Saturday, May 25, 2013

Feverish Diligent Photography eBook Authoring

Yesterday, after picking up my high school-aged son from school and while we were in the car talking, I mentioned to him I've been working "feverishly" on my new ebook. BTW, he lives with his Mom, not with me. But I see him very regularly. He spends much time here, at my place. He always has. He and his Mom live fairly close by. They've always lived close since he was quite young and his Mom and I decided our co-habitation was not such a good thing.

"Feverishly?" He asked with a chuckle and in that all-too-common, slightly mocking tone that many teenage kids are apt to use with their friends... and parents.  "I wouldn't use that word for what you're talking about."

"What word would you use?" I asked.

"Diligently," he said.

So, I've been diligently working on my new ebook, "Flash-Free Portrait Photography."  I was calling it "Flash-Free Model Photography" but decided that sounds too focused on models. The book is about shooting all kinds of people for all kinds of portraits, albeit in natural light, and not just models.  I want to avoid any possible confusion about the book's intent and its contents. I might even add a sub-title to make it even clearer regarding the book's contents.

Unfortunately, I've been having some gnawing doubts, some genuine insecurities about my voice, my writer's voice. Specifically, the writer's voice I was using for this new ebook. Just so you know, I can write in more than one writer's voice. I'm like a writing impressionist or ventriloquist or whatever that would be. Sort of, at least.  Anyway, I sent off some of the book's freshly written text to a friend, another photographer and ebook author, and asked what he thought. Specifically, regarding the "voice" I've been using to author the book.

My friend wrote back. Here's what he said: "I sometimes struggle with my writing voice too.  While I think it's important to be yourself in your writing, it's also important to write in such a way as to make it easy on the reader and their expectations for a text.  This is an instructional text, so there might be a little less room for humor, lengthy asides, or sentences that look like they're transcribed from actual speaking.  I'm not saying that most of your writing sample here is like that, but there are hints of it and some phrasing that would be easier to hear than to read."

That's what I like about having friends and associates who are honest and straight-up with their answers and opinions. What my friend said has now motivated me to go back and re-write everything I've written so far. While I don't particularly relish doing so, his words validated what I was already feeling, thinking, and fearing: That I had veered off course, style and format wise.  In the end, before its release, I likely would have altered the book's current tone, style, and format, hopefully for the better, but not after going through a lot of writer's angst. (Not to mention re-writes and re-writes and re-writes.) 

Bottom line, my friend likely saved me from what could have been a fairly lengthy (lengthier) process of settling on a style and format that better serves the contents of this book as well as its future readers. Writing can be lonely. It's just you, your brain, the keyboard and the screen. I have a cat who is my near constant side-kick while I'm at my computer. Unfortunately, she's not a very good editor or writing critic. I sometimes ask her what she thinks of something I've written. You know, I read it to her. It's usually then that I realize I need to take break, get another cup of coffee, or maybe call a shrink. 

I'm not going to take the "me" out of my ebook. It will still have a touch of humor and a slightly conversational tone.  But, at the same time, it will also have more of those traditional instructional  qualities, voice-wise and in other ways.  I want the book to be what it needs to be to help people learn and develop their skills and abilities shooting in natural light. I want it to be easy to digest and its contents and techniques just as easy to put into practice. I want it to satisfy its readers' expectations for it. I also want it to be successful from a commercial perspective.  (Duh, right?)

My friend also suggested, "You might want to approach all of this differently... A very successful writer I work with is big on bullets, photos, tables, etc.  He and the publisher figured out what people wanted a long time ago and it works.  In an instructional/technical guide, get to the point, don't try to entertain, and use plenty of illustrations. As they say, my two cents."

Actually, his two cents probably saved me a lot more than that in time and effort and, possibly, will turn out to be worth much more in terms of sales.  I have no intent of writing a bland technical manual. There's plenty enough of them in the world of photography instructional books. There will still be some amount of humor as well as a slightly conversational tone, but I will find the balance between those elements and, in the end, I believe a navigational course correction, one like my friend suggested, will yield a much better text and make for a better, more helpful ebook than the one I've been feverishly writing.

Alrighty then. Time to get back to some ebook authoring on this beautiful Southern California day. I hope everyone has a terrific Memorial Day weekend. If you don't live in America where Memorial Day is celebrated this weekend, I hope your weekend is just as terrific.

The pretty girl at the top (click to enlarge) reflects all natural light. (i.e., Daylight only.) As you can plainly see, the sun is behind her and somewhat to camera right. I employed two reflectors, either side from the front, to light her up.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Models Aren't Always "Models"

So, I'm continuing to work on my new ebook: "Flash-Free Model Photography." It's a project that has seen me being a lazy-ass procrastinator for months now. Leastwise, in terms of diving head-first into it. Instead, I've done little more than dip my toes. Okay, maybe a bit more than toe-dipping. Let's say I've waded into it to my knees. Perhaps even mid-thighs bordering on the crotch waist. But all that has changed!  I've taken the full plunge! And, in so doing, one of the things that occurred to me -- a "duh" moment if you will -- popping into my melon in the form of (what should have been) an obvious question was: Why have I been focused on using models who are "models" for this book?

Just because the ebook's title has the word "model" in it doesn't mean all my models for this book need to be, well, models. After all, I'm going for a wide audience. That wide audience includes anyone who wants to learn to shoot models, all sorts of models, using only available natural light.  Whether my models for the ebook are "models" or they're simply regular people in front of my camera doesn't really matter.  (Which is not to imply "models" can't be regular people or regular people can't be models.)  "Model" photography isn't the point of the book. Shooting people who are modeling for the camera, regardless of their careers or professional labels, and with the shooter making use of available natural light, is the ebook's subject.

Many photographers don't shoot pro, semi-pro, or hope-to-be pro "models" on too regular a basis. Some don't shoot them at all. Yes. There are some do. And some shoot "models" semi-regularly. (Which is one reason why there will still be actual "models" featured in the book. But, for the most part, I think most photographers mostly shoot regular people who are, for a brief time, modeling for the camera.  I'm guessing many of those models won't be regularly modeling for other photographers because, if they did, they'd be "models," right? So that's why I've gone outside the "model" pool for subjects, people subjects, for my new ebook. The book will be entirely "G" rated by the way. It's focus is not people-genre specific. It's photo technique oriented. In a nutshell, it's a "how-to" book for shooting people portraits in natural light, with most of its emphasis on making natural light serve you.

People who aren't "models" (but might sometimes model for a photographer) are people like babies and kids, seniors (both kinds of seniors, i.e., high school seniors as well as senior citizens), brides and grooms, business people, actors and entertainers, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, the list goes on.  The kinds of "modeling" they occasionally engage in is for head shots, family photos, weddings and other events, business portraits, social media use, etc. As a result, those are the kinds of models I'll also be featuring in my "Flash-Free Model Photography" book. So, when you think "models" in the context of this new ebook, think anyone who might be in front of your camera in a more formal or purposeful way than simple, candid, point-and-shoot snapshots.

When I originally came up with this idea for my new ebook, I decided a lot of photographers might like to learn more about shooting people (portraits, head shots, whatever) in available light, both in terms of the tools which will help make better photos and how to employ those tools.  I'm not downplaying the use or value of artificial light like small strobes, monoblocs, that sort of stuff.  I use those tools all the time. But I also shoot in available light. In fact, often enough, I prefer shooting with available light, either on its own or with the help of some simple, yet very effective, available-light lighting tools. 

Anyway, my new ebook focuses on using available light, i.e., natural light, either on its own or with the help of reflectors, scrims, flags, and more. I'm also including information on exposure, filters, and gear other than gear used to enhance or modify the available light. Yep. That's what I decided for the subject of my next ebook and that's what I'm writing about. Besides, do we really need yet another book, an ebook or otherwise, about lighting with strobes? Call me crazy but I think it's been done already... to death.

The pretty girl at the top is Daisy who, as you might guess, is a "model." (Click it to enlarge.) Daisy and I hiked down into a gully with a small stream running through it. The stream's water looked nastier and nastier the closer we got to it so, once we arrived, I decided not to include it in too many of the pics... which I originally wanted to do. But I still had the beautiful Daisy with me so it wasn't much of a loss. I brought along a large, very light-weight and collapsible, Flex-Fill reflector to light Daisy from the front, letting the sun add highlights from behind.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Basic Lighting for Portrait Photography

My friend, Ed Verosky, has just released a new ebook: Basic Lighting for Portrait Photography.

In it's 116 pages, Ed's new book is crammed with terrific information designed to help you learn to light all kinds of portraits. He takes you through the gear, portrait lighting styles, the setups, and more. A lot more.

Ed's new book is filled with photos and graphics to illustrate his text. I'm confident nearly all novice through intermediate portrait photographers will positively benefit from this book.

If you'd like to discover more about Ed's new ebook, including purchasing an instant download, CLICK HERE for details

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogging for Dollars

I've been more than a little remiss updating the blog lately. And by "lately" I mean longer than I care to admit. A few of my "concerned" readers have gently reminded me of such with messages like, "WTF Dude! You take an extended vacation or what???"

To say I've been too busy to blog would be a lie. Not just a little lie, but a big fat lie. I haven't been too busy to blog. I've been too lazy to blog.

There are more than a few reasons for my current state of laziness. I'm not going to list them because I'm too fucking lazy to do so. But I will talk a bit about blogging and what blogging means to my photography because, at the moment, and for whatever reasons, writing about that seems fairly easy in spite of  the lagging, lethargic, lazy sense of being I've been experiencing.

In a nutshell, blogging does absolutely nothing for my photography. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

I'm not one of those photographers seeking work via my blog. My work comes in other ways and blogging isn't one of those ways. Not even in small ways. Not in any ways. (Neither does the excessive time I spend vegetating on Facebook, but that's another subject... likely as boring as this one.)

If I were a wedding or event photographer, a senior shooter, a kid shooter, or even a pet shooter, blogging might help me get some work. The truth is, the vast majority of my clients don't even know that I blog. Nor would they care if they did know. Nor have I bothered to mention it to them even though I've been blogging for about 6 years. Why? Because I know they could give a shit less. That might sound harsh but it's reality.

So, why do I blog? Well, in the beginning, it was a matter of ego. I guess I wanted to share my work which, in my mind, also meant sharing some of what I know. You see, I'm not a fan of photo blogs that are simply comprised of photos. I like some potatoes and veggies with my meat, the meat being the photos.  And some bread too! I love bread.

Since there are so many who are new or new-ish to photography (thanks to the digital revolution) I figured I could find an audience fairly quickly when I first started blogging. And I was right. I did. Probably more so because of the meat, that is, the photos included on my photo blog which feature pretty girls. Mostly pretty girls in various stages of undress. Sex sells. It even sells blogs. (Not that anyone is, literally, buying blogs.)

Somewhere along the line I began thinking, "Gee! I have all these people visiting my blog. Shouldn't I be making a couple of bucks from the work I put into authoring it?"  So, I did stuff like sign up for Google's AdSense and became an Amazon affiliate.  I tried joining the affiliate programs of a few of the big, online, photography retailers but they wanted no part of me. Something about those pretty girls in various stages of undress that put them off. Oh well. Screw them. I lost no sleep over that.

In not time at all, I figured that AdSense wasn't going to generate squat, money wise. And while Amazon does earn me some commissions, they aren't much. I don't even take the commissions in cash. I take them in gift certificates. Generally, they're very low-dollar gift certs.

There's been about a gazillion articles written about making money via blogging.  I haven't read all gazillion of them but I've read a few. Maybe more than a few. I also subscribed to blogs about blogging and checked out websites about blogging and got on some mailing lists about blogging. After all, the kind of money all those blog-experts were claiming sounded great! And they all preached about writing what you know about and I do know a thing or two about shooting pretty girls. It seemed like a blog about shooting pretty girls was a no-brainer. And, as long as I kept blogging, kept building an audience, the money would somehow follow.

But it never did.

I started thinking about a Plan B-- A Plan B that would or could take advantage of my blog and its audience, leastwise in terms of using my blog as some sort of foundation or springboard for some sort of Plan B that would somehow earn a few bucks.  I never thought I'd get rich or be able to support myself from my blog and/or any possible offshoot of my blog, i.e., whatever my blog might spawn as a money-making endeavor. But I did think I might make a few bucks here and there. Leastwise, a few bucks more than those Amazon gift certificates represents.

What Plan B needed was a product to sell. A product that was mine. A product I could begin selling via my blog and grow from there.

I came up with a few different ideas. One of them is a useful, fairly inexpensive, light modifier with a catchy name that most all photographers would immediately understand. And we all know that photographers love to buy gear. Especially gear that's easy to use and will make their photos look better. But while I know more about lighting and how to make or use nice light than the average bear does, probably more than the average photographer does, I know nothing about mechanical design or manufacturing and someone with that kind of know-how is who my idea would need, at least at first. I also haven't had the cash to pay someone like that or to fund a product development and subsequent manufacturing endeavor. I'm not talking a whole lot of money. But it's more money than I'm able to put my hands on and risk out of my own coffers, even though I'm confident the product would sell.

Go find the money, someone told me. Well, yeah. That sounds good. (Gosh! Why didn't I think of that?) But I've never been good at finding investors, although I have tried to do so in the past for various projects. Unfortunately, I'm the world's worst salesman.  Scoring investors has a whole lot to do with selling and being an effective salesman. While my light modifier idea remains a valid and potentially viable idea, one I still may do something with at some future point, until I have an investor or two, it ain't gonna happen.

Another idea was producing workshops. I think I could fill a workshop or two with photographers eager to learn the art (or up their game) of pretty girl shooting. But time and money and money and time also got in the way of that one becoming reality. (Plus my general inclination for laziness even when I'm not being extra-lazy, like I have been lately. )  Much like my light modifier idea, it's still an idea I may pursue. An idea I want to pursue. Wait. I'm going to be positive here: These are ideas I'm going to pursue. Exactly when I do that is a whole other story.

Finally, I hit on ebooks! eBooks were something I could produce on my home computer with no more investment than my time. I could use my blog as a selling springboard and I was confident I would eventually find some affiliates (or they'd find me) who would also sell my books and thus increase sales. So that's what I did. To date, I've authored three ebooks and I'm currently working on #4. (All that's slowing me down for #4 is my current state of laziness.) But #4 will get done! And it will get done in the not-too-distant future. Like in a month.

I'm happy to say I've done pretty well with my ebooks. I can't live off them but they definitely make me some dough every month. I've researched the numbers for many non-fiction ebooks sold on Amazon and elsewhere and, frankly, my ebooks hold their own with some of their bigger sellers.

Blogging for dollars? You betcha. In fact, every time I update my blog I see a small, if fleeting, spike in ebook sales. That I haven't been updating more often does not serve me well. I truly need to shake off my current lackadaisical and inattentive approach to this blog. And I'm going to do just that. Yep. I am going to do just that!

The pretty girl at the top is Sasha Grey. (Click it to enlarge.) Except for resizing and adding my copyright, there's no post processing applied to it at all. That's how the shot came out of the camera.  The stuff in the background is projected. I was shooting at a nightclub location and that's what they had projected on the wall and where my client wanted me to shoot. Unfortunately, my main light washed it out a bit on the right side as Sasha was on a small stage which didn't allow her to move forward so I could get some distance between her and the wall with the projected image.  I suppose I could have moved my main light back -- a 4' Photoflex Octo -- but that would have increased the shadows and made them more pronounced and I wanted soft light hitting Sasha.