Saturday, December 20, 2008

renting a car in New Zealand

I recently rented a car in Christchurch, New Zealand. I checked Pegasus, Hertz, Avis, and Thrifty. Hertz was the best deal and was only NZD$50 per day for a little Mazda 3 hatchback. The great thing about New Zealand car rentals is this -- the main insurance is included in the price. So you can decline all the insurance they may offer you -- the most you will pay in case of an accident is what they'd call the "deductible" here of $2500 (NZD), which they call something else there.

Be careful of the smaller car agencies. Pegasus charges by the km after you reach 150km per day. Hertz and Avis gave unlimited miles.

Lastly, if you stay in Christchurch the first night back and rent a car, Hertz and Avis have offices downtown. I saved the airport pickup fee for rental cars of $30 by picking the car up downtown and returning it to the airport.

One tip is that car rental agencies take your reservation on the web, but they will not charge you if you never show up. I don't abuse this, but I do sometimes make two reservations for different times with different car rental agencies if I am not sure of my times. I do try to cancel in advance but it is not a big deal if I do not. In the US at least -- and in New Zealand - I decline all the extra insurance that the car agencies ask for. In the US, my existing car insurance covers liability and all other stuff, and my credit card covers the deductible.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Surf housings

Hi folks:

I got interested in surf photography years ago but the technology was not quite there for someone who was a only a serious amateur. My first surf housing was for a Canon EOS-1N film camera. It was a nicely done Watershot housing made by a man named Steve Ogles, who has since moved on to doing housings for Hollywood. He is no longer bothering to make housings for us little folks.

The Watershot housing worked fine, but what a hassle! You would put the film in the camera, screw on 12 bolts with an allen wrench, swim out through the surf, take 36 shots, then have to come all the way back to the beach and reload your film! It was so exhausting that I shot about two rolls with this housing before giving up.

With the advent of digitial cameras and the ability to shoot 400 RAW images on one battery, surf photography became viable for me again. So I looked around to find a surf housing for my Nikon D200 cameras.

I do not wish to take my usual underwater housings into the surf because:

1. they sink, and the surf will often rip your housing away from you even if a lanyard is attached. Something that sinks in the surf is basically lost forever. I’ve lost two treasured ScubaPro frameless masks in the surf in the past year.

2. The sand in the surf will quickly ruin your underwater housing. Sand grains will embed themselves in your O-rings and glands, and this is probably the absolutely worst thing you can do to an underwater housing.

Surf housings have a minimum of controls, and they float. My present housing for my D200 camera is has shutter speed, and that’s about all I need. I preset focus to about 3 feet, aperture to f8, and the shutter speed is all I need to control. I also set the viewing options on my LCD screen so that it only shows overexposed highlights as blinking white. I don’t want any more complexity than that when in the surf.

I was astounded by how hard it was to find a surf housing manufacturer. So I have been urging wetpixel and Eric Cheng to get a surf photography forum up and running.

Here’s a list of housing manufacturers I have found in my research, listed in alphabetical order.

AquaTech Water Imaging Technologies, USA
18685-A Main St, #359
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
phone number: Office: 714 968 6946

Erik Hjermstad
Delmar Housing Projects
4051 Riverton Place
San Diego, CA 92130
phone number: 858-259-5830

Chad Stickney
669 Bolsana Dr
Laguna Beach, Ca 92651
phone number: 949-200-7658

SPL housings
8535 Arjons Dr. Ste N
San Diego, CA 92126
phone number: (858) 349-9037
These are very popular housings judging from what I have seen on the North Shore. Perhaps 8 of 10 photographers has an SPL housing.

Hope this helps. Thanks to Phil Colla for his help in my initial stages of research on surf housings. Please note that these manufacturers range from largish companies to one guy in a garage. The above is only a listing of sources; I cannot guarantee the accuracy nor the honesty of any of these operations. I have heard from more than one other photographer that at least one of the manufacturers on this list does not have a great reputation for timely delivery of housings and even returning borrowed cameras and loaned funds! Be careful before sending a camera for a housing. Hopefully the talk on this forum will help keep manufacturers honest!

Norbert Wu

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bad Commercials

"...Of course, officials could call a Flex Alert at any time. If they do, start saving energy immediately."

Gives me the impression that all of us should stop whatever we are doing and take a nap immediately. Start saving energy immediately? How about, "turn off all unnecessary appliances" or something like that.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fair Play from Photo Researchers to Photographers

My office received an email the other day. My heart sank as I read it. Here it is:

> Date: Fri, 30 May 2008 10:42:00 -0400
> To:
> Dear Mr. Wu;
> XXX Company is revising a chemistry textbook by XXX Authors.
> The authors would like to show students an example of a nudibranch
> which uses a chemical defense to keep predators away. The attached example
> of Tritoniella belli is one possibility, but could you suggest another
> nudibranch which would be a more colorful example of this defense mechanism?
> This will be a chapter opener sized 3/4 page in our student book. I would
> like to see a digital delivery of low resolution files to show the authors.
> Thank you,
> XXX Photo Researcher

Why was I disappointed to read this? There were a few clues that this photo researcher did not understand unwritten rules of the business. One of those unwritten rules is that if you take up a photographer or photo agent’s time, then you should try as much as possible to give business to that photographer or photo agent.

If you have found an image on a stock agent’s website, then you, as the photo researcher, should direct any questions to the agent – not the photographer; and vice versa. In this instance, the image in question clearly came from one of my stock agent’s websites. Yet the photo researcher came to my office, expecting my office to give her the benefit of our time and expertise, to help her.

In almost all such cases, where the photo researcher does such a thing, the time that the photographer spends will be wasted. What often happens is that a photo researcher finds out that the photographer’s office has a great knowledge of our subjects and starts asking lots of questions about our images. We are willing to do a certain amount of work to facilitate a sale and answer questions, but there is a limit beyond which we charge research fees.

Regardless of my bad feeling about this email and request, I had one of my staff respond:

> Hi Sharon:
> I've attached two images that illustrate this point and are more colorful.
> In both cases, the nudibranchs pictured are tropical species that are
> feeding on sponges or ascidians. Their prey contain poisonous compounds
> that the nudibranchs then store within their own bodies.
> I've attached the images. Hope this helps. IND0034 is a particularly good
> example as the nudibranch is actually in the process of feeding, with its
> mouth extended.
> Norbert Wu Productions

Guess what? The photo researcher did pretty much exactly what I expected her to do. She did not respect the fact that we sent two images that were exactly what she was looking for. Nope, she came back with another question. This time I gave up.

Here’s her reply:

> Thank you William for sending two examples.
> What about the attached nudibranch from Borneo by Norbert Wu/Minden?
> Beautiful colors, but would the caption be accurate if we say it's
> poisonous?
> Photo Editor

We are willing to do a certain amount of work to facilitate a sale and answer questions, but there is a limit beyond which we charge research fees. We have to charge research fees, because otherwise, photo researchers like this person will take up so much of my and my staff's time that we will go bankrupt.

The below is from my FAQ page, and explains my thoughts on using my small photo agency at the beginning of your projects rather than a large one:

Many publishers are calling our office with requests for rare,
hard-to-photograph animals. I am discovering that these publishers are using
large stock agencies for the initial stages of their project, and are
calling me with requests for the photographs that these large stock agencies
cannot supply. The problem is that these publishers expect to pay the same
low price for my rare photographs as they have paid the agencies, who have
sold them hundreds of easily obtainable photographs.

As a photographer who specializes in marine life, I take great care with the
documentation and coverage of my stock library. I’ve
found that no agency can match the expertise that I have gained from my many
years in marine biology. For these reasons, I believe that the practice of
going to agencies in the initial stages of a photography project is
detrimental to the health and well-being of both of us. The publisher
doesn’t get the best material that it could get, and specialist
photographers such as myself are left filling those extremely hard-to-get
photographic requests, at prices which are not worthy of the time that it
takes to obtain them. This means that my bread-and-butter shots, those shots
which are easier to obtain, are not subsidizing the cost of my more
difficult photographs. In the long run, this will mean that specialist
photographers will not have the money to pursue more difficult subjects.
Inevitably the quality of photographs that publishers need to stay in
business will deteriorate.

Our office puts together submissions by going
exhaustively through our files and filling your photographic request. This
is in contrast to large stock agencies, which perform quick keyword searches
of their databases. We are able to provide a level of expertise on our
subjects which no stock agency can match. As an example, if you request a
subject like a “zebrafish,” we will ask you if you want one of the
Dendronotus species, sometimes called the zebrafish; or if you are instead
looking for a photograph of a lionfish or turkeyfish (also called zebrafish)
Pterois volitans, which is a common, popular,venomous, and beautiful fish of
the Indo-Pacific. If you ask for a submission of venomous marine animals, we
can provide you with photographs of stonefish (the most venomous fish in the
world), scorpionfish, jellies, cone snails, blue-spotted octopus, and more.
Few other stock agencies are able to provide such exhaustive and expert

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fedex are great thieves

I am forced to use Fedex in my business. They are great thieves.

Fedex charges for picking their nose or getting dirt on their shoes!

Go on their website to get a quote for a shipment. You get a quote, then ship the item. Later you get a bill with a myriad different surcharges which they should have included in the quote:

fuel surcharge: Fedex: $1.90
Residential delivery: $4.
Rural delivery area surcharge: $4.60.
Oh, you wanted someone to sign for this? $6

I can only wish that I could pad my bills like this and get away with it.