Photographing Jewelry

Good product photos are critical for being able to clearly communicate what is for sale. 

And they are indeed, one of my biggest challenges. 

I photograph jewelry that is a mix of metal, glass, and stone.  Much of it has reflective surfaces and some of it is absolutely not.  Lots of semi-precious stones, like blue sandstone, and members of the Tiger Eye family have life that sparkles in the reaction to light. A light you have to catch. just. right.  For some stones, their appeal is in how they play with light, how they transform it- things that are exceptionally hard to capture. 

I started on the dining room table, with natural light when possible.  But we have moved into the grey days here in Indiana, and sufficient natural light is rare. 

I knew I needed a good way to shoot them in artificial light, without getting horrid reflections and glare. 

Our makerspace had a product lightbox donated, and I experimented with that the day after Thanksgiving. 

Lightbox setup at SHAK Makerspace

While the picture were not reflective and were low on shadows ( a big achievement), one light was out and the replacement light gave a distinct color shift in all of my photos.  In the picture above, the base is actually a grey cloth, but in all the photos it ( and all the jewelry shot) shifted to tan.  

It was a real problem for about half the jewelry I shot that day, the colors in the photos were just not accurately representing real life. 

Today, David reminded me that years ago we had a green screen setup and there were some glare free light setups in that kit.  I dug them out of the bottomless closet in the hall, set them off and did more shooting in the dining room today.  I am leaving it set up for more shooting tomorrow ( as we prepare for cyber monday around here).  I am MUCH happier with the color quality in the photos, but there is slightly more shadow.  I think I need to move them out of the dinning room, and set up with a different angle on the lights.  For now, good enough. 

Photography setup at home

We have now entered the meta phase of making art by photographing the wearable art… 

The importance of business rule #1

I work in IT.
I am getting sick, watching our field grow a reputation slightly better than shifty used car salesmen. This is spreading like wildfire because people are forgetting business rule number one: Listen.

Here is a recent great example.
I got a call last night from my mom, who is about 700 miles away.
She was frustrated, exasperated and nearly ready to cry.
She was absolutely ready to throw her Roku box out the window.

My parents  are NOT technologically savvy.  Since my Dad’s vision is worse, he can not see wires and connectors to help.
My mom is usually a little scared she is going to break something and less than confident when it comes to technology. If you have done any tech support, you know the type. If you have not done tech support, you probably have a Dad or an Aunt or a Cousin like this.  Just like not everyone is comfortable playing softball, not everyone is comfortable with technology.

We got my parents a Roku two years ago because we loved it so much, and they have loved it too.
My dad is sight impaired, and they love that they can connect Flick.r and then my dad can see photos on the TV where they are large.  They do Netflix streaming ( at least for now) and a few other things on it.

So, what caused her to want to pitch the Roku they have loved? Tech Support who wanted to sell them things instead of solving a problem. And not just Roku Tech Support, Linksys and Verizon got in the game as well.

They wanted to show a friend some pictures from a recent trip. When they went to open, they got an error message that the network settings were not correct and it could not connect.

They called Roku support. Roku support ( who they could barely understand speaking), had them read them the error message and said- it must be your router call them.   They called the Linksys customer service people and Linksys customer support (who talked mostly jargon and tech terms, rather than simple english)  told them that they probably needed to reset a code in their Verizon DSL Router, when they got a storm it can cause problems. They tried to rest the code, but did not have access in the Verizon hardware. So, they called Verizon DSL, Verizon DSL told them it would cost 29.95 to have that code reset. At this point, my mother thought every time they got a storm, they were going to have to pay 29.95 to get a code rest to make their Roku work. The Verizon people assured her she could pay 59.99 and get 6 months of support instead.
Luckily, she looked at my dad and said ” we can buy a whole new Roku for only 79.99, I don’t know what to do- let’s eat dinner”. Then called me , very upset.

I LISTENED. Actually, when she got to “my Roku gets an error message trying to connect to the network”, I knew what to ask next- but I let her vent the whole painful story to get it out.
Then I asked ” Have you tried to reconnect the Roku in the Roku settings?”
She stopped in her tracks. They had had this working seamlessly for 2 years and had completely forgotten that there were any settings there.
I booted up my Roku quickly, so I could look while I talked, walked her through the menu selections to get there ( about 3 clicks) and the built in wizard took over, found their router and connected.  Less than 3 minutes and her Roku was fixed, no expense.

I have no problem with the fact that people need to make money.
But this is the second instance in less than a week that we have crossed paths with tech support that was more anxious to collect cash for things other than a needed fix, instead of listening to the customer and fixing the problem and creating a happy customer who would come back for more sales in the long term.

Granted,  my parent’s Roku is out of warranty. But if Roku had asked them “have you tried reconnecting from the settings menu ?” instead of pawning them off on Linksys, it would have short circuited 90 minutes of frustration. I would have been OK if when she said ” How do I do that?” they said, we are sorry you are out of warranty, that support costs. Then she would have called me and asked and we would have had it fixed.

If Linksys had said ” we do not support Roku, but let’s check your router” and taken her through standard troubleshooting ( the fact that the other two computers attached to the Linksys router still talked to the Verizon DSL and got on the internet fine should have indicated that there was no communication problem between the Linksys and Verizon), then politely sent her away, rather than sending her into DSL reconfigurations would have been fine.

Verizon had in their records that they had a tech at her house a couple of weeks ago, who adjusted their network. If they had said- we had a tech there recently disrupting your network, you might have to reconnect devices to make them work correctly. They do not have to be able to tell her how to do that, it is not their responsibility.  But immediately telling her the DSL could have issues in a storm and trying scare tactics to get subscription support pisses me off.

It upsets me both because they jerked around my mom, but also because it makes IT look bad. Pretty soon, being in IT will be a little like being a lawyer. That is a horrible shame. We have the opportunity to make things that make people’s lives fun, interesting, and even amazing.  Let’s not lose this to make a few 29.95 fees that don’t fix anything.

5 Tips for Businesses New to Social Media // In which, I step on my Social Media Assumptions and give Small Business owners a bit of advice…

Every once in a while, I am reminded what an incredible geek I am.

When you swim in the geek every day, it is so easy to forget that terms like QR Code, Foursquare, G+, Podcasting, mp3,twitter,square, facebook page creation, blogging and video conferencing ( to name just a few) are either complete greek or else sound frighteningly technically hard to do.

I believe it is important for businesses to be involved in their neighborhood in ways that improve the neighborhood. Since part of what I do is IT and Social Media Consulting, my neighborhood is both digital and physical, so here is a little give back – 5 quick tips about using Social Media for Business.

1) Social Media – all digital interactions that involve people to people communication and conversation. This happens in many places (or platforms) on the internet- Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa , Google+, Quora, Empire Avenue, Foursquare are just a few you might hear people talking about. In the digital world, this is the same as the beauty shop/barbershop chat, the back fence or front stoop chat, the “after church coffee” chat or a postcard from someone traveling that comes back home. The same sorts of things happen in both places- people share news, movie reviews, baby pictures,travel pictures, product and business recommendations,or insights and opinions on politics, economics, and philosophy ( to name just a few). Just like in real life, there are people you trust and love, people who gossip, people you respect, people who are blowhards and people you avoid. Remember- Social Media is conversation and engagement- it is the online way to spread word of mouth advertising.

2) Facebook– one of the current leading platforms ( or places) for social media exchanges, although it is not always loved by the people who use it ( ask me why and I can post more). Most of you probably have a Facebook Account. If you have a lively Facebook community near your brick and mortar, or you sell online and ship product, your Business should have a Facebook page as well. This is frighteningly easy to do. Simply go to your home page, click on “pages” in the left menu and then click on the “create a page” button that shows up on the top of the page. Warning- just having a page is no good at all, unless you post to it, check on it, respond to people on it and make connections with it. One of the easiest ways to do this is to go to your page, then click on the “use facebook as page” option on the right. Now go forth in Facebook land. Like other pages that are strategic connections, comment on other people’s things, be a lively and contributing presence and people will stumble across your page. [There is, obviously, tons more to be said about Facebook- you can contact me as a contractor if you want the full scoop or more hand holding]

3) Twitter– another social media platform, where the things you share are limited to 140 characters, but can be links to other things ( like youtube videos, pictures, blog posts, etc..). The nice thing about Twitter for businesses is that it is very easy to search and find people interested in the things you do, to “follow” them ( see the things they post) and respond back to start conversations. Twitter is all about conversations. This is NOT the place to broadcast only links to your press releases, details about your latest specials or your latest product releases. Those things are fine to include in the things you share, but remember this is a conversation- no onne likes listening to someone who only talks about themselves.


4) QR Codes. These are those funny looking square barcodes ( known as 2D or Matrix barcodes) that you are starting to see all around town. Big businesses and manufacturing have been using 2D barcodes for many years because they can hold more information than a regular barcode. Then someone got smart and turned them into a QR ( Quick Response)code that can used to show on the spot information. All phones that have a camera and run apps can get a free barcode scanner application ( most come already installed) that can be used to scan the QR Code and display the information. This information might be a link to a web page ( URL), some text( offer a discount or special sales promo), a link to other online services ( maps, Foursquare, youtube, yelp, etc..), contact information, a phone number, or to send an SMS (to your phone). If you have one of those phones, you can try this one and see what displays on your phone.

5) FourSquare. ( also known as 4Square). As a personal service, it has lovers and haters. Some people love to “check in” and broadcast all over the internet where they are and what they are doing and some people hate it.  But as long as there are lovers, becoming a place that people can check into makes good sense.  When users check in, they share that information with all their friends online. This means lots of other people are seeing them come to your business.  You also have the ability to offer specials through Fourquare, and when users check in anywhere, they see a list of all the specials nearby, potentially reminding them to come to your address as well.  You do not have to personally use the service, but you do have to have an account and log in at your business to make it a place. You  want to create an account and search to see if anyone has already added your place. If not, go to the store, log into foursquare and add the venue. Then go to your computer, find your new place and “claim this venue”.  Foursquare requires verification, which can be done via phone or email and then does a lot of hand holding once you tell it you want to claim a venue and you are off and running.

Hopefully those first 5 tips give you something to think about and act on and let you get started in Social Media for your business.

Check your Ego and Execute- Ryan Cox

Earlier this week, Ryan Cox was featured on The Daily Dose as an Indiana Innovator. I talked to him about the process of innovation and idea generation for StartUp companies.   There were more gems in the interview that we could not use on The Daily Dose, and the following on the importance of Execution and Ego Checking is a segment that deserves to be shared- enjoy!

Entrepreneur Apprenticeships- How do you Grow Entrepreneurs?

Scott Adams published an article earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition on the value of college for an entrepreneur, and it made me immediately reflect back to Cameron Herold’s TED Talk on raising kids as entrepreneurs.

The crucial point that both of them raise is that you have the best shot at becoming a better entrepreneur by doing , trying, ( and even failing).  When you are personally motivated ( either for cash- or for Free Beer, as Scott was at The Coffee house, or just by reputation), you try things that might have seemed daunting before or take risks that might have been too much effort.  This is in many ways like the apprenticeships of old, where you work side by side with someone with more experience, but have real responsibilities in the business and learn by doing, not by listening to lectures.

While highly motivated parents and students seek out opportunities to grow entrepreneurial skills, I would love to  see more colleges and universities add apprenticeship type opportunities to the curriculum ( much like an engineering co-op) so that we raise more highly skilled entrepreneurs and fewer lawyers.

How do you as parents nurture entrepreneurial skills in your kids? How do you grow them personally?


Twitter: Do Businesses really “get” it?

An article in today’s Indianapolis Business Journal  features the faces behind 6 local successful Indianapolis business Twitter  accounts. and an explanation of their strategy.  Although the advice is good, I found it striking that only one of the 6 is an actual retail business ( West Coast Tacos), one is a retail service business ( AAA) and all the others are some sort of service that would already have a loyal following ( Pacers, ButlerU, Indianapolis Symphony, IU Health).   They did give the well known example of  the Brewhouse franchise, but the lack of other consumer brick and mortar businesses makes me wonder if the local businesses “get” Twitter yet.
It is a relatively easy leap for non-profits and educational facilities to move to the conversation of Twitter where they can engage existing supporters and followers.Having a history of being dependent on donations means that they are already used to a deeper level of engagement with supporters to succeed. With a follower count of just over 2700, I have to wonder what percentage of those followers are new growth for the Indianapolis Symphony and how many are previous supporters who merely extended their interest to Twitter as well.  Yes, if you do Twitter badly, you will lose followers, so maintaining them shows that @indy_symphony is doing good things- but what in their strategy shows consumer facing businesses used to a “flyer advertising” mentality how to switch and be successful on Twitter?
I think interesting things are starting to happen on Twitter here in the Midwest, but there is still a lot of room for growth, and a need for people to give support, education and information. Anyone know of other really successful Midwest Businesses on Twitter who might provide role models for other businesses just getting started?

HPC Brokerage services: one cloud that won’t rain on your parade

Bob Graybill has started Nimbus, a company that is designed as a brokerage house for HPC services and cycles. He discusses the company’s HPC service offerings and rationale for this new company with HPCWire:

To be a business-to-business brokerage or clearinghouse. The idea is to provide pre-negotiated access to cycles, software and expertise on an on-demand, pay-as-you-go basis. We won’t own any equipment or do consulting ourselves. We’re simply a clearinghouse that builds a menu of quality services and then brings the buyers and the sellers of those services together. Our targets are periodic and experimental users, initially in the manufacturing sector. These are people who don’t want to jump over huge hurdles to get the benefits of modeling and simulation using HPC. We’re an aggregator of services. We also help our partners, our service providers, by reaching out to a brand new community on their behalf.