Monday, June 21, 2010
It’s currently up and running at: www.norbertwu.com/lightbox/index.php
As far as I know, Stockbox is the only software platform that allows users to display any file formats that are viewable in a web browser, such as . gif, jpg, au, avi, aif, htm, html, mid, mp3, mpg, mov, png, ra, ram, rar, swf, wav, zip, wma, wmv and pdf. If the file format is not viewable from within a web browser, the system provides a link for users to download other formats and files so that the user can view or play them locally in the associated application.
Stockbox Photo is not perfect. The documentation is not great, and I encountered some obstacles that left me scratching my head until their technical support folks clarified things for me. Their staff seems small, which is reflected in their email response time. .
Movie files display in the gallery, but it is not possible to edit the movie files from within the system. The user has to choose the video frame that will serve as the preview frame of the video clip. Automating this process would be helpful. Because I do not have the time for all the steps that have to be taken to get video clips into the system, I have gone back to using Filemaker to show my video clips to clients.
Developing your own software:
I’ve had an internal database of my images since 1988. It began as a text file where I kept and printed out caption information for my best images. As personal computers and databases developed over the years, my database changed from a simple text database to a Filemaker database that included a visual of my image. I am still using that Filemaker database in my office.
Filemaker is known for its ease of use. I use it for invoicing, maintaining contacts, tracking submissions, organizing footage, recording timesheets for my staff, and several other office needs.
Because Filemaker is customizable, I can create databases to suit my needs. Off-the-shelf photographer-friendly software packages have the capabilities to do many of the functions I need but offer neither flexibility nor control. Microsoft Access is another popular database program worth considering.
Get the Database Online
If you are in business to license the usage rights to your images and have a fairly large library (more than 100) of saleable digitized images, you will want to get them online. One way to do this is to use static web pages. There are dozens of great programs that allow users to organize and search their image collections in-house. Examples are Aperture, iPhoto, Extensis Portfolio, Lightroom, ACDSee, and others. These programs will create static galleries of images that can be posted to the web, but once posted they cannot be modified, nor are they responsive to individual client needs.
To get more customizable results, you’ll need software that allows your clients to search for images by typing in keywords. There are several available, but many of them might not suit your needs.
Filemaker and other database programs
Filemaker offers a fairly easy way to post images to the web in a searchable database. You can see an example of this “Instant Web Publishing” method at:
http://norbcrocker.homedns.org:591 (log in as a guest, no password required). I’ve posted the best of my HDTV footage at that URL.
Filemaker is a fine database for internal use and can easily put images and video clips on the web. But to modify it to allow clients to create private lightboxes will require $20,000-$50,000 in development fees. And even at that price, there’s no guarantee you’ll get what you want. Price is determined by how much time and work is involved. I saw one site that did exactly what I wanted. The developer told me that it had cost $250,000 to develop that particular site – way beyond my budget. Yikes!
Leasing Existing Software.
I have leased web-driven database software from Aurora & Quanta Production’s Independent Photography Network (IPN), Digital Railroad and most recently, PhotoShelter.
These are all web-based services that, for a price, allow you to upload your images into their system, include a web gallery to show off a “home page” using one of their pre-designed templates, and offer image search capabilities for your library. Clients can login and create private lightboxes of your images.
All of these companies have developed software that does a decent job. The problem is that once the companies have developed the software, they often try to increase their fees. Many companies form agencies or collectives based on their subscriber base, and strongly encourage their photographers to join the collective agency. Sometimes that requires giving up a percentage of your sales in return for their increased “marketing power.” I have always refused to give up this percentage.
IPN was purchased by the conglomerate that publishes Photo District News. I did not choose to join the new collective, even though the publisher admonished me with the line, “But you will missing out on all the sales to the advertising market. You don’t want to make money?” (The publisher left or was otherwise replaced from his position at PDN before the year was out).
Digital Railroad (DRR) had a great software platform, and I was with them for a couple of years after leaving IPN. They went bankrupt even though they had a base of a few hundred paying photographers. I was concerned that I had paid an annual fee rather than a monthly fee every September, and the November bankruptcy of DRR meant my entire annual fee (in the order of $600) would be lost. Thankfully, however, my credit card company resolved the dispute in my favor and refunded me for the remaining lost months. I learned a few lessons from this experience – always pay with a credit card that stands behind you, and try to pay these types of companies monthly rather than annually so you don’t get stiffed.
PhotoShelter made offers to stranded DRR clients, and I signed on with them. They have a nice program, but I have found a few problems with it. One of the biggest concerns I've had with PhotoShelter, is that thumbnail images are not presented with captions. As my images are editorial and usually require explanation, not including the caption could result in missed sales.
When I complained, I was told that PhotoShelter made the choice not to show captions below thumbnail images because captions would detract from the design of the web page. I had had a similar discussion with the folks at DRR, who finally allowed this feature two years after I requested it.
The ironic part of this is that I called PhotoShelter shortly after they sent me a mailing stating what designers and clients wanted to see in a photo search engine. One of the points was that clients wanted to see caption information associated with images, including thumbnails!
In summary, while putting your images with a company like IPN and PhotoShelter is a viable way to get your images into a searchable online database, getting into bed with these companies comes with frustrations. Natural history photographers need captions below thumbnail images so the clients will know what they are looking at.
The captions are all-important. I was shocked to learn that one of my online software providers did not even include captions in their search base -- only keywords. My office had to spend hours putting our caption information into the keyword field for our 6000 images in the library.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Pocket Resort, at the tip of Vancouver Island, home to some of the
world's best diving. Pt. Hardy is home to some of the best diving in the world, and God's Pocket resort is a real treasure. The rooms are all land-based, very comfortable, with their own bathrooms and showers. The food was absolutely great last time.
Why is this special? First, God's Pocket is home to some of the world's
best diving, and God's Pocket is home to some of the best meals in any
diving lodge that we've experienced. Second, there's a place called
Dillon Rock that we have found gives the best wolf eel and giant
Pacific octopus encounters we've ever seen. See our video and still
images as an example of a friendly giant octopus encounter at Dillon
Rock (soon to be posted on Norb's website).
Some photos of the resort and the diving, as well as a giant octopus encounter, can be seen here:
For this trip only, we will have the use of God's Pocket's Hurst Isle or
Shoal Searcher, a houseboat or dive boat that we will anchor over Dillon
Rock for three days. This will give a select group of eight divers (per
day unlimited diving at this haven for wolf eels and giant octopus.
Rebreathers are welcome.
This is a rare opportunity to spend unlimited time on a fantastic dive
site with the world's most unusual underwater animals.
The dive boat or houseboat will be limited to eight divers per day,
including the trip leaders Norbert Wu and Alan Studley (actually, the boat will be limited to only seven divers, since one of Alan’s pals is coming for hiking/kayaking but will not be diving) . We will return to God's Pocket each night for their fantastic meals and comfortable rooms. We will be the only group of divers; where the boat usually holds up to 16 divers, we will have only 7! We will be able to go wherever we want to go.
The trip will be a six day, seven night trip. You will need to arrive in Pt. Hardy to meet the boat to the resort on September 5 evening, and the boat will get you back to Pt. Hardy on September 12 at 9AM. Trip cost includes all diving, meals, accommodations, shared land room for two. More logistical details will be coming if you sign up.
Information on the resort itself can be seen at:
Hope you can make it!!
I will be on this trip as a guest, but will be there mainly to heckle my friends Jason and Kevin as they lead the trip. The trip dates are August 20-23. Trip cost is $890. San Clemente Island, one of my favorite dive spots in the world. Clear water, fairly warm (not Monterey cold!), kelp forests, garibaldi! What more could you want?
Here's what Jason has written:
We are limiting the boat to 23 people not including staff. It will be a limited load, southern islands, underwater photography workshop. We are going to San Clemente island, but will likely do ship rock and black sea bass at Catalina. If conditions are good, maybe we can go to Santa Barbara--unless that messes with the fuel charge. As people sign up on the site I will immediately contact them to take bunk assignments.
More information and the trip flyer:
Monday, June 7, 2010
I'm often asked what dive gear to bring on a trip. I have dove a great deal in cold waters, and I have most recently gotten very interested in the great diving at the tip of Vancouver Island, at a place called God's Pocket. In fact, I am leading trips there this year and next, the first trips I've led in a long while. Below are my recommendations on dive gear, which apply to California waters as well:
What Diving Gear Should I Bring?
> It looks great. I'm very interested... Having the opportunity to dive> there with you and Norbert would be fantastic. The "warm water wimp" in me still needs to know -- water temps? 45-47 degrees? I don't have dry gloves. Do you think I'd be okay in a drysuit with thick undergarments, thick hood and thick wet gloves. I didn't have any problems last year but the water temp was low 50s.
I don't think that I am that unusual. I get cold just like anyone else. The gear has come a long way in the last 15 years, to the point where diving in 45-50 degree water means very little. I do dive Monterey, but not much these days -- not because of the cold, but because I've dove it so much that it is boring to me now.
However, Alan Studley is far more of an explorer and has some GREAT dive sites there that awed me when I went out with him. They are a bit more work, more wild and wooly, than I am comfortable with, however.
Diving with God's Pocket is easier since they have the boat and knowledge of the currents. I hate to say it, but the animal life is more prolific, colorful, and interesting too.
Anyway, back to getting cold. The best undergarments aren't necessarily thick. I have found, and Studley and many others will agree, that the Fourth Element two -piece Arctic drysuit undergarments are the best. They are not too thick so you have lots of flexibility. If you combine the Arctic with the Drybase thermal bases (basically, thick polypro long johns) then I think that you will be toasty. I used this combination in Antarctica and I was fine.
I believe that Fourth Element has a dealer on the East Coast.
You won't need dry gloves, nor particularly thick gloves. I find thick gloves very difficult to put on and just use fairly thin, flexible neoprene gloves. I don't like gauntlet gloves or gloves with big velcro bands around them; they are just harder to put on.
As for hoods, the absolute best, warmest hood I can recommend (I just used ONE of these hoods in Antarctica last season and was fine; I used to use an ice cap under a hood in past seasons) is the Henderson Hyperstretch Hybrid Dry Suit Hood.
I also like flexible drysuits. I really like the DUI TLS 350 drysuits and have always used them since day one. They are lightweight, durable, dry out quickly, and are a shell. I do not recommend the rock boots and prefer the standard booties. I do have latex neck seals and latex wrist seals. I have Sitec rings put on the suit; latex wrist seals fit into them, and if I am diving Antarctica, cheap rubber concrete mixing gloves fit over them to create dry gloves. No Zipseals (too expensive for me but I have heard good things about them). You might find the Sitec rings to be too big. They do add bulk and do get in the way sometimes, but I am very used to them. They allow the changing of wrist seals in the field very quickly. Then I just use thick wool socks and I am fine.
I hope that this helps. In Antarctica, I use much the same gear except for drygloves, which I can describe if anyone asks.