Thursday, May 31, 2007

Innovative Movie Rental Service - CineNow

I recently discovered the movie rental machine at Yew Tee Shopping centre. You can rent VCDs and/or DVDs for as low as $2.00. There are many new/recent movies available, some recent titles include Casino Royale, Just Follow Law.

I got hooked by this rental service. Whenever I am free, I will rent a movie to watch. That helped me catch up with most of the movies I wanted to watch but missed. Pirates of the Caribean I & II, Casino Royale, X-Men III, Happy Feet, The Day after Tomorrow...

The new releases are at $2.00 each if you return the movie within 6 hours, the rest are at $2.49 - $3.00 each. At this price, it is cheaper than the pirated DVDs from Johor Bahru, which is at RM6.00-7.00 each (~$3.00). The concept is definitely good. Most of the time, there is a small queue at the machine. I also saw some new sign-ups. Looks like this business is taking off.

What differentiates this service with the normal movie rental service offered by DVD/VCD shops is its 24/7 availability. You can even rent or return a movie in the wee hours of the day.

For more details, check out their website:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Microstock: Copyrights

Microstock photography is a creative industry, where protection of intellegent property is of utmost importance. Just as you don't want others to infringe your rights, you should not infringe others' rights either. Copyright is a big topic, I will try to summarize everything into a few areas for your reference.

First, I will start with the simple and obvious. You should not include the following in your stock photos.

1. Any logos or brand names (famous or unknown). Your friendly MacDonald, the popular KFC, etc should all be excluded from your stock photos.

2. Properties. If you have a photo of a particular house, or building, you should always accompany your submission with a properly signed property release as evidence that the owner of the property has given you the permission to use the photo for commercial purpose.

3. Any recognizable person. Whoever that you shoot, as long as his/her face is recognizable in the photo, you should always accompany your submission with a properly signed model release. Sample releases are available at every microstock site's web page.

ShutterStock has a special category called 'Editorial shots'. For photos in this category, you are not required to have a property release or a model release. For example, the photo below will not be accepted without a model release if this 'editorial' category does not exist. Do not get it wrong, it is not a loophole they purposely open. Only news worthy photos will be accepted in this category. Some may ask, can I submit those photos that I took of children from some third world country? The answer is No, unless you have a model release.

The above are the obvious. What are the less obvious then?

1. Historical buildings or landmarks.

Museum Louvre has no copyright, but if you include the glass pyramid, then it is a different story. The pyramid is copyrighted. You want to use the image, get permission from the relevant authorities. Another example is the Effiel Tower. Effiel Tower itself is not copyrighted, by the lighting of Effiel Tower is! So photographers be aware, don't step on somebody's rights unknowingly.

2. Copyrighted objects. This is even wider. Toys, statues, figurines, etc, they all fall into this category. Do some research before you happily start shooting your favourite doll.

3. Animals. This is one aspect that most of the photographers will not notice. Some zoos do reserve the rights of the images of their animals. It is one way for them to raise some funds for the upkeep of the zoo. You may ask, how the hell will they know it is their animal? Well, thanks to human cruelty, many animals are at the binge of extinction. Those that survive may reside in only a particular zoo. So next time, check out whether the zoo you are visiting reserves the copyright of their unique animals.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Please drop by when you are free, my dear friend...朋友有空来坐坐

Feeling tired from work, from the radio, I heard this song by Jiang Yu-Heng 姜育恒 - Please drop by when you are free, my dear friend. Here I share with you all my friends this song. Do reserve some time from your busy schedule for your friends and family. They are the most important people in your life.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Microstock: Min Resolution

Different microstock sites have different requirements on the minimum resolution of photos. The table below summarizes their requirements.

Microstock Site Min Resolution Req'd
iStockPhoto1600 pixels x 1200 pixels
ShutterStock4 Mega Pixels
Dreamstime4 Mega Pixels
BigStockPhoto800 pixels across
123rf2200 pixels x 1700 pixels

To find out what resolution your photo is at, you can open the photo in PhotoShop, go to Edit -> Image Size, a window will pop-up. Look at the pixel dimensions. Use the width times the Height then you will get the image resolution. The numbers in the table above are the minimum sizes required, if you have a higher resolution photo, don't downsize it unless necessary. It may affect the photo's sales potential. However, sometimes you have to resort to downsizing in order to minimize noise and image compression.

The trend in image resolution is it is going up. Just about a year ago, the minimum resolution required at ShutterStock was only 2.5 MegaPixels, now they raised it up to 4 MegaPixels for all the new contributing photographers.

Technology is changing fast in this age. We had seen digital cameras evolved from a mere 1.3MegaPixels to 10MegaPixels. Make full use of your camera before it becomes obsolete :)

An additional point to add, don't have the wrong impression that microstock is only for digital photos. They accept photos scanned from slides and films too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Splendid Yunnan Part IV - GuanFang Villa

This is Part IV of the Splendid Yunnan series. You can find Part I, Part II, Part III.

Take a look at the beautiful garden in the picture above, guess what it is? It is not an ordinary garden, but a garden in the GuanFang Villa in Lijiang, Yunnan. GuanFang Villa is a service-apartment type of accommodation for the tourists, equivalent to a 5-star hotel. It consists of a group of 2-story villas for tourists, and 3-story villas for private residents. The architecture is predominantly traditional Chinese. Living in GuanFang Villa makes you feel time has gone back to the Ming or Qing Dynasties, but with the 21st century comforts.

From your window, you can see the peak of the Yulong mountain (Jade Dragon Snowy Mountain) immersed in the golden morning sunshine.

Each villa has a beautifully decorated facade in traditional Dali style. There are two twin-share bed rooms and one suite on the 2nd floor. The suite has a spacious living room, which you can see in the photo below, and a twin-share bed room.

There are two twin-share bed rooms, one common living room, one dining room, a kitchen and a rest room on the ground floor. Broadband internet is available for free use. I was very amazed by their connection speed, it was fast! However, I had a bit of bad luck during my stay there. When I used the broadband service for the second time, the speed went to a crawl. Foreign networks were completed unreachable. Only days later, I got to know that the undersea cable was damaged by a major earthquake in Taiwan. Too bad ;P

A unique feature of GuanFang Villa is each villa/unit also has a dedicated housekeeper to take care of the entire place, he/she will prepare the breakfast every morning for the guests. The photo below shows we were enjoying our breakfast in the dining area, the living room is at the back.

If you are traveling with a group of friends, it is more economical to rent an entire villa unit to yourselves. The rate is actually better than GuanFang Hotel (a 5-star hotel) rate.

At the end of this post, I must ask my readers whether I had made a mistake in some of the pictures, in terms of photo-taking techniques. Go spot the mistake :)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Microstock: Being Paid

The big day has come, your efforts are being paid off, it is time for you to receive your payment from the microstock sites. How will you be paid?

Almost all the microstock sites have a minimum payment requirement. This means you must earn up to a minimum amount before you can request for a payment. The minimum amount varies from site to site as well as payment modes.

In general, there are three modes of payment:

a) A check by an American bank
b) Paypal
c) Moneybooker

Paypal and Moneybooker are electronic money transfers which post smaller overheads to both the microstock sites and the photographers. For example, in Singapore where I reside, it costs about US$50.00 to cash a check issued by a foreign bank. This cost goes up higher in less developed countries.

Paypal is my personal preferred payment mode. The transfer is fast, it only takes a day or two for the money to go into my paypal account. The payment is in US dollars. I can either keep the money in my Paypal account to fund my online purchases or convert the US dollars into Singapore dollars and directly deposit them into my Singapore bank account. It is convenient, but the exchange rate is less favourable than the published rate or the street rate.

Opening a basic Paypal account is free of charge. There are some restrictions on the basic account. You have a withdrawal limit of US$500.00 per month without paying an extra fee or an upgrade to the business account.

The table below shows the minimum amount required before you can make a payment request for the various sites and payment modes. ShutterStock has the highest minimum amount required to ask for a check payment. Just a few months ago, that amount was still US$100.00, then they feel US$100.00 is too small a sum for all the hassles to issue a check. In addition, it is not very beneficial for some photographers who are from Eastern Europe, where they have to pay a hefty sum to cash their American checks. With the fast sales at ShutterStock, it is not really a problem to reach US$300.00. Just a side note, ShutterStock is the only site that you do NOT need to make a payment request. Once your earnings reach the default minimum amount, or the minimum amount you have specified in your account setting, they will automatically make the payment at the end of the month.

Microstock SiteCheckPaypalMoneyBooker

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Microstock: Royalty-Free Photos

The core of the microstock industry is Royalty-Free, without it, the microstock industry would not be existent. What is Royalty-Free? Royalty-free, to my layman's understand, means the buyer will pay the photographer a small sum for a one-time, non-exclusive use of the photograph, and the photographer retains all the rights related to the photograph. A more elaborate explanation can be found from wikipedia Royalty Free entry. The non-exclusive term enables the photograph to be sold to as many customers as possible through as many microstock sites as you wish. Almost everyone in the microstock field submit to more than one microstock site. It is a well-known fact. However, some microstock sites do provide some incentives for their contributors to go exclusive with them. Both Dreamstime and iStockPhoto offer contributor higher rates if you go exclusive with them.

As royalty-free photos are non-exclusive, the same photograph can be used by many designers. What kind of probability would the same picture appear at the same time at the same place? Great minds think alike, sometimes it does cause some embarrasment. A few months ago, two rival American banks used exactly the same photograph for their promotion campaigns. Some red faces there.

By the way, I have categorized my postings and labelled them accordingly. You can find the postings in the same category by clicking on the labels on the navigation bar on the left.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

My DIY Gary Fong's Lightsphere

Being unwilling to cough out 90 bucks for an original Gary Fong Lightsphere, nor 45 bucks for an imitation product, I DIY one for myself, using some cheap and easily available materials. This was inspired by the Strobist DIY spirit. That's how my DIY lightsphere looks like.

Courtesty of a fellow photography hobbyist, Mr Raw Bean, I have this sample picture using my DIY lightsphere. The light is well diffused. Harsh shadows are somehow minimised.

How do I do it? Here is the simple procedure:

1. Save the plastic bowl from your Chinese take-away food

2. Cut a hole at the bottom of the plastic bowl. The size of the hole depends on which flash you are using. Just make sure that the hole fits your flash light well.

3. Place tissue paper or tracing paper on the lid. How many layers of tissue paper depends on how much light you want to let through. You can experiment with this even after you finish your final product, and you change when your needs change.

4. Put the lid back. Voila, here is your DIY lightsphere. It will cost you a bowl of take-away noodle, a few cents for the tissue paper or tracing paper, and some scotch tapes to tidy up the edges.

Please tell me what you think of this, any improvement suggestion will be most welcome. By the way, you can find the original Gary Fong products at his site:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Too many things to do, too little time...

I surprised myself completely. When I started this blog one or two weeks ago, I thought I would run out of things to talk about very fast, however, as it turned out, I have more things to write about than I thought. Writing about my travels last year had taken up a lot of my time, yet I am still writing about the trip to Yunnan, not even started anything on Cambodia or Vietnam. There is so much information that I would like to share with others.

The amount of work that a blog demands surprised me, too. I basically glue myself to the computer whenever I have the time, to prepare photos for this blog, to get more useful information related to my entries. All these sound so simple and effortless, but when I actually do it myself, it is time-consuming.

Let's share a moment of tranquility through this photo.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Splendid Yunnan Part III - Li Shui Jin Sha(丽水金沙)

This is Part III of the Splendid Yunnan series. You can find Part I, Part II, Part IV

A few years ago, a major earth quake struck Lijiang, the statue of Chairman Mao and the theatre where Mao's hand is pointing at were the two only man-made structures that were not damaged. That earth quake was so serious that it attracted the attention of the international media. From then on, Lijing became famous in the international arena. An old Chinese saying fits well here: Luck is where trouble originates, trouble is where luck originates (福兮,祸之所倚;祸兮, 福之所倚)

A performance titled "Li Shui Jin Sha" that showcases the beauty of the different ethnic minorities living in Yunnan are staged at the Lijing theatre every night. Yunnan is a province of great diversity. Geographically, it is bordering Laos, Vietnam, and Burma. Historically, there was a Dali Kingdom (大理国), which rose to great fame centuries later, for being mentioned in the famous sword-fighting novel Tian Long Ba Bu (天龙八步) by JinYong (金庸). Other than that, Yunnan preserves the ancient DongBa culture, which is different from the general Chinese culture.

What would be better than starting the Li Shui Jin Sha show with the famous Naxi Music (纳西古乐)? The Naxi Music was originated from the central plain area in ancient China, it miraculously passed down unaltered in Yunnan, thanks for being inaccessable to the outside world for centuries.

There are 55 ethnic minorities in China, you can find most of them living in Yunnan. Dai, Bai, Yi, Naxi, Miao, Moshuo, to name few. Each of them have their own unique costumes, their own cultures. As Yunnan is a neighbour of many South-east Asian countries, you can find many traces of inter-influence between them.

For example, the Dai tribe have very similar customs with the Thais. Thai New Year is called Songkar festival, where people would splash water to each other, strangers or close friends and families, the Dai have exactly the same festive with the exact tradition of splashing water.

If my memory does not fail me, the photo above depicts the beautiful world of the Third Kingdom of Yulong. The tribe that lives at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snowy Mountain has this tragic yet romantic tradition of committing suicide for love if they could not become husband and wife. The folklore says that those who committed suicide for their love ones would ascend to the Third Kingdom of Yulong. The Third Kingdom of Yulong is a heaven of sunshine, blossoming flowers, and a world of plenty. You will have eternal happiness there with your loved one there. That tradition is said to continue till this day.

Tickets to the show are available at RMB160, RMB120 I think. Get the RMB160 one, it is definitely worth your money.

However, life is not always that colorful and beautiful. When some people are happy, some people are upset. A not-so-widely known fact is that for the Yi tribe, there are two factions, the white Yi and the black Yi. The color signifies their social status. Before the communists came to Yunnan, the Yi had a slavery system, the black Yi were the masters, while the white Yi were the slaves. The communists abolished the slavery system and made everybody equal. The black Yi lost their slaves, their ownership to their land. They hated the communists till this day. A gypsy life they lead, moving from place to place. Once they come to a new place, they would burn the grass to fertilise the soil, plant their crops. A few years later, when the soil becomes infertile, they then move on to a new place. To maintain their high-class ancestry, they would never marry anyone other than a black Yi. They don't welcome visitors other than black Yi, either.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Noise again

There is not enough time for me to post more photos from my travel today, so I will talk a bit more about noise.

Using a low ISO setting such as ISO100 will not completely eliminate your noise problem. In the dark areas, noise will still pop out, like it or not. It is a challenge to all the sensor manufacturers to come up with good noise performance sensors, especially the so-called 'dark performance'.

For example, the fireworks shots I showed in my earlier entry were shot at ISO100, the lowest possible ISO setting at a Canon 20D digitial SLR camera, however, the noise was still prominent in areas that were not lighted properly.

In such a situation, the only rescue will be the noise reduction software I mentioned previously.

By the way, if you are reading my blog, please leave some comment for me. I know I know, my writing is a bit boring, but I am working on it :)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Splendid Yunnan Part II - Tibetan Home Visit

This Part II of the Splendid Yunnan series. You can find Part I, Part III, Part IV

We visited a Tibetan home while we were at Shangri-la. Look at that handsome guy below with many many Hada's on his neck, that was our host. It is a Tibetan tradition to present to the guest a piece of Hada, to show their hospitality. As a guest, you should then say "Zha Xi De Le", which means lucky and happy in Tibetan.

The host and his siblings performed some traditional Tibetan dances and songs to entertain the visitors. Look at that wooden pillar in the centre of the living hall. The size does matter here. The bigger the pillar is, the more wealthy you are. It is a symbol of status in Tibetan culture. A typical Tibetan home has 3 floors. The ground floor is the stable for their horses and cows. It is usually built with clay and rocks. The 1st floor is where the living room is, which is built with wood. Trees in Tibet grow at a snail pace because of the extreme weather conditions. As a result, bigger trees take longer time to grow, and less common, and more expensive. The centre pillar in the living room is from a single tree trunk, so the bigger it is, the more expensive it is, the more wealthy the owner is. The 2nd floor are for bed rooms.

I didn't know Tibetans are such good singers, especially when it comes to the high keys. Sky is the limit to them. Anyway, they are living closest to the sky in planet earth.

Look, here I was happily drinking the Tibetan rice wine. I actually likes the Tibetan rice wine a lot. Shangri-la is at an altitude of 2800m above sea level, high altitude sickness made me have a bad headache. And I was having a flu at that time. The Tibetan rice wine, together with the Tibetan tea, relieved my high-altitude sickness, and cured my flu! I think I drank at least 10 cups of Tibetan rice wine that night. What an acoholic I am! Not actually. Tibetans respect people who are good drinkers. Look at the small cup that I used? Real Tibetans never drink with such a small cup, they use bowls. When ethnic Chinese entered Tibet in the early years, they were totally scared off by the Tibetan way of welcoming their guests. When you enter a Tibetan home, the host will present to you three bowls of Tibetan rice wine. You have drink all 3 bottom up. In recent years, the younger Tibetans have toned down that tradition when they receive Chinese guests.

Haha, here comes the hightlight of the day - The roasted suckling Mao-Nu. Mao-Nu is a kind of cow/ox which you can only find at very high altitudes. The meat is tender and delicious, however, it is also very heaty, in traditioanl Chinese medicine terms. That probably has something to do with the extreme cold weather that the Mao-Nu live in at high altitudes.

Chairman Mao's portrait occupies a prominent place in the living room. The host said Tibetans thank Chairman Mao for liberating from the slavery system. I am a bit skeptical about this. In Shangri-la, there is a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, which is called 'the little potala'. The temple was open to the tourists until very recently. Now the temple is closed to tourists as a result of a dispute between the lamas and the local government. The relationship between ethnic Han Chinese and Tibetans is still tense.

And if you are still wondering what noise is in a digital photograph, you can find plenty in the photos in this entry. All were shot at very high ISO settings, and none has gone through the noise reduction process. Spot the noise :)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Splendid Yunnan Part I - Jade Dragon Snowy Mountains (玉龙雪山)

2006 had been a busy year for me in terms of traveling. It saw me travel to Cambodia in June, then Vietnam early December and Yunnan during Christmas period.

This is Part I of the Splendid Yunnan series. You can find Part II, Part III, Part IV

I would like to share with you my travel photos in stages. Here is the first part of my Yunnan series - Jade Dragon Snowy Mountains (玉龙雪山)


Noise, noise, noise. Noise has been the top most headache for me at work these days. Noise is everywhere, at home, at work, and also in your digital photos. It is the No. 1 enemy to photographers who want to do stock photography.

What is noise? In the context of digital photography, it means the unsightly color patches in your picture, it is mainly caused by insufficient light. Noise is particularly prominent if you are using high ISO settings. For Canon, ISO up to 400, the noise performance is still very decent; for Nikon, their noise starts to appear visibly for anything higher than ISO 200. Canon is using CMOS sensors while Nikon is using CCD sensors. In general, CCD sensors are more prone to noise which is inherient in the CCD technology.

How do you reduce noise then? For one, use as low an ISO as possible. The trade-off is you have to have longer exposure time, which means you might need the help of a tripod. Under-exposing your pictures will cause noise to appear as well, so make your exposures right.

If both the above failed, you have not completely lost the battle to noise yet. There are some readily available noise reduction software in the market that will save you the day. The more well-known ones are Neatimage, Noise Ninja and Noiseware.

I use noiseware myself. The effect is excellent. The picture below was shot at ISO1600. The noise was visible to the naked eye before I sent it through noiseware, but Noiseware managed to get it clean and clear for me. Well, this is my best seller at ShutterStock. I am a happy user :)

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Power of Microstock

How much can you earn from microstock? Can you quit your day job and do microstock full-time? Puzzling over all these questions but no answers? This post in the ShutterStock forum may offer you a glimpse of what you can potentially achieve.

Two months ago I promised to make it official when I crossed the “1000Dls in one day” barrier. I am now overly-thrilled to be able to present this cropped screenshot of when it happened. I even crossed the barrier with 170 DLs in surplus!! WooHooo is all I can say!

Now, can you see the power of microstock? By the way, in the table above, the 1st column is the date, the 2nd column is number of downloads, the 3rd column is the MONEY you earn on that day. 1170 downloads in a SINGLE day. Impressive, isn't it?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Singapore Fireworks Festival

Singapore is a fantastic place. Every year, they have the Singapore Fireworks Festival around August, showcasing wonderful fireworks from different parts of the world. It is such a great feast for the eyes, and great opportunity for photographers to practise their skills on taking fireworks.

Here I would like to share a few of my photos taken last year. If you are feeling down or bored or upset, let the fireworks brighten up your day ^_^

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

How to join microstock photography sites?

So much about microstock photography, then how to join them and start making some pocket money? It is easy, just sign up, and off you go. Well, not really so simple. Some sites do require a bit more, which I will discuss below.

1. iStockPhoto

This is one of the most strict sites to get in. First you have to go through a tutorial for photographers to understand what is required from iStockPhoto. At the end of the tutorial, take a test, if you pass, then you can sign up for an account, free of charge, of course. In order for your account application to be accepted, you need to email/fax them a scan/photocopy of your passport to verify your identity. A color scan of your passport info page will be good.

Once your account application is accepted, you will be asked to upload 3 of your best photos for them to assess your work, whether they can meet the technical requirements as well as their commercial value. If you get through this as well, then congratulations! You can upload your photos to the site for review and start earning money! However, there is still a catch here. For a newbie, you can only upload a maximum of 15 photos every 168 hours.

Their review is also the toughest. It takes a lot of effort for me to get my photos accepted, but those photos that get accepted can get me some steady income. It is worth the effort.

2. ShutterStock

ShutterStock is also tough, they have a zero noise tolerance policy. You can sign up on their site for a free account. For your application to be accepted, you need to email/fax a scan/photocopy of your passport to them for identity verification as well. After that, you need to submit 10 photos for them to review. If you get 7 out of the 10 approved, then congratulations! You are a member of the club, otherwise, you have to wait for one month, before you can submit 10 photos again for them to review.

Other sites are a lot easier, you don't have to show them a copy of your passport, there is no initial review of your work. Simply upload and get started. However, those sites also give you less income than the abovementioned two. Well, good things never come easy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Business Models for Microstock Photography Sites

Well, finally I have the time to sit down again and write for my blog. Let's take a look at how the microstock sites work this time.

There are two business models for the many microstock sites. One is the commission model, the other is the subscription model.

The commission model charges the buyers a certain amount for a photo, then the photographer gets a cut from 20% to 50%, depending on individual site policy. This model is more conservative, as the site owner will always have a positive cash flow as long as there are sales. The buyers have more flexibility because they can buy as and when they need a particular photo. However, sites with this model usually have limited sales for the photographers, the only exception is iStockPhoto. Personally, I have sales from those sites, and had received payments from them before, but the amount is small.

The subscription model poses a higher risk for the site owner. The buyers pay a fixed amount to have the right to download up to a certain number of photos a day/month. The photographers are paid on a per download basis. Then where is the risk? The amount a buyer pays usually is lower than the amount the site has to pay the photographers for that number of downloads. So if all buyers download to the full every month, the site will be in net negative! But, this model is very good for photographers. The buyers usually download more than necessary and the photographers have pretty decent income. ShutterStock is the best site operating on this model.

There are some sites who are hybrids of the two.