Dan Heller's Photography Business Blog Industry analysis from www.danheller.com

The photography world -- the business, the culture, the art, the politics, the technology.

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Location: Santa Cruz, California, United States
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

My new book arrived!

Buy one here and get a free companion guide!

My Latest Book is Out!

So, you think I write long, boring articles, full of dense analysis of the photo industry, do ya? And I bet your eyes roll when your RSS feed tells you that a new article is ready. And you probably tell the office supply guy to go fill up the printer toner and buy a new ream of paper so you can print out my latest manifesto for the long commute home on the train, right?

Well, my esteemed colleagues in the photo field, that isn't going to happen this time. Believe it or not, I do have other, non-boring creative writing techniques that I picked up somewhere between the 7th and 8th grade, much to the dismay of the school janitor who had to clean it off the gym wall every other morning. In fact, I have dumbed down my writing to a level that even politicians can understand. I even went so far as to deliberately avoid words no more than 6 letters long, unless I had no choice, in which case, I reduced the font to make them not appear so big.

So, what's the topic of my new diatribe? By merely examining the graphic on this page, you may surmise that I actually take pictures for a living. And to that, you would be correct! Lark Books has humored me by agreeing to actually print the pictures I take on these fabulous trips other people foolishly pay me to take. The only thing required of me was to explain how I take pictures. What's my technique? How do I get these (ahem) fantastic photos that I sell for astonishingly and indefensibly large sums of money on my website? Well, now, you can find out.

And your brain won't fry when you read this stuff either. I don't talk about anything that has to do with money, economics, business, or nothin'. Just good ol' photo techniques. Specifically, travel photography. And best of all, there are pretty pictures to look at, too! From all over the world, no less!

Haven't had enough senseless marketing rhetoric? Then keep reading! Now you can obtain a copy (or two) for yourself or loved ones by ordering directly from my website using this link for the deep-discounted price of only ... wait, I gotta go look it up... twenty smackers! That's about twenty dollars for you non-American folks. Oddly, that's about the same price in Canada, eh? And you Europeans, you have no excuse whatsoever. You could be my entire supply for just a few Euro! And you Brits, our measly little dollar is hardly worth half your quid.

Whatever your currency, mere shrapnel is all that's required to learn valuable techniques such as composition, (not)using a flash, long exposures, star trails and night photography. Included are special, useful tips and tricks pasted up on those cute little post-it notes. (Notice: notes are not detachable.)

And talk about photos! There are well over 200 pictures that, if you were to license each one from my site, I'd charge you several hundred dollars each! That would make this book worth... let's see, that's 234 pictures times $364/each on average... carry the one... well, let's just say that it'd be a lot of money! What savings!

OH! OH! OH! And I'm not done yet! (Your eyes better not be glazing here.)

Available only on my website, you will also get a totally free Companion Guide. (Remember, "free" is not nearly as good as "totally free.") Yes, this little 36-page booklet is like a "cliff's notes" version of the longer book, making it perfect for taking along with you on those big trips where you need to travel light. Yours truly designed and produced this little booklet all by my little self during those wee hours of the morning while waiting for the next silly thing to happen in the photo industry that I could write about.

So, wait no longer, order now, and be the first on your block to have it in the recycle bin for thursday's pick up. Or, donate it to your local library. And be sure to tell your friends, neighbors, relatives and anyone else that is looking for a quick, easy gift to give that emerging photographer as a gift.

Now, pardon me while I go get more coffee.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Adobe Adopts Hierarchical Keywording Proposal

In April, I wrote an article titled, "keywording's role in the future of stock photography". The premise being that, once the dust settles around the large influx of new players in the stock photo industry, they will eventually have to compete with one another based on the quality of photo search results, not image quality. (There's plenty of "quality" to go around, despite the grumblings of long-time pros who may feel otherwise.) In my article, I outlined the scope of the problem, proposed a technical solution, and presented a business case for it.

To summarize it, search results are only as good as the data available to search on. People can add keywords to an image, but the search mechanism has to determine whether a search term or phrase is satisfied by those keywords. The problem with current keywording standards is that there is no syntax available to describe the semantics of a word. It's not just its actual meaning--a "turkey" is both a type of bird, and the name of a country--but it's also the words that modify its meaning. For example, if it were a young turkey, then "young" would be added to the list. The way keywords are defined today, all have the same weighting, thereby having no semantic effect on one another. If the photo also had an old woman with a hatchet about to chop off the turkey's head, then there would also be the keywords "old" and "woman." However, this presents the problem that the image is a valid match for the search phrase "young woman." This is what is called a false positive.

I proposed a keyword-binding character, such as the colon (:) or pipe/vertical-bar (|) character to associate one keyword with another. Hence, "woman:old" (or "woman|old") would be a single, semantically cognizant keyword, rather than as two unrelated keywords.

My article went on to say that for this to work, an independent company would have to support the idea by implementing it in their image management products. I'm excited to say that Adobe has just re-released their Bridge product, which is their image-management component of their "Creative Suite 3" product line, to support precisely what I had proposed. Existing users of Photoshop or other CS3 applications can use the Software Updates option to download the new version. To get hierarchical keywords, you only need to turn on the user-preferences switch. (The image shows my particular preferences.) That is, by default, selecting "Turkey" would have that word by itself assigned, but if preference for hierarchical keywording is set as the graphic shows, the single keyword "Country:Turkey" would be assigned.

An example hierarchical structure may look like the second graphic shown here.

So, now that it's out there, what can be done with it? What can we expect in the future and when?

For the moment, nothing. For this (or any other idea) to work, it requires both photographers and searching agents to adopt the syntax, and this may take some time. Setting up keyword hierarchies is easy with Bridge because most people have already defined image "sets" with older versions of the program, and certainly with the new multi-level hierarchies that were introduced with Bridge 2.0. The only thing necessary now is simply to turn on the switch and "rebuild" your image caches with the preference set.

The searching agents, which range from photo-sharing sites like Flickr and smugmug, to microstock and macro-stock agencies, only need to do one little thing: look for the keyword-binding character in keyword lists. Implementation can come in two stages: first, just be aware that it's there, and use it as a keyword-separating exactly as though it were a comma or semi-colon, which are already used to separate keywords into the existing "flat list" syntax in use today. The net effect here is that you're ignoring the photographer's hierarchy, but not losing any of the keywords. So, "Country:Turkey" just looks the same as if it said "Country, Turkey", which is a syntax you already look for anyway.

Later, you can build the hierarchies when you're ready to have more sophisticated search behaviors, such as prompting the user with the option: "For 'turkey', did you mean Country or Bird?"

I'd like to hear from anyone, photographer or agency, that has it in their plans to use this new syntax. Of course, I always invite email comments to my posts. I don't permit comments on my blog because it's far too time-consuming to monitor it.