Three-Dot Lounge for October 5, 2014

Three dot lounge is a mostly-weekly collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

I’m fascinated by Ello because it reminds me of when the social web was still new

I’m fascinated by Ello because it reminds me of when the social web was still new

I think the reason we’re looking at finding the next new social service is because the existing ones (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) have matured and their focus is on revenue and “building the business” and not on innovation. That’s a basic reality of any service or technology. Rarely does innovation come from the entrenched leaders.

That said, I’ve gotten my Ello account and I must say it has “” written all over it. Lots of people are signing up for it, and most of them seem to be waiting for everyone else to dig in and make it interesting. Myself included.

My general response to Ello’s design is a combination of curiosity and frustration. It feels like they played the “minimum viable product” game on steroids, and it also looks like the designers got too interested in showing off how talented they are, and not interested enough in making the site usable. I’m having lots of “how do I get from here to there?” problems, and stuff works curiously but not necessarily well. I’m frankly not that impressed nor motivated, but like, I’ll watch and see if they iterate the product into something usable and whether the people around me fill it with content. If they do, I’ll join in and make content for it as well, but for now, I’m on the sidelines and think this one will end up in that long list of fad sites that head off into “oh, is that still around?” status fairly quickly — with, yo, quota and klout.

Moose Death Prompts Crackdown on Wildlife Photographers

Moose Death Prompts Crackdown on Wildlife Photographers

Sad, but not surprising. A group basically circled a moose until it stressed and freaked a bit and injured itself trying to break free. It had to be euthanized for the injury.

Also sad, but not surprising, to hear people start griping about “constitutional right” to do things, even if it leads to the death of the animal they looking at. I’m glad, though, that the rangers are cracking down and going undercover to do it; it’s unfortunately needed, and more parks and reserves need to consider that tactic to catch the idiots.

My only disagreement with the piece is that the people who caused this aren’t wildlife photographers, they are tourists with cameras. The photographers who have half a clue wouldn’t do this; the few outliers who are idiots and would don’t deserve the term photographer.

And this is why we can’t have nice things. That, and the idiots who keep crashing their quadcopters into things.

Why This Bot’s Crappy Photos Got Way More Likes, Favorites and Comments than Your Good Ones

Why This Bot’s Crappy Photos Got Way More Likes, Favorites and Comments than Your Good Ones

The short answer is that if you’re putting energy into trying to get likes (or plusses, or favorites) you’re doing it wrong, and they’re basically worthless and those systems are easily manipulated. This should not be a surprise, either.



A new mailing list system by a friend of mine, because we really need something to replace Yahoo Groups and Google Groups — email is far from dead, but innovation in email has been massively missing. Mark knows his stuff, his last email system was bought by Yahoo and is now known as Yahoo Groups. We’ve both felt for a while there was a lot of opportunity in a new!improved! system, but Mark actually went out and built it. My only involvement here was occasionally saying things like “doing great, Mark, keep at it!” — but it’s long overdue.

The battle in California to save waterfowl from ending up as dead ducks

The battle in California to save waterfowl from ending up as dead ducks

For the second year in a row we’re seeing major problems with avian botulism in the refuges in the state. Tule Lake is again badly hit. The problem? A combination of the ongoing drought here in the state, and complex, broken water usage rules and regulations leading to thousands of dead birds and no easy solutions.

The Plan to Demolish SF’s Old Bay Bridge Could Be Derailed By Birds

The Plan to Demolish SF’s Old Bay Bridge Could Be Derailed By Birds

Turns out the cormorants really like nesting on the old bridge, and attempts to have them move to the new one — including bird condos — have failed so far. And because they’re protected, if they don’t want to leave, you can’t force them.

Apple, employees raise $50 million for charity, program to expand globally

Apple, employees raise $50 million for charity, program to expand globally

One of my criticisms of Apple when I left was it’s lack of philanthropy and giving back to the community and people that helped make it successful. Steve’s view was this was a personal thing and not something he wanted the company involved in.

It’s very nice to see Tim Cook change this, and Apple employees dig in and make it happen. Well done, all of you. I’m proud to see this.

Should instructors take pictures during workshops?

Should instructors take pictures during workshops?

I think Gary nails this. I don’t expect workshop leads to not take photos, I expect workshop leads to not neglect the people paying to go on the workshop. to the degree you can do both, fine, but the workshop members come first.

It also depends on whether the trip is oriented around instruction or the workshop leads are acting primarily as location guides. For our upcoming workshop, I’m expecting mostly the latter, but you can bet I’ll be asking questions and taking advantage of having time with Michael Frye in person when I can.

Palen solar project dropped by developers

Palen solar project dropped by developers

And a badly designed solar project bites the dust. The reality is that this, like the Panoche Valley project, were being built not because they’re great ideas but because government grants and subsidies made investing in them worth doing (to a point). The Palen project, though, was using the solar tower method, which has proven to be more expensive than photovoltaic panels, less reliable to operate, and has rather nasty ecological side effects. This plant’s plan is being dropped not just because of opposition but because it’s a bad design and it’s unlikely it’ll be used in any significant way in the future — the future here is in panel farms, not these tower designs.

Panel farms aren’t benign, either, but can be designed to mitigate the problems they cause. What’s even better than that is urban infill — there’s a lot of roof space in most urban environments that can be fitted with solar panels that don’t require damaging hundreds of acres of land to build a big panel farm. The problem with urban infill solar is that utilities want to deal with one big interconnect and not many small interconnects, so they fight that idea whenever it’s raised.


Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Photos now available through Tandem Stills + Motion Stock Agency

One of the things that’s been going on mostly in the background the last few weeks is I have taken the plunge and I’m now licensing some of my images through a stock agency. The agency I’m working with is Tandem Stills + Motion Stock Agency, which is a smaller house that specializes in outdoor-oriented imagery.

Stock photography as a source of income isn’t what it used to be — it’s been heavily eaten by both microstock agencies and crowdsourced/free imagery out there, but it’s far from dead. It’s a way to potentially generate some income in a mostly-passive way, and since my revenue goal right now is “maybe it’ll help pay for the next trip” it seems like the right move at this time. By handing images off to an agency I don’t have to put time and energy into the business side myself and let them handle sales and marketing so I can continue to focus on the images; I do that realizing that handing that off to others means I’m giving up a cut of the income and potentially giving up incoming using a passive sales model that might appear if I marketed directly and more aggressively.

I still believe that time is my most limited and precious resource, though, and that the upside at doing those is not worth the hours required to do them. Besides, this is a starting point and I can choose to expand and apply more resources and time to this later if I choose to.

Why did I do this now? One of my goals for 2014 has been to focus more on publishing and distribution of my images; that I was acting too ‘safe’ and putting too much energy into creation and processing — basically hiding in plain sight by not promoting my work or attempting to grow my audience or reach. That’s one reason I’ve started publishing the portfolios, as that is a way to force me to start thinking about image selection and the logistics and process of publishing them.

I have long had an interest in moving into stock sales, but every time I evaluated an agency I either didn’t like the terms, or I didn’t feel my images fit into their inventory well (or both). It felt to me that any agency I went in with wouldn’t serve my images well. Then a few weeks ago Creative Live did a class by Ian Shive on photographing the National Parks. Since I’ve been nudging CL on and off for the last year or so over the lack of nature photography in their schedule (there is more to life than weddings and head shots!) I made sure to sit in on the class and bought it so I could watch the whole thing in my off hours. By the way, the class was very well done and definitely worth your time.

Shive, who I hadn’t heard of prior to this, is also one of the founders of Tandem Stock, and as he described the agency, it seemed he had founded it for many of the reasons I’d never felt any of the other agencies fit me well. By the time the class ended, I’d spent some time evaluating their terms (IMHO, quite reasonable) and studying their inventory, I decided it was an agency worth investing some time into. I shoot heavily in a couple of niches — my wildlife refuge work and my bird photography — and with most agencies it always felt like those niches would get lost in the masses, but Tandem Stock it felt like my work slotted in well, and honestly, I felt my images were better than some that were in inventory. They actually had refuge imagery in stock, but mostly from Bosque, so it seemed to me my stuff complemented their inventory rather than duplicated it, but also fit in well with the kind of imagery they were specializing in. What I didn’t know was whether they’d agree…

So I filled out my contributors agreement and prepped up a first batch of images. For those who haven’t worked with an agency, you submit images to them, but they choose whether or not to accept them — you can be rejected if the images don’t hold up to a technical review, don’t fit in with the agency’s inventory, or if the agency feels they already have enough images of that subject (“sorry, we don’t need more yellow daisy macro shots”). Shipped off the first batch of images, and waited to see if any got approved.

As it happened, about 75% were accepted, much higher percentage than I was expecting, and as I’ve been submitting other images, that percentage is holding true. None of them have sold yet — Shive in his discussions at CL noted that stock is a lot like dollar-cost averaging investing, that it’s a long-term play — but the fact that the images were accepted was a nice pat on the back in general. I’m seeing the trends on what isn’t being accepted (birds in action generally yes, bird senior portraits not so much) and that’ll help me shape future submissions.

So I’m a stock photographer, for whatever that means. Yay me.

Doing this has meant a bunch of small changes and mini-projects behind the curtains. I’ve redone my licensing and about-chuq pages to note all of this. I’ve had to rethink my free licensing of images to non-profits, because images available through the agency are exclusive, so my policy has changed, and those images are no longer available at no cost, and that had to be noted. All of the images on flickr and my smugmug portfolio had to be tagged with a note about their availability for licensing, and I had to do some organizing within Lightroom to keep track of what images have been submitted or are licensed through them, which ones I’m considering — necessary bookkeeping to make sure I don’t resubmit images, forget an image that I want to submit, or mess up the licensing when someone should be referred to the agency. Lots of little details to keep this moving smoothly.

My current plan (subject to change) is to build an inventory of 150-200 images there and then see what happens. I may adjust that as I get a better feel what works and doesn’t. Shive had some really good advice on how to leverage trips to maximize your stock inventory (it’s in his other Creative Live class on the business of nature photography — also recommended) and much of that syncs up with the kind of photography I need to do this winter to push my refuge project forward, so as I plan out my goals for my winter trips, I’ll be working on those goals as well. A lot of it boils down to thinking like a travel photographer as well as a nature photographer, which makes sense, but it’s something I don’t do well, so I need to work at it.

If you click through to the Tandem Stock site on the links above it’ll show you the images I have available through them. I’m also displaying that group of images over on my Smugmug portfolio. And I’ve removed the word “amateur” from my description of myself, although that’s more a symbolic gesture than an indication of income levels. I think it’s time to change that, anyway.

One of the interesting side effects of this is that I’ve had to start tracking which images of mine have been manipulated — significant changes to the images such as cloning items out of it. I’m also now tracking whether an image has gone through my normal workflow (Lightroom only) or through an extended workflow that includes plug-ins and/or Photoshop. I much prefer avoiding digital manipulation as much as I can so I rarely clone or do extreme modifications to an image. As it turns out, 60% of the images accepted by them were good to go out of Lightroom without extended processing, while 40% took more tweaking. Only two images accepted so far have been flagged as manipulated, because I decided to clone a particularly noxious branch out of it.

White-faced Ibis

Every image I choose to submit is getting reprocessed, or at least re-evaluated. In many cases I’m finding I’m recropping with a less aggressive crop and putting more space into the image. I’m finding I like the subjects less crowded than when I was a less experienced photographer, but this also gives space so that a buyer can tweak the crop if they want and so there’s space for text across parts of the image without running over the subject.

At one point I also fell in love with the 8×10 format and cropped everything to that. I’m now undoing that as I find them, and I’m using one of two crops — the original camera format or a square format, which I’m finding I really like for portrait-type work, and is sometimes useful out in the field to remove clutter as an alternative to cloning. I’m also standardizing on a very minor (-10 in Lightroom) vignette when I choose to use one because I’m more and more convinced that if you can see the vignette, it’s too strong. (on the other hand, when I process specifically for print, I might boost it more; one reason my print versions are managed separately from the masters).

Some images I’m finding really bloom if I put them under the reprocessing microscope, For instance I think this one is massively better than my last processing attempt — which I thought was pretty good.

Baby Lowland Gorilla

That image, by the way, is flagged as manipulated because the baby had some gunk in his fur that I removed — tiny things, but the kind of thing you need to worry about because potential buyers worry about it. For now I’m being careful to flag images that are HDR, that are stitched panoramas, and for manipulation, I’m tracking cloning and significant “gunk” removal like in the gorilla as well as significant color manipulation, like in this image:

Sea Otter at Dawn

The only “manipulation” I did of this image was a major shift of color balance to warm it, but it’s far enough away from an unprocessed raw that it feels manipulated to me.

We’ll see where this goes from here. It’s a big step for me, but just a step.

It does bring up a question we should all ask ourselves — are we just coasting along doing the same thing we’ve been doing for a while because it’s comfortable and safe? Or are we pushing ourselves forward into new territory. It’s easy to get into a habit of showing off images to the same people who always see them and like them; this is one of the traps of places like flickr or Google+ or 500px, that you can create a personal echo chamber of affirmation that is safe and comfortable and gives you good responses on your images. For a while I did that consciously because I knew I needed to work on my craft.

but at some point you have to get out of your comfort zone and start putting your work in front of strangers who aren’t obliged to say nice things about it, because that’s how you grow your audience, reach new people and markets, and get some honest feedback about what you’re doing. And that’s ultimately how you grow as a photographer.

One goal for me in 2014 was to find ways to push myself out of those comfortable spots and see what the cold outside world thought about my work. The results have been, so far, educational and encouraging, and that’s pushing me to push my work in new and better directions as well.

Shouldn’t that be one of your goals for 2015?

Posted in About Chuq, Photography

Life at Apple revisited….

As an ex-Apple person who was there for a long time, a common question I get is “Would you ever go back?”

And that’s a complicated answer. My normal answer is “If the right situation came up, yes”.

Well, Don Melton and Nitin Ganatra, also veterans of the Apple wars, sat down on the Debug Podcast, opened up bottles of wine, and out poured an episode that talks about what life was like working in the Shadow of Steve on stuff you can’t tell your family about. It’s a fascinating and very accurate look at life being the six color curtains.

It is the best, if not the shortest, answer to why I left Apple.

It is the best, if not the shortest, answer to why I would return to Apple.

I will note however that Apple has never asked me to return, and I’ve rarely gone rattling cages to see if there was anything interesting enough to make me want to try. I think I’ve investigated four positions since I left, and in all four cases, the positions I found interesting enough to call people and make back channel connections with had internal candidates identified from the start.

That for some reason didn’t surprise me, either.

They’re both great guys who came out of Apple with good attitudes about it and fully understand the culture in all its glory, positive and negative. Far too often stories about Apple get written either by people guessing what it’s like, or because some ex-Apple person with an axe to grind talks and wants to accentuate the negative. Reality isn’t that simple, and while Apple is far from perfect, it’s not so different from other high tech companies on the inside, either. If you’re at all curious about life inside the Apple culture, you want to listen to this.



Posted in Computers and Technology