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Featured Interview: Wildlife Photographer Harry Collins

We interviewed pro wildlife & nature photographer Harry Collins. His love for the outdoors shines through his photos.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into photography?

I have always been interested in wildlife and photography in general however it was a family trip to Alaska that really accelerated my photography interests. Everywhere I went was like a postcard and there was so much wildlife but all I had was a point and shoot camera and no idea how to use it. 

After returning home I bought my first DSLR. I would spend the next several years reading “how to” books and watching countless YouTube videos to learn. I had no idea what an obsession it would turn into. Being a winner in the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year contest also accelerated my career as I become more well known in the photography community. 

Describe your photographic style and setup.

Being a wildlife photographer primarily it is often difficult to have a specific style as many times you have to work with what you are given. That said, I put a lot of effort into always being at eye level with animals or trying to get action photos such as osprey diving for fish or peregrine falcons in flight. 

I also like to do wide angle wildlife photography using remote sensors with camera traps to get a more intimate closeup view of animals not often seen. 

My primary gear at the moment is a Nikon D5 and 600mm f4 VR lens along with a Nikon D810 and 80-400mm lens.

What is your favorite subject to shoot?

Birds of prey are easily my favorite subject to photograph. There is something so majestic about seeing owls flying or bald eagles fishing, etc.

How does Topaz Labs software help your editing process?

Topaz software has completely changed my editing process. DeNoise specifically is a miracle software. It has allowed me to keep shooting much longer than I ever have been able to by letting me crank my ISO and still get useable images. Even when it’s not needed I still run my photos through DeNoise or Sharpen AI as they make photos that are already sharp that much better!

How do you find your inspiration?

My inspiration is simple these days. Since becoming a full time wildlife photographer it’s become so much more apparent how fragile this planet is and how much help it needs. My inspiration and goal is to both raise awareness as well as helping people relate to wildlife. I have seen distinct personalities in many animals and I believe they should be treated equally. They feel fear, pain, and build bonds with each other that should not be broken by humans. I’m afraid people will not realize how important animals are to the environment and our own existence until they are gone. 

If you could only shoot with one lens, what would it be?

Very tough question. I think if I could only have one it would be my 600mm lens. I love many types of photography such as landscape and astrophotography but my passion is wildlife and the 600mm is the perfect lens. 

What is your biggest challenge in photography?

The biggest challenge for me and many others these days is being different. There are so many photographers now but locations with wildlife are becoming less and less. Now with social media and other internet sites, once an animal or location is found, word travels quickly and it’s rare that I am ever alone with an animal anymore sadly. 

Follow Harry Collins on Instagram at @harrycollinsphotography or visit his website at harrycollinsphoto.com.

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Announcement: Ongoing Product Value and Paid Upgrades

Hello everyone! If we haven’t already been acquainted, I’m Eric, CEO of Topaz Labs. I hope you’re off to a great start in 2020. I have an announcement that may seem like bad news at first, but will end up being good news in the long run:

Starting in August 2020, we will charge for product upgrades to DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, Gigapixel AI, and Mask AI.

Every company says that they value their customers. When we started Topaz Labs many years ago, we tried hard to figure out ways to show this through actions instead of just words. One of the ways we did this was by offering free major upgrades for all of our products. Conceptually, this felt really good to us; we loved the idea of acting differently than faceless corporations by giving ongoing value for free instead of charging for every little thing.

Within the last few years, though, we started to realize something. Product development and research is expensive! It turns out that if we can only earn money by releasing new products, there’s a very powerful internal incentive to only do that. Despite our best intentions, we found that we weren’t focusing as much as we wanted on improving our existing products. We ended up with several different products that did similar things, which caused confusion about which tool to use. Although it started out with good intentions, our free upgrade policy ultimately prevented us from delivering the best possible products to you.

Make no mistake about it: this situation was 100% our fault. We were not thoughtful enough about aligning our pricing structure with continuous improvement of our products. Since realizing this, we took some major steps to improve in 2019:

  1. Consolidated all of our offerings into a single product per category (noise reduction, sharpening, effect creation, etc.)
  2. Massively shifted our internal goals to prioritize improving existing products over releasing new ones
  3. Stopped advertising free upgrades as a policy

Despite not advertising it anymore, in 2019 alone we were proud to give away over $8M worth of claimed free upgrades to major new products like DeNoise 6 => DeNoise AI, InFocus => Sharpen AI, Adjust 6 => Adjust AI, and Studio 2. We’ve already seen a major improvement in the usefulness and experience of our products, and we’re excited to continue down this path in 2020 and beyond.

The next step is to actually move to paid upgrades to finally align our pricing policy with how we want to build products as a company. Basically: it’s our fault, yet I’m asking you to lock arms with us and walk through this phase of our development by accepting this change. I know it’s a lot to ask for, but I hope you can agree that this path really is best for continued improvements to the products that we hope you’ve grown to rely upon.

Here’s how it will work:

Upgrade license renewals

  • After buying a product for the first time, you’ll receive 1 year of free major + minor upgrades from your date of purchase.
  • After your first year of free upgrades is complete, you can buy another year at any time in the future – for any single product for $49.99. If you own multiple products, you can activate a year of account-wide upgrades for $99.99.
  • Only DeNoise, Sharpen, Gigapixel, and Mask will require an upgrade license in 2020. Other products remain under the old policy.

We want you to own your software instead of having to pay to keep accessing it. Once you buy one of our products, you can keep using your purchased version as long as you want regardless of upgrade status. We’re really proud that some of you have continued to trust our products for over a decade after buying it once, and we’d love for this to continue.

Similarly, you should also be able to choose when to upgrade and not be penalized for it. If you don’t think a certain upgrade is worth it, don’t renew your upgrade license just yet. Wait until it actually includes something you want to pay for. This also incentivizes us to make sure that the improvements we do implement are useful enough for you to upgrade.

Example

As an example, let’s say you buy Gigapixel AI for the first time today (2/13/2020), so you receive free upgrades to Gigapixel AI until 2/13/2021.

We then release Gigapixel v4.5 in March, v5 in May, v5.1 in August, and v5.2 in December 2020. You receive all these upgrades for free as part of your initial 1-year upgrade license.

Now imagine we release Gigapixel v5.3 in May 2021 and you decide it’s not worth it. Even though your upgrade license has expired, you can continue using Gigapixel v5.2 (your last owned version) for as long as you like.

Gigapixel v5.3 in May 2021 has a feature you really want, so you purchase an upgrade then. You receive Gigapixel v5.3 and another year of free upgrades starting from the time you purchased the upgrade until May 2022.

Existing customers

For the listed products above, existing customers have an upgrade license starting from a year since they purchased. For example, if you bought DeNoise AI in November 2019, your upgrade license will last until November 2020.

That said, we thought it’d be unfair to immediately expire licenses for people that have purchased over a year ago. So for anyone in this situation, we’re extending a minimum 6 months of upgrade licenses. Even if you first bought our products years ago, the earliest you’d possibly need to pay for an upgrade is in August 2020.

Starting soon, you’ll be able to see the remaining time on your upgrade licenses in your Account.

Why?

I know this is a major shift. We’ve offered free upgrades for so long that it’s become part of what we’re known for. I guess this change all comes down to a single core idea: to be truly useful to you, we believe we should be offering fewer products that go deeper rather than a buffet of shallow products.

In other words, we don’t want to offer you novelties that you’ll stop using after a month. Instead, if you buy DeNoise AI, we want to help you handle noise reduction forever through our software. This means constantly evaluating and adding the most promising cutting-edge noise reduction techniques, relentlessly improving integration with your workflow, and continually adding major new functionality like batch processing (just released!) and selections. You shouldn’t have to worry about noise reduction ever again… or at the very least, you should be able to rely on us to worry about it for you. Paid upgrades are necessary for us to support this kind of deep focus.

Again, this was not a quick or easy decision to make, but we think it’s a necessary one in order for us to deliver massive value for you in the future. All I ask of you is that you give us a chance to prove this through our product improvements in 2020 and beyond.

Thanks so much,

Eric Yang
CEO, Topaz Labs

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Featured Interview: Travel Photographer Chiuki

We interviewed pro photographer Chiuki. He’s traveled most of the world — 167 countries and counting — and captures stunning images that will make you see travel photography in a whole new light.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into photography?

I’ve always been around cameras and photographers since I can remember, but I got my first photography job when I was 14. A local newspaper hired and trained me to be a photojournalist. I was given assignments to cover, but was also free to find other newsworthy items — which started my love of street photography. I was taught to ‘tell a story’ in as few pictures as possible, but also write a small article to give more context and detail to the photos. At that time, everything was shot on film. I made contact sheets then decided which frames to print, how they would be cropped, etc., then handed them over to the editor with my story.

Some years later, my best friend (a pinup artist) asked me to help him make reference photos for his paintings. He would ask random people to pose for him, and I built a photo studio. Eventually he wanted to approach specific models from magazines and movies to collaborate. After seeing his work and the pictures we had been making, everyone said yes. Other artists also began to approach me, as did the models’ friends and agents. Before long, I was approached by Playboy, Penthouse, and several other magazines and video companies to shoot their models as well as promotional material. It went so well, that I soon created a merchandising and promotions company around the artwork.

Describe your photographic style and setup.

I shoot 2 types of images — travel/hospitality as well as female nude/erotic & lingerie/boudoir. For studio work, I use Hasselblad and Canon with Elinchrom. For travel, I use Canon and Sony/Sigma ART plus SLIK & 3 Legged Thing with Manfrotto gearhead. I especially like the increased cropping options I get from the bigger sensor.

I live in Amsterdam, and from the moment I saw it, I fell in love with the beauty of the city and people. I had no preconceived notions but rather took the time to explore and really ‘see’ the city. I used a cheap crop-sensor camera for a 365 project — every day for a year, I posted a picture of something unusual, beautiful or amazing and wrote about it in Dutch (with help). This accomplished 2 things — to motivate me to get out there and explore, as well as interact with the locals in their language. I highly recommend exploring rather than picking up the travel guide or going to those few famous photo-op spots. Make the story your own.

What is your favorite subject to shoot?

I love to shoot travel images — but you don’t always get the conditions you want — even with the best planning. The light, the weather, the clouds, construction — a million variables often make it a real challenge. In the studio is much easier. Almost every aspect can be precisely controlled, which is why my favorite subject to photograph is women. To be able to pose and capture the beauty of a woman in a photograph — for me, there’s nothing better.

How does Topaz Labs software help your editing process?

For my travel photography, I often shoot in the evening and at night. I love the light coming from windows and highlighting the texture of the buildings and streets — small details of light and shadow and colors — can tell a story. I love creating images that show the power of a building or city combined with dramatic lighting that transports the viewer into the scene. So rather than making snapshots, I take a lot of time to really look around and capture the scene in a way that says something, that invites the viewer to envision themselves in those scenes. But shooting in the evenings has huge challenges. People move, ISO needs to be very high to freeze motion at night. Topaz has the best software for my workflow — to remove the noise from high ISO shooting, to mask windows and objects, to sharpen fuzzy details from wide open lenses and to prepare images for large format printing. It’s simply the best application suite available for my workflow.

How do you find your inspiration?

I get inspiration from taking my time to explore and look at a scene. If I move too quickly I miss a lot. There are so many details and angles to take in — so take your time. Don’t rush. For me, it’s a process — to see, to understand, to choose, and to capture. In the studio it’s the same — before we get started I get to know the person. I ask a lot of questions to better understand how they see themselves, but also because I’m extremely curious. By asking questions, I get not only a deeper understanding but also inspiration. Someone will say things that trigger ideas and enthusiasm — it’s those moments that make me say ‘Oh! Let’s try this, or let’s try that’. Asking questions is only a part of the process — the equally important parts are listening, and really seeing.

If you could only shoot with one lens, what would it be?

Tough question! I prefer prime lenses, and I love my TSE24 and Laowa 12, but would go for the Sigma ART 20mm for travel. Sorry to say, it won’t cut it in the studio. I would struggle between a few, but ultimately probably the Sigma ART 135 because of the way it renders the face and body. The 105 and 85 are great but I think the 135 is more flattering and also has great color with both Sony and Canon. Let’s not talk about Hasselblad.

What is your biggest challenge in photography?

Making time. We get so busy and have so many commitments. We all have the exact same amount of time every day — 24 hours. It’s up to use to prioritize that time in the optimum way. We make choices and compromises. For me it’s taking the time I need to enjoy both the process and the result. If I rush — I’m almost always disappointed with the result.

Follow Chiuki on Instagram at @chiukiamsterdam.