Random Thoughts

I May Have Asperger’s

I may have Asperger’s syndrome – or at least that’s the rumor I’ve heard, well it was suggested at one one time. I figured it probably wasn’t totally outside the realm of fiction, so I decided to check it out. A time for self-exploration and reflection. I did some online video research and checked out videos of folks with Asperger’s and the like and a Wikipedia entry on the subject.

With Asperger’s people are considered to be smart, getting all focused and researching something to death like memorizing all the planes the British and Germans flew during World War II or rock formation history, or some other topic than a number of other people in the world probably don’t care about at all. I can identify with such freakishness, it makes perfect sense to me.

A person with Asperger’s is supposedly not interested in social communication, or doesn’t know they’re supposed to be, or just don’t find an essential value in it. The social skills need to be learned, like they’re not programmed in from the start in your brain (and why should they be? Are they essential in the hunter gatherer sense of the world?). So, you then have to take more time to learn the fine details of social interaction if you have the syndrome. Again, I fit into this characterization in many ways.

But Why?

I like learning about stuff, in particular about stuff that’s useful for something – or maybe not. Maybe it will be useful but I just want to know just because. Like, say we take indy movie making for example. I watched Vincent LaForet on CreativeLive talk about film tools and movie making. I get intrigued so I go out, research different camera systems, lighting methods with LED, cost-effective steady cam systems, sliders, follow-focus devices, camera rigs, I acquire a sort of deep body of knowledge on a subject. And then what? Maybe I do nothing, but maybe I go and shoot something. Why? Because I feel compelled to tell a story, to say something. Plus I know that video-based story telling is how we’ll be communicating in the post-Facebook world, so why not get a head start? I have the need to communicate and to express ideas to people outside of my head, in the real world. I think that if I had Asperger’s, I would just learn all about every camera sensor in every camera, and that would be it. I like learning about random things because I want to have the background and use this knowledge later on. There’s a deep difference between acquiring and utilizing knowledge and technology. I like to acquire so I can use, not acquire so that I know. So, maybe I don’t have Asperger’s.

Why Not?

I did the same thing with still photography. I learned a lot on the internet from reading Strobist and watching Photoshop and shooting tutorials by Joey Lawrence, but then I used that info to bring up the production value of my photo shoots and post-processing art. So now I create portraits that are more like paintings. Since still photography isn’t enough, I’m adding film to the mix (because once I thought it would be good to learn about).

Another example, I’m learning about HTML5 and augmented reality right now. There are people who think that code is poetry and they can read Python like any other language, and that it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. That’s fine, but while a I appreciate and respect that view, I don’t share it on an intimate level. I naturally prefer poetry in words, not hash tags. I love learning about web coding, but not because I find it intuitively beautiful (well, no, I do on some level), but rather because I can use it to create cross-platform applications for iPhone and Android devices, using APIs to call in data and use it all in a mobile application that communicates an idea (like photography or film or painting).

Probably Not

I just like to acquire tools to do interesting things. The technology barrier to entry has been brought down so low in subjects like music, physics, motion tracking, game design, film, writing, data analysis, etc. that everyone with a crappy computer (or a decent tablet) and a camera or whatever can do an insane amount of creating in life for very low financial investments. We’re just limited by time and attention spans. In the end I’m just interested in too many things, how can you not be? Today is filled with an unimaginable assortment of possibilities, I find it abnormal when people don’t have the drive to explore life and experiment with all the amazing technologies we have to play with on our computer screens, iPhones, cameras, 3D printers, cheap paints, Arduinos, sensor networks, big data sets, and composite snowboards (to name a very, very, few).

So, do I have Asperger’s? I’m leaning towards no, but I guess I have a bit of the necessary ingredients. Now clearly, self-diagnosis doesn’t work for everyone (except for Freud), and an impartial review might be in order. However, I dated a psychiatrist for half a year once, and I now that I think about she probably would have diagnosed me if I was. If you think I have Asperger’s, feel free to drop me a line.

Ruins of Detroit Matterhorn of Michigan

I don’t see ruins in Detroit, I see mountains and inspiration. The term ruins implies that something has not simply fallen into neglect, but is somehow lost to society. It is degraded beyond its intended state to such a degree that it is lost from redemption. The inspiration, the reason for creation has been lost and totally forgotten by those who built it, and no one wants to carry on the idea.  We don’t remark on the ruins of Notre Dame or the ruins of DDR Berlin, and we don’t talk about the ruined glaciers and mountain ranges in Colorado. Ruin is a physical and mental state of being. A building can be old, the walls crumbling and the facade faded, and we can call Versailles a monument to the pinnacle of French art in the time of Louis XIV. I think of the chateau west of Paris as ruined as any other tourist building in Europe, where the inspiration for its creation has long since been neglected and ignored. The buildings exist to what was, but speak nothing of the future. What good is a beautiful building if it doesn’t inspire? Keeping the outside looking nice is irrelevant when the purpose for being no longer exists. Nothing useless is truly beautiful. Everything is in flux, and it’s all falling apart in one way or another. The Duomo cathedral in Milan is in ruins from my perspective, and as it’s rebuilt and reconstructed it contains physical pieces of yesterday and today, but the idea of Rome is as dead now as it was when the Empire failed and fell because no one cared to keep it going.

Remnants and Ruins

I think of the remnants of the empires of Detroit as the mountains of Michigan, physically and philosophically, and should all be turned into parks for everyone to experience and to explore. Exploration of the natural world feeds the adventure centers of the brain. The unpredictable landscapes and oceans challenge us to survive outside of our comfort zones and the trappings of society. I’ve always found adventure difficult to have in a city environment, and it’s a primary reason why I live in Switzerland, where a healthy balance between cities and outdoor exploration is embedded into society. I like places that inspire me to do things today.

Standing at the gates of Versailles makes me wonder what it was like when an angry mob knocked on the door for the head of Marie Antoinette (or was that only a movie). Standing in the main entrance of the Packard plant in Detroit makes me wonder what I could do in life if I applied myself a little bit more. I don’t see ruins in Detroit, I see mountains to explore and to be inspired  by, and the main and most accessible mountain range is the Packard automotive plant. Packard is the Swiss Alps of Michigan, the Urbex Matterhorn of the Motor City. The feeling I have walking up crumbling stairs in Packard is the same sensation I experience descending down the ridge of the Zinalrothorn in Zermatt. The terrain is unsteady, you don’t know what’s around the next corner, and your sense of adventure is highly tuned to your surroundings.

Glaciers of Detroit

Packard is not a collection of ruins to me because I don’t feel like the inspiration which created Detroit is dead, but rather sleeping a little bit. Packard is a great collection of caverns to explore. Staring down the long dark halls is as mystifying as staring out across the width of the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. Cracks in the floor exposing the lower levels is like looking down into the long darkness of a large crevasse.  The  fallen ceilings and walls remind me of the car-sized boulders that litter the Oberaletsch Glacier. The plant is filled with the history of the city and the Empire era of Detroit. Like the glaciers telling the story of the ice leaving the landscape of Switzerland, Packard is covered with grafitti on the inside, telling different stories as time ticks by. The collapsed floors make me think of how the ice has carved images into the rock faces as it flows and then recedes.

Both are living in a sense, the transformation is due to weathering and to humans. Water flows into cracks in rock and concrete, expands upon freezing, and another little piece breaks off the walls and mountain peaks. Both are dangerous and deadly to the naive who venture there, and a helmet, boots, and rope would be advisable in both the mountains of Detroit and Switzerland. Walking through Packard in my Doc Martens, I feel I look like the Japanese and Korean tourists who head up to the Junfraujoch in tennis shoes and a light jacket. We’re all looking for the same thing I think, life isn’t as complicated as writers like to think it is. Exploration is an important part of life, and both urbex and mountaineering combine physical tenacity with mental stamina.

Packard is explored, Packard burns, it’s been gutted and probably there are sill bodies hidden away in dark corners, but it’s not a scary place to me. I stand there in awe.  I’m awed by how it crumbles, how nature is taking it  back to the earth.  Empires can fall as quickly (or faster) than they were built, and this is an important perspective to understand. Europe houses the ruins of Monarchs, Fascism and Communism to name a few. Detroit saw the birth of industrial empires, but the inspiration for a second coming of Detroit is all around. Humans build up large things and think the monuments should exist forever, but they’re all being knocked down by time and the desire of people to maintain the momentum of an empire.  This is perspective, this is the life and transformation of an Empire and everyone should see it. Empires are built and they fall. Huge masses of concrete can be built up and a few years go by and they are skeletons, just like you’ll be one day.

Packard looks like a city in the aftermath of a war, sitting on the far edge of the blast radius from a nuclear impact. Standing at that point where everyone gets vaporized and all the windows are blown out, but the buildings remains standing. I used to play paintball in Packard at a place called Splatball City, and if you look you’ll find remnants of those wars and happy times of my teenage years. People say it’s the fallout of economic war. They say that the result is the same as a military confrontation. Windows blasted out, nothing inside the walls anymore to support life – just places to hide away in from the wild life outside.

Detroit and Berlin

Packard 2010 probably looks a bit like Berlin in May of 1945. You can imagine snipers hiding away on the roof tops of Packard and werewolves plotting in the shadows as Russian soldiers drag German women into empty rooms. Or you can imagine Bratz dolls roaming the halls and chilling on window sills, but that’s just my imagination filling the page with bullshit for an unwritten movie script. A fitting notion, given the booming movie industry in current-day Detroit.

Like the glaciers, the ruins of Detroit won’t last forever, they are mortal, and must undergo the aging process like everything else in this world. The ruins of Detroit are fading like the ice in the Alps, or the melting snows of Killamanjaro. If you have the motivation and the opportunity, go check them out while you still can. Urban exploration is something you have to do in the moment. Old buildings get demolished or closed off, or their innards gutted as they transform from majestic theaters to forgotten memories. I take pictures of the glaciers because I want to show my grandchildren what it was like, in that time long ago when ice covered the Alps. It’s all in flux, and Detroit is getting reworked like Berlin in the late 90’s.

It’s not a bad thing that Potsdamer Platz now has a Sony Center instead of a no-man’s land, but’s good that you can still find one of the last guard towers if you know which street to walk down, and deportation memorials are all over the city if you care to notice them. Thousands of bodies and still forgotten in shallow graves on the WWII battle fields around the city. I feel like I barely know some parts of Berlin anymore because it has changed so much between 2003 and 2010, but that’s not a bad thing, that’s just life. I hope Packard will still be there in 10 years. However, if the skeleton is still there it might be a shopping mall, or a set of affluent apartment studios, but I hope that a few graffiti walls are left standing – like that lone section of the Berlin wall at Potsdamer Platz with a peace sign on it. I should live long enough to find out.

Eternal thanks to gatsbyj who I met via Flickr for taking me shooting in Packard.

The Shaman’s Trance

Ken's Nightmare IPart II: The Shaman’s Trance


After making preliminary plans to re-write the internet, a few of us from the Amazing Amazee Booster Party headed into the heart of Zurich to find the Digital Shaman at Kanzlei. We paid the cover charge and moved through the place pack with bodies. The DJ was spinning and we made out way to the front of the dance floor.

Culled into the Shaman’s Trance, secure in his embrace the dance waves encircle the mind. This was the final cap to the night, a long set of music and body movement. The mind moving in and out of step with hard reality, and every part of the brain and body gets tuned in to the music. These places are best to leave at the apex, before the DJ starts the chill-out music and the lights come on. But we had no intention of leaving before the music stopped, and danced until the end. At 04:01 “Give Me Love” started playing, and I knew the night was closing. It’s a sad way to end the shadow games and await the morning sun, the DJ had no initiative and played something easy to end on – A downer. I like to dance out of a place, my emotions intimately connected with the rhythms. The lights turned on and we headed outside.

“Das Music spielt in Mein Kopf!” I yelled back at the bastard who had killed the beats. My fists raised in mock protest. Indeed, the music is always drumming in my head. The Doors gets mixed into Beethoven, and I don’t need an iPod. I just listen to some stuff in the morning, and remix the rest of the day in my head. Then I head out to clubs once in a while get fully engulfed by the energy. The night ended and the morning began on a train back to Winterthur around 5am.

This end wasn’t too different to the next Thursday when I headed out to Zurich to celebrate a birthday. We started at PurPur, a restaurant and nightclub near Stadelhofen. That night started out in a similar fashion. The mind confused, I decided to walk confidently into the night, wait for the beast to take on a fantastic form and then embrace the monsters and creatures which you meet along the way. Strangers are friendly faces in the shadows, and nothing is quite so comfortable as when you face the situation with the right eyes and attitude. The problem is that Zurich was dead that Thursday night. This isn’t Berlin where you can easily stay out all night, every night and walk out of a club into the sunshine. We left PurPur at midnight, and the place was nearly as empty as my apartment, just cleaner, fewer clothes on the floor. But if you try hard enough, even on a dead Thursday in Zurich you’ll find what you were looking for.

We stepped into Amber, right across from the Zurich Hauptbanhof. Amber is an over-priced place, but there was no cover-charge and a DJ was spinning – so the costs all balanced out, plus there was no other option without paying to get inside Hive or Kaufleuten. Amber was loosely filled up with bankers and foreigners (like us). The scene was basically a bunch of highly successful business guys standing around a few women that couldn’t be bought, but pretended like a price was listed next them on the bar. To characterize the ambiance in a single scene, one banker chick with a low-cut breast-popping, almost fully unbuttoned shirt was getting eye fucked by five guys at a time. A few other bank managers half-danced near the bar – trying to look hip and trendy. They stopped moving every five seconds to see if they could catch the eyes of one of the few women in the place – to see if anyone was looking at them. It was a sad and irrelevant scene. Irrelevant because we had come for the beats, and headed directly to the dance floor by the DJ.

For this Amber was perfect. Cool music, slightly deserted, little smoke in the air and room to dance. I easily lost myself in the music and started my interpretive dance moves. The floor was comfortably covered in broken glass, and large chunks got embedded in my Doc Martens, which made sliding around the dance stage effortless. There was a small group of Vikings on the floor as well, two tall guys with blonde hair wear white T-shirts and jeans, and one short female in a black skirt. They were the only other people interested in just enjoying the night and being touched by the music. I channeled Jim Morrison and started doing an Eagle Sun Dance. Arms outstretched in the sky, slowly circling the Earth below, you fall into that sacred trance and feel only the music. The body becomes the receptacle for the soul – and as the DJ turns it to a high-frequency sea of waves, which tunes in perfectly to those of the brain and showers down around your being – the mind-body connection becomes totally complete.

Carpe Noct mon ami…

Lazy Swiss Sunday – First Ski Tour

pizol_sls-5Some time in 2005 I walked into the Oerlikon outlet store of Baechli Bergsport and picked up a pair a yellow and grey Lowa Evo ski touring boots. They were on sale and I thought, “ski touring, always wanted to do that.” In the winter of 2008 I bought a pair of NAXO N02 touring bindings, a pair of Atomic skis, Black Diamond skins, a BCA avalanche beacon, Black Diamond probe…ready to realize my ski touring dream.

Dreams take time though, they need to develop over a certain period, especially something like touring. I hadn’t been on skis in like three years and I wasn’t in the avalanche dodging mood. My idea was to start out small and build up to some real mountain tours. So on a Lazy Swiss Sunday I decided to head to Pizol and tour around the avalanche (theoretically) free area of the Pizol ski area in Eastern Switzerland. Pizol is one of those all-inclusive winter sport places. You can ski, snowboard, winterwandern, paraglide, snowshoe, ski tour, whatever involves snow, they even do igloo adventure trips. I wanted an easy day so I took the gondola up the first station and then toured up the snowshoe trail to the top of the ski resort. I packed along an assortment of accessories including crampons, snow shovel, avalanche beacon and an ice axe. Not that I needed all of this to tour in a ski resort, but I figured I should load up my Osprey Exposure pack and train my legs. Plus, I felt fly in my mountaineering gear. I generally only use these things for ego-inspired photo shoots, so it was a joy to use my mountain stuff for a utilitarian purpose. Naturally I also packed along my Ricoh GR Digital, that fantastic high-quality compact digital camera that just fits in your pack, no matter what mountain you’re heading up.

pizol_sls-12At Pizol you have the option of heading on from the resort for another 600 vertical meters to the Pizol summit, but as I was alone, I decided to stay out of the backcountry. Avalanches sound like trains, and it’s ill-advised to stand in front of either one. I’ve had the pleasure of having an avalanche come down on me in Colorado, a pleasure as I ‘m still here to talk about it. It’s good to experience some things ONCE, and that once was once enough. At Pizol the weather was fantastic above 1500 meters. Down below in the valley was Das Nebelmeer, German for sea of clouds, that beautiful event where the clouds are pushed below the mountain peaks, and you look out from the sunshine. The light was perfect, beyond perfect, which is impossible, but it was.

pizol_sls-11Ski touring looks fly, but it’s surprising exhausting. I was vacationing in Detroit for Christmas and my Swiss mountain legs hadn’t been exercised in months. So when I skied down the slopes and tried to turn my legs revolted with deep screams of muscle fatigue. I’m a weak, flabby man, a poor example of a mountaineer, but there’s always next weekend. I made it back to the gondola without crashing and decided to head back for a relaxing Sunday night in Winterthur. “Why push it?” The best ski season in February and the best touring in March (so I hear) and I just want to be in touring shape for the days to come.? That’s the point of Lazy Swiss Sundays, to not kill yourself, but to enjoy life. Their are many firsts in this life. Many things to be remembered, and many things to look forward to. A lazy tour in a resort area doesn’t sound exciting when written down, but it was a start, a flickr of adventure for the soul. It was the start of the beginning.


Elgato TV – Free Movies and Vinyl Records

My Television Reintroduction Experience

With the exception of a few months here and there, I’ve managed to live the majority of my adult life and nearly all of my childhood without a TV. It’s pretty easy, you just don’t buy one or bring it into your apartment or house. Recently I’ve started reintroducing myself to the TV medium of communication with the Elgato eyetv hybrid USB TV tuner. It was the most logical way to enjoy the Swiss State-forced television system, which everyone with the ability to receive a TV signal is obliged to pay for when living in der Schweiz.

Switzerland offers many freedoms in daily life, with the exception of the television system. I found out this year that even if you don’t have a television, or any way to connect the cable signal to your computer, that you have to sign up with BillAG if you have a high-speed internet connection because, well, the Swiss TV stations have some basic video capabilities on their websites, and somehow this means you can have the full experience from your computer, which is complete BS. Basically, you’re forced to pay for basic TV in Switzerland or face a 5000 CHF fine. So, when I was in the Letec computer store in Winterthur, I impulsively bought a USB TV device. Then I returned and bought a USB 2.0 card as my old PowerMac Quicksilver 2002 only came with USB 1.0 and that’s just too slow. Now, I can experience the full breadth of Swiss television mediocrity on my Macintosh via the Elgato USB TV tuner. Was it worth it, bringing TV back into my life?

Having an Elgato is the way to go in the modern world. You have all the capabilities of something like TiVo, without the hassle of hooking up another media device to your life. You can watch TV straight from the source or record shows and watch them later. The quality and differences between flat screen televisions and modern computer monitors are increasingly becoming irrelevant, so why not just combine the two? On the Mac it’s plug-and-play. All I had to do was plug it into my cable and into my computer, and then set up the channels, which is done automatically via a button push. Now my computer monitor is also a TV, complete with remote control.

TV for the People?

This TV reintegration into my life brought up a question in my heads. When you have public-forced television support, it should be TV for the people, fulfilling the goal of enriching our lives in ways that corporation-owned television just can’t or won’t do. NPR and PBS do this very well in the US. Five seconds after hooking up the Elegato I remembered why I didn’t have a TV in the first place. Television programming sucks. It blows in the US, and in Switzerland over half the programming is just voice-over translations of crappy American sitcoms. King of Queens in German, Dawson’s Creek in French, is this the best Swiss TV can do? The other half of programming consists of movies (rarely ones I want to see), news shows (I train my Zurich Swiss-German), random Italian games shows, and talk shows. At least in America there’s economic competition to encourage quality programming (which is a lie since only a few corporations own all the main stations in the US). The only redeeming aspect of Swiss TV are the occasional documentaries, which are actually very well done, and watching the Rega mountain rescue folks rescue mountaineers reminds me to be safe in the mountains.

The only reason for me to watch Swiss TV with the Elgato is that there’s no way I’ve found to switch the language from German to English. This is a common feature in Switzerland, many movies and shows are broadcast in their original language (English) and the regional tongue (German, French, Italian). You can switch between the two if desired. So the Elgato is pushing my advancement of German, which is a plus any day of the week. Thankfully I don’t get CNN, which has degraded to the bastard step-son of Fox News, neither are Fair or Balanced.

TV Rots the Brain?

It’s said that TV rots the brain. This is not exactly true, but if you’re watching an episode of “24” the likelihood that you’ll be doing anything else is pretty remote, this includes thinking or manual labor. The main problem with most TV shows is the writing style and plot lines of sitcoms, which has formed the basis for the writing of all TV programs. They’re written specifically to lead the action and drama up to the commercial break. The breaks happen at like 10 minute intervals, so you’re letting your emotions be molded into a 10 minute interval cycle. You start out normal, are told by the TV plotline that something has to go wrong and be dramatic and lead up to a commercial break without any resolution until the program resumes. You think this cycle stops when you turn off the TV? Not likely, and if you do it too much your emotions will be expecting a similar dramatic cycle throughout your normal day. If you get into a conversation with someone from Germany, they might tell you that what they know of America they get from MTV and shows like Date My Mom, Flavour of Love, and Next. MTV in Europe sets the tone of cultural exchange as it’s most vile.

My main problem with TV is that it’s an industry centered on mediocrity. Be just creative enough to seem remotely interesting, but not daring enough to scare off advertisers. That’s all a TV show is. Re-cycle boring plotlines from Leave it to Beaver, the lines delivered by some comedian who the audience has a remote identification with, and you have a show. I didn’t have a TV when I grew up, and I’m thankful every day. Up until I was in the 4th grade and we got a black and white TV in my house (after my grandfather died) I amused my childhood with vinyl records, books, playing outside, playing with old chemistry sets, and exploring my house. The upbringing largely devoid of TV set an excellent stage for my creative and analytical thinking patterns, which effortlessly jump between engineering and photography or drawing and quantum physics. I love the concept of communicating with sounds and moving pictures, but that’s why I love DVDs. You can watch them as you like, re-cut them in FinalCut Pro and leave them on a shelf when they bore you.

Guerilla Movie Marketing with Joox.net

I also like free movie sites like Joox.net, I occasionally check out movies on Joox.net because it allows me to watch movies and make an informed decision before spending $15 (middle price in Switzerland) to actually go to a movie or buy the DVD ($15-$40). The quality generally sucks, and I don’t watch movies to circumvent the profit margins of Hollywood. It seems like most of the movie links on Joox.net are actually guerilla postings by the Hollywood studios, letting the films run part-way and then dying. This is actually a pretty sweet marketing method, because I start watching a good movie like “Elizabeth the Golden Age” and then go buy the DVD to see the end of the movie. I would buy it anyways, but this tactic makes me do it faster.

I watch parts of movies on Joox.net to help me in my DVD purchasing decisions. For example, Strange Wilderness looks like a cool movie from the trailer, but when you actually watch part of it, you realize it sucks…really, really bad, and if I had paid to watch the entire movie, I would have been insanely disappointed. On the other hand, I can watch part of “Super Bad” and then go out and buy the DVD, because it’s generally a sweet American comedy, and I could buy the DVD with full confidence after watching the first 15 minutes off of the internet. With Joox.net I also remember movies I’ve forgotten about, like Inside Man and Conan the Barbarian. After re-watching part of The Dark Night, I’m fully confident that I’ll buy the DVD when it comes out in Switzerland. I will not be buying Lord of War, because after watching the first 20 minutes it’s clear that it’s not worth watching beyond the movie trailer, even for free on the internet. I don’t waste my time with bad visual content, even if it’s free (and nothing ever really is).

Free?is Bad for Business?

The movie industry tells you that free is bad for business, but that’s because they just don’t get it. Free and the Web 2.0 Wikinomics model can work, by connecting consumers with the stuff they want to pay for. Joox.net if totally for free, and it makes me buy more DVDs. This is not joke, I’ve been buying nearly one DVD every two weeks after watching movies on the internet. This is an increase of like 200% in my DVD buying habits, all due to the free distribution of movies on the net. Of course, there’s no direct financial connections between Joox.net and Hollywood (as far as I know), but there should be, because it makes financial sense for an entertainment industry that is still living in the dark ages from a movie distribution standpoint to partner with a website which is increasing my DVD buying habits.

So to sum it all up, Swiss TV sucks and you’re forced to pay for it. TV in general generally sucks and encourages us to live dramatically mediocre lives, and a Wikinomics business model involving free movies on the internet is viable for increasing DVD sales, just as it may prove viable for David Hobby and his Free Photography Business Model.

Any questions?

The David Hobby Free Photography Business Plan?

The blood thirsty photo blog sphere was set ablaze in a napalm storm over a simple post, Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free by David Hobby, the publisher of Strobist. The article was one of those long and well-written posts, the type which people like to read because it’s not a regurgitation of all the other photo blogs on the net. In his post David talks about the benefits of working for free, of offering free photography services to people who he wants to photography, and who wouldn’t have a budget for his services otherwise. Of course, he doesn’t mean shooting for free for people who could pay or giving content away for unrestricted commercial usage. Depending on who you are you’ll see the two words, Photography and Free and Professional and either, become enraged, become inspired, remain unaffected. Nothing is free, a pitch is always given, a sale sometimes made, we’re all in an ever changing economic system.  You just have to know which game you’re playing.

If the idea of free photography from a professional photographer enrages you, there’s probably some underlying feeling that such a statement encourages people to devalue their work, give away a product for free, and depresses the economic value of the entire photography market. Those who are inspired might feel this way because they believe that photography is about art and expression and taking pictures of what you want to photograph despite not earning a direct financial payment is what life is all about.

Both reactions might require a few assumptions on the part of the reader. First, one might suppose that a professional photographer giving away a service for free, in the hopes of future financial returns is no way to run a business. There is an alternate view. When you perform a certain function and receive money for it, and do at a higher level than most of your peers, it’s called a job, a profession, or maybe even a career. If you do something on the side, that you don’t get paid for or doesn’t produce a sizable income but you do it because you find it more interesting than TV, it’s call a…hobby.

So, you could start with the perception that David Hobby is a professional photographer who writes about giving away photography for free. But it’s also true that sometimes people work one job, and work on their hobby in the off hours, and eventually bring their hobby to such a high level, that it becomes their job, a profession, or maybe even a career. Is it an insult to call a professional blogger a measly photographer? Should a newspaper-photographer-turned-blogger use a Web 2.0 business strategy to incubate their photography hobby and turn it into a startup business? If a professional blogger gives away free photography, does it help his/her blogging business model or does it bring their dreams of being a professional photographer closer to reality? What does it mean for a blogger to have to have a career in a Web 2.0, soon to be Web 3.0 world? How does a photographer market themselves in the blogsphere?

If a professional photographer simply gives away photos the case could be made that they’re devaluing the overall creative market of the world. But if a blogger who is also a photographer on the side publishes a post called…Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free, the purpose of the post isn’t necessarily about selling photos and finding future clients, or is it?

The web is a constant production-consumption, an economic system. Surpluses and shortages and the smart management of resources. Veil readers thirsty for blood soaked words to sink their teeth into are constantly hungry for a new topic to debate on blogs and webpages. There are a few ways to have a popular blog, give people what the want to read, develop an emotional connection to your readers, and/or create controversy for discussion.

The David Hobby Free Photography Business Plan could simply be a logical application of Wikinomics to a photo blogging business model and echoes the ethos set down by John Grant in his book “After Image mind altering marketing.”  The best way to market to a smart set of consumers is to teach them something.

In the web industry, producers produce and consumers consume. David Hobby writes about working for free in the hopes that this will bring a return for a future photo business, but Strobist.com reaps the benefits of web traffic and reactions in the present day. Of course, this improves the blog business (and related Strobist workshop spinoff), where any exposure is good exposure. Any reaction positively impacts the Google hits and more links mean more visitors equals more ad revenue (hopefully). It’s just the application of the Wikinomics model to photography. Remove the money from the equation, and the artist should be free to create as they like. Art and design is nothing more than reinterpretations of past ideas. And the David Hobby Free Photography Business Plan is what use to be called doing personal projects. You shoot what you want and organize the projects you want to organize because they interest you.

Some say that nothing which is free has any real value. And something which is useless can never be truly beautiful. Does giving PopPhoto permission to publish my Flickr photo devalue the cumulative impact of the creative industries? Is David Hobby working for free so he can blog about it and cause discussion on the Strobist blog and bring more hits to his page? This is what I did when I reviewed the Joey L Photoshop Tutorial DVD. I bought it to learn photoshop and as a bonus, reviewed it to bring exposure to my blog, to see if I could create – a reaction. I created content for web consumers who were, and still are hungry for info on the Joey L Look. Viewers find my Joey L post and consume that content. I just don’t have anything to sell them. That’s the big web-based circle of life and content distribution. Is giving away free knowledge on my blog providing a suitable career path on my way to being a movie director in Hollywood?

Perhaps, and then I’ll hire David Hobby to photography me.

Lazy Swiss Sunday – Urban Poet Portraits

Urban_Poet.jpgThere are many boring things to do on a lazy Sunday in Switzerland. You can climb up a klettersteig, go paragliding, chill in a coffee shop, enjoy a movie, brunch in die Giesserei in Oerlikon, tour over a glacier, vegetate in front of the TV, but if you did all of that last weekend, then the obvious option is to go shoot urban portraits in Winterthur. As a Strobist-educated photographer, it’s nice to go out and shoot with someone who actually makes money taking photographs, and has an Elinchrom Ranger RX system. So, on a Lazy Swiss Sunday Matt and I headed to the old industrial area of Winterthur, just outside of Zurich to shoot some pictures that we called, the Urban Poet series.

I’m a bit of strange guy, and when I shoot images I naturally try to infuse a bit a strangeness into the process. Dry Tooling in a parking garage, vintage glacier goggles, and hiding my beautiful eyes behind sunglasses are my thing at the moment. This contrasts wonderfully with Matt’s take on portraiture, which is influenced by his background in photo journalism and wedding photography. He captures the beauty of reality, while I try to do anything but.  Fortunately, I was able to add my hint of strangeness during the post-processing.

Our location was at the back of the Lagerplatz near the train tracks in Winterthur. Winterthur is a historic industrial manufacturing base of Zurich, Switzerland. Since the Swiss economy has transitioned away from large-scale industrial manufacturing and become focused on biotech, medical, and technology companies, the hard industrial areas of Winterthur have gone through a large transformation in the past 50 years. Lagerplatz translates from German as something like loading or inventory place, basically it’s where you have warehouses for loading trains, and is right next to the old Sulzer manufacturing area. Since it’s industrial heyday, the whole area has since been transformed into a hip business location for designers, swanky apartments, a climbing gym, and is the go-to place for wedding photographers who want to make urban portraits for high-paying clients.

The Concept

We had two ideas in mind, one as an experimental action image, and would then go do some reality based shots. For the action shot, I had picked up a toy gun at the store the day before. In addition I took along my Pelican hard case and a simple wardrobe, consisting of Levi’s jeans, a form fitted T-shirt, and olive jacket with nice clean lines. As per Matt’s direction, I kept my vintage motorcycle goggles in my pocket and wore instead a pair of traditional black sport glasses.

The Gear

Nikon D300
Nikon 80-200 f/2.8
Nikon 12-24 f/4.0
Elinchrom Ranger RX strobes
Skyport RX radio triggers
Shoot-through and silver umbrellas
Medium Elinchrom octabox

Urban_Poet-2.jpgBullets Are My Prose

The night before I had been watching Casino Royale, getting ready for the release of Quantum of Solace, so I was pretty geeked to pick up a toy version of the P99 and pretend to be an extra from James Bond, Spy Game or a Jason Bourne movie for 1/100th of a second. The occasional kid would stop to look on his way to the indoor skate park at Block, asking what we were doing, and, “is that a real gun?” For the lighting Matt alternated between hard lighting and flatter diffused looks using the umbrellas. I went with this wardrobe because I like modeling with my olive We sport coat and relaxed Levi’s, the light blue and white of the jeans contrasts well against the green of the coat. Overall it has a sort of hip urban feeling mixed with funtionality of something I actually like to wear. Additionally, both types of clothing give great definition with harder or flatter lighting schemes. The shadows from the creases along the arms give a subtle dramatic texture to the overall image with the right light. I went with my Doc Marten wing tips (model 3989) because their large soles have a very defined edge, forming a nice separation visually between the subject and the ground. Again, the whiteness of the Docs juxtaposes nicely against the coat and sunglasses. It might have been better to have gone with a lighter T-shirt, as the dark grey shirt needs more direct lighting to bring out features of the subject’s torso area. Here it acts more like a visual void in the image, or maybe this is just my science mind making too much of nothing. The gun and Pelican case were added to give some story elements, and because Matt and I wanted to experiment with different visual elements in this series.

Urban_Poet-3.jpgThe Urban Poet

For the main Urban Poet portraits, Matt positioned me well in front of one of the buildings with one of those large garage doors in the background. This renders a nice geometry to the background, without over-powering the colors of the subject. For this shot Matt used the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 lens, which gives a nice compressed image and control over depth of field to isolate the subject from the background elements of the shooting environment. And, the Nikon 80-200 is of course, very sharp. The lighting was done with one medium Octabox with an Elinchrom head. You can see in the portrait how the light is basically hitting about 1 meter in front of the subject, and then lighting the whole person. For this image, Matt designed a very cool portrait by separating the subject from the background using his choice of lens, and by keeping a shadow on the foreground, he minimizes the tendency of the viewer’s eye to be drawn away from the subject. So, basically it means your eye is drawn directly to the subject and not distracted by either the foreground or background elements. At the same time, having this foreground an background elements in place is what defines the urban environment, and makes the image look cooler and much more interesting than a simple studio shot.

Urban_Poet-4.jpgCould this shot have been done with small flash gear, yes, to a certain extent I’m sure it would have been possible, but if you happen to have an Elinchrom Ranger RX system with a medium-sized octabox, dealing with a small flash Strobist setup is just crazy. The Elinchrom octabox combined with the Ranger strobe heads gives you beautiful diffused light, and using the Skyport RX system meant that Matt was able to control the strobes without moving from his shooting position. If you have an assistant running around changing your lighting settings, then it’s fine to use a Pocket Wizard to trigger your lights, but when working alone the Skyport RX system makes the whole process painless. The use of the octabox is what made this image possible, otherwise it would be more difficult to create this dark shadow seen in the foreground, and hence, the image would have a different character.

Shooting with Matt was a great experience from multiple perspectives.  First, being directed by a photographer and doing what models do gives one valuable experience on how best to ineract with people which I shoot in separate projects. If you’re a photographer who has never gotten in front of the lens, I highly recommend it.  When you act out the part of a model, you become more aware of you body movements, and more aware of the difficulties of taking direction.  So, when you shoot your own projects, you now have a base for better connecting with your models.  You understand what it’s like to be on stage, their insecurities, and it will make you a better photographer.  It’s also important to work with photographers who have a vision and style which differs from your own.  You understand the value of different working methods, different lighting schemes, different portrait techniques, and in the end you are then challenged to reassess your own style  and become a stronger photographer because of it.

More of Matt’s work can be found at his website:


Sony Canikon Feel the RED SCARLET Fire

Image of RED SCARLET copyright RED.comThere are things that are known, those which are unknown, and inbetween are the doors of digital perception, when these are opened the world will appear to the viewer as it truely is…infinite.

Words are power and when arranged in the right way they form phrases, which can become insiprational bits of revolution. The Red Scarlet has been called a DSLR Killer in various online forums, and this naturally makes the mind think twice. DSLR Killer? How does one kill the embodiment of the whole digital photography industry, the marker by which all other digital imaging products are measured? Of course, there area calls of impossibility. What! How can one company challenge the Old Guard of Canikon and repell attacks by the 800 pound Sony DSLR Gorilla?

Red has released the specs of the SCARLET and EPIC Digital Still & Motion Camera (DSMC) systems.  The images and specs were released on the reduser.net and included the DSLR-like configuration shown above. What, you want to shoot full-frame 35mm, oh…, no, you want to shoot in full-frame 645, ahhh, ok, you’d prefer to shoot in the  digital 617 format today?  NO PROBLEM.  The new SCARLET and EPIC cameras are completely, 100% modular, upgradable, and fully custimizable to whatever shooting setup you want.  The base SCARLET Brain (imaging sensor body) will go for only 2500 USD.  Of course you need to add on a lens,  viewfinder, etc.  But the SCARLET now fullfills the desire of many serious photogrpahers, because you can build the camera you want to use.  Detractors have said to compete with Canikon RED is at a disadvantge, since they need lenses to compete.  Well, RED offers a full range from f/2.8 zooms to f/1.5 primes including some with image stabilization – simply awesome. Or, you can just get a Canon or Nikon lens mount and use any of the millions of compatible lenses already on the market. YES! The SCARLET allows three lens mounts, including Canikon and RED. At the heart of the new SCARLET and EPIC systems is the ability to choose the sensor size you need.  Sizes include 2/3″, 35mm full frame, and then go on up to 186×56 mm. In megapixels this means a range from 4.9 up to 261 MegaPixels. The Mysterium-X, Monstro, and Mysterium sensors offer A/D conversions from 12-16 bit, and 11-13 stops of dynamic range. The maximum frames per second are 25-120fps. And since the system is fully modular, you can even do things like putting two Brains together and shooting directly for 3D with a stereo camera setup.  And of course, since the system is modular, as sensor technology improves, you just buy a new one, a concept which should have been implemented 4 or 5 years ago by Nikon or Canon.

RED of course, has an advantage against the old skool camera makers.  They are a very forward looking company, which has designed their cameras exactly how new technology should be developed – without the lethargy of an old skool company which simply increments old designs.  Why do we fly in airplanes with static wings while birds have aeroelastically adaptable wing structures?  Why do we produce energy from coal when there are abundent sources of clean power?  Because too often companies introduce technology in small increments instead of challenging the concept of their product line. As a technology fanatic and one who thinks in moving pictures instead of still images, it’s obvious that the SCARLET is, in fact be the first step in killing off the DSLR. The truth is, the DSLR has been heading towards the meat packing district for sometime now. The resolution limit of DSLRs, has for all practical reasons been reached. The funtionality and draw of the DSLR has been that if offers higher picture quality than small compacts, but is more affordable and functional than medium format digital back systems. But things change.

The Sony A900 now offers near medium format back quality in a small and relatively affordable package, while the next generation of pro high resolution handheld cameras are coming in the form of the Leica S2 and Nikon D4 (or whatever Nikon calls it), the former already released, and the latter rumored to be ready for 2009, and both having a larger than full-frame 35mm sensor. With advancements in the pocket camera market, such as the Panasonic LX3, Ricoh GX200, Canon G10 and a host of followers, why do people need the DSLR construct? The Canon 5D-II is only a relevant design because of it’s video capabilies.  Most people will be buying it to mix photo and video in one package, or as a high quality HD camera. I would rather have a high tech cinema camera that shoots stills than a high quality DSLR which does video. So why do DSLRs exist at all? A long time ago in a world very close to the Earth, the ability to develop chemicals on paper to reveal an image was far easier to realize than painting a portrait. The large format film camera was replaced with medium and now the small 35mm format film cameras, and now that digital imaging has enabled the packaging of high-quality video in a hand-held package, I wonder, what is the point of shooting with a DSLR, an instrument which is simply the latest design iteration to solve the problem of communicating with visual imagery?

Bad Bloggers go to Berlin

Good bloggers go to San Fransico, Bad bloggers go to BarCamp Berlin 3.  At least, I’m hoping that’s what will be written on the BarCamp Berlin 3 T-shirts.  BarCamp Berlin 3.0 is setting up to be the coolest blogging event of 2008, and probably one the best held so far in the history of the BarCamp.  Paris has flair, Zurich beauty, and Detroit has true grit.  But Berlin is one of those unique cities with an excellent mix of history, tech, art, design, and badassness.  In Berlin the people are hip, beer is plentiful, and the clubs get hotter as the night turns into morning.  It’s also easily one of my favorite places for photography in the world.  Berlin is a city in flux, it has a flow, and between new buildings filled with new ideas the old walls give the determined poet inspiration.  I could easily spend a month there, but this is the wrong attitude.  If you spend a month anywhere you run the risk of getting comfortable.  Better to enter and leave the environment as harshly as possible, keep the mind alert and the senses hightened, otherwise you’ll miss what you came for.  It’s all the more interesting when you have to push youself for a few days with little rest.

First, the main deal: there are something like 650 participants from Germany and around the world attending BarCamp Berlin 3 (Oct. 18th and 19th), and it kicks off a Web 2.0 week in Germany.  Two big parties are happening on Friday and Saturday night, with the camp festivities starting Saturday and ending on Sunday. Sponsored by a number of tech companies, including Oracle and Nokia…I’m incredibly geeked about attending.  Of course, to get in, you have to be on the list.

Getting on the list wasn’t easy, the day registration opened I followed the link in my email only to get denied on the spot, because it seems like the available spots were filled up in a near simutaneous flurry of internet mouse clicks.  Fortunately for me, the cool folks at BarCamp Belin had reserved space specifically for international guests.  Since I come from the US and live in Zurich, I seemd to qualify.  This naturally brings up what I would do at BarCamp.  The concept, as with every barcamp is no spectators, you give a talk, volunteer or blog about the blogcamp.  I’m always in the presentor category.  Not because I know what I’m talking about, but some days you like to hear yourself speak, and preparing a talk means you have to have a grasp of the content.  This isn’t like attending a scientific conference where only two people out of twenty will be able to understand the words flowing out of your mouth.  At a BarCamp you want to communicate ideas for the pure sake of spreading knowledge and inspiring people.  My last apperance was at BlogCampSwitzerland3.0, where I rambled on about integrating Flickr and blog content.  As a speaker, I always come out of the process with a deeper understanding of the material and of myself.  Additionally, speaking reaffirms how much I don’t know about the world.  I like to think I offer a unique perspecitve, trained as a research engineer I blog about cameras, photoshop, creativity, phtography and produce imagery for Flickr.  My main interests for BarCamp Berlin are delving into the production process of visual imageray for blogs, and distributing that content in diffenet ways on the web.  My video production skills are improving, and I’ll post my talk in two or three videos after the show.

Now the only question is what to pack?  I’ll take three cameras to Berlin, burn through as much Velvia film as possible in 35mm and 645 formats and try to capture the feeling of the adventure.  Street sounds and poetry will be handled with my Zoom H4 digital audio recorder.  My short list of cameras includes the Ricoh GRD, Contax G1, and Fuji GA645 (wi) cameras.  The Contax G1 might not make sense to some people – who still shoots 35mm in a digital world?  Well, here’s a better question, how can one spend time photographing in place like Berlin and not do it with Carl Zeiss lenses?

BarCamp Berlin 3

Photokina Nikon-Canon-Sony A900 Deathmatch

Sony A900 DSLRThe Sony A900 is a camera of purpose and symbolism. Probably the most important and influential DSLR release in the past 5 years. For some, it’s the realization of a Minolta dream that a robust full-featured behemoth in the spirit of the Maxxum 9 film camera would be realized. A professional tool for those of true grit. For others it’s a symbol of the megapixel race, and is decried as a waste of sensor area. I see it as the near final orgasm of a tantric seduction which Sony initiated nearly 2 years ago with the showing of two concept models at Photokina 2006. Now, just a digital blink a – few years after release the A100, Sony boasts a robust line of DSLRs, for soccer mom’s, guys with cameras, (GWCs) hobby fanatics, and now studio, landscape, and fashion photographers.

The reason to buy into the Sony system is similar to why people pick Macs over PCs. There are differences in this analogy, the Alpha system isn’t inspired by LSD flash backs and Sony is as large as Microsoft. But the point is, if Sony (like Apple) wants any market share from Canon and Nikon (versus Dell, Microsoft, etc.), they have to produce excellent products. They have to innovate, they have to do it right the first time, and they have to listen to consumer needs. These are things which arguably, neither Nikon nor Canon have any need to, and don’t do. With its dominate market share in the DSLR world Canon has become complacent, releasing camera models which are impressive but lack any market pressure innovations. Nikon is starting to ramp up it’s game with the D3, D700, and D90, the first DSLR to offer video recording. There’s little doubt that the Canon 5D replacement will as well, because the wolves are now out of the woods and looking to satisfy their appetites for Canon blood and camera sales.

With the A900 Sony has released a real tool for studio and fine art photographers. Enough resolution to beat the freakishly expensive Canon flagship 1Ds Mark III, in-body lens stabilization, weather sealing, and micro tuning of lens focus are nice features to have, but considering the market price of $3000, the A900 offers the greatest price-performance combinations in any DSLR ever released so far. The A900 can accommodate fine tuning focus profiles for 30 lenses, so critical focus adjustments can be made on the spot by the user. Of course, Sony might prefer to get paid for tuning lenses like Canon does (instead of allowing users do it), but at the moment the infrastructure and pro service centers don’t exist like they do for Canon. Ahhh, and the lenses…the Carl Zeiss line of autofocus glass now includes a 16-35 and 24-70 f/2.8 lenses, the ideal objectives for a 35mm full-frame body. Then there’s the 85mm and 135mm lenses, fabulous for portraits and razor sharp. Then there’s the ability of using full-frame lenses or cropping to 11 megapixels for APS-sized lenses on the A900, which means one doesn’t have to debate about lens type, they’ll all work with the new Sony.

Of course, as an 800 pound Gorilla, everyone knew Sony was coming to the DSLR jungle, they could feel the ground shake as it approached and heard the monster when it began to roar with the A350 and A700 cameras. The recent news of the Nikon D90 is nice, but we all know that’s not the end of Nikon for this year. The Nikon D3, while a revolution for Nikon users, was only a stop-gap camera so they wouldn’t jump ship to Canon, it was meant to pacify Nikon pros for a little while before the real prophet was ready to be released. The Nikon D4, a capable 24 Megapixel DSLR will for sure be released at Photokina 2008, there’s just no reason for it not to be. The Nikon D300 has essentially the same chip as the Sony A700, and the D4 will probably have a chip very similar to the A900. The last question is what Sony will release in early 2009? The A900 is nice, but will all know the A700 is starting to age against the competition, and an A800/A850 with a full-frame sensor to fill the price gap between the A700 and A900 seems painfully logical.

It took some time to go from the A100 to the A900, and the Sony marketing tactic has been to tell everyone the end of the story first. “We want to take serious market share of the DSLR market, and this will be our flagship, the A900.” This was a bold and unheard of attempt in the digital camera world. Pentax tried this and then failed to deliver a digital version of their medium format camera system, and have since stayed in the shadows producing a niche DSLR for committed followers.

The tactic is designed to prevent users from purchasing from competitors and is very simple. You tell people about the awesome camera 18 months early because it’s a way to drum up enthusiasm for a new camera without immediately releasing a product. The point is to encourage people who are thinking of not buying a Sony A700 versus a Nikon D200 to go ahead and invest in Sony, because Sony is committed to being a contender and producing a full DSLR system. Such a system can’t be supported if people think that Sony is interested in only selling glorified point and shoot DSLRs. An 800 pound gorilla can do this.

The beast tells you what it will do and then laughs as the bush men try to kill it before the Kong destroys the village. But this is the DSLR world, far more dangerous than any jungle, and Sony is indeed a vulnerable beast. While Sony has been enticing consumers with dreams of the A900 for two years, Nikon and Canon have been gearing up for the death match. In particular Canon, the DSLR company which doesn’t need to innovate, has had more than enough heads-up on what would be coming, and are going to release a 5D-II for Photokina, which is rumored to have 24 megapixels, live-view, and movie capabilities. They have to, because at the moment the Canon line is aged and stiff compared to Nikon and Sony. 2009 will be the year of the full-frame DSLR death match between Nikon, Canon, and Sony, for all of them will have monster cameras to sell and all will have to be below the $3000 price point.

Competition is good for the consumer and forces innovation, so what other forces are at play? What comes next you wonder? Look to the planet Mars…children of the night, for the Red One uber innovative digital movie camera maker is rumored to be developing its own DSLR, which will be more of a hand-held high definition video production system than a camera.

No one knows when this DSLR war will end, or exactly when the difference between DSLRs and camcorders will be a matter of marketing strategy, but it’s certain that the jungle will get bloody this year. The air is filled with the scent of DSLR blood, and it’s a great time to be a consumer of digital camera technology.

Further Reading:

A Sony Alpha A900 Gorilla Eyes the DSLR Jungle

A Sony Alpha A900 Gorilla Eyes the DSLR Jungle

The end is near, and hack camera writers across the web are digging in for the mad-capped pseudo blood-bath set to be unleashed on the digital camera world. The release of the Sony A900, the full-framed 24 Megapixel beast will be launched before the end of 2008. There’s little doubt that Sony will unveil a DSLR marketing spectacle like the world has never seen at Photokina 2008 in Cologne (September 23rd-28th), and it might even be worth attending this year.

For give-or-take a decade now the DSLR market has been dominated by small sensor APS-sensor sized offerings, and Full Frame 35mm sized image sensors have been integrated into only a few cameras models, such as in the release of high-end Canon cameras such as the EOS-1Ds and more affordable 5D models, plus a few washout releases by Kodak. Full-frame 35mm image sensors have many advantages, in particular that the majority of DSLR lenses are designed for that sensor size. All the benefits of selective focus and shallow depth of field can be fully exploited when paired with 35mm sensors, which are less pronounced when one uses a 35mm-designed lens on an APS-sized camera body. So far the benefits of larger imaging sensors have stayed in the plus of $2500-$3000 (at the low end). Even the recent release of the affordable ($3000 MSRP) 35mm full-frame camera by Nikon; the D700 is really only there for professionals and gear heads thirsty to drop money on a new trophy camera. The D700 competes directly with the Canon 5D, which originally brought full-frame capabilities to pros and advanced amateurs the world over for the lowly MSRP price of $3299. The release of the Canon 5D and Nikon D700 were significant, but for true innovation the market need competition.

Competition benefits the consumer, and Canon has been the Microsoft of the digital camera market, nearly fully dominating the 35mm full-frame digital segment since it started. There’s good reason for it; Canon does cameras, lenses, sensors, and software/firmware, all of which are key components needed to produce a successful digital camera. Canon has the means of developing all of these essential components in-house using one design strategy.

By comparison, every other DSLR company has been able to do maybe two of the above (at most), but without the last piece of the development puzzle it’s been difficult to match Canon, which generally means the ability to develop and manufacture the imaging sensor. Many companies, such as Nikon have relied on partner companies to design and manufacture the imaging sensors. So while Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Leica and Olympus could design great cameras and lenses, they couldn’t build DSLRs without sensors from companies like Sony. Sony produces many of the imaging sensors used in current point-and-shoot as wells as DSLR cameras. But it wasn’t until Sony bought the camera technology from Minolta that they could start developing the Alpha DSLR System. The true strength of Canon has been its ability to develop, manufacture, and release DSLR models faster and with more precision than the competition. Even Nikon hasn’t kept up with the Canon camera release cycle and only released its first full-frame model a year ago in the form of the D3. Nikon is improving in this respect, but there is now another beast in the DSLR Jungle.


Enter an 800 Pound Gorilla…

Unlike every other camera company, Sony can actually match and beat Canon in the camera development game. Sony bought the camera and lens technology from Minolta, who got out of the camera business because it couldn’t develop and release cameras at the rate of competitors. Sony has partnered with Carl Zeiss, who now designs and oversees production of high-end lenses and markets the Zeiss ZA line for the Sony Alpha mount. And as a final piece in the puzzle, Sony can design and produce their own imaging sensors, which is something only Canon does at the moment (although Nikon has recently started down this road with the D3 and D700). Add to that the fact that Sony is huge, with distribution centers and marketing people in every corner of the globe, and it’s a sure bet that with an aggressive business strategy they’ll change the DSLR playing field. Why? Because Sony doesn’t enter markets just to release products, they’re a contender. Sony over turned the high-end video and camcorder markets, and they’re poised to do the same with DSLRs – with the new A900.

The soon to be released A900 from Sony could change the status quo of the DSLR world. The release of the A900 will mean that together with Canon and Nikon, there will be three major development and manufacturing entities producing and marketing DSLRs with full-framed 35mm image sensors to the general consumer market. The potential technology infusion and price reductions could be the first real signs of an end (or at a least plateau) to the DSLR evolution game. The 2007/08 DSLR offerings from Sony have been significant. The A700 was released in late 2007.  Essentially the upgrade to the Minolta 7D, which fans of the camera had been waiting for, which showed the world that Sony can design and manufacture a serious DSLR.  Sony has implemented excellent Live-View capabilities as well as vibration reduction technology into their camera bodies (like the Sony A350), at prices which make the Alpha system extremely attractive for camera buyers transitioning from point-and-shoot models to DSLRs.

Once one transitions from a Sony W300 point-and-shoot to an A200, A300, A350, or A700 DSLR; the energized customer will be thirsty for something…more. The A900 will be the ultimate fulfillment of that thirst (at least until the next model), and has the potential to establish Sony as a serious camera Brand – not a rebagged Minolta camera maker, not a me-too-jump-on-the-bandwagen DSLR distributer, but a full-time serious contender in the DSLR Jungle. The most important notion here is that a full-frame DSLR from Sony will have to have a price lower than that of Nikon and Canon to be competitive.  The A900 will have Sony Super SteadyShot (SSS) built into the body as well as a 24.6 Megapixel CMOS imaging sensor. According to Mark Weir (Sony Digital Imaging and Audio Division), the senior technology and marketing manager of the Alpha camera line, the 24.6 Megapixel sensor will achieve very low noise due to an intelligent A/D converter technique (as reported at PMA 2008 in a Calumet Photo interveiw).  This could be significant, since it is generally felt that sensor noise has to dramatically increase with high pixel density.  If the A900 retains it’s high resolution with low noise levels and is offered at a price point below that of the competitors, the A900 could be an excellent options for photographers needing medium format resolution in a 35mm sized body.  The next camera with such features is the Canon 1Ds-Mark III, which boasts 21 Megapixels and retails for nearly $8,000. 

The true profits for digital camera makers is not in the cameras but in the system. Sony lenses, memory cards, flashes, and other random add-ons is where the long-term profit strategy exists. The point is to get people into the Alpha System, because once you have a sweet 24 megapixel beast in your hand, you want to fully exploit its potential with a Carl Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8, Sony 80-200 f/2.8, or any of the variety of other lenses which are currently available – as well as those that will be released into the marketplace. Not to mention a vertical grip to make the camera look cool, as well as the flagship Sony FL-58 flash, which actually has one of the most innovative head designs of any other maker, and boasts excellent wireless control for additional flashes.

I’m looking forward to the Sony A900, and might actually buy one. The successful Canon 5D is now essentailly discontinued and can be had for less than $2000, but only until the successor is released (probably called the Canon 6D). Aside from the new Canon 5D replacement and the new offerings from Nikon (the just released D700 and soon to be here D3x), the Sony A900 should have the biggest impact on the DSLR market in 2009. It will affect camera prices, encourage (more like force) innovation, and no matter your favorite brand, the release of the A900 will have a positive impact on the DSLR Jungle.



Sweet Flickr-Blog Integration

Creating and marketing fabulous pictures on Flickr is more or less the same as producing any fabulous web content. If you produce unique things that people want to look at, then more people will look at your stuff. For Flickr this means producing interesting photographs or engaging images.

Generally, internet users are looking for content which holds value for them. This might be interesting news stories, connecting with friends, getting video/audio entertainment, or just learning about random things. In Search Engine Optimization philosophies, internet pages are designed so that the content, webpage titles, and metadata are all related to one another. So when Google looks at your page about the Ricoh GR Digital, it believes this page will be important for people who are Googling “Ricoh GRD” and as a result many people might find your content via Google.

Flickr operates in a similar manner. You produce photographic content, give it a cool title, add tags to accurately describe it, post it to relevant Flickr groups, and people will find it in Flickr, or via search engine queries (Google, Yahoo, etc.). Additionally, Flickr assigns it interestingness and based on that figure your images can get a ton of exposure on the Flickr Explore page.

Flickr coined (and patented) the term Interestingness as a way of ranking photos. Interestingness has been written about extensively and for good or bad is one of the main factors in determining exposure. Basically it’s the measure by which your photos might be viewed by thousands or only a few. Like all web content, Flickr images don’t have to be “good” in the technical sense, they just have to be…well, interesting.

My Flickr photos are generally not interesting, and instead I just set about producing images that I like and which I find interesting. If you set about trying to crack the Interestingness formula and produce images specifically for their Interestingness value, you’ll just end up diluting your own style. It’s the same reason I don’t write blog posts about WordPress plugins (a popular topic for any search engine).

If I wrote content souly based on how popular the content might be, I’d just be writing the same stuff a thousand other people on the net write about. I choose to be uninteresting and boring and rebel against the idea that blog posts have to be short and near useless updates to generate keywords for Google to follow. However, if you are into the marketing of you creative images and blog content, combining Flickr and blog postings is really a powerful technique.

Flickr and blogs were seemingly made for one another other. There are two things I have a real problem separating in life, writing and photography. With Flickr and blogging, I don’t have to. When I write blog posts they often include some sort of visual content, generally images from photo shoots I’ve done. It just makes sense to attract viewers to my written content using visual images posted on Flickr. Combining Flickr and blogs is painfully easy, and is a powerful tool for satisfying the content desires of readers and image seekers.

Why should you host blog images on Flickr instead of just uploading everything in WordPress or whatever blog platform you use? Because the integration of blog postings with Flickr posts can be very powerful, because by combining the two, you’re essentially expanding and combining two audiences, those looking for written and those looking for visual content.

The Basic Idea:

When people read your webpage and see an interesting image, they should be able to click on that image and be directed to the image hosted on Flickr. Conversely, when people see your cool images on Flickr they should be able to click on the link to your website (which you included in the Flickr description). Then, when people search for things on Google/Yahoo both your Flickr images (via Flickr keywords and tags) and web content will be indexed, and hence the two will increase the exposure of your digital content on the web via search engine listings.

Is Flickr-Blog Integraion Effective?

If you have a Flickr Pro account and a Google Analytics account, you can directly track how many people are referred to specific posts from Flickr, and how many people are going from your blog to your Flickr account. This helps in figuring out who is interested in your images and how that translates into more visitors to your site. This, of course, gives the keen digital content author the ability to optimize written and visual content for their visitors. I mean, if no one wants to read about how I use my Ricoh GR Digital camera, why should I write stuff about it? As it turns out, the written and visual content pertaining to my Ricoh GRD camera is some of the most popular on my blog and on my Flickr account.

The most popular posts on An American Peyote Scribble are related to Joey Lawrence, the Ricoh GR Digital and the Fuji GA645 cameras. Continuous hits come each day from Google and Flickr to these topics. And…often times the most viewed images on my Flickr account just happen to be images relating to those posts.

JoeyL Tutorial After

I originally started integrating my Flickr and blog content due to David Hobby at Strobist, who has pretty good Flickr-Blogger integration. Generally he generates interest in new blog content by first posting the images he’ll be using to his Flickr account. This generates initial interest for the forthcoming blog post, and gets die-hard Strobist readers on Flickr ready for his next blog post. Then he’ll post the the written content to his blog.

But Who Cares?

There’s no real long-lasting substitute for quality content. You can integrate your blog and Flickr accounts all you like, but if you don’t post high-quality (or interesting) images to Flickr no one will be interested and motivated to follow the link to your website. If you write about boring generic stuff on your blog, no one is going to care about clicking on your photo and heading to your Flickr account because they won’t care about the story behind your images.

Integrating Flickr and blog postings won’t in and of itself bring more people to your site, but by integrating the two together you can create a method whereby your visual and written content both are getting exposure and relating back to one another

I’ll still continue writing about what I want to write about, the stuff I find interesting. But it’s nice to have method for delivering this content to people who actually want to read it.

Rancor Courts Barbie