September 12th, 2009 at 7:36 pm
When a few years ago I began selling fine art photography directly to the public, I often got the question, “Do you take credit cards?” At the time I didn’t and knew I’d be losing a sale from the person who asked. Between shows one year, I researched how to start accepting cards as a business. Eventually I found a company called Thompson Merchant Services. It was a broker offering merchant credit card acceptance through another company called 1st National Processing based in Calabasas, California.
As simple as that, I was accepting Visas and MasterCards for a monthly charge of $7.99 and for a per transaction fee of 3.85%. It sounded great, especially if you are selling regularly. And sure enough, at the next show I had a few customers who wanted to use credit cards to buy photographs. My credit card sales slowly eclipsed my cash sales. And customers seemed happy with the convenience of paying with credit.
Then I noticed that the monthly charge for the service had risen to $17.99 from $7.99. That was alarming, considering my sales were not picking up to compensate for the increase. After a few calls to 1st National, I was able to convince them that my sales were low enough that I should have the cheapest plan available, even if I had to pay more per transaction. They agreed and my monthly fee came back to $7.99 a month but the transaction fee went up to 3.95% percent.
At about this time, there was a lot of news about identify theft and credit card theft, and this caused two things to happen that made it difficult for a small business like me to accept credit cards:
1. Customers were not as comfortable using credit cards to pay an unknown, untrusted vendor
2. The government started a Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance program
The PCI compliance program forced credit card vendors and companies that accept credit cards to follow very strict rules if they wanted to accept credit cards. This is meant to benefit customers and as a customer, I’m all for it. But 1st National decided to pass on the cost of becoming PCI-compliant to vendors, including me. Last year, the first PCI fee came through, to the tune of $30. At the time, I was still accepting the occasional credit card so $30 did not seem like a lot. That being said, I did find it odd that I was paying $30 to 1st National to make sure my 3-5 transactions were safe.
During this past year, my credit card sales dried up – along with most fine art sales for that matter (and millions of jobs worldwide). Now the monthly fees were starting to add up and there was nothing to balance them out. Then came the news that the PCI fee from 1st National this year was going to be $130! I was infuriated. Not only was I not using the service much (no transactions in the past year), but now they wanted to charge me to make sure I was complaint. I didn’t even have any customer transactions! Needless to say, I called to cancel immediately. However, the process took three months to get finalized, even though they assured me it was going to take 30 days. After a lot of back and forth and time spent arguing on the phone, they didn’t charge me the full $130 PCI compliance fee in the end, but whatever they charged me is a loss.
For what it’s worth, I cannot recommend that you use 1st National for your credit card business. Its customer service is terrible; it took dozens of calls to cancel my account. The fees are very high, given the low number of transactions I have. And, they have no online access to help sort out your account. The original broker, Thompson Merchant Services, now accepts credit cards itself and seems to have a better fee structure and no PCI fee, for now at least.
So, should you accept credit cards as a fine art photographer? It all depends on the your target audience. But beware of merchant service accounts with high fees, bad customer service, and no online access. Just as with your bank account, you want to make sure your merchant account is in good standing by being able to see all fees and all sales clearly. I hope my experience can help you make better choices about whether to accept cards, and if so, what merchant credit card service to use.
Categories: Credit Cards
June 24th, 2009 at 10:10 pm
So the eight-week class I took at BetterPhoto.com is now complete. And here’s what I thought.
First, I am quite happy with the class format. The online system allows users to upload pictures fairly easily to the website. It keeps track of what equipment was used to take the picture, reads the metadata for the pictures, and has a nice forum for students to interact with the instructor. The design of the site itself is not completely up to date, but the functionality works as it should, although I did have to use Safari instead of Firefox on the Mac in order to upload my pictures.
Second, the class itself was very well run. There were eight exercises given, each with 10 days time to complete them. The exercises were well described and the time to execute them always included two weekends to complete, which is great for anyone with a busy schedule. The exercises ranged from technical ones during which you practiced certain techniques to more open-ended ones, so you could be more creative. The students in the class interacted a lot with one another and the instructor and had lots of great questions. The nicest thing about the class was the ability to review the instructor’s critiques from the different exercises as well as the instructor’s critiques of other students’ work. Critiques are the best way to learn what you did well and what you didn’t. The ability to review them again after the fact is great, especially if you don’t remember all of the details of the critique. (Students were also allowed to critique one another.)
Third, did the class motivate me? That is tough to say overall. It was definitely motivating to have weekly goals. I had my camera with me most of the time and took some great pictures. I was also able to get to some particular places I wanted to (near my office) to take pictures that I had wanted to take for quite a while. I will be taking a break from taking photos after the end of the class, but I do feel a bit more energized to make some more art.
Here is a slideshow of my best pictures from the class.
April 12th, 2009 at 1:34 pm
Every once in a while, it is easy to lose focus on your photography work, especially when it is more of a part time hobby to being with. Things in life crop up such crazy work schedule or a new child. In any case, it is hard to regain that focus with any activity once you are derailed. The same thing could be said for other hobbies such as running, music, etc.
So, how do you find the focus again to do something? Well, there are a bunch of different approaches. One is to find a group of people who share your hobby and start interacting with them on a regular basis. There are many ways to do this, these days, including websites like meetup.com, facebook.com, and many others.
Another way to motivate yourself is to take a class, which is something that works well for me. I just started a class on BetterPhoto.com with an instructor that I have taken many classes with before, Brenda Tharp. The class I am taking is called Creating Visual Impact and is meant to “expand your vision, refine your techniques, and get your creative juices flowing,” which sounds like exactly what I need at this point. I will definitely be reporting back in a few weeks and letting you know how the BetterPhoto.com website works and how well this particular class accomplishes my goal of getting me focused again. The picture on the left is one I took for the first lesson about light.
Categories: Classes · General
February 9th, 2009 at 10:52 pm
Over the past couple of years living in northern manhattan, I have had the opportunity to meet some fellow artists in the area. Because of these associations, I was given some insight about the Manhattan Times publication, a free bilingual, community newspaper serving the Washington Heights, Inwood, and East Harlem neighborhoods of Manhattan. Another artist told several of us about an opportunity to submit art to grace the cover of the home edition of the paper. Since my year has gotten off to a good start artistically, I decided to try it out. The editor of the paper was very quick to respond and, with just a few short emails, I had one of my images on the cover of the home edition.
To the left is the cover image from the January 22-29 issue. You can also see the larger PDF which has the cover and the inside page listing more information about the piece, Wet Feet, and how to get in touch with me to see more of my fine art photography.
Thanks to Risa for letting us all know about how to get in touch with the editor.
January 11th, 2009 at 8:06 pm
This Wednesday, January 14, 2009 is the opening night for my show at Druids Bar & Restaurant.
There is no entrance fee for this event but it’s a cash bar. I hope to see you all there.
Categories: Gallery Openings
January 6th, 2009 at 11:58 pm
Since I had two shows this month, I decided to also find some new business cards to better represent myself. Business cards are great to have at opening night events when people are very interested in learning more about your work. Before I tell you what I decided to use for now, let me tell you what I decided not to use.
A few years ago, I wanted to print business cards myself. Finding the supplies is not very difficult these days. There is plenty of business card stock available at your local office supply store. I tested various different types, including matte and glossy and come in a variety of colors, including ivory and white. Printing the cards, however, is no easy task depending on how you want to print them. I wanted to put a full bleed picture on the front of my card and include some text inside the image with my contact information. After some quick photoshop work, I came up with the final image/text I wanted. The problem is that you have to be very exact to get full bleed. If your image is too large or too small, then the full bleed aspect is out of whack and you end of manually cutting certain edges off of your cards after printing. Not a great representation of your work.
Next, I decided to try having them printed online. I found out about a service called Prints Made Easy which was a relatively inexpensive website at which to have business cards printed. The interface allows you to upload your art directly and it does have the option of printing on both sides. I decided to get a one-sided card in glossy format. In fact, I ordered 3 times from them and was happy with the service and delivery. The one thing that bothered me was that I thought my image could look a lot better.
So, at this point, I was looking for a new service. I did get some cards from a service called Moo.com as a present for my birthday and was very happy with the quality as well as the MiniCards (mini-business card) format. So, I placed an order with them using a high quality image and ordered some two-sided MiniCards and two-sided full size business cards. The nice thing about ordering anything from Moo.com is that you can add more than one image to any batch. So, when ordering 50 cards, I can upload 10 pictures and get 5 cards of each picture. The quality of the end product was amazing. These cards were all printed using the MOO Classic finish, which is a laminated glossy card. For the second batch, I decided to try the MOO Green finish instead. This finish is 100% recycled and 100% bio-degradable and is uncoated. Those cards also printed very well. After some comparisons, I found that the images that had a lot more black in them printed better using the classic finish while all other images looked great with both. I would recommend either finish.
Lastly, here are some mistakes I made during this whole process that I hope you will avoid:
- Don’t put your postal address on your cards. If you move, as I did, you end up with cards that have an old address on them which confuses clients.
- Make cards with your most popular photograph on them. When people are browsing your work at a gallery, it is best to have business cards that match the work they are seeing. That way, when they get home and they look at their stack of business cards, yours will stand out because it reminds them of the photograph that was on display at the gallery.
- Use traditional fonts. When choosing the fonts, you will have a lot of crazy options including script and some other funky ones. I would stick with the most readable font. Regardless of how great it looks on your computer screen, some of the non-traditional fonts will be difficult to read once printed and will defeat the purpose of the business card.
- If printing your own, choose the clean edge business card sheets so that your cards will look more professionally printed.
Good luck with your business card hunt!
Categories: Business Cards
December 2nd, 2008 at 10:46 pm
Every photographer has certain preferences when taking photos. For instance, I prefer not to use flash in my photos. The same types of preferences apply to printing.
High resolution printing from your computer is very tricky. You have to consider the quality of your image, the type of printer you have, the type of inks you use, and the type of paper.
The quality of your image is the best indicator as to how great your print will be. The image must be good resolution — at least 150 dpi (dots per inch) or more — at the size you are trying to print. Most books and classes recommend to never print below 300 dpi. Some photo websites do not even let you print your images unless your uploaded photos are 300 dpi.
In my opinion, after several hundred high quality prints of my work, I can safely say that you may not need 300 dpi for certain applications. For instance, I took Electric Travel (shown at left), a 4 megapixel image, and blew it up to 20×30 using EL-CO Color Labs, based in NJ. I have also taken a couple of a 6 megapixel images, and printed them at 20×30 (after upsampling) using a rented large scale Epson printer. Printing such small images at these sizes is frowned upon by many websites and photographers. However, the results were stunning and my clients were very satisfied. Remember, at larger sizes, the print may not be intended to be viewed at close distances and can easily be enjoyed from a few feet away. Unless the image is very detailed, you can print it quite large without sacrificing visual clarity.
There are dozens of printer manufacturers and thousands of models. Many of these printers are fine for most applications (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, simple business cards, etc.). There are some printers from each manufacturer that can do a great job of printing your photography well. What I have found is that most professional photographers use Epson printers for their work if they are printing the work themselves. Of course, there are many photographers who prefer Canon and Hewlett Packard printers, as well as other manufacturers. However, I love the quality of a print I get using an Epson 2200. It is an older model that is no longer sold although, during its time, it was quite a popular model.
Once you choose your printer, you need to choose the best inks. Ink is the most expensive part of your printing process. The easiest thing to do is get the inks that are made by your printer manufacturer. These are very compatible with your printer and will cause less headaches (except for your wallet). You can also buy 3rd party ink cartridges and bulk ink systems. As you can imagine, 3rd party ink is cheaper but can have side effects such as abnormal colors. Bulk ink (from Costco or BJ’s) is also a less expensive way to print, but these are also manufactured by 3rd parties. Although that makes these systems much cheaper, they also require a bit more work to install and may require frequent cleaning of the print heads to avoid clogging during printing. I decided to keep it simple and use Epson inks on my Epson printer. I want to have results that are reproducible again and again and am willing to spend a bit more to get the results I need.
The next decision is paper. There are two main classes of paper to consider, matte and glossy. There are various types of each and there are pluses and minuses to using them. Matte paper is a more subtle paper that has no gloss. It requires special ink, in most printers, and can produce a deeper print for most work. Glossy papers are what is used when you order prints from most online photo stores. These come in high gloss to low gloss options. (Note: some online photo stores offer a matte paper. It is really more of a dull gloss than the kind of matte paper I am talking about.) Overall, what paper to use depends on what the purpose of the print is. For prints that you intend on framing, I highly recommend using matte paper. For most other applications, I recommend using glossy paper instead.
In future posts on this topic, I will also talk about paper profiles, color management, and, most importantly, monitor calibration.
Categories: Ink · Paper
November 16th, 2008 at 9:33 am
During my first photography class (Photography I: Digital) in 2003, I was told to select a theme for a final project. At the time, I was using a Canon Powershot G3, which was a great camera, although very difficult to use for manual focusing. Given my interest in macro photography, I decided to focus my final project on close-up pictures of water. At the time, the instructor looked at me skeptically, but he allowed me to move forward with that theme. I am not sure how I came upon that theme, but the fact that it was so narrow a subject helped me to focus much better. I have created a special slideshow to show you the results of that final project. The instructor was very impressed with the results.
After that project, I explored some of the other elements with varying success. While I do have lots of fire pictures, most of them lack the same emotion as the water series. I do have some images that could form an earth series, but that is for another time.
Now, after 4 years, why do I still have an interest in water? There are several reasons. Water is a very unique element. It can take on so many different appearances depending on the weather (ice, snow, rain) and situation. At first, I explored mostly the weather during my current water series. However, I have a lot of pictures of snow and ice that are not part of the series because they are missing the same emotional ties that the series has. Then I decided to explore how water reacts to certain situations. I found myself looking at water in a stream, the wake of a boat, icicles on glass, among lots of others. The more I look, the more exciting the relationship becomes and the more I see.
I hope you like my water series and its origins as much as I do.
Categories: Classes · Fine Art
October 25th, 2008 at 10:32 pm
This week I attended the PhotoPlus Expo at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. I have attended this Expo for a few years now. I had to miss last year because of the Montvale Fair I decided to do instead. This year, I decided not to miss it.
I spent Friday morning walking around the exhibit hall and looking at all of the latest and greatest in the photography world. I had already heard about most of the exciting items for this year’s show in advance. For instance, the Canon and Nikon HD cameras. Although these cameras seem quite impressive, I am not looking to upgrade my current gear. So, I wandered through the aisles featuring hundreds of companies selling their wares. I did notice more models than normal at the booths who were there to show how to use various camera equipment, lighting equipment, etc. I also listened to the big vendors brag about all of their new products and software. Overall, I was not very impressed with my first morning on the floor.
On Friday afternoon, I attended two different conference sessions. The first was Staying Successful in Stock. I have been interested in submitting some of my work to stock agencies and wanted to get some first hand information on what the best approach was. The session was geared towards those who had already had some experience in the arena. However, I did have some positive takeaways. Some of these may seem obvious. For instance, I realized that many of the photographers on the panel planned their photos specifically for stock use. Although some did admit to submitting their previous work from other jobs to stock agencies, more often than not they planned their pictures specifically for use in stock. Also, the other clear theme from the session was the need to focus on what concept you are going for in each picture. Instead of just taking some nice, pleasing pictures, they all recommended keeping in mind what the photography industry is asking for. For instance, now one of the big needs is anything Green and anything dealing with Hispanic people. Overall, it was a very good session with some good speakers.
The second session I took was Archiving for Digital Images. I have been concerned about how to really maintain archives of my digital files for some time. Being a technologist all my life, I have read about and used various technologies like Zip drives, floppy disks, CDs, etc. The technologies change rapidly and none seem to be archival for various reasons. Seth Resnick, the speaker in this session, shared a similar view. Although there seems to be a push from the industry to use CDs and DVDs for personal backups, these are not archival in any way. Many CDs and DVDs can fail within a matter of years. Or, even worse, can be stored in a backup format or a disc format that is not readable by future computers. After depressing us all with the lack of reliability of the current CD and DVD formats, he recommended using hard drives to keep multiple copies of all of your important data. He recommended 1 active and 1 backup hard drive having a duplicate of all of your data. In addition, he recommended using a device called Drobo as a hot-swappable backup device as an additional copy of all your files. All his recommendations made a lot of sense including continually upgrading your hard drives since they too are subject to failure. Now, if I could make some more money from stock, I can invest in buying more hard drives!
On Saturday, I returned with a couple of friends, Rachel and Rohanna, to the exhibit floor. I took a few pictures and signed up for some information at a few booths, but did not see anything exciting other than my friends.
July 30th, 2008 at 7:38 pm
Very often I am asked what kind of camera I use or for a recommendation of what camera to buy. These days, buying a camera can be quite complicated. There are so many different brands, different megapixel strengths, and different sizes and weights that it can be very confusing to someone new to digital photography.
First, let me say that I am primarily a digital photographer. Although I have used film cameras in the past, all of my professional work has been done using digital cameras of varying types. So, the recommendations I will be making are all in the digital world. As one of my photography instructors said when I asked about buying a film camera a couple of years ago, “Why buy a film camera at this stage when film is becoming more difficult to find and develop on your own?”
Now, there are a few things that are relevant when buying a digital camera. The main considerations are megapixel size, size and weight of camera, price, and flexibility.
Megapixels define how much information is captured in a particular image. The larger the megapixels, the better the quality of picture you will get and the larger you can print it. The key with this is to get as many megapixels as you can afford because you can’t upgrade your megapixels once you buy it. Note: Just because a camera has lots of megapixels doesn’t mean the pictures are sharp. You still have to consider the quality of the image being produced and the settings you use.
Size is an important piece of the camera search. You can get anything from very small, hand-sized cameras to large SLR cameras. It all depends on what your objectives are. Do you want an everyday, throw-in-your-pocket camera? Do you need a medium camera with more features but only one fixed lens? Or, do you need a larger camera will full flexibility and the ability to add different lenses over time? You need to answer these questions before you can decide what to buy. I recommend using a comparison site, like DP Review. DP Review gives you very in-depth reviews, comparison tools, and search tools to find the camera that meets your needs. DP Review can also help you compare cameras based on brands, as each has its strong points and weaknesses. Read the reviews for the one you are considering before taking the plunge.
Price is another driving factor. This is more of a personal decision and depends on your budget. However, you can look at buying a camera like buying a computer. You should buy the best camera you can afford when you buy it because it will last the longest. Gone are the days where you can use the same camera for 10-15 years. Most cameras are good for 3-4 years before they fall way behind the technology curve and you need to upgrade.
Personally, I use two different Canon cameras, Digital Rebel XTi and the Powershot A640. The Rebel XTI is an SLR which gives me the flexibility to buy new lenses while being relatively inexpensive and very fast. The Powershot A640 is my everyday camera. It is always in my backpack ready to use when I don’t have my Rebel. The reason I got the A640 was for its fold-out LCD which allows me to take very unique pictures, such as a shot from over my head that I can still control by using the adjustable LCD screen. Of course, both cameras, while not very old, are already surpassed by newer, sleeker models. That is to be expected in the digital world.
With the information above, you should be able to get your camera search started. Happy camera hunting!