Getting my priorities straight

Posted by Ines Opifantion Filed under Writings · Ramblings · Musings

Wow, more than two months have passed since my last blog post. I’m still a bit flabbergasted from my summer project and the media response. Now, that the dust has settled a bit, I took the chance to rethink and refocus. For the last few years, I had a strong focus for studio work, especially putting a lot effort (and time, money, health…) into the wet collodion process, a very old photographic process where images were captured on glass or tin (tintypes) while they were still wet.

While this process surely has a distinct look and feel, and is also very fullfilling by relying on your own hands’ work, I also started to feel that it was limiting me in an artistic view. The cumbersome way to operate a camera that weights almost the same as I do, the long exposure times and hazardous chemicals… it started to feel like a burden, not an opportunity. Ever so often I looked at the finished plates in disappointment, when thinking how much the image could have been improved with a few easy digital fixes, or by using another medium like film. I feel like I’m not the person anymore who can look at a plate and accept it as a finished product, no changes possible, even if there is room for improvement. I often thought – and still often think when seeing other people’s plates – “this image could have been so much better if it was made with another medium”. And this leaves me unsatisfied with my work. That is why I decided to let it go, for now. I have sold most of my wet plate gear, and all the chemicals. I only kept my huge 16×20″ studio camera, which is stored in a safe place.

The second big step I’ve done in the last few weeks was totally changing my gear. For the last (almost) 6 years, I shot with my very reliable Canon 5D Mark II. Because I worked mainly in a safe studio environment, it fullfilled all my needs without any problems. But as the on location work started to pour in, and with all the dog assignments, I really struggled with autofocus, dynamic range and resolution. I had bought most of my gear between 2009 and 2011 and just used it until now, most of it was still in a very good condition (I’m nice with my gear, lol :) ), but some was worn down over time and needed a replacement anyway. So I took a deep breath, sold off everything I had (lenses, Elinchromes, mobile flash, everything) and bought a Nikon D810 with only 2 lenses, 2 speedlights and one Einstein monohead. Over time, I’m planning to get another lens and two more Einsteins, but that’s it, that’s going to be my full gear in 2016. Because I believe that that will be all I need, and in case I ever require any other gear of a job, I’m still free to rent it any time. But more on that later.

And now, the third big change is, tadaaaa… I gave up my studio. Yep. All my friends say that I’m insane, because I have been mostly a studio shooter so far, and I think exactly this is a problem. If I can resort to a save studio space, I WILL. If I can choose between the save environment of my studio, with all my nice strobes and all, or an unknown location with unsteady factors like weather, environmental light, space issues, people that walk through my set and stare… guess what I would choose? Yep, the studio of course. So I need to let go and force myself to face the unpredictable. Yep, I’m totally sure that I’ll might lose clients. Yep, I’m totally sure I will curse about my decision some time in the future. Yep, I do remember that I drive a smart car that limits the amount of gear I can bring to a job – but on the other hand, isn’t that going to be the fun thing? Isn’t that what I wanted? I think it is! There is a little quote that I carry in my heart for many, many years, and I remember it before making any important decision:

“He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”

And so far, I went well with it.

A quick sign of life

Posted by Ines Opifantion Filed under Writings · Ramblings · Musings

Funny things have been happening. After working like a maniac during the last months, my photo series “The Dog People” has been featured on PetaPixel. That was very exciting, but I had no idea what would follow… So far, my images have been featured on “The Bored Panda“, “designboom“, “ViralNova“, “The Huffington Post“, “My Modern Met“, “Yahoo News“, “The Daily Mail“, as well als many online newsmagazines from Brazil, Spain, Poland, UK, US, Greece and even more. Really amazing and overwhelming.

It resulted in many lovely messages, a lot of traffic on my website, and quite a few email interviews.

One of the most asked questions, especially from americans, is “why are your participants naked”. Honestly, it makes me fall over laughing every time. Do you guys REALLY think my participants had to undress for the photos? Of course they didn’t. I asked them to bring clothes with straps that could slide over the shoulders easily. None of the female participants ever had to undress, so guys: Relax. No nipples were involved.
I think the bare shoulders add to the photos much more than any clothing ever could, mainly by not distracting the eye. Imagine there were 30 people, all wearing different clothing, with different colours, different materials and maybe different prints or patterns on it. Nope. Not a good look.

So far, so good. Back to work. A German television team will be filming a short clip about my project soon, so I have quite a lot stuff left to prepare :)

Bob

Posted by Ines Opifantion Filed under Personal work

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Meet Bob! This beautiful Weimaraner participated in my “Dog People” photo project today and he’s so handsome! Really, he is absolutely stunning and he knows it ;)
I’m really excited having to many people posing with their dogs, the next weeks will be so much fun!

Portfolio building on a budget – Part II

Posted by Ines Opifantion Filed under Personal work, Writings · Ramblings · Musings

Here is the first part of the post about portfolio building on a budget.

The Paper Choice

Finding the right paper was another endless task. In a last minute change-of-mind, I decided to make my portfolio in portrait orientation instead of the much more commonly used landscape orientation. Why? Because I realized, most of my current work is either in portrait orientation or square. It doesn’t work exceptionally well in landscape orientation. Shouldn’t be a problem, just turn the paper, right? Wrong, actually! When paper sheets are being cut from a big roll, the paper has a natural running direction. And if you plan to score your paper (which I need to do, as the the pages need to turn without cracking or making weird folds), you need to score the paper along the running direction. Otherwise, the paper surface will crack or tear, or bend in waves. Not good. And it happened that it is incredibly hard to find duo inkjet paper that can be scored along the long side. Sigh.

I finally got lucky with paper made by Tecco. It’s much cheaper than the Moab paper I prefered, but the prints still look incredibly good and it doesn’t feel as cheap as the price tag suggests. Paper costs: 40€ for 50 sheets. Plenty of paper, so you can risk wasting a few sheets. Paper type: Tecco:Photo PD305 Duo Matt 305gsm, DIN A3.

(Edit: After going through a test package from Hahnemuehle, I’m actually very glad I went with the Tecco paper. While the Hahnemuehle Photo Rag surely is an excellent paper, the duo paper just isn’t smooth enough for me. And their Ultrasmooth paper isn’t made for duo printing. So the Tecco paper is cheap, smooth, heavy AND prints well. I’m happy with the choice I made.)

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I also bought some thinner A3 paper (on the left) which I want to use for promo materials, but it isn’t listed in the costs as it isn’t for the book. And excuse the dog. She just sneaked in.

Tools

And finally, I needed some other tools and materials for finishing the book, which I’m going to list here:

Singe hole puncher: 5€

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Screws for the book: 5€

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A bone for scoring the paper: 4€

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Tiny magnets (for holding business cards): 3€
(oops, sorry for the dog hairs…)

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Colored paper for the first and last page: 1,50€

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Printing

The rest wasn’t that hard. I made a template in InDesign, where I could quickly drop in my images. It includes the marks for the hole punch. The images were put together with Pixellu’s Smart Albums, I downloaded the trial version and it’s really handy for designing image spreads. I’m planning to buy it in the future.

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In the beginning, I struggled with a slight magenta hue in the prints.

#printing my #portfolio #book #yay 😄

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After a few unsuccessful prints, I found out my printer prints best from InDesign when using the settings everybody says you shouldn’t use. Default, default, default, A3 borderless, matte paper, no paper profiles, Adobe RGB. I’m not going to ask why it works, I’m just enjoying the results. (Fun fact: using the exact same settings in Photoshop makes horrible prints. It must be some kind of voodoo.)

But when it works, the results are stunning.

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Scoring

Next important step is to score the paper. This is necessary to help the pages to bend along the score line. The scoring bord is really handy for this.

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After printing, scoring and punching the sheets, I drilled the holes into the wood (and rubber) for the screw posts. The screw posts are 2 cm long (measure: 2x 3mm wood + 2x 2mm rubber + 1cm paper height). I used a 6mm drill, the screws are 5mm.

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Putting it all together

Next step is to assemble to book and tighten the screws. Voila!

As a final touch, I glued the magnets to the inner back side of the wood. These are used to mount my business cards. If I need to leave one at a client’s or agency’s office, I can just take them off. They are small but quite strong, the cards won’t fall off by itself. Yay.

I edge-painted my #moo #luxe #mini #businesscards. Teal ftw 😆

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And now, this is my first book. I really like the wooden look, it is professional but with a down-to-earth feeling. I’m really proud and can’t wait to show it in person soon :)

Of course the process of extending it has just begun and it’s very easy with the printer and the screws. Could the book be prettier? Sure. Can you see it’s hand made? Yes! And that’s what I love about it! I put a lot of effort in it and I’m quite happy with the outcome. In fact, I am already planning a second book in landscape orientation for my personal work and side projects.

In conclusion, this is little DIY-project just went right. I spent a little over 250€ for making this book, but I still have a lot of paper left, and of course I calculated the printer into the budget which hopefully will last many pages to come. ;)

If I hadn’t done the book myself, I would have spent more than the same amount of money for the prints alone.

Costs for this book:

A quick recap of the costs so far:
– Scrap wood: 7€
– Laser etched logo: 32€
– Used printer: 50€
– Full set of Canon inks: 100€
– Single hole punch: 5€
– Sheet of rubber: 4€
– Glue: 6,50€
– Screws: 5€
– Magnets: 3€
– Paper: 40€
– Colored Paper: 1,50€
– Scoring bone: 4€
= approx 260€

In the very end, I spent a few bucks more, but not much. Some of the materials turned out not to be a perfect fit, or I changed my mind during the process. I probably “wasted” around 30€ but of course I can still use these things for other projects.
First, I bought some wood in the local DIY-store (10€) but realized that it was too soft and surely not as pretty as the wood I bought from the carpenter later. I had intended to stain it, so I bought wood stain and primer (10€), which I didn’t use because the carpenter’s wood is already darker and didn’t need staining. I also bought some mint-colored paper stock for the first and the last page, but then ended up buying some more blueish, turquoise paper because it fitted my CI better. Another thing I bought, but not especially for this book, is a scoring board. It’s very convenient to score paper with it if you don’t have a steady hand. It’s perfect for promos, cards, envelopes and such. Of course you can also score paper perfectly with just a ruler and a scoring bone, but I find using a scoring board very convenient. It costs around 20€ and I can highly recommend it.

Oh, and if you wonder about storing the book: I ordered a very usual and very standard A3 portfolio carrying back from Amazon for 25 bucks. I’m not counting it to the costs because you don’t necessarily need it, but until I found a better solution, I’ll go with it. I’m thinking about making a wooden slide-in box or something like that, but for carrying the book around I think the portfolio case will offer good protection from rain or accidentally bumping it around.

I’ll finish this post with a few pictures of the book’s details and prints. I hope you enjoyed reading this, I surely did enjoy making my book :)

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PS: The Canon ink set lasted until the very last picture of the book. Lucky me. The ink warnings started when I had 3 pictures left to print and now, 2 cartridges are completely empty. The other 8 ones still have around 1/4 of their filling. Just in case you’re curious about how much you can print with these tiny canon cartridges, the full set lasted 40 full A3 pages for my book (4 Pages are text, 36 are images, most are full bleed), 6 more full bleed images that I had to reprint because of beginner struggles or computer crashes, roughly 5 full bleed A4 pages, a full bleed 5×7″, 3 6×4″ cards and a bunch of test images I while and after cleaning the print head.

Portfolio building on a budget – Part I

Posted by Ines Opifantion Filed under Personal work, Writings · Ramblings · Musings

There is a saying that goes “if you don’t have a portfolio, you are not in business”. Of course, nowadays, everybody has a working website where clients can browse through your images whenever they want. But if you are invited to an agency or client meeting, you don’t want them to quickly flip through digital images on an iPad or computer screen. You want to impress them with high quality prints on beautiful paper, you want them to hold the images, to feel the paper weight and texture, you want to convey the impression of value. And, if you are on a budget, you still want to make your portfolio book look impressive and not cheap.

Research!

I spent a lot of time researching before deciding on the materials I used. I knew right from the beginning that most traditional portfolio books weren’t an option for me. As a person that avoids most animal products, leather wasn’t an option from the start. Not even faux leather, as the look is too obtrusive in my opinion. And cloth bound books are not really my personal taste, they remind me of old school textbooks, even though I must admit that I came across a few very beautifully made ones during my web researches.

Materials

Currently, acrylic cover books seem to grow in popularity steadily, and I surely played with the thought of using them. However, glossy acrylics is very sensitive to scratching, even moving it around on a normal desk can scratch the surface and nothing looks worse than a glossy surface full of micro scratches. Of course, these tiny scratches could be polished out with a little time, patience and a ridiculously expensive acrylics care kit from the seller, but I think I can imagine some more interesting tasks than repolishing my portfolio cover after every use, to keep it looking spotless. So, no acrylics for me.

I then stumbled over some bamboo wood portfolio covers and liked the idea immidiately. But instead of using ready made bamboo books, I decided to make my own wooden book with some darker wood, that fitted my taste. Of course, it was also cheaper than using ready made portfolio books, but more importantly, after spending so much time with researching options, I wanted to have an unique book in the end, that didn’t have to be perfect, but my very own. If you are located in the US, I recommend taking a look at Etsy, I saw quite a few sellers offer beautiful wooden custom portfolios. But the shipping cost to Germany is simply too much to consider it.

And while we are talking about costs: In the very end, I spent roughly 265€ for my finished book. That includes ALL the materials I used. Including wood, laser etching and paper. It’s actually around the same price as only the prints would have cost me if I had them done at a lab. And it includes the printer I bought (used), too. ;)

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Starting out

So, let’s get to the details.

I found the perfect wood at the carpenter down the road, he sold and cut some scrap material for me for the ridiculous cheap price of 7€. This wood is looking really beautiful and I decided against staining it darker, I like the natural look of it.

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Next task was to find a person who could laser etch my logo into the wood. I found a super nice guy with a workshop only 10 minutes from my home, so I wouldn’t have to ship the wood. I just dropped it off at his shop and watched the magic happen. 32€ including sales tax. Take a look at his shop at welovelaser.de, pretty cool stuff. If you need custom laser engraving, message him, he’ll make it happen!

After the logo was etched into the wood, I coated it with a single coating of linseed oil. It’s more natural-looking than laquering the wood and I didn’t want to have a glossy or delicate look. Another nice bonus is that the logo really stands out now, as the oil enhances the look of the texture. Depending on the angle you hold it, the logo is either dark on light ground, light on dark ground, or almost invisible. Cool effect.

Assembling the book:

Next step: Actually making the physical book. I bought a sheet of rubber for connecting the wood. The connection needed to be flexible, thin and resistant. Plus, it shouldn’t be staining the paper. Most people seem to use leather for this, I chose 2mm flexible black rubber. Cost for a sheet (50x30cm): ±4€. This is plenty of rubber.

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I also bought some special glue for the rubber, cost: 6,50€
Don’t use common glue that hardens, it will either eat the rubber or break away from the stress of opening and closing the book.

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Now, the actual book making:

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Aligning the wood and making sure everything is levelled evenly. Then mark the lines and cut the rubber.

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Applying the glue and let it sit for a few minutes.

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Glueing the wood to the rubber. Fix it so it doesn’t move.

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Straight view of the book’s cover.

Thoughts about the printing process

I wasn’t overly excited over the thought of using cheap c-prints from the lab and mounting them myself. First, you never know if the lab prints turn out just how you want them, second, they are single sided and need to be mounted and third, mounting them is the source of countless frustrations and can make your book look horribly amateurish if not done well. Mounting prints for a book really isn’t easy if you want to keep up a professional level and if you give it to a pro (which I recommend if you aren’t skilled in it), it costs serious €€€.

A lot of people still seem to use clear plastic sheets in their books, but honestly, I hate them (the plastic stuff, not the people!
;) ). I think they are the easiest way to make quality work look cheap and shitty. I can understand some artists use them to protect their delicate charcoal images and it helps pencil drawings not to smear and dirty up the book, but for photographers, they are not acceptable. At least this is how I feel about them.

So, I knew I’d like to use double sided high quality inkjet prints. These aren’t cheap, I have asked around and the quotes were around 280€ – 400€ for around 20 single(!) pages.

As my book is going to be a screw-post book, that will hopefully be updated on a regular basis, I also didn’t like the idea having to order the new pages every time. You don’t know if the paper will match, the printing quality will stay the same, or the size you want will be available forever. And, of course, using the book and handling the pages WILL lead to tears, folds, dirt and fingerprints. I’m really not one of those people that hand out gloves for clients before they get to touch their portfolio, that’s a weird No-No for me. (Like making the client feel he has dirty fingers or something.) I do know that the paper will get stained and I do know that I will have to replace spreads from time to time, so constantly re-ordering pages for 14€ a piece doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

DIY Printing

My conclusion so far: Print it yourself. Unfortunately, I didn’t own a printer. Yet! I found some used Canon Pixma Pro 9500 Mark II on the local classifieds. It was used with cheap and empty cartridges and the print head was clogged. With a little love, time and windex, I got the head cleaned. Bought the printer for fantastic 50€, as I knew the print head might be damaged and a replacement would have cost me 100€. But I was lucky, the old print head is now working fine. I spent the saved 100€ on a full set of original Canon inks (which I will carefully refill with quality ink from Octo-Inkjet once they are empty).

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Part II

So, what’s left on the todo list?

Yeah, right: Choosing and editing the pictures, layouting them, printing them. Scoring and punching the paper, drilling the holes, adding the screws. Then, stepping back and marveling on my book. Easy, right? Let’s see!

Part II is right here: Portfolio building on a budget part II

Rudi, a cool little fella

Posted by Ines Opifantion Filed under Personal work

Rudi

Yesterday, I photographed “Rudi”, a very friendly and lovely English Bulldog. I’m still working on my printed book and I feel a little stuck currently, because a lot of stuff is happening all around me and I’m mostly busy fixing things and putting out fires, which is a little frustrating. So, actually being out photographing and not having to deal with administrative tasks feels very good and I have missed this for quite some time.

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