Archive for November, 2008

Entire LIFE library now freely available

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

It had to happen.

The photo archive of LIFE is now available in medium resolution for free for all. Powered by the friendly folks, who can not do evil – Google, and TimeWarner! According to the press release, the entire archive of 10+ million images will be released to the public in the near future; right now there are 2 million photos available. 97% of the images have not been published before. Of course, everyone at TimeWarner and Google is quite excited about this.

From a photography perspective, I am thrilled, too. I wrote an article this summer that revealed my admiration for LIFE pictures since I was a kid. LIFE photographers probably influenced me more than anyone else. And the LIFE archive is certainly one of the most amazing archives of all time. Just do a simple Google search to see pictures from your favorite photographers. Great!

But wait – something is wrong. At the time of writing, a search for Alfred Eisenstaedt reveals just 200 photos (he must have shot 10,000s of images for LIFE). A search for Kennedy returns 200 photos. Hollywood – 200 photos. What’s going on? Are all searches limited to 200 photos? Why? And then some searches do not have any results at all, e.g. Picasso (this was corrected four hours after this article was posted). Huh?

Also, TimeWarner and Google are not exactly known as the Do-Good’ers they try to suggest they are. Why are they giving away millions of photos to the general public, when they are still licencing the archive through their cooperation with Getty Images? Sure, they sell poster prints from the Google pages, starting at $79.99. This will bring in some money. But still I wonder whether there is more to the story?

The lack of licence terms on all the pages of the LIFE archive makes me feel slightly uneasy. The main archive page does not contain any licence terms, and no terms of use either. The individual photo pages mention just “© Time Inc.” but no other licence terms. This is fully sufficient to clarify the licence situation. But I guess that now zillions of blogs will hotlink and re-publish these images from the LIFE archive.

And no, not even the official help page does mention copyrights and terms of use at all. It says what you may do with the photos, though:

Q.: What can I do with the images I find from the LIFE photo archive?
A.: You can browse and view the images you find, rate them, and see detailed information about the photographs. There is also a link to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.

I interpret this as:

You may not use the photographs for anything else than to browse and view them, to rate them, to see detailed information about them, and to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.

Which is not much.

Soooo, if you are a photographer who is also a Blogger, here is my wake-up call for you: do not use any of the images, unless you want to receive some mail from TimeWarner, and their lawyers. (I think they expect commercial licencing still to be done through GettyImages, so anyone using images from the archive commercially without proper licence is facing serious trouble.)

And what does all this mean for the photo business? Well, the sudden addition of 10+ million excellent photos to the Internet means (to me) that the value of photography has been once more reduced significantly. The availability of all these outstanding photos is the silent admission that high-end photography is now a commodity. Sure, end-users will cheer for all the free images. TimeWarner cheer as well as they can monetize their back catalog better now. But photo archives that focus on historical photos will cry. Their ability to monetize their archives has been reduced significantly.

It had to happen.

Shooting wedding or party photos in a dark location? Here’s how.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

The other day, while I was shooting a wedding, one of the guests approached me during the party and asked quite openly what was wrong with his camera settings. He had a consumer DSLR with a good external flash, yet his shots would turn out “just bad”. He was really desperate.

I had a quick look at his photos, and yep, they really looked bad. They were perfectly sharp, oh yes, but the bride and groom seemed to dance in front of a dark wall where in reality there were all the other guests admiring their dance.

Here is one example from my own wedding in 2003:

Canon DIGITAL IXUS v, 1/60 sec., f/2.8

Well, this problem happens quite often at weddings (and parties), especially when you are shooting in dark locations, e.g. inside the church during the day, or outside in the evening or at night. The problem occurs with both point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras.

The camera assumes that you want to have a sharp image in the first place and picks an exposure time of 1/60 or faster, also to meet the flash synchronization speed. The background will not be illuminated by the flash (and even if it was illuminated, it would look bad with its harshly cast shadows unless you bounce the flash off the ceiling), but the background is also not exposed long enough to allow the sensor to capture any of the details in the dark. So the background stays dark while the front is “correctly” exposed, or slightly over exposed.

So you need to find a setting that “naturally” illuminates the back long enough (i.e. long exposure time) while still having the convenience of the flash that “freezes” the action and illuminates the front.

Here’s how to do this.

1. Set your camera to M (manual) mode

2. Set your camera to ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/5.6

3. Do some test shots, and adjust f-stop, ISO and/or exposure time as required

This will override the automatic settings.

And while you’re at it, do yourself a favour and get a STO-FEN Omni Bounce for that extra soft light.

The result will be pictures that may be slightly blurred if there is some motion going on during the (longish) exposure. This will add the feeling of ongoing action. The main subject of the photo will still be rather sharp, though, as the flash fires, while the background will be visible and add to the mood (instead of being just a big black hole). If you have a zoom lens, you can try to zoom during the exposure.

Typically, these images will be better than the photos created by the automatic programs of the camera.

Here are three examples:

Canon EOS 1Ds mark III, EF 24-70/2.8L, ISO 500, 1/40 sec., f/5.6
Mark Zanzig

Canon EOS 1D mark II N, EF 70-200/2.8L, ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/2.8
Mark Zanzig

Canon EOS 1Ds mark II, EF 24-70/2.8L, ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/5.0
Mark Zanzig

Free Canada PDF Calendar 2009 released

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Gazing at the afternoon sun on Vancouver Island
Mark Zanzig/

The end is near! Well, at least the end of the year is near. So it’s time to think of getting a 2009 calendar. Look no further! Maybe you’ve found it. :-)

Following a good tradition at, we provide you this year again with a free PDF calendar containing photos from our trip to West Canada. Especially when money is tight, you might find a good use for that color printer at the office that is so rarely used? Why not take that good paper and print out a little gift for yourself to stick to the wall?

Anyway, here is the link:

Zanzig’s free Canada calendar for 2009

What? You don’t like our Canada calendar? Downloaded it the past couple of years and now tired of seeing the same pictures again? Hmmm. Then why not have a look at our free Namibia calendar for 2009? It’s certainly more exotic than the Canadian one. Dunes, giraffes, zebra, sunsets – it’s all there:

Zanzig’s free Namibia calendar for 2009


How big can you go – from a 35 mm slide?

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Every now and then I receive inquiries that are worth mentioning on this blog, because they tell stories of opportunities. Take this mail from Ben:

I’m thinking of having an image reproduced to fit inside a window frame inside my house… 68.5″ X 34.125″. I’m wondering on what film format it was shot and if the actual image is a bit wider than what we see to get the right aspect ratio and keep most of the water.


The photo in question is this photo of Moraine Lake in the Rocky Mountains (excellent choice by the way):

Mark Zanzig/zettpress

This was shot on Fuji Sensia 100 slide film, a 35 mm film that was back then (in 2003) somewhat affordable while still giving precise colors with little visible grain. I have done good prints from this material up to 30″ x 20″. This is an area 473 times the size of the original. Wow.

But could the same material be sufficient for 68″ x 35″, which is about four times as large?

Ben’s inquiry made me wonder what this means in terms of dpi required. If we assume 200 dpi for the print (300 dpi would be better, but let’s be realistic), then the image would need a size of 13600 x 7000 pixels (95 Megapixels). Which is completely, totally, unmistakenly out of the question for a 35 mm slide. Why? Because 13600 pixels need to come from 1.378″ of raw film, which in turn means an optical scan resolution of about 9800 dpi.

Sure, there are scanners out there that produce 9800 dpi scans, but typically by using interpolation. And then the question remains whether the slide film material actually has that resolution (I doubt it). So even if you could do that scan technically, you’d probably end up with a grainy image.

But I see an opportunity for professional landscape photographers here: extend your business into panorama shots! Think of using a high end camera, e.g. a Canon 1ds mark III, and then stitch the images together! From four or five shots at 21 MP you can easily create such huge image files. And then sell them to customers like Ben. Or do poster prints and sell them in an online shop.

Want more photos? At you will find more photos of Moraine Lake and West Canada.