Thursday, April 7, 2011

Variations---How to get a different look & feeling in a photograph

Fun. I think that is really the core reason why so many of us photograph. Let's face it, it is a downright blast, right!? We get to see things that other people never get a chance to, and often times only dream of seeing the things we do. We are lucky, very lucky my friends. It all comes back to the core belief though that we all do this to have fun, and one of the ways I like to enjoy that 'fun' it to be rather experimental when I am processing. It is honestly amazing the different thought provoking/emotional stimulating kind of photographs you can get from using different techniques in post work.

If you want to take a joyride sometime, try processing the scene not as you just saw it, but also work it. Convert it to B&W, add in a little softness, split tone the image, do some creative cropping, dodge and burn, all of which will give a very different look, feel and emotional appeal to the viewer. This is one thing I dearly love using Lightroom 3 for, it is honestly made for stuff like this with the built in split tone settings, the ability to color shift a precise exactness, the ability to soften exact parts of a photograph using the clarify settings.

To have a better understanding of exactly what I am talking about, see the shots below. Just remember, have some fun, be creative, and most of all enjoy yourself! After all, it is what it's all about, right?


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Friday, April 1, 2011

deviantART vs. RedBubble vs. flickr

First off a disclaimer;

I am not going to be biased at all in this, but will take a very hard look and compare all 3 sites, as I have been a member on all 3 for some time now. Each site has it's good and it's bad sides, and I wish to explore and examine those as best as I can. This is aimed at the serious photographer 25+ in age, please keep that in mind when reading this.

Let's face it, as photographers we all want a place to show and post our work. Our own little place on the internet that is easy to get to that we can call home. Often times these are in community atmospheres where we meet other like minded individuals, where we share our thoughts and our art. Today I would like to take a look at 3 of these which are perhaps the largest of their kind. deviantART redbubble and of course, flickr This post has been a LONG time coming and for he last few days I have been busy gathering information for it, to compare all 3 sites, and to draw conclusions. I want to examine the good, the bad, and the downright horribly ugly of each. You may be rather shocked at what you find within the article, so let's move on.

Homepage Presentation

flickr-- If simplicity is award winning then they would probably win it. It is set up completely straight forward with no glitz at all. I like this, it allows for a very easy approach with knowing what you are getting yourself in to before you even really browse the site to begin with. There only seems to be one ad that I can see with all ad blocking off, and oddly enough it an ad for a camera. Imagine that on site to host photos!

redbubble--- As the motto states on the front of their page; "Living Art: Share It, Wear It, Hang It." I like that, I like that a lot. Absolutely no advertising at all from outside sources, I like that too. There is of course what some would call adverts for "buy wall art" and "buy T-shirts". However that is the point of RedBubble to begin with, a community marketplace where artists can sell their work. (more about that later)

deviantART-- One trip to the homepage here and it tells me it is different than the others, with quite a wide array of art shown. It does seem odd to me when compared to the other sites, that there are several images which obviously contain adult content and are greyed out with a lock. There is some in house advertising, nothing huge. The Llama keychain has me intrigued and makes me wonder what that is about on an art site? It certainly doesn't fit the front page at all. Then again either does a Llama T-shirt? It seems fairly nice from a navigation standpoint but also much more intense than flickr and redbubble, as there is no splash page at all.

--- This is tough, I certainly wouldn't give it to deviantART though, but rather a toss up between RedBubble and Flickr. DeviantART seems different than the others with a wide focus on everything art. Not so much about photography, per say. RedBubble on the other hand is also a very diverse community, but it doesn't overwhelm you with the splash page and showcases what seem to be features of the day, slowly rotating 1 by 1 with a certain theme, today seems to be trains as example. Flickr is just one simple image which seems to be taken from their explore section (popular photos)

The winner--RedBubble.

Image presentation

This is a very interesting comparison here as all 3 sites have a VERY different way of showing images. Let's take a look at these.

deviantart--- First thing that comes to my mind is the image that I posted below some time ago on my own personal deviantART account (click for larger image)  which is a comparison between DA and my website host zenfolio. Zenfolio is geared just for photographers so I thought this would be a very interesting comparison. The first thing you notice is that the image on DA is VERY soft and there is loss of detail and sharpness when compared to the image hosted on zenfolio. This is bad, this is VERY bad. As photographers we are as anal as it gets about how our images appear, especially sharpened. There isn't another form of art who's artists are so worried about this, than photographers. Oddly enough it seems to affect jpegs more than it does png files from my personal experience. Also about DA is that you never really seem to know what you are getting when you click an image, if the thing is going to be 9000px on the longest side or 300px on the longest side. There is absolutely no uniformity at all. Is that good or bad? It would depend on how you want to look at it. I am on the fence with that one myself, I can see it going both ways. I do like that there are 'share this' features enabled, that is very handy, and those which are shared on twitter actually show a thumbnail of the image itself on twitter. Handy. Kudos on that. Same with facebook as well.

One thing that I think really does DA in badly other than this with the re-size issue and quality, is just how encased peoples artwork is in adverts. Honestly, is the showcase the art or the adverts itself? From schools to cell phone, to ads that flash....this is the big downfall. Without question, THIS is not only bad, it is God forsaken awful. Case in point, see the screen cap below to see what it is I am talking about and please click it for a larger size. However it gets worse....

There is something that I personally find VERY unethical going on here...and by that I mean extremely. Sadly many on deviantART are not even aware it is happening, I would say 99.5% percent aren't from my experiences. I am not quite sure what gives deviantART the right to think that they can make money off my images and use them as a lead in for a reseller program to but that is exactly what they are doing with each and every single photograph that is put up on deviantART that contains EXIF info. This is downright sleazy. Shouldn't *I* as an artist say how my images are being used within a commercial environment? You had better believe it. It is, after all, MY intellectual property. They could have went the way of flickr and actually done it correctly, where clicking on a images exif info takes you to basically a search feature within flickr to find others who are using the exact same camera as you are. Did they? Of course not. As an example of what flickr does, see here and click on where it says "Nikon D90". You come to the flickr camera finder. Pretty sweet if you ask me.


redbubble--- Good old RB has a few issues from what I have heard though I must admit I haven't really experienced anything myself. Basically some say that RB over-sharpens images. The way RB works is that you upload the largest file possible (as you would want to do as you make prints and certain items like greeting cards available for sale, which need high resolution images) You basically then have 2 sizes which are displayed, a smaller version which can be clicked on to show a larger version. Both naturally have been auto re-sized down to a certain size which is implemented site wide for uniformity. The pages themselves are VERY clean with no adverts at all in them to speak of. I like that, that is a huge plus. There is the ocassional group banner saying someone has been featured in a group, which can be deleted (not hidden!) if the artist wishes to. Again, nice that RB allows for such a function. One thing that can be good or it can be bad depending on how you look at it. RB does not support EXIF at all, so when you upload an image, there is nothing saying what kind of camera the shot was taken with, what f-stop, iso, etc. I guess that would be a bummer if you really were interested in that (you could always 'bubblemail' the person and ask) or if you are of the frame of mind where the image is the only thing which really matters. Share features which can be automatic the very second you upload something, which will post on your facebook wall. Share features to twitter as well, however no thumbnails show up which is kind of a bummer.

Below is the screen cap of how art appears on RB, quite clean and quite easy to understand. Again, please click for a larger size image.

flickr--- Flickr is rather neat with how it displays images. There are several things which really stand out. I really like the fact that you are able to view a slideshow of the images, one that is seemingly lag free too and very easy to navigate. It is actually on par with the slideshow I have through zenfolio. Very straight forward approach with only the bare essentials, including the ability grab a long url to an image or a short url. Very nice. I like the ease of which it is to navigate within sets and collections, everything is at my fingertips. Thumbnail integration to facebook and flickr, very nice. A selected few images have advertsing in the form of a Casio camera ad, odd that it seems to be hit or miss though. Overall, very nice and very simple! I enjoy that!

Conclusion--- Again, DA loses the battle here as well with it's incredible amount of advertising bordering on perversion. Ads take away from the art, and do so in a very drastic way, especially when they flash and are anything BUT related to the image at hand (seriously, The Vanguard Group?? Which is an investment firm??) Stuff like this reminds of the days of AOL in the mid-90s. I guess some companies haven't learned yet by the mistakes which others have made have they? RedBubble is good, really good, actually. Very clean, simple to navigate, and just easy. My choice though for this one goes to Flickr. I like that everything is perfectly easy to get to, all within a mouse gesture away. It's navigation is easy and minimal. Then again though this is flickr, the very site which has built it's reputation on ease of use.

The winner--flickr

Features among sites.

Now let's dig in and get to where the getting is good! All 3 sites offer a very unique user experience. Bare with me here as this is going to be especially long, but it will give you a good inside look into each specific one.

There are good sides to it and very bad sides to it. The good is very good while the bad is...well....awful. Basically DA prides itself on having what they call the best community around essentially. I find that to be a yes and a no. There was once a time when DA was the only site around that really had what they awesome sense of community where people feel like family. That is still true in a sense, but it is NOT the only site which is like that these days (enter RedBubble here as example) The community itself is awesome, I will make no bones about that, and it is one of the very best. It is also one of the very worst at the same time, too. People on the website get trolled all day long (as an example, let us look at this group here  ) Now if this woul dhappen on flickr or RedBubble it would be deleted faster than you can say "What's a polarizer??!" There is so much leniency on DA that half the time it seems like the rules are made up as they go along, disregarded completely, or just overlooked. DA relies on features that puts the power in peoples hands with the ability to block people. This however doesn't solve the problem, but rather is like painting over rust on a car. They are free to go on and troll and bully others...on and on. If we look at a comparison between DA and say RedBubble with their user agreement which is found here for inappropriate conduct you will see it reads;

RedBubble does not manually screen content before it is displayed on
the website so occasionally members may inadvertently or deliberately
submit and display content that breaches this agreement.

Inappropriate content includes, but is not limited to, content that
infringes the copyright or other intellectual property rights of any
person or company, or that defames or vilifies any person, people,
races, religion or religious group, is obscene, pornographic, indecent,
harassing, threatening, harmful, invasive of privacy or publicity
rights, abusive, inflammatory or otherwise objectionable.

Please help us by letting us know straight away about any
inappropriate, or potentially inappropriate, content you see on the

You can do this by clicking the "report this work as inappropriate" link that will be displayed beside each piece of art.

If you believe your copyright or other intellectual property rights
are being infringed, you are able to make a formal complaint, or request
an agent to make a complaint on your behalf, by using the 'report a
concern' button displayed with each work.

In other words, RB deletes and bans people right away for anything which is deemed offensive. Including things of say a Nazi nature which is all find and dandy to upload to DA as long as it doesn't say something along the lines of kill people of a certain race. Also notice the word "inflammatory" in that too? Food for thought. But I do believe that DA is to understaffed and not stringent enough on things.

This being said....if you try to simply concentrate on the art and communication itself, DA can be wonderful. Most of the people I have come across on DA are wonderful and very supporting. I have met some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life on DA, and I have made many a very close personal friend on there. For me, it seems like there are really 2 DA's...the people who support you as an artist and the way it is ran. And they are VERY different. DA and the way that is ran is one thing I will openly admit I have a huge problem with, especially how everything is a gigantic money grab...from "needs premium mmebership" to the outright refusal to let artists sell their artwork on things like T-Shirts because it would interfere with sales of devwear (T-shirts which feature the deviantart brand) That alone tells me that they are more concerned with that than actually helping artists. (again insert, "meanwhile on redbubble" here..) The people though that make up the site are first class, mostly. The age group is very wide, ranging from 13 to 133 (probably) and with that comes it's good and it's bad. However just be prepared for anything from incredible landscapes to sketches done in Crayon of Sonic on notepad paper. They offer a critique system (sadly you have to be a paid "premium member" to really utilize) and free members are basically given the advert laden version of the site with limited browsing abilities and features. They offer groups as well. But honestly, out of all 3 sites, they are the worst when it comes to having such a feature. Flickr and RedBubble bother offer groups for free and so does DA, but DA also has a "super group" option that allows for things like custom CSS and the ability to display thumbnails in the 'blog' of the group. However that cost is ridiculously steep at $59.95 a year (launch price, after that it goes up to a $100 give or take)  Now to me that is just insane. Sorry but it is. Group messages also clog ones message center completely, and actually takes away from personal interaction on the site. There is the ability to disable that, but then why be in a group to begin with? RedBubble and Flickr very much have the groups thing figured out. Flickr more so with them often being a complete wealth of knowledge. It is like they have taken every photography forum out there and made them groups. Look at this as example as discussions go. RedBubble offers something very similar too. DA offers nothing like it with teh ability to communicate with members and for members to ask questions, for that they must ask in a blog post...awkward and very redundant.

The one side up that DA really does on everywhere else is the ability to communicate, Direct communication at that too. Currently no other site offers this like DA does with direct commenting and the ability to respond in page to someones comments. They honestly have the whole communication platform nailed to a tea. And maybe that is why DA is now referring to themselves along with others as a Social Network these days and not an art site so much.

DA also has a news section, which really isn't news that much of the time but rather a bunch of spam featuring images. It has it's good and it's bad, depending on how you look at it. Neither flickr or RB have such a thing.

Getting help when you do have a problem on DA is not the easiest thing to do. There once was a help forum, but that was taken offline awhile back. Now you have to send in a "help desk ticket" which can often take weeks to get a reply or in some cases, months. By way of contrast, help on RB is one simple post in the forums and within 24 hours you have a response from the admins, this can also be done via email on RB, and the time is often even quicker. Flickr is a tad slower than RB, but still better than DA. For copyright concerns, it can often take a LONG time to hear anything back, and there is a lot of art floating around on DA which is theft, but is not taken down because DA needs to hear from the original copyright holder. RB by way of example has a 0 zero tolerance policy that if it is not yours you have 0 business posting that. I like that. I like that a lot. Flickr is kind of similar to DA in a sense but much faster. 

Professionalism between the sites is day and night. Flickr has had it's issues with suddenly deleting content with no warning at all ...this is not good. Bad, very bad. DA on the other is more a respect factor than anything and immaturity factor with often times language of a sexual nature being used in comments on photos and from the staff itself. Case in point, this here and the link contained within. Cute huh? Language on flickr and RB is not an issue that I ever seen, ever. Maybe it has something to do with the large age range, I am not sure. Possible? 

DA also seems to be geared towards the kiddies the most, with things like Llama badges and such, something which makes no sense to me on an art site other than another money grab to buy little cute accessories to dress your little Llama badge up with. Flickr is a mix of professional and amateur, but does not cater to a specific age range at all, rather they cater to everyone. RedBubble? The most serious of the 3 sites without question.

Selling your art is an interesting contrast between the 3 sites. Flickt forbids any commercial anything at all (bad...bad on them) where as DA charges for a premium prints account to actually make anything substantial, otherwise they keep most of the profits. RedBubble, they get my nod for selling on. The site itself is completely 100% free and it costs nothing to sell on there. RB gets a 50s% take in any sales you make and you can sell at whatever royalty % you wish to. My profits on RB are about 7-10x the amount of sales which I get on DA. again blame it on the age factor I suspect. Flcikr relies heavily not so much on flickr but the outward reach of the site itself, the ability to use your images on external websites such as a gallery or on photoblogs. DA and RB really offer no such functionality with their API. There are more Greasemonkey scripts for flickr than you can even begin to imagine. 

The winner--none, each has it's strengths and weaknesses.

Final verdict---

Honestly for the serious photographer, DA is NOT the way to go. It is to encased with adverts to really show your images looking at their absolute best. To get the full function of the site, you have to buy a membership. Heaven knows also what kinds of comments you will have on your images too...and the last thing you want is someone dropping the F bomb when you go to show your grandma your photos, or worse yet, an art director/publisher. These are 2 of the reason why I personally quit sending people to my DA site. These days I send them to RedBubble or my personal website. Many professional photographers use flickr, and it is easy to understand why also. There is no commitment to 'play the game' to comment for comment, or fav for fav BS going on. Perhaps it explains why so many publishers (American Photo as example) have a flickr stream. The ability to upload images straight from Lightroom with all metadata such as keywords intact and cell phone capability with browsing, blows everything else out of the water. It is great for showing your photos, but it is awful for selling as it is against flickr's TOS. And then we come to RedBubble....

RedBubble is like taking the best things from DA and some of flickr and improving upon that in terms of functionality. What DA gives you a taste of (groups) RB does perfectly. It is a perfect blend of end user functionality mixed with the tools to sell fine art prints. For a website itself as a host, RB takes the cake, For outside functionality, nothing will touch flickr. RedBubble has a killer community and one where you have no worries about being trolled or having awful language posted on a photo you upload. People are very nice and respectful and are always encouraging. I have always said that if I could take those on DA that I have become friends with and move them to RB, I would do so in a heartbeat. Who knows, maybe after they read this, they will take those steps themselves. Because in my opinion, RB is what DA SHOULD be.

It all comes down to what you want in a site. If you want to talk to other people and meet friends, then DA is your place. If you want feedback on your work of an honest nature, that is a toss up between all 3. If you want to REALLY sell your work, RB is the place to go. It all comes down to you in the end.

Winners--Flickr and RB for the serious photographer.

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