September 18, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Henry the Navigator and the edge of the world

Cabo de Sao Vincente, Portugal, January 1983

Henry the Navigator was pretty sure that if you sailed into the abyss of the Atlantic, you wouldn’t fall off the edge of the earth. Prince of Portugal and Duke of Viseu, Henry was master planner for the Age of Discovery, bringing together explorers and mapmakers in Lagos, Portugal, funding expeditions into the unknown and taking 20% of the profits.

He’d sit here on these cliffs at Cabo de Sao Vincente at sunset like I did, watching the glowing orb as its color warmed and it touched the curved horizon, revealing that the earth, was in fact, round. But he wouldn’t sail into the setting sun, but head south to Africa where—sadly—he founded the African Slave Trade in 1441. Ironically Portugal would abolish slavery in 1761, years before the US declared independence.

16 years after Henry’s death, a shipwrecked seaman named Columbus swam ashore at Lagos. His convoy of five ships from Genoa was attacked and sunk by French pirates. (One theory is that Columbus was actually one of the pirates who created a fictionalized Genoese past.) Whatever the case, he quickly married into Portuguese nobility and discovered Henry’s charts and documents—family possessions of his father in law’s widow. These inspired this lousy sailor to become an explorer.

Motivated by power and money, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Columbus figured the earth was round, but didn’t know how big the ball was. In 1483, the Portuguese court, well versed in Henry’s findings, knew exactly how big the earth was and denied Columbus the means for his futile quest to sail west and find a faster route to India. With his wife dead in her 20s (leaving him cast out of the noble circles) Columbus decided to try his hand in Spain. Ten years later he would follow the sun west seeking spice and instead founding an ill-fated attempt at enslaving five million natives of the Americas. Henry was ultimately responsible for enslaving twelve million Africans.

I wish these guys had just played with boats in their bathtubs.

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Learn how this photo was copied from a 35mm Kodachrome slide with a Moment 10x Macro lens and an iPhone Xs Max.


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September 17, 2019

The Microstock Report #1: Insights on fundamentals of photos that sell.

As a contributor to Twenty20.com [^1], I’m always looking for ways to improve sales of my photos. This report is actually created for me as an objective way to learn which photos to submit that stand the best chance of selling. Hopefully you’ll find it useful as well.

## Where the data comes from. I see some photographers determining what photos they submit based on popularity of hashtags or what’s in the Signature collection. But neither of these are evidence of the most important metric: what actually sold. Fortunately the Twenty20 app includes a Recently Sold section in your feed. This is a constantly-updated list of about 120 photos. It’s the most valuable resource for determining what improves sales on Twenty20. Below are my recent findings. Note that this assessment isn’t scientific at all and the methodology (or lack of it) is explained here. [^2].

The fundamentals that buyers are looking for.

This first Microstock Report focuses on some important rudimentary aspects of photos. When you see advice on microstock, it often focuses on subject matter. But it’s surprising just how important these rudimentary aspects are reflected in sales. Twenty20 preaches most of these in Help, but it wasn’t until I examined the evidence first hand that I saw how important the four rudiments below are. The difference in what I’ve been submitting and what sells is alarming.

1. Most images sold are horizontal.

Most microstock is bought to accompany social media posts. Most social platforms favor horizontal images, so that’s what buyers are buying. When it comes to still images, posting horizontally-oriented photos is a must if you expect get sales.

2. Most images sold are large.

I’m always getting prodded by Twenty20 to post larger images, despite all my images qualifying as large, which is 3mp. (Note that Twenty20 Help seems to suggest the large classification is being upped to 6mp.) Since Twenty20 started their microstock business by making it easy to sell your Instagram images, the original images were small, at only 1mp. Many of those images are still available, which is probably why Twenty20 is pushing to post larger versions if you have them. Also many photographers seem to be submitting smaller images for microstock and saving larger versions for stock in hopes of getting better prices. But as you can see, those smaller images are not selling well.

Most of the images sold on Twenty20 are between 8-12 megapixels (which can be shot with your smartphone) but quite a few are 20mp or larger. I think it’s important that you submit the original-size images to Twenty20, not anything that’s been scaled down. If shooting with an iPhone or editing with an iPad and looking to upsize your 12mp images to 20mp, I have an app for that. (Buyers of background images prefer them larger.)

3. Almost all images sold are color.

I often see photographers posting both a color and black-and-white version of the same image. It’s not necessary, since an art director can easily convert any color image to back and white. Those extra black-and-white copies are cluttering up your profile. Even if a majority of your work is black and white, it’s your color images that should be submitted to Twenty20, since they’re more likely to sell.

4. Almost all images sold don’t have effects.

If you’re like me, you may love adding subtle effects that really bring out the mood in your images. Save those effects for Instagram. For microstock, you want to submit the straightforward, clean version, which is more likely to sell. An art director can easily add effects like soft focus, bold color filters and lens flare if needed. But they can’t take them away from an image that already has them. So effected photos could be losing you sales.

Editing should be limited to enhancements that aren’t obvious and make the photo more clear. I should also note that bokeh is fine since it’s not really an effect, but a lens characteristic we’ve all come to love. Buyers are looking for well-lit, well-exposed, realistic photos that they can manipulate to fit their brand.

5. Almost no images sold are Dutch tilt.

Less that 1% of photos sold are shot with the camera purposely tilted. In video, the Dutch tilt is used to hint that something is ominously wrong, but in microstock stills buyers find a horizon line that’s askew to be a frustration, since rotating the photo to straighten it looses a large portion of the photo. They consider it one more reason to pass a photo by.

Lessons learned: It ain’t Instagram.

It’s a shock, but buyers could be bypassing your photos because they don’t meet these very basic criteria above. There will be exceptions, but to see if these numbers prove true for your own sales—in the Twenty20 app: Tap the Activity tab > tap the Earnings tab and compare your photos that actually sold. 67% of my sold photos were horizontal, 83% did not have effects and 100% were color. But comparing those to the images in my profile that are available for sale: 41% of my submitted photos are not horizontal (34% square and 7% vertical), 25% have effects and 5% are black and white. Though many of the photos I have available for sale get lots of loves from fellow photographers and place high in Challenges, they’re just not what buyers are looking for. The course or action for me is:

  • evaluate my submitted photos that don’t meet the above criteria and determine what’s dead weight and can be deleted
  • verify that all images are at least 6mp and remove those that aren’t
  • change out photos for ones without effects or with color versions
  • in future submissions, make sure most submissions meet this criteria

I’m probably the least likely photographer to be dabbling in microstock: My passion is shooting statues in cemeteries with my iPhone, not shooting happy millennials drinking wine. So I’ll be the last to encourage you to change what you shoot for the microstock market. What these stats can help you with is in posting more sellable photos and avoiding wasting time submitting those that buyers just aren’t looking for. The stark realization for me was this: what’s liked on Instagram and even loved on Twenty20 may have nothing to do with sales potential.

The Microstock Report #2: Peopleing your photos. Coming soon.

[^1] Twenty20.com is a popular microstock site with an iPhone app for selling rights to use your photos. There are many microstock sites out there. I chose Twenty20 for my microstock experiments because, they have a great app and a built-in strong social community, they pay promptly and their focus is on candid shots that look like they were shot by Buffy-down-the-street rather than staged by a professional photographer.

[^2] I’ll be the first to admit that this ain’t scientific research. These are just musings on broad trends I see on Twenty20 based on small samples sets. The rolling window of the 120 most recent photos can easily be skewed by one buyer who just bought 37 photos of Volkswagen campers, so when I see anomalies like that I throw that sample out. Each Microstock Report will contain my casual observations that I hope will form a mosaic of the state of microstock.


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September 16, 2019

How to upsize your photos on your iPhone and iPad.

In our world of large images that can stretch up to 50mp, I occasionally get asked if I have a larger version of an image. Shooting with my iPhone at 12mp, that is the largest version. But there’s a simple way to increase the size of my 12mp photos to 20mp with no noticeable loss of quality.

Isn’t that (gasp) digital zoom?

Well, yes it is. And you really can’t tell the difference in an image that’s been sensibly digitally zoomed. Watch a DVD on your 4K TV And you’re seeing digital zoom. If you have a dual-lens iPhone, you’ve already used digital zoom without knowing it: When you’re shooting with the Tele lens and you’re closer than a foot, the light is dim or there’s possible camera shake, the iPhone’s Camera app switches over to the Wide lens and uses a 2x digital zoom. So digital zoom has improved enough that it’s really not a sin anymore.

The Upsize Image Shortcut.

Shortcuts lets you build apps Lego-like apps on your iPhone that can do some amazing things. I created a Shortcut called Upsize Image that digitally zooms your image by 67%. This is less aggressive than iPhone’s own Tele trick mentioned above, which is 100%. Upsize Image results are super clean. They’ll look identical on most screens, but the extra pixels are there is someone really needs them.

How Upsize Image works.

This utility app is very simple. When you tap the icon on your Homescreen, it pops up your image library so you can choose the image you want to upsize. When done you’ll hear a ding and see a notification that the upsized image has been added to your camera roll and the Photos app opens to All Photos. The last image will be the upsized copy. You original photo will still be intact.

How to add Upsize Image to your Homescreen.

The Upsize Image shortcut works just like an app. After you’ve downloaded it into the Shortcuts app:

  • Tap the three dots on the Upsize Image icon. The workflow will open. Don’t change anything in the workflow.
  • Tap the two slider switches icon on the top right to open Settings.
  • Tap Add to Homescreen.
  • Tap Done. Safari will open.
  • Tap the Share icon.
  • Tap Add to Homescreen in the lower row of icons.
  • Tap Add.

A few limitations: I wasn’t able to get this shortcut to reliably upsize multiple images on all devices, so I’ve limited it to upsizing one at a time. The size is fixed at 67%, a prime number that gives you a very clean-looking increase in size. You’re currently not able to make a Shortcut that creates its own album, so the image is dumped into All Photos.

Enjoy.

Download Upsize Image Shortcut It’s free.


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September 11, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Marine Iguana Sunning

Academy Bay, Galapagos, February 1986

Captain Forrest Nelson sold his boat in 1960 to settle down at the end of the world: the Galápagos Islands. Academy Bay (population: 50 at the time) was slated to become home to the Darwin Station research facility. Forrest was hired as construction boss, taking his pay in bags of cement. With that cement he built cinderblocks. And with those blocks he built the Hotel Galapagos, the first in the islands. Still today, every small craft that sails into Academy Bay stops for a drink while filling up with fresh water harvested from rains that drain off the massive lobby roof.

The view from the bar is one of the most amazing in the world. Forrest told me after 30 years he still never tied of the view, watching the blue-footed boobies dive into the bay or the large marine iguanas scratch on the bottom of his lobby windows that look out onto the Pacific.

More than three feet long and weighing over 30 lbs., Darwin thought the iguanas were disgusting, but they became part of his research for Origin of Species. They’re not tame, but have decided humans aren’t going away, so they co-habituate. The islands are composed of the most inhospitable dry terrain on earth. The black lava rock either shreds the soles of your hiking boots or melts them. But to the iguanas, this is paradise: They sun on the hot rocks and dive as deep as 80 feet into the bay to dine on the algae. Despite all the amazing natural places on these islands, the hotel grounds are the best spot to photograph the iguanas, since they don’t budge until you’re a few feet away.

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Learn how this photo was copied from a 35mm Kodachrome slide with a Moment 10x Macro lens and an iPhone.


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September 9, 2019

The hard-to-find answers to your iPhone camera questions.

It’s easy to get answers to the frequently-asked questions about your iPhone camera. But when Google fails…

Why doesn’t my lens attachment work on the Tele lens on my dual-lens iphone?

It does, just not with the built-in Camera app. Even when the iPhone Camera app is set at 2x, if the light is dim or the shutter speed is slow enough to cause camera shake, the iPhone will default to the Wide lens and use the 2x digital zoom. Since your lens attachment is blocking the Wide lens, you see a dark, gray blob instead of an image. Your lens attachment will work over the Tele lens with the Moment Pro Camera app and Obscura 2 app, since these always use the built-in Tele lens in the 2x mode.

Why are some of my Tele shots grainy?

As noted above, even when the iPhone Camera app is set at 2x, dim light or camera shake can cause the iPhone to default to the Wide lens with 2x digital zoom. The grainy shots you’re seeing are likely the result of the iphone rezing up the image from a smaller set of pixels in the center of the sensor. If you use an app like Metapho or View Exif you can check which lens was used on an image.

Why doesn’t the iPhone Camera app shoot RAW?

Most of the amazing tricks of the iPhone Camera app (like Portrait Mode, Live Photo and Smart HDR) require multiple images to work with. It would be too difficult to do these from RAW files, since they’re not images, but data dumps from the sensor. The good news: the iPhone’s back cameras are perfectly capable of shooting RAW and capturing images as Adobe DNG files. Apps like the Moment Pro Camera, Manual, Obscura 2 and Halide can shoot them.

Can I edit RAW photos in the Photos app?

RAW files can show up in the Photos app, but what you see is actually lo-res JPG preview embedded in the DNG file. You can edit this preview in Photos, but not the data in the DNG file itself. You can edit an DNG file with apps like Darkroom, Pixelmator, Polarr, Raw Power and Lightroom.

Why shoot photos in HEIF format if only Apple devices can read it?

iOS 11 and Mac High Sierra introduced the option of HEIF (High Efficiency Image File). It’s not a format, but a container that allows for multiple images to be stored in the same file and replaces the aging, limited JPG format. If shooting in HEIF, your Apple devices know to export images in JPG format when they could be going to a device that’s not capable of opening HEIF images. So iMessage knows to send HEIFs to your blue connections and JPGs to your green connections. If you want to shoot in JPG only: Home > Settings > Camera > Format > Most Compatible.

If I use a filter when I shoot a photo, is it permanent?

No. Though you may see the filter on the screen when you shoot, it’s added to the image after it’s captured. You can revert to the original color image while viewing it: Edit > Revert > Done

Why do some of my photos look normal, but immediately dim?

Most like you have both Live Photo on and Flash on or set to Auto. The iPhone’s flash will affect about 10 frames of the 30 frames in a Live Photo. As the Photos app plays through a Live Photo when viewing it, you may see a flash, and sometimes the iPhone will chose one of the dim frames as the key frame. To chose a better key frame: Edit > Drag the white box in the slider left or right > Tap Make Key Photo > Done. To avoid the problem in the future, in the Camera app make sure both the Lightning icon or the Target icon are not orange at the same time.


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