Epson 3800 photo printer & the process of image making

I recently made the purchase of a new Epson 3800 photo printer – a purchase that I’ve considered for several years now.

I was really on the fence about buying a photo printer.  I have access to a really good lab locally, who charge reasonable rates for prints.  I knew that it would take many, many prints in order to recoup the cost of the printer.

But there were two really compelling reasons why I considered, and ultimately made the purchase.

First, while I had access to a lab, I never used it.  I always had on my to-do list “print photos” and it was never getting crossed off.  I wanted to hang more recent prints in my apartment but just never got around to sending the images to the lab.

Second, and the reason for my delay in using the photo lab, I was uncertain about the printing process.  That’s to say; without having control over what gets printed out – and being able to see variations in the final prints from changed settings, I was hesitant to make any prints.  I knew that there were many things that I needed to consider in my prints – like color, tonality, paper, contrast & sharpness – things that either differed from or didn’t exist in online images.  I felt that there was no real way to get a grasp on these elements without doing the work myself.

So after many years of consideration and some recent diligence in research, I ended up with the 3800.  I purchased it sensing that it was about to be replaced with a newer model (it has – the 3880).  But because this  newer model was about to be announced, I was able to save over $400 from multiple offered rebates making this printer much more affordable then its replacement.  I also liked the idea of owning a printer that had been around for a while with a wealth of information available online.

I set up the printer when it arrived using some of these valuable online resources, including most importantly Eric Chan’s website, which offers many detailed setup guides and links.

And the result?


I am really digging this printer.  The prints it creates are just amazing.

But the best part – that comes completely unexpectedly, is what printing is telling me about my photography.  I am learning so much more about my images, just by going through the printing process.  I have a much greater appreciation for the final production work required to create a great printed image.

It seems obvious in retrospect, but printing (or final display) is a vital part of the image making process.  And while I’ve been spending plenty of time in this step in the past, it’s been for online presentation – something that didn’t require as much attention as does printing – or so I’ve felt.  Of course now that I look back through my online presentation I see flaws left and right.  The act of fine-tuning my images for printing has made me re-evaluate the process I use to set up my images for online presentation as well.

And sadly, I see where my image taking has suffered over the past several years, because I haven’t had this view of my own work: Most importantly, in image stabilization.  I see in many of my prints, only when trying to print out in large form, flaws in the details – mostly because of a lack of clarity due to movement.  This has not been evident in web-sized images, but when you try to blow that up into a nice landscape print, it just doesn’t fly.

But I am thankful to have this insight now so that I can re-evaluate my processes moving forward and I look forward to the resulting prints that I’ll be able to make.

The continuing market rally

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the current state of my finances, and how/what I had done in the past year.

Since that post, the market has continued on its rally and is now up even more.  It’s to the point where one has to question when things will settle off a bit.  This is where the emotions of the stock market start to get to me..  I wonder whether I should pull out some of my gains and set them on the sidelines for what must be the inevitable reset that’s just around the corner.  Or is it?

Here’s a snapshot of a few of the funds/stocks that I had purchased earlier this year, and their performance since I made those purchases:


Note that even my loser pick Washington Mutual – which I purchased prior to the downfall last year – is off from it’s overall lows (where I was down about 96%).

The problem I have, I guess, is that I’ve already got (I feel) a pretty diversified portfolio (this table only represents a portion of my overall holdings) – so other than cash (where it will earn nothing) I wouldn’t know where to put the money once I pull it out of the market..

So in the market it will stay, and I’ll continue to hope that the fast climb won’t soon be met with a fast decline.

I’d love to hear what others are considering.

brick & mortar and e-commerce pricing

Yesterday i was doing a little product research on something I wanted to buy.  I looked at a couple of the reliable online sites to understand the models out there and the general pricing.

Then, while at lunch, I visited a nearby store that sold the product at 150% of the online price.  Needless to say, I didn’t buy it.

Returning back online, I found an online retailer with a brick & mortar location here in San Francisco with a great price.  So after work I made my way over to the store only to find that their price was too at the 50% markup.  What gives?logo

I talked to one of the sales reps at the store who informed me that they couldn’t match the online price (the registers would blow up was the phrasing he chose) but that I should remember that online charges shipping (and since they have a local presence, sales tax too).

I went home and bought it online.

I don’t understand a company that won’t:

  1. have consistent pricing.  OK, fine, I get that it costs money to have that item on display in San Francisco instead of in a warehouse in Nevada (or wherever) so I understand that you need to charge a markup so..
  2. meet internet pricing when asked – at least for the savvy shopper, allow for some flexibility in pricing at the register.  If not, at the very least..
  3. have a reasonable markup for the convenience.  Charge a reasonable (10%) markup for the convenience of walking out of the store right then and there with the product instead of having to wait for UPS.

The idea that this store wanted to charge me 50% more for that convenience was ridiculous.

With more and more information literally at peoples’ fingertips (think iphone) the idea that you can count on the un-informed shopper stumbling into your shop and unknowingly spending a 50% markup has got to be short-lived.

Doesn’t it?

What do I pack for a trip?

The other night I met up with @soulcutter and @BWP22 for a few drinks and to talk about their upcoming travels to Europe.  Digging through some old photos, I found this one, from my 2007 trip to Thailand:


Looking at this I realized that this is pretty much the stuff I bring on any trip.. give or take only a few items.

Some of this (like all of that sunblock!) is due to a trip to the sun – but even on a trip around Europe I’d end up bringing sunscreen to wear just about every sunny day (the joys of Irish skin).

And some of this stuff (like the rolls of film) are things of the past.

But for the most part, the items on here have proven time and again to be valuable, no matter where the destination.

I thought’s I’d just jot down a few notes about a couple of the items:

Chief among them are the North Face Galileo Small travel backpack.  This I bought several years ago and it has accompanied me on every trip since.  It’s the perfect size (2700 cubic inches) plus the additional daypack (1000 cubic inches) makes a great accompaniment.  I’ve found that over the years, the bigger the bag, the more I’ll bring so I like the way this bag limits me from breaking my back taking every last item.  Besides, I’m always amazed at just how much more I’ve been able to stuff in this bag when it comes time to head home.

I tend to bring plaid shirts because they hide the wrinkles and stains a little better.

Sadly I lost that eye mask on my trip to Africa – I’ll have to replace it for sure.  Those plus ear plugs (or noise canceling headphones if I’m awake) are just awesome for long flights.

I’ve got 3 cameras in this photo.. In this case it was a digital point and shoot, digital SLR and a film SLR.  I always bring at least 2 cameras – the point and shoot I will always take with me if I don’t want to lug the SLR (to dinner, clubs, etc.,).  2 SLRs come in handy for more photographic trips.. In this case I was still uncertain of digital and wanted the film camera along (especially for black and white).  More recently I’ve fully adopted digital but I may still bring 2 SLRs if I want the convenience of multiple lenses (like in Africa where I could have my older SLR housing the wide angle lens and my newer SLR with the telephoto.  Along with all of the accessories (chargers, batteries, lenses, filters, memory cards, etc.,) this is often the biggest/bulkiest part of my travel kit.

Some assorted pouches often come in handy – to organize all of those camera accessories, or photocopies, or dirty laundry..

Magazines are great for the flights – it’s mindless reading that’s easy to leave behind once you’re done.  I usually only do this for the flight out.  For the duration of the trip a good novel, travel guides, and my journal take up the rest of the down time.

I like traveling with a pocket knife – and almost always do .. man I wish we could take these on board.  This is the 1 item that often requires me to check my bag.  Not that I usually mind though.  It’s nice being able to walk freely around the airport (especially true when there are connections involved) without all of this.  That said, I’ve been getting less lucky at the baggage collection areas and in the last 18 months  have twice had items taken from my checked bags and twice not received my bags when I arrived.  So I may reconsider the pocket knife and just purchase one when I get to my destination.

The empty gatorade bottle was to save 3 bucks at the airport buying their overpriced water.. bring an empty and fill up at the fountain.

The clothes I bring (especially t-shirts, socks, underwear) is usually older and I usually don’t come home with it.  This is one way to offset the weight of anything you buy along the way.. as the trip progresses, I’ll just throw away old clothes instead of packing them back home.  That said, I only bring enough clothes for so many days of travel.  Laundry definitely happens along the way.  The tossing of clothes usually only happens during that last week of the trip.

While this photo is handy, I’ve also taken to the following exercise: After each trip, I write down each and everything I brought with me as I unpack – and then later make a quick notation of whether it was used or not.. this serves as a great reference for each future trip, where I can quickly scan the list of what I brought last time – and try to not pack anything I haven’t used for a few trips.

shooting in black and white

A couple of weeks ago I went back East to attend Webb & Liz’s wedding in Greenfield, Mass.  Webb and I have been friends forever, and I wanted to have some images from the event that I was happy with.  I decided to bring along my SLR instead of just my G10 so that I could have more control over the images.

After deciding on the SLR, the next decision was what lens to bring.   While I wanted the SLR, I didn’t like the prospect of having a big honking lens (or worse: multiple lenses!).  After all, I wanted to enjoy the event as well, I didn’t just want to photograph it.  So I brought along the 20mm f/2.8 lens.  This would allow me to reduce the overall bulk of the camera as well as better capture low-light situations.

Next, I opted not to bring an external flash, instead relying on the built-in flash of my D300.  I don’t often use this flash, but it is a great option for when you want it.  In this case, I only used the flash on the night-before events which took place in a really dark bowling alley.

I decided before-hand that I wanted to have black & white images for this event, so I set up my camera to “shoot” in black and white.  Actually, I shoot in RAW mode, meaning that all of the image capture is stored in an unprocessed state, allowing all sorts of fine tuning during ‘processing.’  So what I did was set my camera to black and white shooting mode, so that the rear panel would show the image to me in black and white, even though it was really a full-color image that I was storing.  This gave me the best of both worlds.  By doing so I was able to preview what the image would look like in black and white, while still capturing the raw data, to allow me to do as I please when I generate the image.

Once back at my laptop, I transferred the raw files to Lightroom and applied some basic settings to process the raw files into black and white images.  I have several presets that I have downloaded from across the web that apply different kinds of settings – and in this case, I used some basic ‘film emulators’ settings to re-create the typical settings for a film like Tri-x, a film I’m used to shooting with.  With these settings in place, I then made common adjustments (lights, darks, contrast, etc.,).

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the outcome.  I think the images look decent on screen (especially considering the varying lighting conditions – from a neutral walk around town to a dark bowling alley (with flash) to a challenging-ly lit reception area to an overly-bright outdoor scene).   I was also trying to achieve multiple looks in the images – like blurring the dancing scenes to convey the sense of motion.  Some of these turned out OK but this is an effect that I wasn’t thrilled with this time…

There’s so much possible with digital processing – it’s a lot to get one’s hands around, but I definitely feel like I’m improving over these past few years.

Finding the time to be productive

I’ve had the opportunity a few times where I’ve taken time off between jobs.  I am a HUGE fan of this and I can’t speak highly enough about it.  One of the things that amazed me, though, was people who would ask:

“What do you do with your time?”

These people would admit that were it them, they’d go stir crazy.

This is not something that I’ve suffered.  I find that there are so many things calling for my attention.  In fact, while gainfully employed I often find it hard to make the time to pursue the many activities that I enjoy.

I’ve been making an effort recently to spend more time working on some photo projects, including my weekly photo postings.  The main purpose of this effort is to make sure I’m spending more time examining the photos I’m taking (I’ve taken) in order to improve future images.  I figured, I should be able to spend at least a little time each week on this.  It’s just 1 photo per week, after all.

And yet, I’m amazed at how difficult it’s been.  And so it’s with some amazement that I look at others and dustin-was-herewhat they’re able to get done.  Recently, I’ve been checking in on a photo blog where the author, Dustin Diaz, produces 1 photograph to post PER DAY.  And these are highly-stylized, photos with lighting setups and accompanying tech notes and everything.  I am just amazed that he is able to find the time each and every day to put towards this effort (this in addition to holding down a job, relationship and even pet ownership, from what I can gather).

I’ll admit that some of the photos end up being quite similar and you might fault him for that but remember: each of those photos is going to take a couple of hours (including planning, set up, shooting, tear down, post processing, posting, describing, and then dealing with the comments, etc.,) so one can’t fault him too much for falling back to a similar setup.  Besides, it’s not like there’s a lot of time left in the day for pre-planning these thing and coming up with more differentiated setups.

Over the coming months, where I spend my time is going to be something I’m more consciously thinking about.  I feel like I’m already pretty decent at minimizing time spent on less-important stuff, it’s just that I’ve got to re-draw the line, lopping more stuff into the less-important column.