35mm L.
5. Depth of field.  This is a wash - with wide angles you can get more depth of field at say f/2.8.  With the larger sensor you should get more background blur - but I don't notice this in practice.  Being selective about what is behind your subject makes more of a difference.  I don't own a f/1.2 lens for my Canon, and frankly my 20mm f/1.7 can be used wide open in bright sun - not realistic with my 28mm f/1.8 Canon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fujifilm X100

Now this looks like a sweet camera!

Fujifilm x100

Monday, September 13, 2010

Having fun with it

It turns out that 28mm is a focal length that I love using!  I was worried that the shorter focal length would be unflattering for portraits and that I'd need to be so close that I influenced the picture.  Turns out that I was close enough to influence before I had the 28mm, and when I'm a little ways back and not directing the photo it allows for some interesting environment to creep into the frame.  For shots of kids, the little bit of distortion doesn't really harm anything - but I'll stick to something like a 50mm or 85mm if I'm doing formal shots...

I took it on a hike the other day and aside from putting on a zoom to get a few shots at 200mm I never really wanted anything else.  Sure having fun with it :)  The f/2 aperture really made a difference too - nice and bright to look through and in the woods I'm still getting 1/60s or 1/100s where my zoom would dump me down to 1/15 or 1/30s.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Year over year microstock progress

© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

There are lots of ways of measuring progress in the Stock Photography business, but my favorite is to look at my year over year increase in sales.  As one continues to upload you hope (expect!) that your sales will grow too.  I like to take the comparison a step further and divide by the increase in online photos.  If the result is above 100% then you are increaseing revenue faster than you are increasin your portfolio.  Comparing to the previous year's month in this way helps avoid some of the month to month jitter - if July sales are always lower for me I shouldn't get excited about a better August.  Looking at my portfolio this way I am very pleased!  Below is a graph starting about a year in (hard to do year over year in the first year!) - it shows that every month I've increased revenue per photo online faster than I've been uploading, very encouraging!  Surely a large part of this is the fact that DT files sell for more as they rise through the levels, but whatever the reason its working for me...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hubble, it isn't

OK, this isn't the best piece of astrophotography to hit the blogosphere but I was surprised how many stars one could see in a patch of sky from the city.  My new lens, close to wide open, did a fair job of catching some stars.  Looking forward to some shots next time I'm in the country with something to put in the foreground other than some telephone wires:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New lens - 28mm f/1.8

I've been torn up about this lens for a while - there are a lot of mixed reviews on it, and I couldn't find a store that had all the options to test out.  I had tried the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 on a 5D II and liked it.  I found a few cases online where tests showed how it looked on something other than a test chart and it looked good so I ordered one up.  Here are some initial shots.  Focus is spot on (shots at f/2.5).  Wide open it has a dreamy look,  pretty similar to the 50mm f/1.4 in bright light - looks good in low light higher ISO, though.  Outdoors I'd stop down to f/2 or below.  Overall I'm impressed - and much cheaper than the 35mm f/1.4 L :)
And a center crop from the shot above:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canon 60D and Sony SLT-A55

© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

In the last week two new cameras have been introduced that are of interest to me.  The first is the Sony SLT-A55.  It is unique in that they have adapted the Pellicle mirror idea from the 60's to modern SLRs to allow the faster phase detection autofocus to be used in movie mode.  Most SLRs flip the mirror out of the way (or have no mirror like my GF1) and use contrast based AF off the sensor.  Fuji makes a unique compact with some trickery up its sleeve with a few modified pixels in the center, but otherwise this is a new solution to the AF during video problem.


1. Fast autofocus during video.
2. Full time view in viewfinder allows eye level video shooting for more stability or in bright light where the screen is hard to see.  No blackout between still photo shots.  Should translate into faster response time after the shutter press, but on a lower priced body I doubt it beats the best.
3. Solves some of the problems with the original Pellicle mirror design: a partially silvered mirror loses light in the viewfinder - with an EVF this can be corrected with more amplification.  Another issue was light leaking in the viewfinder - again no problem with the EVF sealing the body.
4. Potentially much better AF tracking during high fps shooting since the AF sensor has a continuous view.  This could be a really big deal if ever adapted into the high end Canon/Nikon sports bodies.
5. Fewer moving parts.
6. Potentially allows different lens design as the mirror won't hit the rear element (Canon Pellix has two special lenses).


1. No AF when stopped down to f/8 or smaller.  All phase detect camera have that issue, but not it applies to video.  Still - better to have great AF down to f/8 for most users.
2. Mirror is now the dust and grime collector.  I've always been warned not to touch the mirror due to its delicate surface - I wonder how that will play out over time.  No dust reduction on mirror I don't think.  Note that due to the mirror being away from the sensor this should mean dust won't affect the photo in the way that dust in a lens doesn't.  That said, the top of the mirror is close to the sensor...

The 2nd major announcement is the new Canon 60D.  I've been waiting for this to be released to decide what to do - I want more megapixels for stock, but just can't justify a 5D Mk II.  7D is very interesting but I didn't want to spend the extra only to find a similar spec'd 60D.  I don't really see much video shooting for me - I have a GF1 that does a fine job of HD video for my purposes, and it is usually the camera I have with me for family outings when I want to take video.  So that said the 60D announcement is somewhat ho-hum.  The interface on the body is simpler, has SD cards, new grip, new batteries, same AF as the 40D, plastic body, and some of the former button functions are now in the LCD menus.  Flip out screen is nice, but better for video.  No PC Sync cord option.  On the plus side is the same size viewfinder at the 40D, level, flash commander built in, etc.  I'll have to get this in my hands to make any sort of decision.

By the way - what is with 'amateur' cameras having 18MP?  I just can't imagine having lenses that can take advantage of all that for someone on a budget.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Profile your camera

Since I got my GF-1 I've been bothered a bit with trying to get consistent color between it and my DSLR (Canon 40D).  While I don't really expect an exact match, I do find that I like the color on the Canon better, and the Panasonic seems a bit off.  Skin color especially seems tricky to get right with any of the built in presets for white balance and 'film style'.  I tried profiling it in Lightroom today and below is the result.  There is quite a different in the individual color patches and how much more saturated they render now.  Looking forward to doing the same with my SLR and comparing them with some real shots.  First up is the original / default profile, second is profilied from a target...  Decide for yourself :)  Definitely less of a difference on the blog than directly compared in Lightroom.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For those who like 100% crops

I've written reviews on the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens and how I didn't love it wide open.  Live and learn - it is worth bringing up a couple of points about that statement.

The first is that if you buy a lens to shoot wide open and expect perfect results you will need both perfect technique (for focus) AND an expensive lens.  Most primes have some flaws, and shooting wide open in bright sun is usually on that list of flaws.   I've been disappointed by hearing how great a lens it and then getting mixed results when using it.

Here is a perfect example.  This was shot in slightly overcast conditions, at f/1.4.  Note that the grass looks really good.  I did a little contrast boosting to help it out, but really quite good results.  What you notice, though, is the purple line around the white object on the lawn.  I was able to reduce the purple in the second shot, but still pretty obvious.
The crux of the issue is that you really should use your widest aperature for what it was deisgned - lower contrast, lower light shots.  Stop down to f/2 or f/2.8 for wide open bright day stuff.  Looking at the grass right around the center of the frame you'd be hard pressed to say there were any issues.  Bottom line?  Pay attention to how people use a lens before you take their advice - if you only shoot test charts (white/black high contrast) you'll have a poor picture of how the lens with behave in the field.  And hence why so many mixed reviews on lenses are out there.

My Camera Couture

A colleague at work has a family member who has started up a business selling custom and interesting camera straps.  I took a quick look at the site and will surely be getting something to help her out.  Check out her products and accesories at

Monday, August 9, 2010

For the fun of it...

I find that as I get or change equipment over time I use it heavily then go back to the basics for while.  This weekend I thought I would get some shots of a friend's baby, but my kids too.  Rather than do what I've been doing lately I broke out the shoot through umbrella, remote trigger and setup near a leather chair.  In between baby shots I grabbed a few shots of my kids too:
Simple, classic lighting but makes a nice record photo :)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Vignetting and metering...

I did a quick search around the web, but I couldn't find anyone talking about this particular problem (if it is one).  I've often noticed that different lenses might require different exposure compensation, etc.  It occurs to me that if you are using a prime lens with a wide aperture, especially a wide angle, if has dark fall-off towards the corners (vignetting).  Since today's camera meter with the lens wide open, this must impact the exposure calculation to some degree.  If you end up shooting at the wide aperture, then the metering may well be bang on, but if you are stopping down to f/8 and the vignetting is gone - you may well end up with overexposure.  Just another thing to think about, but at some point I'm curious enough to do a quick test with my prime lenses...

Monday, July 26, 2010

GF1 doesn't disappoint...

I was thinking about my Panasonic GF1 the other day and there is really only one thing that bugs me - the inability to zoom in on playback and then step through pictures to compare them. I was telling this to a friend and was saying that they could have just used the dial's ability to be pushed in to swap modes. As I was saying this I actually did push the button in and lo and behold it did exactly what I wanted. So there you have it - nothing to complain about :) Seriously, though, it is a very capable camera, especially if there isn't too much dynamic range. I find on a bright sunny day it is hard to hold the highlights - but this is a bit more technical than it seems as I'm usually happy with the photos themselves...

I also really like combining Lightroom's Black and White ability with my GF1:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lightroom 3 Release

Thumbs up

I've downloaded and tried out the version 3 beta of Adobe's Lightroom. Adobe has now released version 3 for sale. I'm very seriously considering taking the plunge into an all RAW workflow with Lightroom. Anyone had any success stories (or not) with Lightroom?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Full frame 'myth'

CMOS sensor

The are many reason to go full frame, but two of the most touted ones make me wonder:

1. Better dynamic range.
2. Lower noise.

The problem is that this argument is usually in the absense of the resolution, or generation. When I look at the numbers the Canon 20D and the 5D MkII have the exact same pixel size. So you can't talk about full frame having a 'deeper well' compared to a crop camera, or when comparing a crop camera to a compact. Not necessarily, anyways.

Personally, I find my 40D with smaller pixels offers lower noise than my 20D ever did. So what is going on? Why do the new 5D and 7D offer lower noise AND higher resolution? The answer is that there are several things going on.

1. More resolution means more noise per pixel, but at the same time you have more pixels. So for a print of the same size, or view on screen at the same subject area you get to reduce on the higher resolution sensor. According to DXOMark this actually turns in the favor of the higher resolution sensor.
2. Each generation of sensor offers new technology. Larger microlenses mean that the actual pixel size gets closer to the actual area the light falls on. Better processing means manufacturers can increase the S/N to some degree. Thus, comparing a 5D MkII to the 20D isn't totally fair. Same size pixel and new sensor technology.
3. Field of view - for a full frame sensor versus a crop sensor with the same angle of view you are gathering more light, onto a larger area, with more resolution. That helps...

So it isn't all hogwash, but don't tell me that a full frame sensor has larger pixels than a crop sensor or I'll pull out the cheap original digital rebel that has larger pixels than a 5D MkII. In case you are interested, the original Canon 5D and 1D MkII are still the champs of pixel size in the pseudo 35mm SLR sized camera market. That is probably why the Nikon D700 is so well regarded. They've kept the megapixels at the same size at the original 5D, with a few years in technology development.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Yesterday I had what must be my best day ever in stock photography - at least in terms of sales. 42 different downloads! Everything from crinkled paper, to a chocolate bunny went home with a lucky buyer...and my personal favorite - a VCR tape from a friends house:

VHS Tape

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lens reviews

I'm a big fan of looking into a purchase as much as possible, but how do you know who to trust or what to pay attention to? Here are some tips for wading through the murky world of online lens reviews:

1. Screen shots. You can't really trust jpgs posted online for review. There are just way too many factors that go into compressing and uploading to sites and the final quality. It is far more important to pay attention to what the reviewer says about the product that the actual images. Any lens can produce an image that looks good at 640x480 resolution.
2. Is the reviewer a photographer, or a reviewer (or both)? If they are a reviewer getting paid to do reviews or supplied products to review their impression of a new piece of equipment is limited to a short amount of time with it. It is important to ask yourself if they took photos with it that will be similar to your subjects.
3. Test charts don't tell the whole story. Sharpness is just one of many aspects of a lens' performance. CA, fringing, vignetting (dark corners), distortion and bokeh are just a few of the optical properties of a lens. Quality of manufacture, AF performance, maximum aperture, zoom creep, minimum focus distance, weight, and other physical factors add to the list. My personal experience with lenses is that the black and white test charts may be the worst place to start when evaluating a lens. Some would argue that only prints tell the final story, but if you submit to stock sites then how it performs on screen at 100% is important.
4. Sample variation. If you get into reading reviews you will ultimately hear about how a lens has varying quality, that you may need to test 3 or 4 copies of a lens at the store to find a good one, etc. There is clearly some variation between lenses, and that is too be expected as a manufacturer can't have perfect calibration. There are small variances in the alignment of the camera body (mirror, AF unit, sensor) as well as the lenses calibration. Hence why modern bodies allow the user to adjust things. But that isn't the whole story. You have to learn how to use a wide aperture lens, for example. You may be used to locking focus with the centre AF point and recomposing - that may be fine at f/5.6, but with an f/1.2 lens wide open you may move a little while recomposing and throw things way off. Another catch is people who shoot the ruler on an angle to determine front or back focus - the AF point isn't exact either. I did a recent test with my 40D where I focused on a spot on a plain wall and it was still hitting focus on the spot with it completely outside the AF point in the viewfinder...
5. Expectations. When recently looking for a wider (28-35mm prime) I found that just about every lens reviewed had the comment "we expect more from a prime lens". It just turns out to be hard to make a wider angle lens that is optically good from f/1.4 to f/16!

My personal take on this topic is that you should read the optical reviews and see what they say - if you can't find anything positive that is probably a good indication. Then take a look in Flickr groups for the lens, and see what kinds of shots people are taking with the lens in question. That says a lot to me... Certain lenses just have galleries full of shots you wished you'd taken, and others are a bunch of ho hum shots with people gushing over them - those are the lenses I try to avoid :) Bottom line - don't take it too seriously as there is no perfect lens. Here are some sites to try:


RAW = Copyright?

Boys at school
There is a lot of talk on stock photo sites about whether you can prove ownership/copyright if you sell the RAW files. A second issue is whether it is worth selling the RAW files to subscribers to sites (who may pay the same small fee for a RAW file as a tiny JPG).

The copyright issue revolves around the idea that selling the RAW file is like selling your negative - now the person holding the RAW "negative" can prove they took the jpg, just like the original photographer can. While this would certainly complicate a legal battle, my guess is that you would still win the case. The RAW file has embedded information about the camera and lens used that one could presumably prove you owned at the time, or the photographer can 'prove' they took the photo by showing others taken at the same time. The latter strategy helps jpg only shooters too. There is nothing that says you have to shoot RAW to win a copyright case. That said, I have a simple solution for people who do want to increase their stock photo revenue by selling RAW files - convert the RAW files to DNG and post those. Keep the native manufacturer's RAW files for yourself only. Since going to DNG is a one way process (you can't go from DNG to the native RAW file) you still retain the ability to show proof of the original RAW file - just make sure you don't select the option to include the native file when you do the conversion! This has a secondary benefit too - you increase the chances that a buyer owns software that can do the conversion, a problem for anyone using a very new camera.

The 2nd issue is whether selling a RAW is worth it. I sell RAW files on Dreamstime and have probably only sold 5 RAW files for full value. When that happens it seems worth it as you can get $10-$15 for a sale. The rest usually go for $0.42 (I'm exclusive) - though DT changed the pricing this year so level 3-5 files sell for $0.84 or $1.26. What selling RAW files do on Dreamstime is raise the level of the file. I have had many buyers buy both the large jpg and the RAW - double the dollars earned for that sale and boosting future revenue as well. Finally, on Dreamstime a buyer can search for files with a RAW option - in many cases I feel this helps a buyer find your file. They may not actually buy the RAW option, but they may get to you in the first place becuase of it - think of it as another way of increasing exposure.

Cubed beef
What I don't understand are those who are selling stock who feel the low subscription prices aren't good value for the RAW file. I'm producing content to sell to buyers who need photos - and many of those are graphics editors who will want to process the files themselves to get the highest quality result. How can I shoot RAW, argue that you should shoot RAW to maximize quality, and then expect the buyer to make do with an 8-bit jpg processed on my potentially uncalibrated monitor?

I think the answer lies in your motives for doing stock. If you are spending hours submersed in a pool of water to get a shot of lions feeding on the shore you probably won't be happy with a $0.50 sale (RAW or JPG) - and probably shouldn't be selling it as stock in the first place. If you are happy getting $0.25 for a large quality jpg, why do you care if the buyer pays the same for the RAW file? They want to publish it - give them the quality they want!

If your focus is on Art - and your final image presentation is very important to you I can see why you might not want someone processing your original RAW file and then crediting you, but then I don't see why you would sell your files as stock in the first place since there is nothing stopping someone from doing a bad job post processing your jpgs...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Sony NEX cameras

Today there are some previews and reviews of the new Sony cameras with a larger format senor in a compact body. The field is getting pretty full, with almost everyone except Canon, Nikon and Pentax having offerings in the mirror-less segment. What is most curious to me is how Sony made the publicity photos such that they almost emphasize how big the cameras are rather than how small - why have a large zoom mounted and then use a closeup shot to make it look even bigger?

I'm not getting rid of the GF1 anytime soon - these new cameras are interesting, but the jump from a 1/1.7" CCD to micro four/thirds was big, but from there to APS-C just isn't that huge. I'm happy with the quality/size ratio of micro 4/3. It also has the advantage of adapters being out there for just about every manual focus lens ever made. Once again, I was happy when I popped my GF1 into my coat pocket.

Monday, May 10, 2010

5,000 sales!

I finally hit 5,000 sales yesterday evening - I've had this number in sight for a long time now. Here is the image that rolled me over:

Boy looking out window

In some respects, getting here seemed kind of inevitable - with 300-400 sales a month it is a matter of time. On the other hand, nothing is for sure and those sales were the result of hard work up front - building up a portfolio of almost 2,000 images. There is no free lunch in stock, but it does show that you can get significant revenue from stock if you set your mind to it. I'm at the point where I'd need to work more than 60 hours a month at a minimum wage job to get the same income - and I like doing this a whole lot more :)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Micro 4/3 advantage

My brother in law recently purchased a Canon S90, and I was interested to see how the current state of the art in higher end compact cameras compared to my GF1. The S90 has some great features, and I would argue it is easier to use than my GF1... I've felt that the GF1 has significantly more satisfying results on screen at 100%. I do a lot of my work on screen, and sell stock so the pixel level does matter for that. In actual prints I would be happy with the S90 for most things. I did a quick shot in the yard today to compare then on a bright sunny day which puts the S90 in its best light (pun intended). Since I do a lot of work with the GF1 at low ISO for stock, it is only fair to compare it to the S90 at that setting.

I used to have a Canon G10, and often felt that areas in photos were mushy. Something like blades of grass or tree limbs would look great, but faces, singles on a roof or moderately busy areas didn't quite have the detail I can get out of a DSLR. I felt the same way looking at the S90. Looks great on review, nice prints, great for computer viewing, etc. - but lacking a bit at 100%. Below is a crop midway to the border of an image. Not a strict test, to be sure, but it shows what I consistently find when editing photos later. Just a bit mushier - look at the bench texture. Keep in mind that the GF1 is almost 3 times the price, and double the volume. I'd be very happy with the S90 if I didn't do stock. Note that the lens on my GF1 is the excellent 20mm prime compared to the S90's zoom. There is no doubt that the GF1 suits my needs well, and was worth the extra dollars to me. For my brother in law? The S90 fits the bill nicely too. Everybody's happy :)
Please don't take this comparison to the nth degree - the key here is that this is representative of results that I get with my camera... I wouldn't notice the difference in a 5x7 print done at a lab with these two cameras. Note the sensor size difference made me use a more open aperture on the S90 to avoid diffraction... Both are stopped down somewhat from their maximum apertures.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Level 3 in a month...

Sometimes you create an image that seems like it will be an obvious seller. The one below is like that, and has moved up two levels already in the month or so it has been online. I'm especially pleased since we got the binoculars for 'free' when our car repair bill was high :) Maybe I'll be able to pay off the bill with this shot!
Future vision
© Photographer: Bradcalkins Agency:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bokeh by Zeiss

I've become increasingly interested in Carl Zeiss lenses, but still don't know if I'll actually spring for one. The 35mm f/2 Distagon seems to fit the bill for a high quality fast prime for under $1,000 (unlike the Canon 35mm f/1.4). No autofocus, though :)

Anyways, Zeiss has a newsletter and currently has a very comprehensive PDF that goes over many of the challenges of lens design and how it affects the characteristics of how a lens 'draws', among other things, the out of focus areas and results in good or bad bokeh. Of note are a few key points and reminders about bokeh - there are many misconceptions out there: the bottom line is that there is more to it that just the number of blades (though that helps too!).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reminding us of our limits

Bad weather
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

As in control as we humans might like to think we are, the Earth has a way of reminding us that we are just invited guests on this planet, rather than the owners. This week's volcanic eruption in Iceland put a stop to thousands of flights to and from London - including some family I have planning a trip overseas. It is always humbling to be reminded that we are at the mercy of the weather, and I happened to be in Washington, DC around this time to see some of the preparations being made for the upcoming Earth Day in the Washington Mall:

Climate change
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nice trend!

Below is a graph of my quarterly results from Dreamstime. I've stripped the absolute numbers, but the key point is that the trend over the last 8 quarters is straight up. It hasn't varied much according to my upload rate - other than to say I've kept that pretty steady too. What is of interest to me is that while the monthly sales seem all over the place, and often feels like I'm not gaining ground by uploading, the actual trend smoothed over time is remarkably steady. Of note is that the revenue is gaining partly due to increased revenue per download - whether due to the higher pricing or movement of files to higher levels is hard to discern. I'm very satisfied with return from Dreamstime on my efforts in uploading. It is nice when you get more and more monthly income for the same level of monthly effort :)

March was a good month...

My sales on Dreamstime were excellent last month - a best month for me. My individual sales and revenue were higher than ever. RPD was a little less than February, but still up quite a bit since the new levels and pricing took effect in January. Of note is that I'm seeing a lot of first time sales - almost 100 images were purchased from my portfolio for the first time in March. 30 files moved up a level, including 2 into level 4. Finally, I was 1 image short of 100 uploads. I don't think I have it in me to get another 180-ish up by the end of the month to hit 2,000 by my 2nd anniversary on Dreamstime - but one can always try !

Here is my first sale of April:

Children watch worm
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stock mirrors life...

Here I am, putting tile in my shower stall this morning when someone buys this photo:

Tile adhesive
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Instant success!

I love it when an image sells for the first time within a few days of initial upload. I've had a few of those lately, and it always makes me feel like I know something about shooting for stock - but then I look at the other 19 from the same day :)

Brick wall
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Yes - brick has been done before, but I've noticed that the Pansonic GF1's 12 MP files seem to get more attention. Not sure if it is coincidence or not, but if you are looking for a background texture I don't know why you wouldn't want the most pixels...

Not sure if anyone else is seeing this, but lately my sales seem to be on a real roll. I had an EL sale today, and yesterday managed to bring in 23 sales!

Monday, March 22, 2010

New sensor technology?

CMOS sensor
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

In an interesting development that (as always for new technology) seems to solve problems with the current technology, and promises 4x the efficiency of current CMOS technology, InVisage has developed a new sensor type based on Quantum Dots. Very promising if it comes close to their claims of 2x the dynamic range!

Hopefully we'll be able to have our cake and eat it too!

Black forest cake
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Friday, March 19, 2010

First time sales

One measure of success in stock photography is the number of images with a sale - unique sales. While revenue wise it may actually be better to have 1 of out 100 images selling 100 times over, there is some satisfaction knowing that the images you are spending time on and uploading are actually being purchased. Of the 1,800 images I have online, some 1,038 have sold at least once. I think that is pretty good - over half have sold... One thing I've noticed lately is that I actually sell images for the first time quite often. For example, just yesterday here are images I've sold for the first time:

Bible cover

This one I've had online since July 2009 - which goes to show you time helps sales:



Area rug

Silk tie


Frost covered trees

Snow ghosts

Plane engine

Many of these were just recently uploaded, but of note is that I've sold more first time files in a day than uploaded (average). That should hopefully take things to new levels - literally on Dreamstime...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do you print?

I read an article over on Luminous Landscape that talked about how you just can't judge a camera without considering physical prints. While I won't attempt to dispute that for fine art purposes, or many other applications, stock photography in particular is an area of photography that is totally focused on "pixel peeping". Images are taken, processed, uploaded and sold with no printing on the part of the photographer. In many or most cases the image sold won't even be printed - if used in a Powerpoint, web page design, etc. In many other printed cases the quality of the print would be minimal due to output size. Certainly there are those who would ultimately print a brochure, annual report, magazine or art to hang on a wall. Those uses would be more demanding, but again except in the art cases the ultimately image quality would be limited - and the image supplemenatary.

On the other hand, stock images ARE reviewed by editors at 100% magnification. In that sense, the actual pixel level performance of cameras is much more important for stock photography than other uses. Not to say that it is of no importance, but a person buying from a thumbnail (or 800x600 comp) isn't even given a good example of the work prior to purchase.

CMOS sensor
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Demanding 100% pixel level performance be of utmost importance does not really advance the art of photography, but it is a valid way to evaluate a camera if that reflects your end use... How many stock photographers ever truly appreciate or even need to know about the fine art of printing?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More flowers, abstract

Flowers are a typical subject that is hard to get approved at stock agencies. It isn't that they don't want them, but that they are a common subject among 'amateurs' and also easy to come by. Finally - flowers are beautiful all by themselves! Last weekend I was at a friend's for dinner and noticed their clear glass coaster sort of acted like a sheet of glass with water drops - only easier to move around. I glanced around the room and figured the vase of roses would be cool to shoot through it. I (naturally) had my 40D, 60mm macro and flash at the ready so I held the glass close to the flowers, focused on it, and bounced the flash off the ceiling to light the flower behind. Voila:

Pink rose abstract
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dreamstime changes upload limits

Dreamstime has had a very generous upload limit on contributors, as long as you have had an acceptance ratio above 50% or so. For my tenure with Dreamstime I have been able to upload anywhere from 50 to 150 images per day. I'm not sure who has ever used the maximum (1,500 images a month!) but fair to say that many of the larger contributors make use of the daily limit several times a month.

Thumbs up
© Photographer: Bradcalkins
I tend to upload about 3-5 images at a time. My goal is to produce 3 images a day, most of the time to get close to 100 a month. The new scheme doesn't limit me at all in practice, but does drop my daily limit to 20, from 50. The big news here is for those who have a low acceptance ratio. People under 30% were limited to 2 images a day. Now they will be able to do 5 /day, unless they are under 10% (still upped to 3/day).

© Photographer: Bradcalkins
This could allow some to dig themselves out of the low AR hole at a faster rate, but frankly if you have improved significantly even 2 / day is enough for most to up their AR in a couple of months. The problem is that someone who has an AR of 10% who really improves to 20 or 30% still has to upload 10 images just to get 2-3 online - this continues to build a large chunk of rejectons over time. For those with really low ARs, this may have the opposite effect - they can be a little less choosy in their uploads which may in fact keep them low. On the other hand, big contributors like Yuri Arcurs will have to actually hold back images. It remains to be seen if that is good for the site, but for me in particular it should be a good thing since it will serve to improve my exposure (given my rate of uploading stays the same and the big contributors will be reduced). The theory is that this should help keep the larger photo shoots from diluting earnings for a contributor.

© Photographer: Bradcalkins
Arcurs has argued in his post on exclusivity that limits make him be less risky - since he has to get on the images he knows will sell, ahead of those that might... This new limit is still significantly more per month than iStock allows, so hopefully it won't keep the 'interesting' images away from Dreamstime!

Spring has arrived

Granted, these are cut flowers from a greenhouse, probably, but spring seems to be in the air. I'm happy to see this flower shot made it online - I'm had trouble getting flower shots up due to so many already being online.

Orange tulip
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Another that I did a while back that was accepted:

Bee on sunflower
© Photographer: Bradcalkins