All things photography-related.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

Background

I was recently ripped-off on one of my projects back in January. It’s the first time that this has ever happened to me in the 10+ years that I have either been freelancing or running LunarStudio. Over the years, I’ve worked on over several hundred images and websites, and I’ve never once encountered any unreasonable circumstances which weren’t easily remedied or corrected. With all of my projects, I’ve always been certain to send out a contract unless it was a really trusted client. Without going into too many specific details, this contract basically serves five main purposes:

  1. Outlines what I will deliver.
  2. Outlines what is expected from a client such as plans, elevations, etc.
  3. Protects both the client and myself.
  4. It appears more professional.
  5. Helps me keep track of paperwork.

To summarize what happened, I did work for a company called Advanced Fabrication now called Coffee Shop experts out in California. They also go by the name Coffee Cart Biz. While I’m very reluctant to have actually released any names, I feel that in this rare case it is necessary to prevent other artists from encountering the same issues that I have had. As it stands, they have still refused to pay for my time and services. In no ways would this be considered slander or libel – it is merely stating the facts. I even have it in writing that they refused to pay and the contract to show for it. To add salt to the wound, they went ahead and posted my work on their website without permission (nor payment) which amounts to copyright infringement.

In my contracts, I stipulate that I will work initially from a client’s supplied plans. After that initial round, I allot for a couple rounds of changes thinking that it would be advantageous for future business by keeping the client happy. I also stipulate that plans should be provided which are correct and finalized from the start, that way any potential changes are kept down to a minimum. Well, we started off on the wrong foot here. First, I was sent incorrect plans. When I mentioned this to the client, they told me I was in the wrong (which I wasn’t) and finally when I convinced them that they were incorrect, they ended up telling me to go hunt around for their files. The client also made arbitrary delivery dates such as sending me information on a Friday night, and then expecting changes the following Monday during the week of Christmas. The point in telling you this is to show that they were being quite unreasonable.

Not only did I continue to politely work on their project, but I ended up going above and beyond the outlined rounds of changes. The thought process behind “being accommodating,” is that they promised to have more work in the future. In all, I ended up creating five rounds total, with about 5 views/renderings per round. Each round would take several days on average. The project, which probably should have not run any longer than one week ended up running about a month in total. And they were not just “simple” changes, but often involved complete changes in geometry.

The problem is that I think the client either didn’t care, or they simply “assumed” that changes were easy to make. Anyone that is experienced with the 3D process knows that nothing could be further from the truth. A “simple” change such as a wall color could tack on several hours easily – by the time you make the changes, test process several rounds, and send off the revised image for approval. This can seriously lead to a major time-sink. If you also have other clients, than this could adversely affect the outcome of their artwork as well. Last but not least, it directly impacts our own time-frame for receiving prompt payment. As a 3D artist working with people who are somewhat unfamiliar with the process, I believe it is our obligation to let the client know how their requests for changes can impact our time and that of others. It is simply the responsible and professional thing to do.

Without going into every nit-picky and unreasonable demand (and they were demands), I finally mentioned that this went well beyond my contract and that my fifth round was to be considered a final round. If they needed any other changes, I would gladly make them but those changes would be billable. Advanced Fabrication in turn replied by saying that they refused to pay me unless I made another round of changes for them. Tim Langdon of Advanced Fabrication offered up a meager “$100” for at least one more additional day’s worth of work. That was the last straw which broke the proverbial camel’s back. I felt that their method of holding finances over someone’s head that’s conscientiously gone above and beyond a reasonable amount of work, and tried to provide the best work possible, to be a very crass method of conducting business.

Current Case

I approached two attorneys who both specialized in copyright issues. Both wouldn’t consider the case due to the “trivial” amount involved (a couple thousand in case you need to know.) Attorneys on average bill out around $400 hour. Their advice to me was to take this issue to small claims court which I have done. I have also gathered all of the paperwork which includes a signed contract, all of the emails, as well as printouts of the artwork and screenshots of this company using one of my images without permission.

As for them using my image without permission, I had informed them of copyright infringement and they pulled my image down within a week. According to one attorney, a judge would award compensation based on the amount of damage the infringement may have caused. In this case, a week’s time was probably not enough to warrant significant damages.

Hopefully, I can obtain payment through the small claims judicial system. If this goes through, I can also write the Better Business Bureau of California, it will affect their credit rating and history, and can also be submitted to the Secretary of State and/or Attorney General.

Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily need a written and signed contract to conduct business. Word of mouth is just as admissible in the court of law, however the burden of proof becomes more difficult. It is better to play it safe than sorry.

Lessons Learned

We often learn from our mistakes, and in this case there are several things which could have been done differently and some things I’m glad that I didn’t change.

  1. Always have a contract. It might take a half hour tops to create, but it’s well worth having the documentation handy for reference. In this rare instance, this will benefit me.
  2. Do not allow for “free” rounds of changes. There should only be an initial preview round to make sure that your scene and model is correct. The client needs to provide you with finalized plans from the beginning. If they can’t provide solid plans, then you will need to wait.
  3. If you feel something is minor and you want to provide free changes, you can do so at your discretion. But at least you will have it in concrete writing that you didn’t allow for any changes without billing extra. This way you avoid spending extra days worth of time and working with what I like to call the “maybe factor.”
  4. Mistakes on your behalf should always be corrected free of charge. After all, you made them.
  5. List your change rates in your contracts, and make certain your client is well aware of this rate.
  6. If changes are asked, itemize those changes and provide the client with an estimate as to how long you think their changes will take. Wait until they sign off on them.
  7. Always point out all of the free and additional work you have done on a project. If you don’t inform them of your changes done out of courtesy, don’t expect them to automatically realize it.
  8. Always take it with a grain of salt when a client holds a “carrot over your head.” Just about every single person I speak with almost always mentions that they probably will have future opportunities. This is something you should automatically assume – after all, if you did a great job to begin with, then why wouldn’t they come back to you? It’s just another way of saying, “can you give me something relatively inexpensive, and I’ll feed you more work down the road?” You realize shouldn’t compromise here. If it’s a project that you really want to work on are interested in – there are some exceptions but the exceptions shouldn’t be the rule.
  9. Take screen shots.
  10. Save emails.
  11. Save contracts.
  12. Analyze their work as well. In this case, if I looked more closely at their previous renderings, I would have noticed a variety of 3D rendering styles. If I had paid more attention, this would have raised an initial flag of concern.
  13. You should watermark your images and don’t remove the watermark until you received payment. This must be spelled out clearly in your contracts.

You have to really look at our artistic profession from the perspective of any other professional industry. For example, if you were to hire a painter to paint your house, you would select a color and have them paint it. However, after they had painted it and you decided that you didn’t like it, it would be ridiculous and unethical to tell the painter to redo the paint in a different color and expect it to be free of charge – even if you were “promised” more work down the road.

You can pretty much take any other industry as an example. If you took your car to a mechanic and asked them to change your oil, you wouldn’t expect them to replace your brake pads for free. It’s simply a ludicrous thought. You would need to pay them for the extra time, expertise/labor, and parts involved.It’s only fair.

In the same respect, we should all handle our artwork and value our time and efforts equally. Anyone that’s being cheap about these matters is probably not worth conducting business with. Not charging for changes is really doing a disservice to the industry as a whole and it only serves to make the rest of us look unprofessional.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

Perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses is my tendency to be stubborn. I like to sometimes think that I “know-it-all”, although the obvious reality is that I don’t. The topic of HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging has been in the forefront of my mind since I first started playing around with 3D applications many years ago. In fact, I was one of the first self-taught people that I knew who started playing capturing HDR images using the old reflective chrome ball method. This was “back in the day” when dSLRs first hit the market, and HDR was a completely foreign term to Adobe.

But I wasn’t satisfied with my HDRs quality and limitations. I realized quickly that I needed better photography equipment if I wanted sharper and larger images for 3d purposes. I almost stopped as soon as I started because I couldn’t overcome the costs involved in purchasing “better” equipment. Being an early adopter is not necessarily a badge of honor – especially when considering that there are always people that often come before you and even those that surpass your level of knowledge regardless of time. This is one of those situations which I found myself unexpectedly being the student again.

As of the last few months, I decided to pick back up the hobby – this time with the proper camera equipment. And since I invested a significant amount of money in the new camera equipment, I wanted to make certain that I had most of my facts correct. I surfed the web once again for updated materials on HDR and panoramic stitching applications and tutorials. Perhaps the most useful site that I came across was HDRLabs by Christian Bloch. I joined his forum there and started asking a lot of questions, all of which went answered by its generous community. I also found other people’s posts which turned out to be equally useful in my methodology detective work.

Over time, Christian and I started emailing each other – most of the time it involved me picking his brain for knowledge. It turns out that he is a very kind, intelligent, and patient individual. He could have completely ignored my questions and simply told me to “buy my book,” but he didn’t for which I have to give him a lot of credit. Instead, he took the generous time to answer all of my emailed questions on a personal basis. He ended up helping me out a lot more than I could have ever imagined – and because of this, I figured the least I could do is purchase his book, The HDRI Handbook. While I realize purchasing this book isn’t going to make him rich, it would be more of a sign of my support for all the help he has given me as well as the community at large. I also figured, ‘maybe just maybe’ I’ll gain something out of it.

So a few weeks back, I receive The HDRI Handbook at my doorstep. I proceeded to drop what I was working on and started to read it from cover to cover. My thought was that as much as I knew, there were going to be a lot of smaller details that I have missed. It was those smaller details and missing gaps of information that I wanted to make sure were covered. I also felt that giving him a fair and objective review would also be in order. Let me start off by saying that if I found the book to be a disappointment, I would not be writing this article right now. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my skepticism.

It turns out that it is a fantastic purchase. Anyone from the beginner level to advanced that is interested in capturing their own HDRs should own a copy of this book. Although it does contain information for 3d artists, it contains plenty of useful information for photographers as well – after all, High Dynamic Range images have their basis in the 3d world. It really covers the whole spectrum of the topic. It is written in a style that is very thorough and should be easy to understand for people at all levels of knowledge. It even goes into unbiased detail and objective opinion as to the various HDR programs which are available to photographers and artists.

The book surprised me by showing me a bunch of tonemapping techniques and examples from some very skilled artists and photographers. His examples are actually quite informative – he did not skip out on providing useful images, techniques, and tutorials throughout the book. And perhaps what I found most important was that it reaffirmed a lot of my own self-taught thoughts and concepts for which I had nothing else to refer back to.

Having spent many years in the publishing industry, I can say that a lot of time and effort was put into the writing and production of this book. If you’re at all serious about HDR photography, you would really be doing yourself, him, and the community a huge favor by making this purchase. It is money that was very wisely spent. I look forward to future materials written by Christian Bloch.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I just wanted to make a quick mention that I added some additional HDRs (High Dynamic Range Images) to my other website, HDRSource. They were taken roughly about a month ago, but I’ve had little time from my main work to process them until now. If you have a moment, please check them out. I’ve posted the HDR photographs to the following section: 0 Comments/by

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ to a few people who have been of tremendous help recently. It’s always a nice surprise (a surprise to me at least) whenever I find good-natured people who aren’t necessarily always looking for something in return.

Thanks to Torgeir Holm for helping me out with one of my product lighting shots.

Thanks to Christian Bloch for his help and support on sIBL as well as HDRs.

And last but not least, thanks to Jeff Mottle for posting my website HDRSource under the News category of CGArchitect.

It really is appreciated you guys – I can’t thank you enough without sounding completely sappy.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

My newly redesigned website, HDRSource is up and running again. In all actuality, it never really went anywhere – I just had laid off promoting it for several years as the real work with LunarStudio managed to keep me preoccupied. It’s one of the first online stores that sold HDRs and HDR libraries. I created HDRSource when the term ‘HDR’  turned up around 20 links maximum when ‘HDR’ was searched in Google – so it’s really been something that I’ve worked on in the background since the technique’s infancy. This site even predates Photoshop’s support for High Dynamic Range Images. As some of you might have followed, I’ve take time off this summer to completely update all of my websites, and this was the last website on my list. So I’m proud to announce once again that it is up and running with newly-minted 360-degree images.

Originally, HDRSource was all hand-coded – long before the popularity of blogging systems and CMSs came into play. However, having to manually update it every single time turned into a really big pain. That’s why I made the decision to use a WordPress installation and to “fake it” into resembling more of a regular, non-blogging look type of website. I have absolutely no regrets with this system now. I don’t have to fiddle with Photoshop every time I want to insert a graphic. I don’t have to open up Dreamweaver and peck through code – trying to remember every single time what I had did and what each piece of CSS stood for. It’s simply, much easier to maintain and update. And if I want to add additional functionality, then that’s mostly a breeze as well. Plus, I know search engine optimization – and if you look closely, I have all of those tools mostly at my disposal.

As for the HDRSource website itself, it caters mostly to the 3-D community and ties in directly with my work at Lunarstudio. It’s a store that specializes in High Dynamic Range photographic panoramas which I have manually produced. 3-D artists sometimes use HDRs to surround and light 3D models and scenes. It is a form of technique which we often call Image Based Lighting – or IBL for short. HDRs tend to lend a realistic look to our models because of the nuances in lighting, variations in color, as well as reflections. They can make a flat, almost toon-like 3d model into something realistically convincing. The differences between using them and not using them can often be quite drastic.

HDR originally has its roots in computer graphics research – and assisted 3D artists. As Photoshop released it’s first basic import option, it started to gain the interest of the general photography community. Soon, photographers set out to capture some pretty remarkable photographs using the HDR technique. However, while I appreciate many photographers adventure into this avenue, I’ve somewhat insisted on staying a purist for the 3d world. My photos generally don’t have what some call and over-saturated ‘radioactive’ glow to them. I prefer mine to match exactly what the human eye can capture.

If you have a moment, please head on over there and check out my photography work. I’m not asking anyone to buy anything – perhaps you’ll simply get a ‘kick out of’ browsing some of my 360 degree HDR panoramic image.

HDRSource High Dynamic Range Images

www.hdrsource.com