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February 2011

TAX TIME, Tick Tock, The Tax Clock is Ticking

BentClocks06 Time to get your business taxes ready.
For artists and makers, running your business in a manner compliant with I.R.S. rules
can make a BIG DIFFERENCE between being declared a "business" instead of a "hobby". This has potentially major financial consequences.

Consuming Conversation stack of teacups by Harriete Estel Berman The IRS defines a "hobby" as "an activity not engaged in for profit" and consequently deductions for expenses are limited. On the other hand, a "business" is allowed to deduct the operating expenses from the business revenue to determine net taxable income.  Read more about this issue: "Business or Hobby? Answer Has Implications for Deductions."

The I.R.S. web site offers videos to help small businesses in convenient, digestible segments. I recommend watching this videos.

Grab your tea or coffee cup!!  The  video series is called Small Business/Self-Employed Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop.

IRSvirtualWorkshop

IRSvirtual10lessons There are 10 Lessons.  I suggest that you listen to all that apply to you. 
If you hover your mouse pointer over the Lesson, it gives you the full name of the lesson and the subjects covered.

The Introduction and Lessons 1 - 4 are fundamental information.  I especially recommend that you listen to at least these four.  You can pause, replay, or skip around.  Start with the Introduction (it is really short.)

Everyone should listen to: Lesson 4. What you need to know when you run your business out of your home.

BELOW are summaries of the first four lessons: 

Lesson 1.  What you need to know about Federal Taxes and your new business
  EIN (Employee Identification Number)
  Record Keeping
  Bookkeeping and Accounting
  Forms of a Business Organization
  Paid Tax Preparer

Lesson 2. How to set up and run your Business so paying taxes isn't a hassle.
  Net Profit and Loss
  Deductions
  Depreciation
  Disability Access Credit
  Self-Employment Tax and Estimated Tax

Lesson.3 How to file and pay your taxes using a computer.
  Describe IRS e-file
  Benefits of e-file
  Electronic Payment Options

Lesson 4.What you need to know when you run your business out of your home.
  
Determine Deduction Eligibility
  
Types of Expenses
  
Deduction Limits  

In my limited experience, there are a couple of issues that have been of particular interest by the I.R.S.:

Withdrawing inventory items for personal use

Accurate and detailed documentation of travel expenses

A receipt for every business expense

Detailed records for Cost of Goods Sold

Records for Finished Goods

Your detailed business records are absolutely essential.

This is my head exploding when I do my taxes.
  Ask Harriete
Watch my head explode.


Nudity, Nipples or TMI in Your Photos

X ratedTRUE CONFESSION: I am NOT trying to sell a new car, TV, or any other consumer product with the allure of sex. But is this tactic from consumer advertising as effective in the art and craft community?

Recently during the photo series on ASK Harriete the subject of nudity, nipples, or TMI ("too much information") in photos of jewelry, clothing and small objects was raised by a number of readers.

Andy Cooperman commented about the juror's dilemna when judging photography submissions. "While jurying exhibitions, I have invariably come across images in which the work (usually a neckpiece) is featured frontally on a nude (usually female) model. "

Curtis ARIMA plant sculpture with breastsPLANT
   "Propagation/Production"
  Sterling Silver, Copper, 18k
   © Curtis Arima

He continues, "While this offers certain benefits, it is most often a turnoff to me as a juror because I feel that there is a manipulative aspect to the image. Am I responding to the work or to the body? Am I responding as a man or as a juror? The work had better be VERY good for me to get past this feeling and accept it. No one wants to feel that they are being manipulated."

 

Curtis ARIMA man NECKLACEsbellybutton
"Spiculum Necklaces"
and "ball and chain necklace"
Sterling silver, and 18k gold
© Curtis Ariman

Nude SEX selling JEWELRY.NAKED Brigitte Martin from Crafthaus added: "Andy's point regarding the choice of model and how much skin is revealed to manipulate a buyer or jury is spot on. I would not put certain 'tactics' above some artists. In a world loaded with information, why not add a little something to be noticed.... I am sure it is done on purpose. "

 



She adds: "Can I as an artist use this to my advantage?
Should I be employing this technique at all?  Is it ethical and under which circumstances does this work?  Most importantly, when and where does it not work? Oh boy, what a can of worms."

I agree with both Brigitte and Andy. From my perspective, the nude in a photograph of jewelry, clothing or three dimensional objects is problematic for lots of reasons.

Curtis ARIMA NECKLACE WITH V NECKLINE

"Spiculum Necklace"
Sterling silver, 18k
© Curtis Arima

Considering the difficulty of getting a great shot with the model that does NOT distract from your art or craft, is it better to focus on the work with less of the body, nudity, or nipples?  At what point is the model distracting or enhancing?

What do you think?

Is this TMI?

Thank you to Curtis Arima who has allowed images of his work to be used in this post on ASK Harriete.
Find more of Curtis Arima's work at his web site or visit his studio at: the SawTooth Building, 2547 8th Street Studio 30B, Berkeley,CA 94710.


Side by Side Comparison - Levels for Photoshop Magic in Your Photos

In two  previous posts a series of side-by-side images included a photo of Bruce Metcalf's necklace.

Did you notice the difference in the model's skin color?

BruceMetcalfnecklaceBruceMetcalfnecklace.fulllighter
Original Photo                       Adjusted with Levels
"Lucia's Poppy Necklace" 2010   © Bruce Metcalf.
Mixed mediums, wood, paint. Model: Natala Covert.

The original (left) photo had a kind of dull cast to the photo giving the skin a greenish cast. I adjusted the photo using LEVELS in PhotoShop making the model's skin tone and necklace a speck more radiant. LEVELS for PhotoShop "magic" can really make a noticeable improvement.  Levels is a way in Photoshop (and other photo editing software) to improve the brightness in a photography.  A 30 second  "fix" with Levels improves the images significantly.

Here is my simple PhotoShop Tutorial for using Levels:

Open PhotoShop
 
FILE:
(find your image)
    OPEN your image: Levelsstep1

 

 

 

 

 
LevelsADJUSTMENTClick: IMAGE in the top menu bar. Look at the drop down menu.

CLICK: Adjustments 
in the drop down menu.

LEVELSbruce metcalfAnother drop down menu.

Click: Levels

You will see a graph with black fill.

There should be a little white trianglular slider on the right side of the graph. A larger image below with a red square highlights the area that I am talking about.

LEVELSbruce metcalfred


Levelsbrucemetcalfimage On Bruce Metcalf's original photo the graph has an empty space on the right (i.e. the black fill in the graph does not extend all the way to the right edge). Do you see how the black fill on the right and the little white trianglular slider on the right edge don't line up?

 LevelsGRAPHbRUCEMETCALFThe TRICK:

GRAB that little  white trianglular slider with your mouse. Move it to the left so the trianglular slider lines up with the right edge of the black fill.

The red square highlights the white triangular slider. 
LevelsGRAPHbRUCEMETCALF redmoved
NOTICE how the photo lightens up.

There you go. Levels magic!!!!!!!

TRY IT YOURSELF. I have an older version of PhotoShop. Your version may be slightly different. Experiment. Learn to use Levels for PhotoShop magic!

LEVELSmovedWORD OF CAUTION: Just as every photo looks different, every photo will have a different graph in Levels.

If you look at Levels for a photo, and the black trianglular slider on  the left, and the white trianglular slider on the right are lined up with the beginning and end of the graphic black fill,  DON'T MOVE THE TRIANGLES.

If the little trianglular sliders move INTO the graphic black fill area (moving past the edge) you will loose information. This is why book publishers do not want you to adjust levels for print images. Book and magazine publishers don't want amateur PhotoShop skills ruining the photo.

If you have an image that looks a little dreary or dark, open Levels and look at the image.

BruceMetcalfnecklace BruceMetcalfnecklace.fulllighter
Original Photo                       Adjusted with Levels

What do you think?

BruceMetcalfnecklace BruceMetcalfnecklaceonly
Original Photo                       Adjusted with Levels &
                                          Cropped.
"Lucia's Poppy Necklace" 2010   © Bruce Metcalf.

Mixed mediums, wood, paint. Model: Natala Covert.

Thank you to Bruce Metcalf for allowing ASK Harriete to experiment with his images and use them as an example for the last two weeks of posts.

If you missed the posts about the images they were titled: 

Side by Side Comparison - Do You Want to See the Whites of Their Eyes When Photographing the Model?   and

Side by Side Comparison - The Whites of The Model's Eyes? Issues and Answers

Harriete

P.S. I kept  my tutorial super simple...but there are many tutorials available on line.

Get more from your software.

  I love Lynda.com and use it all the time to learn new digital skills. If you go to a digital conference or Apple conference they often have a display booth that gives out a short term free trial. Youtube has a number of Lynda,con tutorials to look at for no charge.

Here is a more technical tutorial online.

Here is an Adobe instructions for Levels.


Photo Styling - "Reality" or Getting Real - an Authentic Opinion

Hotbutton We've been discussing photos for almost two months, there is so much to consider. Your photos are the MOST IMPORTANT tool in the artist's or makers tool box.

Fantastic72  

 

Your photos are like Superheros traveling at the speed of light, working 24 hours a day, shrinking and expanding at the touch of a button. The folks at Search Engine People sum up this discussion about images perfectly:

The old adage is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But you do it anyway, so it’s useless to pretend that others don’t, as well. Content may be King, but Appearance is the horse it rides in on, be it a magnificent steed or a gimpy nag.

One of the hot button topics is photo styling which was be discussed at the 2011 Professional Development Seminar in Seattle.  Photo styling as in the stylistic appearance of the photos for your work.

Authenticity The question we are all asking is, "What attributes make an effective photo in documenting art or craft?"  My observation is that there is a shift in the marketplace toward the concept of somehow "capturing authenticity."

Advertising and marketing increasingly strives toward "real" and "just like me".  Even when models are used, the models are presented with a less formal appearance, almost moving to ordinariness. Advertising is suggesting a more "authentic" context or "back story", instead of glamor or seduction.

Teacup Sculpture by Harriete Estel Berman as a commentary about our consumer society. But let's not be fooled. The models, however "real" in their appearance are still models. They have just spent hours in hair and make-up, their photos are taken by professional photographers with 10 assistants to make sure that the "authentic" look doesn't look fake. But this "real and authentic" look is still fabricated, and the photos are still airbrushed.

Authenticity Hoax, How We Get Lost Finding OurselvesI am still amazed that television has successfully coined the phrase "reality show" to describe completely synthetic scenarios populated by selectively skewed "ordinary" people who are thrown into bogus competitions. Or what about commercials that LOOK like they are REAL testimonials? Is a "behind the scenes" Victoria Secret Fashion Show really real?

Buyology Art and craft photography is trending right along side this current style in marketing. To quote Martin Lindstrom from the book, Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. "What we're beginning to witness in the advertising world today is a fascinating marriage between the world of the airbrushed supermodel and the world of the ordinary consumer -- a blurry union between perfect and not so perfect."

Counter Culture As the selling of "authenticity" grows, the marketing of art and craft will continue to evolve.  However, I am concerned by an overemphasis on enhancing reality with artificial authenticity.  

The handmade object remains as authentic as it gets. Art and craft doesn't need to dumb down our work or reduce the quality of our images to enhance reality. We are still selling the one thing that can't be mass produced, the touch of the hand, the quality and craftsmanship from personal care and attention by artists and makers that really do care along with fabulous ideas.

What do you think? Do makers need to enhance authenticity or style reality in the photography of their very real work?  How do you photograph and sell the authenticity of your work? 

Links for these books are affiliate links abd provided for your convenience. Clicking on the book title, or image may provide revenue to support this blog. Your local library may also have these books.  


Side by Side Comparison - The Whites of The Model's Eyes? Issues and Answers

The previous post titled, Side by Side Comparison - Do You Want to See the Whites of Their Eyes When Photographing the Model?  attracted some excellent comments. A super gigantic "THANK YOU" to everyone who left their opinions.

Let's start with three related questions:
Do you like seeing the models eyes -- or are the model's eyes a distraction?
Do you prefer seeing the models entire face?
Does looking at the model's face and eyes distract you from looking at the necklace?

BruceMetcalfnecklaceBruceMetcalfnecklaceonly
Original Photo                Version 2 Cropped w/Photoshop
"Lucia's Poppy Necklace" 2010   © Bruce Metcalf.
Mixed mediums, wood, paint. Model: Natala Covert.

RecycledmILKNECKLACE Recycledcollar800
Option A                                  Option B
Recycle Necklace
© 2010   Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit:(left) Liz Hickok         (right)Emiko Oye 

Recycled collar by Harriete EStel BermanFirst, let's diagnose the images and issues involved. To begin, the human brain is genetically programmed to look at eyes. Advertizers know this and this is why model's in advertising usually stare into the camera, and "smize with their eyes" to quote super model Tyra Banks. The model catches the viewer's eye and STOPS the viewer. High impact and high risk. Brigitte Martin from Crafthaus said in her comments, "For marketing/PR, I would most likely go with the shots where the full face can be seen."

Bruce Metcalf necklaceonlyIn contrast, most of the comments from readers  preferred the images that were cropped above the lips so that the focus was entirely on the necklace. These shots were considered more appropriate to highlight the work, especially for jury slides.  The model's eyes are percieved to be a powerful distraction from the jewelry. Andy Cooperman also pointed out that when "including the model's portrait, the amount of the frame occupied by the actual piece becomes much smaller." GOOD POINT!

Marj-schick-collarAs an alternative, a common practice when using the model in art and craft photography is to divert the gaze. The model either casts their eyes down (as in photo above of Bruce Metcalf's necklace) or diverts their gaze to the side as in Marjorie Schicks Spiraling Over the Line  (left photo). 

GUILLOTINEFallbeil_muenchen_1854 AVOID THE GUILLOTINE: If you don't want to include the entire profile, then crop the photo just above the lips.  This eliminates the guillotine/amputation problem discussed in a previous ASK Harriete post where cropping a photo cut off at the hand (or the head) which looks weird.  Cropping above the lips also eliminates any distraction of the eyes, hair, forehead, or ears. Much less to worry about, Phew! Even a stray hair in a photo can be really distracting.

Rubbergloves Brigitte Martin from Crafthaus addressed the most important issue when considering a model. "Ad agencies everywhere use specific model types for specific reasons, you will not find a sexy model advertising cleaning supplies.  And "granny" won't be able to convince you to buy perfume.  The choice in model, no matter how generic the shot, will ALWAYS influence the viewer, even if you try very hard to stay neutral.

EunYeongJeong
  A stylized model shot victimized by the
  amputated head approach to jewelry
  photography.
  Don't let this happen to your photos!
 

It's human nature to react to images of people and to form a subconscious opinion on the spot (DNA remaining from our Neanderthal past). That's why Kate Moss makes the big bucks."

WORDS OF ADVICE: If you decide to use a model, try to align the style of your model to the style of the work. Focus on the objective of the photo. The intended purpose, whether postcard, print, online, jury, or advertising may influence your decision on the best photo.


Side by Side Comparison - Do You Want to See the Whites of Their Eyes When Using a Model?

When using a live model instead of a mannequin there are so many issues to consider. Today we will look at side by side comparisons of photos from Bruce Metcalf and my own work.

Metcalf had a discussion brewing about this image on his Facebook page. He has graciously allowed me to show the original photo and a modified version for this discussion on ASK Harriete.

Now, pretend that you are a juror and you have 5 to 10 seconds to make a decision to accept or reject.  Go with your gut reaction and make an immediate decision.

Here are the photos. Below are the questions:

Bruce Metcalf necklace Bruce Metcalf necklaceonly
Original Photo     V.1      Version 2 Cropped w/Photoshop
"Lucia's Poppy Necklace" 2010   © Bruce Metcalf.
Mixed mediums, wood, paint. Model: Natala Covert.

A second set of photos illustrates a similar issue. This time the model is looking straight at you. Same necklace, different models, different poses.

Recycledcollar800 RecycledmILKNECKLACE
Option A                                  Option B
Recycle Necklace © 2010   Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit:(left) Liz Hickok         (right)emiko oye 

Which photo do you like best?

Which photo better presents the necklace?

Do you like seeing the model's face or eyes? Or is too much of the model distracting?

Do the model's face and hair add important information about the necklace or is it a distraction?

Do you think the skin color is better in the Metcalf Original Photo or in Version 2?

Are there other questions that you would like to ask?

Please give your comments and opinions. 

No answers  from ASK Harriete, today.  I don't want to bias your opinion. I will aggregate a consensus in the next post.  Please leave your opinion in the comments below or on Facebook, or email me directly.

Levels Plus, I am going to include a short Photoshop lesson soon about using Levels for photo "magic."

Discussion of the model issues will continue on Thursday when a range of opinions will be expressed.

DISCLAIMER: Obviously, the photographic images illustrating Bruce Metcalf's "Lucia's Poppy Necklace" are not the same size because I cropped a vertical shot, cutting off the model's face right above the lips. The original rectangular image is now a more square format.

I compensated a little by making the Version 2 image a little wider. If I had the original image, I could have played with the proportions a little better, but it does bring up an important point. Square images often appear more pleasing on the Internet whereas just a few years ago, a square image would have been very unusual.


A Hand in the Photo Holds Lots of Problems - I hope these aren't your photos?

In this post, a dedicated reader of ASK Harriete submitted a group of photos where the "hand in the photo holds lots of problems."  These were selected from the Internet as "worst case" examples.  Below are 5 common mistakes and solutions to improve your photos. 

HandHOLDING PIN  MISTAKE #1
Hands holding jewelry.

Don't use your fingers or hand to hold a piece of jewelry or sculpture.  The fingers or a hand are always a distraction. In this example, I am betting the person held the brooch over a scanner bed, hence the black background and light on the finger tips.

A similar problem exists in the next photo where the jewelry is cradled in the hand. While the hand may have been an attempt to provide scale, this hand is distracting at best. The fingers are wrinkled and dry, the skin color distracts from the clarity of the glass, and the partial background of white aquarium stones is problematic. Notice that this is a left hand, the right hand is probably trying to hold the camera and shoot at the same time. It's not working. This is not a good photo of the jewelry.Handmade-Lampwork-Beads-Necklace

SOLUTION: Avoid holding jewelry if a plain background will work much better. Options include pinning a brooch into a plain piece of paper or cardboard. Earring posts or ear wires can also go through the background paper.

Another solution is to use Museum Wax or Earthquake Hold to temporarily hold or "stand up" the beads, rings or jewelry on the background.

Avoid being your own hand model. Lay the necklace, beads or jewelry on a neutral background and do your best photography with two hands!
To establish scale: Write the dimensions of the jewelry/object in the description.

HANDgold-webbed-glove-1 MISTAKE #2
Fingernails that look like talons.

Obviously, carefully manicured fingernails are important, but  these long fingernails painted in a dark, high contrast color are a distraction. Describing these fingernails as talons may be overly harsh, but you get what I mean.

SOLUTION: A lighter, less dramatic nail color may have fixed the problem. This example also demonstrates how important it is to focus on the art or craft work in the photo and avoid distractions.

MISTAKE #3
The Stiff Hand or Arm

The arm (above left) looks stiff, flat, and awkward.
SOLUTION: Have the hand in a more natural position (near the body), clothing behind the arm should not have any pattern to work as a "neutral background."

MISTAKE #4
Model not appropriate to jewelry.
HANDHAIRY ARM
In the next photo (right), the arm is too large for the size of the small, delicate bracelet.  For some reason the bracelet seems like it is in the wrong place on the arm.

SOLUTION: Jewelry should always be displayed on a model appropriate to the work. Delicate work should be displayed on a small, delicate model. Sophisticated work on a sophisticated model, etc.

MISTAKE #5
Amputation of the hand.

Cutting off the hand at the wrist is always a bad composition. (The hand may not be relevant to the work, but cutting it off never works.)

SOLUTION: Either include all of the hand or don't put the jewelry on a model's arm.

The previous post (about photographing 3-dimensional objects, clothing or jewelry) described a few of the issues when including the hand in photos. This is part of an extensive series about photography as a foundation for the upcoming Professional Development Seminar.I hope to see you there. Ask your questions in advance by sending them to me.

Also ask your questions at a workshop with me in Pennsylvania sponsored by the PA Guild of Craftsmen. April 9th and 10, 2011.

Harriete

Previous posts in the series Side by Side Comparisons of Different Photos:
Photo Magic or "POOF" Photo Disaster - The Hand as a Prop in the Photographic Image

The model or the pedestal? Which is the more effective image?

Breaking the "Rules" with Style AND Perfection - Photos that work!

Side by Side Comparisons - the White Background, Can You Cut It?

Side by Side Photos - Website Backgrounds Should be Consistent

Side by Side Photos -Clean or Complex Backgrounds?

Side by Side Photo Comparisons - Backgrounds with Texture or Pattern?

Side by Side Photo Comparisons: Colorful or Discordant?

Side by Side Comparisons of Different Photos: Black Hole or Super Sophisticated?

Side by side comparisons of different photos - the graduated background. Stunning or stupefying?

Side by Side Comparisons of Different Photos - the white background. Trendy or Technique?

Are You Being Judged by the Style of Your Images?


The photographers are revealed!


Photo Magic or "POOF" Photo Disaster - The Hand as a Prop in the Photographic Image

Hands are particularly challenging in a photo. This is because our brains are engineered to stare at hands. Thus we can't help looking at the hands in the photo before anything else. Another problem is that most people's hands tend to look a little awkward. Bad combination! For these reasons, hands are particularly challenging in a photo.

HANDS of Harriete Estel Berman with Jeweler'sTattoos.
My very calloused and scarred hands with
"Jeweler's tattoos" (those little trophies
from drilling into your own fingers).

The hands of artists and makers can be very unattractive. Calloused, cut, worn, scared, muscular, and down right unsightly makers' hands literally ruin the whole photo. "Poof" photo disaster.  My first suggestion for "photo magic" is that artist's should avoid using their own hands in a photo shoot.

Recycled Glass Bead Bracelet by Harriete Estel Berman When photographing jewelry or clothing to be worn on the hand or arm,  decide whether the benefits of a model's hand outweigh the distractions.  In this case, the hand is a prop.  Its purpose is to highlight key elements of the work.

To achieve "photo magic" make sure the hands look attractive. This requires long graceful fingers and clean, perfectly manicured fingernails.

 Recycled straight  Bracelet by Harriete Estel BermanDuring the photo shoot, pay close attention to the model's hand positions. If the model's hands aren't working naturally, either position the hands exactly as you want them, or try a position such that the hands don't show.

Professional Guidelines Brochure Model Release Contract.If you can avoid including hands in the photo it is much easier to get  successful photo magic. For an example, two photos in the new Professional Guidelines brochure (left) have taken this approach.

In the far left image of Jesse Mathes' necklace, the hands are hidden behind the model's back. This gives the body a sculptural form with no distraction.

Marj-schick-collar In the  photo of Marjorie Schick body sculpture (left) the model's hands are also hidden. Just imagine what this photo would look like with the model's hands showing.  Hopefully you realize how distracting hands can be.

 

 

Photo shoot by Harriete EStel Berman  and Emiko Oye Even with beautiful hands, it might be one out of 50 shots with varying light and positions to get just the right photographic image.

Ask for some honest critique to see if the hand is drawing attention away from the work or contributing to the focus of the photo and comprehension of artist's intent.

The next post will describe a few MISTAKES and SOLUTIONS with photographs of hands. Either you will have Photo Magic or "POOF" photo disaster! It's all in the hands.

Harriete

If you would like a copy of the new Professional Guidelines Brochure. Contact me through my blog, web site or Facebook.

Recycle plastic jewelry work by Harrite Estel Beman. Photo Credit: emiko oye.

Photo of my hands: Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander