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Archive for February, 2011

ZOHO Design: The Secret Behind Perfect Photo Albums

February 28, 2011 9 comments

You’re an awesome photographer. Brides throw themselves at your lens and you can’t walk down the street without booking a new gig. Do you really have time to design albums that match your killer style?

We’ll go out on a limb and guess “No”.

Strap on your socks, cuz they’re about to go flying. Introducing our new friend and your new partner-in-crime, ZOHO Design:

ZOHO Design for SmugMug photo albums

Zo… Who?

The designers at ZOHO know their stuff and they make it their personal mission to work with you to get the best possible album. Each and every piece is completely custom to you, your event and your pics. They will email or call you during the whole process to be sure that you love what they’re doing.

How it works

The process is dead simple:

  1. Give them your name and a rough idea of what you want.
  2. Sit back and wait for updates so you can say “Yea” or “Nay”.
  3. Print the finished files at one of their recommended print labs, or take them to your favorite album company for fulfillment.

To get started, check out their site or find them under the Buy button in any of your SmugMug galleries.

You get the glory. They do the work. It’s a perfect relationship! And happy clients make for happy pros, so give them a chance to help you work smarter, not harder.

How Digital Downloads Can (and Should) Work For You

February 25, 2011 15 comments

Earlier this week, USA Today talked to SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill at WPPI about the importance of digital downloads. Take a look at the article and watch the interview here:

If you haven’t yet discovered how digital downloads can rock your business, then keep reading. This blog’s for you.

Why Downloads are Awesome

Pros can sell up to 6 different digital download types and make bank on each one:

Pricing digital downloads

Offer three sizes for flexibility. The Low-Res 1 MP download is roughly 816×1224 pixels, about big enough to print as an 8×12 . The Hi-Res 4 MP version is twice the size, weighing in at around 1632×2448. It’s big enough to make a 30×40 print, or most of our largest catalog offerings. View our minimum requirements chart to see how we came up with those numbers.

Originals are just that: If you upload a 23 MB file, that’s what your customer will receive when they buy it.  Note that we never upsize and just offer the resolutions that we can make.

Example: If your original file is 3 MP, we’ll only show the 1 MP and Original options for sale.

They’re quick and convenient. Downloads are a great way to offer easy, reusable, unwatermarked files to your clients. They can use them for Facebook, blogs, Craigslist ads, digital scrapbooks, Wanted Posters and tons of other creative places. No muss, no fuss and no stalking the mailman. They’re available immediately after checkout (and won’t expire if you forget).

Direct links for download are included in your order confirmation emails as well as on the online order page. Best of all, folks who buy four pics or more can retrieve them bundled in a zip file.

Sell them by the piece or by the pound. If all photos in a gallery are priced for downloads, your clients can add one of everything to their cart by hitting “All Digital Downloads” in the Buy button. Of course, they can just buy individuals by looking for the blue “Downloads” tab in the shopping cart.

Downloads tab in the shopping cart

Finally, remember that downloads are available immediately after purchase, so they don’t qualify for Proof Delay. Keep this in mind as you tweak your workflow.

We hope you Pros learned something new or picked up a couple of tidbits to perk your sales.

Vive la revolución digital!

The SmugMug Family

Got a Winning Story?

February 24, 2011 14 comments

Everyone’s got a story to tell. What’s yours?

Put your SmugMug photos into Blurb books

Tell us and you could win $200 Blurb bucks to help your launch your very own printed project. Here’s how:

1. Visit us on Facebook.

2. Sum up your story in a couple of sentences and post it on our Facebook page. What would you write about in your own book?

3. Hook us in and include a link to one of the photos you plan to use.

Post your ideas by Monday the 28th at noon, Pacific time. We’ll announce one randomly-picked winner that night on Facebook, so make sure you check in!

We love Blurb because they make it simple to design and publish your own beautiful photo books. They offer lots of cost-effective options so you can pick and choose exactly what your readers will feel in their hands. From portable pocket books to luxe tomes on premium paper, there’s something for every photo:

Blurb's book sizing

So tell us where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, or what’s moving you now. We can’t wait to hear (and see) all about it!

Here’s to publishing great pics together,

The SmugMug Family

WANTED: #NicksBeard

February 21, 2011 5 comments

Have you seen this man?

You should. He’s awesome!

If you’ve never received a help email from Nick, shook his hand at a SMUG or boogied with him in Vegas then you’re missing out on one of the best bennies of being part of our family. Nick’s the real deal, and his Garbaldi is the source of his power. It makes scissors tremble and stylists swoon. Nothing can stand in its way and we have pictures to prove it.

Best of all, his beard is the Blarney Stone of the chin world. Touch it, and ye shall be gifted with undying off-camera light and perfection in posing.

Hero Nick will be stalking the pens at WPPI this week so you can come and see us (and him) at booths #1528 and #1529. If you can catch this cagey tiger and lay fingers on Thee Sacred Hairs, you may find yourself surrounded with beautiful models, zippy interns and possibly something even better.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Your Mission:

Snap a pic of yourself while touching Nick’s beard at WPPI and post it to SmugMug’s Facebook wall. Then tag yourself! And if you’re still riding on the high, Tweet your success so others can play, like this:

#NicksBeard. Snap a pic for a chance to win a prize from Andy’s gear bag. @SmugMug booths 1528 and 1529 #WPPI

Deadline is Tuesday at 9 PM, Vegas time. Winners will be announced via our Facebook Wall on Friday.

Your Reward:

Five winners will be randomly picked from all of those that show us the goods on our Facebook wall. We’ll then pick five more random winners from those who have tweeted about it, and another five random winners from everyone else who shows us they’ve touched The Beard.

Something good’s comin’ your way. We’ve got tons of swag, photo gear, bags and even a free year of SmugMug Pro ready to go.

And if Nick’s face-drapery isn’t enough to get you to hang out with us, stop by the booth for a super-special 40% off code to save on your first year of SmugMug. What else could you possibly ask for?

See you in Vegas, baby!

—————

UPDATE! Although this contest is now over, we have good news in the form of winners. There were fourteen successful posters who overcame shyness, crowds and bad wi-fi to post a pic of #NicksBeard, so they each get a free year of SmugMug Pro PLUS $125 print credit (OR $125 credit towards site customization with one of our certified companies). In addition to these great prizes, those of you who posted by the Tuesday evening deadline will get free bonus SmugSwag.

Thanks to everyone who participated, even if you couldn’t get your pic on our fan page!

If your name is below, stay tuned. Katherine will drop you a note on Facebook with details.

Winners:

If you couldn’t make it to Vegas, we have fun giveaways going on over at Facebook each week. Don’t forget to “Like” us so you can win something, too!

Be More Social, New Customizer and Bug Fixes

February 16, 2011 18 comments

Better Be Social

We’ve revamped our Be Social feature so you popular folks can easily post and share to five glorious social sites: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous and the illustrious WordPress:

New Be Social sharing

We’ve beefed it up so that you can tweak settings such as the pic size and alignment, link style and if you want to attach your geolocation and keywords with your post. Best of all, you can now post to your Facebook Fan Pages in addition to your personal page!

See all the cool changes explained here.

The Share button is now visible to logged-in owners at all times. This means that you’ll see that button and can use all of these great Share features even if you’ve disabled Easy Sharing in your gallery settings. When in doubt, you can always log out for a sec or use the Visitor View button on your homepage to see your site the way guests do.

SmugMug Pros get a little added bonus: You can hook up a Bit.ly Pro account to your SmugMug Control Panel and use that for link shortening. By default everyone gets an awesome http://smu.gs short link in Be Social, but those of you with custom domains can totally flaunt your brand. Find that under the Settings tab.

Okee Doke!

We added another great designer to our list of certified customizers: Say hello to Okee.co!

Okee.co for SmugMug Customization

They offer an arresting array of gorgeous templates as well as full-on custom design. Check out their portfolio and get a clean, beautiful site that shows off your best work.

Don’t forget to see our full list of certified customizers, too.

Bug fixes:

  • Share emails were showing funky formatting when you (gallery owner) viewed your sent email stats in your Control Panel. We also made sure that the referral link you’re passing to your friends works a treat the first time and every time.
  • Pros: We added a description into your notification emails so when we bill you for features like Boutique Packaging and Order Branding, now you know what it’s for.

Here’s to making great sites to share,

The SmugMug Family

The Making of a Gigapixel Image

February 15, 2011 14 comments

Patrick Smith is a world-renowned landscape photographer who specializes in gigapixel panoramic projects.  We wanted something special for SmugMug HQ – a mind-bendingly tricky pano of San Francisco – and we thought he’d be up for the job. He pulled it off perfectly and lived to write up this guest post for us.  You can see it here and cover your own walls with this amazing shot. Here’s how he did it.

The Concept

It seemed like such a harmless idea at the time.

SmugMug’s Chris MacAskill wanted a print for the SmugMug headquarters that would be similar to a photo I had shown him earlier, only much bigger. He wanted a huge panoramic version of the classic view of the Golden Gate Bridge with the Transamerica building seen through the north tower.  Chris was thinking of printing it somewhere in the range of 30-36 feet across at close to 240DPI. I thought it would be a decent amount of work but not a big problem –  after all, multi-gigapixel photos are becoming more commonplace every day and stitching programs have improved a lot over the past few years. One recent image of London is made up of over 4,000 individual photos!

Patrick talks about his gigapano of San Francisco . Click to see the video!

Most gigapixel images are created during daylight hours or well after dark, conditions at which the light is consistent over dozens (or hundreds) of shots. However, I wanted the entire panorama to be done during the rapidly changing light that occurs just after sunset.

After a few quick calculations, I figured that I could get the resolution Chris wanted from about 30-40 portrait photos across and a few rows high with my Canon 5D MK II and about 25% overlap between photos. I decided to rent the Canon 800mm F5.6 lens for 10 days from BorrowLenses. They were very helpful and even had a drop-off point near my house in Walnut Creek. I thought that 10 days of shooting would be plenty of time if I could choose a window of opportunity where there would be plenty of clear days with good visibility. It was November, and the California rainy season was about to begin. But with no storms in sight and a warm spell in the offing, I rented it.

I wanted to create an image that would look like a single photo taken during those few moments about 20 minutes after sunset where the softening natural light is about equal to city lights. A photograph created at this time will not have blown-out highlights but still have the glowing atmosphere of a nocturnal view.  Since I needed to shoot over 30 photos per row and at least 3 rows tall, I knew that it would take several favorable days to shoot them all. This is because there are only a few minutes with good light after sunset and each exposure would take around 7-12 seconds to shoot. Also, with the 800mm lens you have to be very precise about focus, and setting the focus using the Live View feature adds even more time to each shot.

Shooting

I was excited to begin. The next 10 days looked clear and warm, so off I went. The first obstacle was how to stabilize this huge lens during 10-second plus exposures when it is perched on the side of a hill exposed to strong ocean wind. The Golden Gate is the easiest place for wind to pass through the California coastal mountain range so there is a lot of it passing through. The sturdiest tripod is no match for these breezes so I had to come up with another solution.

I headed over to Home Depot and bought a 1-inch thick rounded and sanded plywood wheel that is about 18 inches in diameter. It is about the size of a very large pizza. Also I bought a plastic bucket, a short 1×4 and some thin wood shims. The idea is to place the plywood onto the bucket and then put the lens on the plywood. Then it is easy to rotate the lens right and left. The bucket is low to the ground and very stable even in high winds with the big lens on it. Also, it is easy to level the entire thing using by moving it in the dirt until your line of sight across the wheel is level with the horizon. I cut the 1×4 to a length of about 6 inches and cut notch in the middle so that the end of the lens would rest in the notch.  That stops the lens from rolling around. The thin wood shims are then used to raise and lower the camera side of the lens. With this setup, you can shoot an entire row, insert or remove some shims and then shoot another row.

Patrick's Custom Tripod

The custom setup with the bucket, plywood round, 1x4s to support the lens and thin door shims.

For the first 10 days, visibility over the bridge was perfect but it was hot and the city lights twinkled.  Twinkling when viewed through 800mm of lens makes the entire frame flicker back and forth as though you are looking into a swimming pool on a windy day! During daylight it is not too bad because you can have an exposure time of 1/100 or less and things may look a bit wavy but at least they are sharp. At night, an 11-second exposure with the heat shimmering will make the entire image soft in a similar way to what you might see on a long exposure of ocean waves. Even my morning shooting suffered from atmospheric distortion. After 10 days with that magnificent lens I had nothing to show for my efforts! Needless to say I was a bit discouraged. However, I am not one to give up easily, so I borrowed a friend’s 500mm F4 and a 1.4 extender for a total of 700mm of magnification. Fortunately, he was very patient because it took about 4 extra weeks to get the images I needed.

Eventually the weather cooled, the atmosphere stabilized and the twinkling was dramatically reduced. Next, my hope was to get some mist in the atmosphere over several days to get through the entire panorama with consistent light. I made a total of about 20 trips to my spot before I had all the images I needed. All of the images used to make the final pano were captured on five of those evenings.

There were other problems during shooting besides the atmospheric distortion.  First, the focus. The city is far behind the bridge, so when I was shooting the towers in front of the city I had to stop down to about F29 and focus extra carefully and do an extra long exposure. On the left side of the panorama were some foreground hills, so I had to refocus there too as well as every few shots throughout the panorama because the focus ring might get moved just a little.  Most images, however, were made at F11. This allowed me to get enough depth of field to keep everything sharp.  The DOF at F8 (the optimum setting) is too shallow and would cause something in each frame to be out of focus. I kept the exposure time down to 11-seconds by using an ISO of 200.  There was very little noise in the final images.

The city is 5 miles away from the bridge

The city is 5 miles behind the bridge.

The next problem is that I had to come back on successive days and pick up where I left off.  So I had to arrive well before sunset to set up and practice what I was about to do.  It is easy to not be perfectly aligned with a row from the day before.  If you are not perfect all the way across then you don’t get enough overlap for stitching.

The other big problem is that the light was changing quickly and was different from the far left side to the far right side.  This is a very wide-angle image so this is to be expected.  So if you attempt a gigapixel image at dusk, study the direction of how the light fades and start shooting from the darkest areas and move towards the lightest. By the time you get to the lighter areas, they will be closer in brightness to the darker side.  This way, the overall image will be more evenly lit.

Processing

I brought the images into Capture One,  a RAW processing program. It has lots of settings which allow you to gain a little extra dynamic range and still have the image look natural.  I collected the best images from all the shoots into one folder and  carefully adjusted them for brightness and color. This went fairly smoothly, though there were a few images where I had to dig deeper.  The idea is to have all the images be the same brightness.

I saved each one as a JPG because I knew the final file would be huge and I don’t have a super powerful computer!  Also, I didn’t touch the JPGs until I had created a PSB file after stitching.  TIFF files can only be 4gb in size and a 16-bit file would be 5gb.  I ended up creating an 8-bit file but I kept it in PSB format, anyway.  I did not lose any information as would be the case if I edited the JPGs directly.  And JPG files have a 30,000 pixel width limit.

Originally I planned on using the highly rated Autopano stitching software.  It did a great job until it reached areas where the bridge cables were in front of the bay water.  As you can see in the small portion below, one cable or a bridge section looks like the next. The stitching software became confused no matter how I adjusted the settings. I auto-stitched as much as I could and then I stitched the remainder of the image (about 50%) manually in Photoshop.  Fortunately there was plenty of overlap and after about 80 hours of work, the image was completely stitched.

Cables on the bridge against the Bay water. Difficult to stitch!

After stitching, I went over the TIFF image carefully while viewing it at 100% magnification.  I cleaned up any bad pixels or stitching errors.  There was a bit of noise in some of the darker areas so I used the Photoshop noise reduction and that worked fine.  Then I looked at the entire image to make sure that the entire scene looked evenly lit.  A few places needed to be brightened or darkened but the adjustments were small because I was careful when creating the first set of files from the RAW files..

The combination of the 500L lens and the 1.4 II teleconverter along with close attention to focus created a final image that was very sharp.  Most of the image needed no sharpening, though some areas were sharpened a bit just to get things as close to perfect as possible.

The total amount of time I spent doing recon, 20 trips to the location, and post processing was around 160 hours.  Was it worth it?  Yes!

If you have any any questions you can reach me at patrick@patricksmithphotography.com .

—–

Details about the entire panorama:

  • 112 11-second exposures (they were all 11-seconds to keep the city lights constant)
  • All shots were taken between 20 and 27 minutes after sunset on several nights over a 6-week period.
  • The final size is (13,423h x 80,540w, 1×6 ratio)
  • AutoPano stitching software to start, but 50% was hand-stitched
  • Canon 5D mark II with live view set to 10x magnification to help with precise focusing
  • Canon 500L F4 lens with 1.4 extender
  • 3 rows of portrait oriented shots with about 35-40 on each row
  • 25% overlap on each shot
  • Refocus every 3rd shot with extra care on the towers and hillside to the left
  • Refocus on Bridge towers to make sure that every bolt can be seen clearly
  • No grad filters
  • No polarizer.
  • No HDR
  • ISO 200 (to reduce the exposure time a bit but not too much to induce noise)
  • RAW files processed with Capture One by Phase One
  • TIFF files processed with Photoshop
  • Tripod – 1 home depot bucket with a circular 1-inch thick plywood board rotated on top to create panoramas.

 

Tenba Bag and Canon Giveaway

February 10, 2011 60 comments

Hi, I’m Katherine, and I’m a freshly-minted Smugger over here at HQ. I’ve only been here a short while, but already I’ve worked a bunch with Andy — full time Chief Operating Officer and part-time Valentine — and boy, is he easily distracted. A few days ago, while he was browsing through your awesome SmugMug galleries and bragging about how he’s never seen more gorgeous photos, I took the liberty of digging through his gear bag for fun gifts to give away to Smuggers.

Why? Really, the question is, “why not?” When you love photography as much as we do, why not share the love?

SmugMug's Tenba camera bag giveaway

Head on over to our Fan page to enter this week’s giveaway of a Tenba Bag, Canon 60D, Canon 70-300L lens, and a couple of 16gb Sandisk Extreme memory cards ($2980 value). To enter, simply comment on our post, and if you have a SmugMug site, please include a shot of yourself in action. One very lucky winner will be randomly selected this Friday and announced that evening, California time.

(Note: The winner won’t get the exact loot shown above, but we thought you’d want to see the bag.)

Next week, we’ll start again with a shiny, fresh, new giveaway. No strings attached, no spam — just our chance to dig through Andy’s Gear Bag and unearth a fun prize for a happy Smugger.

All of our giveaways are tweeted out too, so if you are more of a Twitter-kind of person, you can stay up to date on SmugMug news and giveaways at @SmugMug.

SmugMug on Facebook

Enjoy!

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