A VeloDramatic Report Card

VeloDramatic Photography Annual 2011

VeloDramatic Photography Annual 2011 (can still be purchased) | © VeloDramatic

There's no denying the past twelve months have been exciting. Days after the launch of the S-Works McLaren Venge at the spectacular F1 HQ in Woking, Matt Goss stormed to victory aboard the Venge at Milan San Remo. A few weeks later I was back in Europe shooting a gritty, dusty Paris Roubaix. The Tour of California gave me my first chance to shoot a major stage race from a moto (alternately thrilling and terrifying me), then it was back to Europe for the press launch of the Tarmac SL4 in Switzerland with Roman Kreuziger. I struggled with the altitude at the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado but bounced back in the mountains of Utah as the Specialized Ride to Vegas knocked off a dramatic new route to interbike. I shot Levi and Alberto in California and then the new Specialized Lululemon camp and Bicycling Magazine features as the year came to a close. Not bad for what was my first year of shooting full time.

Johan van Summeren on his way to victory Mark Cavendish strangely isolated in the dust

I remain critical of my own work but having just put the latest VeloDramatic photo annual to bed (Jens on the cover above), I think I got a little better. Certainly I've had to up my studio game and come to terms with lighting and more complex shooting scenarios. To that end I've been extremely happy with the Canon 1D MK IV and my Canon glass. The Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 and TT5s proved they could supply reliable wireless fill in a variety of working conditions, and I'm likely to add another four 430EX IIs to my speedlite arsenal to double my hi-speed sync output. I could have used them all shooting surfers at dusk ala Dave Black in Oceanside during a break from the recent team camp.

Night surfing Fran and Alberto Contador

Last week I plunked down a healthy deposit for a Canon 1DX that's due out, fingers crossed, late March. I expect I'll get my body in the first or second shipment that makes it to Keeble & Shuchat. There have been no reviews yet but the specs really hit the sweet spot for me. Barring a negative AF assessment from the esteemed Rob Galbraith I'm fully committed. If it does miss the mark I've already decided I'll be switching to Nikon.

A+ for Apple

Technology didn't always help matters in 2011 but one company proved again and again that they deserve my business. I took the iPad2 plunge mid year and it immediately became an invaluable tool for navigation (Google Maps and Tour Trackers); showing clients dailies and wireless tethering; finance (mobile banking and TripCubby); not to mention the all-important video diversions needed to survive long trans-Atlantic flights in Economy.

My 15" MacBook Pro is nearly four year old and despite stuffing it with 6GB of RAM and 1.2 TB of internal storage (crazy how we take these numbers for granted now) it's having a tough time keeping up with the demands of my workflow. Now well beyond its warranty the video system abruptly died mid October. I took it to my friendly neighborhood Apple store and remarkably they confirmed they had a known video issue with the original mainboard. They wrote up the $500 repair then credited me for the whole amount promising a five-day turnaround. The next day, less than 24 hours later, the store called to say the repair was done and the MBP ready for pickup. Superb!

Now you could chalk this video resurrection up to luck, but twice during the year I had power bricks fail. The Apple mag connector is very cool, but like all cables eventually wires pull loose. Both times, with no prompting from me, Apple representatives replaced the adapters free of charge. In an age where service and customer loyalty are largely forgotten, Apple does all the little things to earn my trust. I don't think I'm alone and that's why Apple is doing so well.

Because of that experience my next laptop will be a Mac. In the last two weeks of the year I got very close to pulling the trigger on a new machine but held off because there's still no viable way to ingest images faster than the Expresscard slot on my MBP, and that slot is now only available on the 17" model (adding a tough-to-justify pound to my on-the-limit carry-on essentials). A Thunderbolt card reader may be the answer but so far no one has stepped up to make one. So I'm waiting for the Spring and the prospect of faster Ivy Bridge processors, rumors of a Retina display and USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt salvation.

B (Best Book) for MyPublisher

Fourteen months ago I wrote Going All in with MyPublisher. The New York based service still produces the best quality photo books I've seen but disappointingly they haven't meaningfully addressed the professional market yet. Last week I completed the third MP photo book since I wrote that piece; and it's worth noting again the pluses and minus of the current product.

MyPublisher VeloDramatic Annual 2011 MyPublisher VeloDramatic Annual 2011

Version 7.1 of the MP software is rock solid. My 86-page book contained 157 photographs. The application never flinched during the layout with plenty of shifting and swapping that occasionally froze earlier versions. With the MyStyles feature enabled it's possible to customize any of the MP layout patterns. Unfortunately the implementation of this very useful feature is hamstrung by two things. First, even though MP can toggle on a visual grid, there's no snap-to or true alignment capability, so getting really accurate sizing between boxes is difficult and tedious. Second, the MyStyles layouts cannot be managed, and if minute changes are made later on a subsequent page, additional versions appear in the MyStyles panel. Speaking critically this is symptomatic of MP's aversion to the mere suggestion of complexity, even when false simplicity (auto saving) is actually less intuitive and confusing.

Two page spreads are well supported, and very nicely realized if the rather expensive lay flat page option is chosen. Another small issue surfaces if a large file is shifted vertically with the hand tool. Because of the tight tolerances of MP's background auto-fitting routine this often leads to a yellow-warning border showing up on the left or right edge. Selecting auto-fit eliminates the problem but in the process shifts the image back to its original vertical positioning. MP should support a horizontal nudge left or right to solve this all too common layout problem.

MP has an image refresh feature but it certainly doesn't behave as it should. In my original article I indicated that any editing outside of MP that saves over a project image, should update the book image via the refresh command. It currently doesn't do this and frankly I can't figure out what it IS doing.

The last major difference worth talking about is the MP Bookshelf. I'm purposely choosing not to use the "MyBookshelf" label that MP gives this web site listing of previous orders because fundamentally it's NOT my bookshelf unless I can manage it. As the screenshot below shows, MP's order-centric model results in a confusing proliferation of the same book icons. I cannot delete any of them. MP even seems confused by it's own order-centric model when it renders its Order History and Order Details tabs. The default Order History tab presents a list view that naturally would lend itself to multiple reorders of the same book, except that even when a book has been reordered the list never has more than a single entry. Until the MP database recognizes "the book" as its record key, just take us to the Order Detail tab and save us a superfluous click.

MyPublisher's confusing bookshelf

One of the reasons why MP seems reluctant to allow us to delete books from the bookshelf, is that shared books truly have a life of their own. Once shared a book has no connection back to its creator. There is no aggregation of orders or visibility for the creator. Once shared a book can be reshared. This I believe is the crux of the problem, and why we can't manage the bookshelf. If we actually deleted one of our books, and that should imply deleting all book data, then dissociated shared books (and reorder opportunities) would go away. Philosophically, I believe book creators should have the ultimate control over our books. We should decide when OUR book cannot be reprinted regardless of when or how it was shared. MP really needs to change the way this works.

The bookshelf also is buggy. Books Icons can be "named" but right now the string length appears to have a completely useless 11-character limit and actually isn't saved. Clearly this needs more polish in addition to a serious rethink of the underlying database model.

Outside of large prints, books are the most impactful marketing tool for my business. MyPublisher continues to delight me with their end product but 2011 was a missed opportunity to develop a MyPublisher Pro offering. Blurb's ProLine gives a clear indication that the competition are taking the professional market seriously. If you're listening MP, it's time we had that conversation.

Adobe Gets a C

I was dismayed when Adobe's CS4 Master Collection wouldn't run on Windows 7. Then I was annoyed at the sheer ineptitude of Adobe's technical support system (horrible phone system, dropped calls, hours wasted with useless CSRs). Adobe's plan to require previous-version status for future upgrade eligibility was the bitter final insult in a year that was only rescued by the continuing brilliance of Lightroom.

Related rant. Having spent a decade in the Silicon Valley mines, I've seen the transparent self-interest that has outsourced tech jobs overseas, and the stupidity of mid-level executives who've gone along with a scheme that has undermined service, reduced quality and hurt usability, all in the name of a false economy that only serves to line the pockets of the guys who write their own checks. It's time we started repatriating jobs and paying better wages at the expense of C-Level compensation. I may be self employed with a strong entrepreneurial streak but OWS is on the right track. Better software and service may seem vastly removed from the criminality of wall street and too-big-to-fail banks but it's symptomatic of the same corporate miscalculation that's got us into this mess. Companies like Adobe had better smarten up or they'll be in for a rude awakening from a new class of nimble competitors like Pixelmator.

D - there's nothing Quick about QuickBooks

It's truly hard to imagine a company that can master the U.S. tax code and produce a wonderful product like TurboTax can screw things up so badly with a mature product like QuickBooks. With absolutely no compelling functionality to justify an upgrade to the latest version I was forced to do so to get compatibility with Windows 7. My 2009 version ran perfectly on Windows Vista 64-bit but wouldn't start on 64-bit Windows 7. The new product, thanks to some poor coding, obfuscated a relatively simple problem with online banking that prevented me doing any accounting for weeks following the upgrade. Again, I had to pass through multiple layers of useless support before I finally got to knowledgeable people who could diagnose the problem. Thanks to my UK pal Jon Moss, I'll be using FreeAgent as my accounting software in 2012. It's early but I'm already feeling good about saying goodbye to Quickbooks, even if I'm perversely looking forward to using TurboTax to dispatch this year's tax chores.

There's no escaping the fact that photography depends heavily on all this technology. Here's hoping that 2012's grade point average is better than this year's. Meanwhile I'm looking forward to getting off the computer and getting back to shooting.

9 Responses to A VeloDramatic Report Card

  1. Pingback: A VeloDramatic Report Card « turnings :: daniel berlinger

    • Tim O'Connor says:

      Michael:

      I had the exact same experience with my 4 year old Mac. Unfortunately for me I did not find out it could be fixed until I purchased a new laptop. My experiences with Apple were great and they actually had to put two new motherboards in my computer. The first repair failed. Total charges would have been $800 if it had not been covered under warranty. From what I understand Apple has a lawsuit against the video card maker and I had to sign something to join the class action lawsuit.

      I use to own an Apple business and I will give you a couple of tips. First I noticed that the Apple stores would give almost anyone a “student discount”. My business continually lost out to the Apple retail locations because we could not offer the same pricing model. When we confronted our Apple representative he said they could do nothing about. So anytime I go into an Apple store I tell them I am a student.

      The other place to save money is to buy a “reconditioned or remanufactured” Apple. Apple completely over hauls the computer and they are virtually brand new. After many years in business we never had an issue with these machines. I own 4 Macs of various ages and all of them were remanufactured. Typically you can get more computer for your buck if you go to the website and order it directly from Apple. The warranty and Apple care are the same as if it were new.

      On the cycling front I bought a new bike. It came down to the Cervelo RS and the Specialized Roubaix. Both were great bikes but in the end I bought the RS because the bike shop owner was a client of my company and I decided to give him my business.

      • Those are two great tips Tim. It’s about time I went back to school for something ;-)
        Enjoy that Cervelo. I love mine, but with the arrival of my more forgiving Ti Enigma, and my creaky back, it’s been on the sidelines.
        Expect some news about both brands here in short order. Thanks for writing.

        ::M

  2. Jennifer says:

    Congratulations on your first full year of full-time photography. I remember when you were just starting and it seems like you have accomplished a tremendous amount!! Hope to see you again one day at Interbike.

    -Jennifer

    • Thanks Jennifer. I hope we do run into each other again. After skipping last year’s show entirely (despite being in town after the Vegas Ride) and barely scratching the surface the year before, I think I just might be able to handle a real show in 2012.

      All the best for 2012

      ::Michael

  3. I think your report card ticks most of the boxes for your first year as a full time sports photographer. Lots of hurdles to cross and barriers that need to be unravelled along the way. I see a big change in your photography now that it’s in your head every day of the year, you have always had a fine eye for photography since you first picked up a camera. The quality of your technique is now up there with your artist talents, your books are sprinkled with wonderful action shots of racers and the splendid scenery that they travel through on their journey to the winning post.
    This second year will see new challenges and problems to be solved along the way, but many things will now be second nature and not the stumbling blocks they can be in the first year in any new challenge.
    Keep hammering away at the companies who can if they will but try, make the photographers job that bit easier, by making their products user friendly and adaptable, not just automatic.

    All the very best for 2012 Michael.

    Douglas

    • Douglas,

      Can’t thank you enough for the constant inspiration and support from Glasgow. Your own work and experience have been an immeasurable help, and our marathon chats always help reset the compass and get me thinking. It’s funny how everything big and small is related. The trips to Scotland were definitely a catalyst, and I can’t wait to get back over for another loop around the Highlands with you. Juli and I both are hoping 2012 will bring you to California to go adventuring here.

      Here’s to capturing more magic in 2012

      ::Michael

  4. Jon Moss says:

    Hi Michael,

    Really enjoyed reading your report card and bloomin’ well done for a terrific year. My favourite photos are definitely the ones from the Classics. Real, gritty and taking you right there, instantly.

    Delighted you have switched to FreeAgent – how are you getting on with it?

    Look forward to our next Skype call!

    Jon

    • Hi Jon,

      Roubaix was definitely a highlight for me. Thrilling to shoot the race and to be driving around on the course itself, hoping I’m back there again this year.

      Thanks again for the FreeAgent recommendation. I made the most of the 30-day free trial and yesterday paid for a one-year subscription (you should get the referral credit).
      Since I don’t have a cash component to the business, I really like the fact that there’s no classic “bank reconciliation” in the product; the bank transactions are the source of truth; simply explain them and you are done. I also like the Paypal integration.

      Let’s catch up soon

      ::M