Winter Doldrums

Sandhill Cranes during the Spring migration in Monte Vista, Colorado.

While I don’t mind Winter in Colorado, it’s still my slowest time of year for photography.

I spend most days puttering around the house, taking care of the odd chores, here and there. Meet up with friends for lunch. Visit with family. Play with the dogs. Watch a lot of movies. Things like that.

But, there is still work to do and plans for the making.

I try to spend an hour or two each day sifting through the photography catalogs. I have thousands and thousands of photographs to browse through. The idea is to find at least 10 images a day to upload to the stock agencies. It does get a little repetitive, particularly with some of the wildlife photos. How many different duck shots does one really need? Well, as it turns out, the more the better. I sell a duck photo at least once a week and though there are some repeats, often times it’s a different shot. So I add them up and figure any given photo has to potential to earn $100 over time, many have far exceeded that number, so it’s never an exercise in futility to identify and prepare an image for micro-stock sales.

The goal this year is to have at least 3,000 images online, making money. Here it is late January and I already have over 2,700 photographs online. There’s no emergency. I haven’t really begun working in earnest this year and I’m already close to being done with that project. Yet still, I take the time to do it. At least 10 shots a day. Usually listening to the radio in the process. It makes those cold winter days go by gently.

The next adventure I have actually scheduled is a return to Monte Vista, Colorado to photograph the Sandhill Crane migration. I’ve done this trip many times, last year being the most recent. Last year was an abortion though, as I had to knock off just as I was getting started due to a mechanical issue with my car. What I learned last year was invaluable though. First, always take a pickup truck to Southwest Colorado, as they don’t sell tires for passenger vehicles down there. Nobody owns Subarus. Everyone owns a pickup truck and that’s about all you’ll find tires for. What I also learned is that I can get different shots of the same locations if I put my mind to doing that. Don’t just keep getting the same photos over and over, look for specific images that I don’t have and concentrate on getting those. What little I accomplished in 2018 was based on that premise, and those images have been selling. I’m greedy though. I want more. I’m bored too. I want to get out and spend a few days working from my pickup truck and eating junk food. It’s a way of life.

The Sandhill Cranes move through Monte Vista each year in early-mid March. They even have a Festival to celebrate the occasion, but I avoid the Festival, usually going the week after the Festival concludes.

I’ve made my hotel reservations. I’m planning my shoot list. That will take me a few days to finalize. Then it’s back to editing stock photos.

Winter is a quiet time here in Colorado.

 

Fried Chicken And A Total Lunar Eclipse

Photographic composite of total lunar eclipse. Super Blood Woof Moon.

One would have to live in a cave to not have been aware of the recent lunar eclipse.

This event was my first opportunity to put the iOptron Sky Guider Pro to the test with a real photographic situation.

A friend of mine and I spent the evening of January 20th on my backyard deck. He brought two astro-photography telescopes and I used my Nikon D7200 with a Nikkor 200-500mm zoom lens connected to the Sky Guider from a tripod.

My plan was to photograph the progress of the eclipse from full moon to totality and back to full moon, at 5 minute intervals.

The weather here in Denver was a little dicey, with high hazy clouds hovering over the area for most of the day until shortly after moon-rise. The skies did manage to clear up with only an occasional fuzzy cloud passing by.

After setting up our gear, we were treated to a Fried Chicken dinner that my wife graciously cooked up for us boys playing with our toys.

Fried Chicken and an eclipse. Life is good.

Things went well until about 20 minutes past totality, when the temperature dropped below the dew point and all the equipment frosted over with ice.  Too much moisture in the atmosphere to prevent it from happening on a cold January night.

We still had a good evening that I would call a success. I do wish that I’d got the last hour and a half of the eclipse in, but as they say, you don’t always get what you want.

The Sky Guider Pro behaved quite well. I think it tracks a slight bit faster than the moon moves, but a couple of tweaks to the position of the drive throughout the evening solved the problem of the moon moving off frame.

Still, I’m happy with the results. It turned out to be a very nice way to spend an evening with a long-time friend and his son.

The composite the different phases of the event turned out nicely.

Don’t you think?

Photographic composite of total lunar eclipse. Super Blood Woof Moon.

The Black Blobs of Death

Blobs of Ink on Epson 3880 print
Blobs of Ink on Epson 3880 print

I purchased my Epson 3880 Wide Format printer in the early Summer of 2011.  I didn’t remember this until I had to look up the records, as I needed to see how long this printer had been in service in my studio. Wow, this printer has been running faithfully in the studio for seven and a half years. The only time it’s been down has been when I ran out of paper and/or ink and had to wait for replacement supplies.

The 3880 Stylus Pro printer was first released by Epson in 2010. At the time it sold for about $2,200 new. I bought mine a year later after downsizing from a 44inch HP Z3100. It was all about economics at the time. The HP Z3100 was a fantastic printer, but filling it with ink cost about $,1000. When the printer sat idle, it would run a brief daily maintenance routine that pumped a little ink through the heads to keep the print head and ink lines from clogging. Day after day.

The original idea behind the Z3100 was to be able to provide large format printing services to my clients, and to that end it was successful. For a few years anyway. I could make high quality prints up to 44 inches wide and by the time I retired it, I calculate it made me over $30,000 in profit over the years. But, by 2011, more and more, my clients weren’t interested in making prints, and my own local print sales were declining as well. The printer was using more ink doing nothing and I was spending money just to keep it available for business that wasn’t materializing.  Ultimately, I made the decision to sell the Z3100 and replace it with a smaller Epson 3880.

I restructured the business to do my main commercial print sales via online printing services. Customers could order online, the printing service did the print work and shipped the prints directly to my customers, I collected the profit from the sale. Low maintenance.

Thus, the Epson 3880 was placed in to service and it was mainly for my own use here in the studio and occasional local sale to people who wanted to buy my prints.

The other day as I was making archive prints, a problem appeared. Large blobs of black ink were showing up on the edges of my prints and in some cases were also in the image area of the prints.

No problem, these things happen from time to time. The printer had been idle for about 2 months and before I began my latest batch of prints I decided to run the printers head cleaning routine. I assumed the blobs were left over from the cleaning routine, which pumps ink through the heads onto a maintenance cartridge.

As it turns out, the problem wouldn’t go away, no matter what I did.  It was time to do some research and see if others were experiencing this issue with their 3880.

The 3880 was discontinued by Epson several years ago but I discovered that many folks like me were still using their 3880 and many of those old printers were failing for the same problem I was seeing. Black Blobs of Death.

The problem it turns out, is related to a switch valve in the print head assembly that switches from Matte Black Ink to Photo Black Ink, depending on the type of paper being printed on. The valve eventually fails and the black ink leaks from the print head. This is one of the most common points of long term failure on this printer it turns out.

That leaves me with a choice of options. Buy the parts and fix the printer myself, which I have the technical skill to do, but I’m not really anxious to tear the thing apart. Another option is to send the printer to Epson and have them fix it, which I’m guessing will cost me around $1,000. The last option is to just sell it for parts and buy another printer.

The problem with buying another printer is that buying another model that will do what this printer does will cost me $2,000 – $3,000 dollars. That begs the question. What is the payback time for that new print? Can the printer pay for itself within a few years? I doubt it. Since I won’t be using it for anything more than the occasional archive print of my own work and since all of my commercial print orders are going through outside labs, well, it’s pretty obvious that any new printer is just going to be a financial liability from a business standpoint.

I’ve opted to just sell it for parts. This choice won’t impact my commercial sales, and I can pick up a smaller inkjet for around $300 that will handle sheet paper up to 13 x 19 inches, which is what most of my archive prints are anyway.

It’s still a bit of a bummer though. I hate to lose the old guy, it’s been reliable for over 7 years and the convenience it offered me will be missed. The other bummer is that I just put 3 new ink cartridges in the darn thing.

So, if you know anyone looking for a well maintained, used Epson 3880 that needs a new print head, send them my way.

 

 

Replacing A Monitor

Dual Monitor Setup

I’ve finally retired my Apple Cinema monitor after 12 years of faithful service.

When I first set up my studio in 2006, I purchased a Mac Pro, Intel version PC with two Apple Cinema displays.

The Mac Pro has been retired for several years now. I sold off the 30″ Cinema Display some years ago but kept the 24″ Cinema Display for use on my new Windows desktop. They were both good monitors for the day, but time moves on and their specifications were a little behind the curve. The 24″ monitor remained as my second display with a newer HP 2511x as my main studio monitor.

There are a lot of choices for computer monitors in the market. The days of the standard VGA analog connection are coming to an end. Most monitors these days have a HDMI interface or the even newer Display Port (USB-C) connection, but it’s still possible to find monitors with DVI and VGA connections.

It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks but I finally decided that new technology was going to have to be my choice.

The biggest concern I’ve had with desktop PC monitors was the ability of a new monitor to reproduce a full sRGB color gamut. Most displays on the market fall short when it comes to reproducing a full RGB color space. Kinda interesting when you think about it, as raw files from cameras can normally be set for Adobe RGB which is has a larger gamut range than standard RGB, and editing software can handle extreme color gamuts, such as Adobe Lightroom which will work in ProPhoto gamut. The problem with using high color gamut profiles in your workflow is that everything has to pass through the funnel and the output device is your desktop monitor. There aren’t many monitors that will come close to handling the range of color that a high end digital camera can reproduce. Nor can they come close to handling the higher photographic dynamic range that today’s camera sensors can reproduce. Everything has to be stuffed into the same color space that your monitor uses, so all that “extra” stuff is more or less useless for final output.

My goal was to replace the old Apple monitor with something current that could handle a full sRGB range. Secondarily, I wasn’t going to spend over $400 on a replacement monitor.  My HP 2511x cost me $250 brand new about 5 years ago and when calibrated, the color gamut measured about 102% of the sRGB gamut. It’s a backlit monitor, thus it has a very good brightness and contrast ratio. If I could find something akin to that type of performance on a budget, I’d be a happy camper. Additionally, I wanted a 27 inch or larger monitor with at least 5ms response time and 75 hertz refresh rate, to keep HD video performance tolerable, though I don’t really do a lot of video editing on my system.

I cruised the selections on Amazon and B&H photo and found a few considerations, all of which were running in the $300 – $400 price range. I was holding off though, thinking that somewhere out there was a monitor that wasn’t going to cost me that much. I’m on a budget like anyone else, so every penny saved is a penny earned.

The other day, my wife was out doing her weekly shopping at Sam’s Club. While she was there she took it upon herself to go over to the computer area and see what they had on the shelf. She texted me some photos and model numbers of what they were selling and among them was this LG Model # 29WK50S-P ultra-wide display. Price, $219 (at the store.)  I quickly looked up the specs and bingo. It had everything I needed and was quite affordable. The video interface was HDMI, which is good for me, as my video card supports everything except the new Display Port interface. The beauty of HDMI is that it’s a fairly common digital interface for televisions, so I can hook it up to just about anything.

I asked her to buy it, not knowing what to expect when she got home. Hey, if I didn’t like it, I could take it back.

Well, it turns out, I like it. A lot!

Nothing fancy, no frills, a super wide 21:9 aspect ratio which turns out to be excellent for using it with Adobe Lightroom. I can now do my editing without having to compress the side panels. I did a color calibration on it with my Spyder calibrator and the gamut was measuring noticeably above the sRGB envelope. The matte finish on the screen keeps the glare down too.

So, I’m not promoting any brand of product here, but if you are looking at a new replacement monitor for your photo editing and general office use and don’t want to spend a fortune, give these new ultra-wide monitors a look. I recommend this particular LG monitor, but there are other comparable brands and models out there. The ultra-wide format is quite nice. The monitor’s footprint is not huge but the viewable area is more than enough to make me happy.

Best of all, it cost a third less than many of the other monitors with these specifications. It’s light weight and the image quality is excellent.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get what you want. Just have my wife pick it out for you.

 

 

Backing Up Your Photos

Hard Drive Docking Station

Are you backing up your image files?

If the only place you keep your image files is on your computer, you will eventually lose something. Every hard drive fails at some point in time. Every computer crashes sooner or later. It’s a fact of life.  It’s a good idea to have a backup plan in effect before it happens.

Every month I make it a point to back up my images to hard drives. Now that a new year has begun, it’s time to order a couple more hard disks and make sure my backups are up to date.

I use a fairly inexpensive and reliable method to back up all of my photographs.

Hard Drive docking stations.

In my case, I’ve been using the Wavlink USB 3.0 drive dock. I have another brand on the shelf that I haven’t played with much as a backup to my backup equipment. The Wavlink Dual Bay HD Docking Station is fairly inexpensive and there are other brands out there. It allows for up to two internal SATA drives to be inserted. There’s a one button clone operation, which is very handy for backing up the main boot drive in the PC.

My normal backup drive is a 2TB HDD, which is the maximum size that can be connected easily to a Windows 10 pc via a USB 3.0 connection.

This particular unit will handle two drives, which when connected to the computer show up as normal hard drives in File Explorer.

The faster the hard drive, the faster the read/write times of course, so when I buy a new backup drive, it’s usually a 7200 rpm, 6 gigabyte/sec, 3.5″ drive. You can purchase drives like this for under $50 now, so it’s quite economical.

I keep my photographs on the computer in folders based on the year. A couple of inexpensive 2TB hard drives can backup just about every photo I take in a year with room to spare. When the drive gets full, it goes into the fire safe and I put a new empty drive in the docking station.

I use a sharpie to write a master number on the outside of the backup drive. I also maintain a master list of the image directories on each drive.  As of now, I have over 10 hard drives filled, some of which were repurposed from upgrades to my desktop computer. If I need to recover from a hard drive crash on the desktop, all I have to do is dig out the backup drive and copy the files to the new HDD in the computer.

I’ve also found it works great with my laptop PC as well.

It’s also a good idea to buy plastic HDD storage boxes for protecting the backup drives.

It may be worthwhile to store your backups in a second location. That way a catastrophe in the home won’t destroy your life’s work.  The best part is you can obtain a solid backup method for under $100.