Friday, March 14, 2014

Rant: I just want to straighten my video

Disclaimer. I am not Apple fanboy nor hater. 5 years ago I was tired of maintaining two desktops, one Linux and one Windows, so I switched.  I am pretty happy with this decision. I got compromise, few things from one world others from second.

Anyway, I need to edit a video from time to time. Nothing fancy. Usually it is just trimming and exporting in format that can be accepted on variety of stock agencies. I never thought I can justify buying professional video editing software for hundreds of dollars to be able to submit 10 seconds videos to microstock. I tried many free alternatives. MPEG Streamclip is one of great examples of tools I was trying to use. For conversions you can use FFmpeg or HandBrakeCLI whcih work almost on any platform. These tools are sufficient for most of my needs but sometimes you need to correct exposure, white balance or crooked horizon. I tried to find a good free video editor but nothing really worked. I always ended up with free iMovie which comes with Mac OS X.
This piece of software comes from the company that supposedly makes the most intuitive GUIs in the world. Give me a break, why most of the simple tasks are so painfully difficult and slow here? I just want to open a single file, make few adjustments and save it. No, you cannot do that. You have to create an event, import your images into it, create project and add images from event into it. Then you are allowed to edit video. Did I mentioned that all steps before are excruciatingly slow?
I wanted to rotate videos by arbitrary angle which is not supported by iMovie anyway so it lead me to search alternatives again. Nothing really changes in free area, I could find the way to rotate using FFmpeg. Eventually one of the searches on rotating videos showed link to YouTube with instructions how to do it in Adobe Premiere Elements. I decided to download trial version of the latest. It was showing ugly stripe with warning that I am using trial version but I was shocked how easy it was. I can type angle in degrees. Did I mentioned that it was extremely fast on the same machine where iMovie was crawling? The moral of the story is that I should try it earlier instead of trying desperately to find free solution.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Getty and Flickr alliance ends

It was big news couple days ago, at least for people interested in photography. Getty Images is biggest stock agency in the world. Flickr is popular photo sharing service for amateur photographers. For many of Flickr contributors it was entry to the world of stock photography. There are at least three parties that will be affected by this event.

Getty Images sifted through enormous collection of images from photo enthusiast from all over the world. I heard some statements that they check 90 million photos. Some of them were invited to this program and they ended up with 900 thousands of sell-able photos. A lot of work to get 1% return so it is most like why they decided it cost them too much.

For Flickr is most likely very bad news. If above percentage was accurate it means they do not have very good content to start with so if rumors are true that they ended up this partnership because they want to start sell images on their own it is not going to be easy. Also the good ones Getty selected are probably not available cause usually contributors had to sign exclusive agreements. They ended up with pile of crap. I do not know what are strategic plans for Flickr but so far they got really bad record.  At first, Flickr started as photo sharing site. There were many website like this before where contributors can comments on each others photos. Flickr was just better version of them, social aspects were done very well. It had lots of followers until it was acquired by Yahoo. Then of course users expected that it would try to somehow monetize on their participation. In many ways it was what Instagram was before acquisition, largely used platform for sharing images. It was long before mobile was popular. Some people got upset and left some started Flickr clones. Anyway popularity was fading. Then Instagram and Pinterest popularity exploded and Flickr was not coolest kid on the block. For many years nothing really changed. Website went through some cosmetic changes, added additional APIs, mobile apps, etc. Facebook and Google+ could do they same, store and share photos. So what was the purpose of having Flickr account? Partnership with Getty was actually giving Flickr new purpose in life. Every contributor got chance to sell their work.

Contributors might have various experience about this partnership. For some it was the first time their work was commercially available. For others signing exclusive contract with Getty was not so attractive. If you are already selling your work you do not want put all your eggs in one basket. Anyway they got a pass to enter Getty Images club which is usually closed for strangers. So right now when partnerships ended they got their foot inside. If they try to apply on their own they might not be accepted. If we put aside question if it is desirable to be Getty contributor nowadays, Flickr contributors might become normal members of this club. So the news is mostly positive for people who were accepted through this partnership even if Flickr ship will sink.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Getty Images' Embedded Viewer

Today Getty Images introduced an option to embed images for non-commercial use via an embedded viewer. Users now see an embed icon when hovering over an image in the search results or viewing the image detail page on The embed icon links to code that allows users to embed the image into their HTML supported blog or website, with a link to licensing on and with proper artist credit. Full article and FAQ on the Flickr Contributor Forum.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Six years of photos statistics

It has been 6 years since I started submitting images to various microstock agencies. Today I am going to look at it from purely hardware perspective. Thanks to ExifTool, free software program for reading image metadata, I can analyze information stored in my files.
exiftool -csv -r -sort -exif:ApertureValue -exif:ExposureCompensation -exif:ExposureMode -exif:ExposureProgram -exif:ExposureTime -exif:FocalLength -exif:ISO -exif:Make -exif:MaxApertureValue -exif:MeteringMode -exif:Model -exif:ShutterSpeedValue -exif:SubjectDistance -exif:WhiteBalance -xmp:ColorTemperature -xmp:Contrast -xmp:Exposure -xmp:FillLight -xmp:FlashCompensation -xmp:FlashFired -xmp:FlashMode -xmp:FlashRedEyeMode -xmp:HighlightRecovery -xmp:Lens -xmp:LensInfo -xmp:Tint -xmp:Vibrance  . > keywords.csv

I have been Canon user for 20 years and when I started working with microstock photos I was on my second digital camera Canon EOS 20D. Now I am shooting with Olympus OM-D E-M1.  I tried submitting images from point & shoot cameras, smartphones and even some old stuff scanned from slides (which probably are not included in this analysis cause I did not fill EXIF data).
I am not tracking success rates because different agencies got totally different criteria and same photo might be accepted in one and rejected in others. Surprisingly I tried to sneak 2 photos from Palm Pre+, which I think was 4 megapixel camera, long before agencies start accepting photos from mobile devices ;-)
Current minimum requirements on most agencies are 6 megapixels so most of modern smartphones and point & shooters would pass this but it is much harder with this type of devices to produce images less than ideal light conditions. Most important piece of hardware, optics, on these devices is fixed. What would you rather have best camera body with crappy lens or crappy body with best lens?
Since most of my experience was with Canon gear I can only tell that I went through 3 bodies during this time but in the same period I tried 12 different lens. My first professional lens was EF 17-40mm F/4L and on cropped sensor it was fantastic lens. When switched to full frame I noticed  that at 17mm people look comical so I switched to 24-105mm F/4L. I never really invested in faster lens because before microstock I was doing mostly landscape photography which employes tripod at most times.

Now I switched to different system and I am trying to figure out which lens I would need/like to have. Micro four thirds lens are usually half weight and half price comparing to Canon equivalents so I most likely end up with better ones. I read a lot of good reviews about Olympus 12-40mm F/2.8 PRO lens so it was my first choice when I was buying OM-D EM-1. Is it as good as Canon's EF 24-70mm f/2.8L time will show but for start it is half of the price :-)

Now let's bring subject of low light performance. I switched from full frame 5d mark II to half size sensor. I was wondering if this would have affect on noise of my photos and in result higher probability of rejections? Let's look at the data, do I need to have camera that produces low noise images at ISO 3200?
I shoot 80% of my photos below ISO 800. I need 1600 or higher for around 5% of my images. I can live with this :-)

Going back to lens, which one do I need? It seems that 24-105mm was very convenient for me. From the data I have I cannot really tell if I got any favorite focal length.

Besides the fact that I am often going to extremes on my zoom lens other data is scattered all over the place.  I was not using my tele zoom lens to often too.

When I looked at aperture data it seems like I am staying between 4 and 11 most of the time but I guess that two of my main lens were F/4 so I could not go wider.
Exposure time data shows that I could live with shutter speed shorter that 1/2000s and barely do long exposure over 1 minute :-)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ula's cutlets

2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes

1 leek (white part) finely chopped

1 red pepper cut into cubes

6 mushrooms, chopped into cubes

2 tablespoons of corn starch

1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
3-4 eggs

Salt and pepper

Fry in oil.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sweet potato crescent rolls


  • 1 14- to 16-ounce red-skinned sweet potato (yam)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 6 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
  • 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 1/4 cups (about) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries or golden raisins (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 large beaten egg, beaten to blend (glaze)


Beat until potato is very smooth.

Heat half and half and 1 tablespoon brown sugar in heavy small saucepan over low heat until thermometer registers 105°F. to 115°F. Remove from heat. Sprinkle yeast over; stir to blend well. Let stand until yeast dissolves and is slightly foamy, about 12 minutes.

Fit mixer with dough hook. Add remaining 5 tablespoons brown sugar, melted butter, salt and cardamom to sweet potato in bowl and beat until smooth and will blended. Add yeast mixture and mix until blended. At medium speed, beat in enough flour, 1 cup at a time, to form soft dough. Beat 3 minutes (dough will be soft). 

Turn out dough onto floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoons if too sticky, about 6 minutes. Knead in dried fruits or raisins. Butter large bowl. Form dough into ball and add to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Butter large baking sheet. Turn out onto floured surface. Divide dough in half. Using rolling pin, roll 1 dough piece to 12-inch-diameter round (if dough retracts during rolling, stop occasionally and gently pull and stretch dough with fingertips, then continue rolling). Repeat with remaining dough piece. Cut each round into 8 equal triangles. Starting at wide end of triangle, roll up toward point of triangle, stretching dough slightly with fingertips as triangle is rolled up. 

Brush point lightly with glaze; press to seal. Place rolls on prepared sheet, shaping into crescents and spacing evenly. Cover rolls with towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until light and puffy, about 45 minutes.

Preheat to 400°F. Brush rolls with glaze. Bake until rolls are golden and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, about 25 minutes.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Upgrade continued - got flash

In my Canon life I was using flash on camera quite often so when I started evaluating Olympus OM-D E-M1 not everything could be tested. Eventually I decided to get FL-600R flash to make sure I can do similar things with new camera. Of course I do not have same range of lens for new system so making switch decision will be based on partial data.
After unpacking Olympus flash I compared size of these two devices. Definitively Speedlite is stronger and bigger but if FL-600R takes same amount of batteries its recycle time must be pretty good. With less power I might not be able to flash across big rooms but this is not what I am doing very often anyway.
When I got chance to bounce light off the white ceiling it looks pretty good. Sometimes I cannot do this so I decided to get some sort of reflector. As you can see there are velcros on my Speedlite. I was suing LumiQuest ProMax system with it. It has a holder for multiple reflector and frankly it was to complicated so I was using it infrequently. Especially since I got off camera flash bracket which seems to work better. Anyway I wanted something that can be easier attached to flash. I looked at flash soft boxes and and accidentally I found something looking pretty interesting: Rogue FlashBender. It can be quickly attached without any velcros. Also you can bend it anyway you want, sometime it could be faster than tilting whole flash head.

Great little bonus, you can wrap it and make quick snoot :-)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Big switch

I am testing new Olympus mirrorless camera, OM-D E-M1. Most likely I will change system, after almost 20 years with Canon. It is not going to be breaking news like when famous photographer switched from Nikon to Canon :-)

So far after 3 days of evening testing at home I could say that transition would require some effort. First of all I do not have all comparable lens with new system. I do not have decent flash unit so I have to make a decision based on what I can see now. For a while I got access to Olympus PEN camera so I am not entirely lost in their menu system. The advantage of OM-D is that it has all the buttons like DSLR so I do not have to dig into menu every time I need to make small adjustment to settings. In fact it probably got more that my Canon.

Lets start comparing. One of main reason for switch was size and weight. At 895g Canon is twice heavier than Olympus (443g). If you add professional L lens to the package, like EF 24-105mm it is additional 670g. It is again almost double of ED 12-40mm PRO lens which is 381g. So we start with 1565g vs 824g. If I go for a hike in a mountains every gram matters :-) I think one of the reasons I was suffering on my Mt Whitney hike was the weight of my camera bag it was 5lbs in addition to my 30lbs backpack.
Next "big thing" is sensor size. It seems that recently people believe that everybody needs full frame sensor camera. Yes full frame sensors have better noise performance but if simple bigger was better we would be running around with Hasselblads and I do not see it would happen any time soon :-). I bet current technology allows to put medium format sensor into smaller body but you cannot bend laws of physics it would require bigger and heavier lens. If only sensor is compared, yes 5Dmk2 has better one. I am not sensor expert so I checked DxOMark Sensor Scores for both camera sensors:

DxOMark Canon EOS 5Dmk2 Olympus OM-D E-M1
Overall Score 79 73
(Color Depth)
23.7 bits 23 bits
(Dynamic Range)
11.9 Evs 12.7 Evs
(Low-Light ISO)
1815 ISO 757 ISO

What does it mean? E-M1 only looses in Sports category. Let me put it into perspective. Why people need high ISO? Because when they shoot action hand held and they need higher shutter speed. I am not doing that. Shooting my daughter at playground does not count :-) Besides even with my current 5Dmk2 I would need faster lens anyway. If I disregard Sports category sensors are pretty much comparable.
Let me go a little bit further. Is 5Dmk2 with F4 lens at 800 ISO comparable to E-M1 with F2.8 lens plus IBIS? Because of camera weight and in body stabilization I most likely can go ISO 400 or less when shooting handheld and still got similar results. You cannot just compare bare sensors, lens and other features might totally change the equation. This is main reason I got E-M1 first. I will check if it can fit the type of photography I am doing and if answer is yes I can sell all my Canon gear. If it fails the test I can still return it.