Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's Becoming Difficult NOT to Publish

Are you willing to take a chance on your own work?

When you have a great idea and begin to shop it around to a publisher, you may find yourself the only one who does think it's a grand idea.  These days (and those days too) if it doesn't look like it's going to make a good return on investment quickly, a publisher is likely to pat you on the head and tell you to come back when times are a little bit better.

As if.

Several years ago I self-published a book of Idaho photographs using the online book maker Blurb.  The result was better than I expected, much better, and would fully serve the purpose I had envisioned for it as a major  part of my portfolio. (You can see it here.)  It was fun to make, tested my lay-out and design skills, and I learned a lot by doing it.

And it cost me $80 a copy.

Obviously, if I had planned to market it, it was not going to be a big seller, even if I would settle for even the slightest profit.  (I don't mind admitting I need all the profit I can get.)  But since I had no such plans it was worth it because now I have an eye catching piece to add to my portfolio

Also, if I want to pitch my idea for a book to a publisher, I now have something to show other than just a pile of prints.  And as of today, however, I also found a way that might help me to pay for the publishing myself and be able to offer my book at a decent, sellable price.  Which brings us back to my original question.  If you are willing to take a chance on your work and think you can make a profit on it it's easier to do now than ever before.

This realization came to me when I visited The Luminous Landscape, a hugely entertaining and helpful website for photographers interested in landscape photography.  If that describes you, you should bookmark it now.  Or at least wait until you finish reading this post out of simple courtesy.  This morning when visiting this site, I clicked on a link that stood right out at me:   Self Publishing a Landscape Photography Book by Irish landscape photographer Peter Cox (website here).  He describes his successful efforts in publishing a book he had long wanted to see in print.  The most important part for me was his story of how he received more than enough financing to do it through a website called Kickstarter.  I won't go into how Kickstarter works, you can read that yourself when you go there.  I think if you've ever had dreams of publishing a book or getting any kind of project off the ground you really must take a look at it.  You can learn a lot from Peter's article I mentioned above and then going to his Kickstarter page and looking at his marketing video.
The Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry, by Peter Cox
So I ask you again, are you willing to take a chance on your own work?

  * * * * *

And another thing . . . 

I shot this last week on the banks of the Boise River.  I admit to extensive manipulation.  I have yet to come to a decision about whether or not posterity deserves to be left with it or not.  What do you think?

That's quite enough for this week.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writer's Block for Photographers

boise river winter scene
If you're serious about taking, or making, photos, something you'll likely suffer some day is a complete and utter lack of inspiration.  We'll call it photographer's block.  If you you're also a writer, wow, you get to have the other block too!  Sometimes you even get to have both at the same time.

That can lead to depression.  To insecurity.  To pessimism.  To fights with the spouse. Shoot, maybe it leads to toe fungus too.  It sucks.

It can sometimes seem like you're in a negative feedback loop - the longer it continues the harder it is to do anything about it.

So what do writers do?

They might simply go back and visit some of their old work.  When you find and re-read that well-turned phrase that brought a warm glow to your cockles a while ago, it's bound to cheer you up at least a little and remind you of that genius within struggling to get out. So try taking a look at some of your old photos.  You have put some on the wall haven't you?

Maybe you need a change of scenery.  Or maybe you just need to sit down and start typing.  Sort of reminds me about the old joke about the constipated mathematician - we all know what he did.  Perhaps there's a grain of wisdom in that joke!

Another action that I believe can really help is just do a web search and see what comes up.  I did that yesterday and quickly found enough to get my out of the doldrums.  I discovered a site run by James Beltz called "Picture Defense".  It gives very clear, concise and easy to implement information on what to do when you discover one of your pictures on the web in a place you didn't want it to be.  You know what I mean:  you were ripped off.  This is a godsend to me because I have had this happen a number of times and I suspect it is happening right now.  In any case, this is a site that you will want to bookmark immediately, especially if you post your images on the web, which pretty much includes everyone doesn't it?

So what does this have to do with writer's block?  Well, besides getting enthused by a photo related story, I followed a link back to one of Jim's other sites: "Phototips".   I then clicked on his "Tutorials" link et voilá, number five on the resulting list was "Overcoming Photographer's Block".  This guy is busy, knows his stuff, and is fun to read so you'll probably want to bookmark these pages too.

So before it got dark and any colder than it already was, I suited up, got my gear ready and took a walk down to the river.  That's what the picture above is all about - I worked it out with a camera!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Big Picture

Last month I received a rather unique request and opportunity, unique for me at least. A large and well known Boise car dealership, Bronco Motors, requested the use of one of my photos for the entrance lobby of their new Infiniti dealership. The uniqueness of the order lay in the size to which they wished to reproduce the image, a whopping 4'x6'! Now, I realize that for many photographers this is a regularly repeated exercise; for me however, it was a new one. My first concern was if the 12.2 MP image would successfully blow up to that size. The design consultant for Bronco Motors, Wendy Mitchell,was a bit concerned as well and wanted me to allay her fears if I could, before she officially submitted the image to the top brass in Japan for approval.  Since we had agreed to use a local business, Idaho Blue Print, for the enlargement I asked them to run a test on the image for me and then sent them the file they would use.

After a few days passed I visited their store front and picked up a test strip of elephantine proportions.  I was very pleased with the color and didn't see any pixelation but I just couldn't judge how sharp it would appear from say, six feet away.  I had Carollen, my wife, hold it up from across the room and, from that impression, gave the go-ahead to print.

When the print was finished and it was delivered to the framer for mounting on a floater within a frame, I still had not seen it.  The holidays came and went and I was growing more and more excited (and a bit nervous) about seeing this first time for me epic sized print of one of my photos.  The few people who had seen it were very happy with it so I was somewhat reassured, but I had to see it myself.

That opportunity finally came last Friday when Wendy told me should would be visiting the frame shop, Prints Plus and invited me over to see it.  (The picture would be hanging out there until the show room was finished.)  She, Bill Sommars, the master framer and owner of the shop, and the framed and mounted print were all there waiting for us when we arrived:

David Ryan and Wendy mitchell standing with large 4 x 6' photograph
L to R:  Me, Photo, Wendy
What a relief!  I'm very grateful to Idaho Blue Print, Prints Plus, and of course Bronco Motors and look forward to finally seeing the print hung.  It will be accompanied by another photo taken at the Idaho Statehouse, but this one will "only" be 24" by 36".  Piece of cake!

View across the second floor of the Capitol Rotunda, Boise, Idaho
The second print chosen (only 2x3')

Saturday, January 21, 2012

HDR on the Job

Just last week I was presented with an interesting challenge by one of the more unusual hotels in town. The Anniversary Inn features elaborately designed rooms based on a dozen or so fanciful and/or historical themes. Every room in the house is a delight and surprise when you open the door and step into it. You could be walking into Catherine the Great's bedroom, a biker bar complete with pool table, or onto the deck of a sailing ship.

The light is spectacularly poor from a photographer's point of view and it would be a tremendous job to light the rooms and do them justice. I had already taken a few sample shots of some of them to show the management what HDR could do (I wasn't sure myself!) and after seeing the results, they asked me to come back to photograph several for which they needed photos. The following are some of the results.

If you live in the area or plan to visit Boise, you can really spice up your nights with a stay at the Anniversary Inn. ( (Exciting dreams are not included but are likely to happen anyway.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

A winter without snow

I live just a couple of hundred yards from the Boise River, whose course provides the right-of-way for our Green Belt. As it winds its way through the city of Boise it provides a generous variety of scenery and natural attractions. The little stretch near me has several stands of cottonwood forests, islands, and ponds that I've become quite familiar with. It's odd that that familiarity contributes to my not taking my camera along most of the times I traipse through and around it, which is often. Perhaps I'm just not pushing myself enough to look for photos.

A week ago I saw an afternoon sky developing and I thought it might offer a promise of possibility, particularly for HDR, so I suited up for the 15 degree weather, donned my Nikon, perched my tripod on my shoulder, and lit out to the river. By the time I got there, the sky I in which I had seen so much promise had morphed into something completely different, but I was here and had the gear, so I was going to take some pictures. After all, one doesn't go to all this preparation and then not follow through.

Here's what happened:

This happens almost every time I have my camera with me: I'm really glad I did.

Inertia. It really can by one's enemy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trade Offs

There's no doubt that we can come up with breath taking, reality defying images using HDR and I'll be the first to admit I'm always ready to push the envelope in that direction. There are times, however, when we are required to stay within the bounds of credibility in order not to convey a false impression. Real estate photography is what I have immediately in mind. Straight forward non-manipulated images can be quite striking while making the subject look better than it did when we took the photo. Using a polarizer to minimize reflections and intensify skies is a good example. Did the house really look this striking? Was the sky really that blue? No, but we all agree that the use of the polarizing filter was easily justified.

So where do we cross the line into a fantasy land that we've created with our software toys? Usually the client wants and needs an honest portrayal of his or her property and as much as the "bloggers's delight" version might make them gasp in wonderment, it's probably way too far over the edge to be useful to them. But because we can show some restraint and produce realistic and honest photos using HDR, it becomes an excellent tool, especially if we're not inclined to make a major production out of a shoot using a truck load of extra lighting and peripheral equipment.

Above are the results of a shoot I did last week at Tamarack Resort here in Idaho. You can see it was a very bright, sunny day which makes great calendar scenics but causes us a whole bunch of unwanted issues when trying to do something out of the ordinary. The first is the "correctly" exposed image in the series of three I used, and it produced a decent shot that could have floated by the client. But compare it with the HDR composite image following it and tell me which you would prefer.

I like the way the shadows, especially under the eaves, opened up and the snow took on a more rich texture. Still, the photo looks fairly natural and gives a good showing of the house. Here are a few more that will show you some of the problems that bright day caused in a couple of rooms.

This last one of the staircase is admittedly coming close to the border of the fantastic but for me stays in the realm of the realistic and accurately portrays not only what I saw but especially what I felt when I saw it. I loved the mystery and inviting lines of these steps and I think that comes through in this image.

Have you been tinkering along these lines? If so, show me! I'd be glad to post a photo or two here I like them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I've wanted to catch you up on my efforts with HDR (see previous post). But I must not have wanted to do it that badly, I hear you murmur. Well, keeping a roof over and food on can be a time consuming business, which some of you may have noticed.

Last winter I was approached by a very successful Australian interior designer, Fiona Lochtenberg, to do an in-depth photo shoot of her new house at Tamarack, the famed ski resort just south of McCall, Idaho. I might add that it is most famed within the court system of Idaho, where the unfortunate property and anyone financially related to it have been bouncing around for years. In spite of the financial/legal issues surrounding the place, people with disposable income still find it quite an attractive place to be and own. And their reasons are quite apparent.

To do this shoot, which was going to be mostly interiors of a many-roomed mansion, I invested in a new Tamron SP 10-24mm zoom, equivalent to about a 16-37mm for those still stuck in 35mm slr film equivalents (me). It proved to be ideal for the job and I'm glad to have it.

Right up front I knew I was going to shoot this job in HDR (high dynamic range), even though I'd never used this technique on a job before. I figured I had done enough to have a solid enough grasp of it going in. As it turned out, I probably could not have done a better job without it, even though I would do several things differently today and did make a few mistakes along the way.

The weather was gray and gloomy during the last days of December and pulling an interesting shot of the exterior would have been quite a challenge using a straight forward technique. I relied on a heavy dose of HDR on this shot, giving it that surreal, dreamy aspect that is so easily achieved with it. In this case I forgive myself however, and am pleased with the results. I think the way the house blends into the environment, notwithstanding its imposing architecture, is admirable and pleasing. In retro-thought, I may have done well to have lighted up the windows, giving it more of a sanctuary from the harsh winter feeling. That was accomplished with this night shot:

The texture of the snow and the white highlights of the trees were not there in the straight shot version of this photo; I simply couldn't have done this without HDR.

The interior of the house was both a challenge and an exciting opportunity, with lots of design to make a photographer happy.

The house was replete with well-designed features and details which of course made my job both interesting a time consuming (I had a total of about eight hours to do the whole thing, which was adequate but just barely.

This second story patio overlooked a ski run that passes just a couple of yards from the walls of the house:

One of the most intriguing rooms of the house is the kitchen, which is on the interior wall of the main living room/dining area. The other three walls are glass, offering a fantastic view over Tamarack towards Donnelly. There is very little besides a Kitchen Aid to inform one that this is actually a kitchen and not a wet bar.

This is the open balcony of a guest room:

Because of the hundreds of files that resulted I would have been hard pressed to process them all adequately using just Photomatix so I purchased a program called HDR Express. There are many fewer controls and manual tweeks with the latter and it did indeed speed up the process significantly. I found myself dissatisfied with many of my favorite images however, so ended up going back and re-doing them with Photomatix, taking advantage of the hands-on adjustments it gives me. Both programs are great and I think each deserves some space on your hard drive, especially if you're going to be processing HDR shoots that result in more than a few dozen viable images.