Things happening, things planned

There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes, and one aspect of that is that it’s reduced the time and energy needed to keep up a regular set of blog postings here (that, and Elder Scrolls). (Oh, shut up).

I’ve been doing almost no photography since I got back from Yellowstone in June. That’s not that unusual for me; summer is definitely my least favorite season in the Bay Area, when the skies go boring and the light goes glaring and the summer birds are just hanging out waiting for the signal to migrate. That, and I don’t tolerate heat like I used to, and I tend to be self-basting now.

That doesn’t mean nothing is happening. A few notable events recently:

  • I have just licensed one of my sandhill crane images to a wildlife refuge in Nevada for an exhibit they’re building.
  • I also was recently contacted about reprinting one of my pieces in a magazine, which I just signed the contract on. That will be showing up (probably with some of my images) down the road in Birdwatcher’s Digest.
  • Licensing that crane image reminded me that I never announced that one of my crane images was licensed to the Nature Conservancy for use in their 2013 annual report. This was a fun one for me in a number of ways, not only is that a fairly prestigious place to be seen, Nature Conservancy is an organization I love to support, and the area involved — Staten Island, near Lodi — is a favorite place to go shooting in the winter and a great example of the kind of cooperative habitat creation that is helping out our winter bird populations (you can learn about these so-called Pop-up habitats here; Staten Island is an unusual form of it in that Nature Conservancy owns the land and leases it to the farmers to use during growing season. It is also at risk because the Delta Water tunnel project plans to put an access point on Staten Island, which would end up taking about a third of the acreage by eminent domain and paving it, plus the tunneling and construction activities would effectively de-activate this location for years; one reason I’m increasingly against this project proceeding).

This is pretty good given I’m doing no sales or marketing, I think.

I’ve also been putting a fair bit of a lot of this has been about cleaning up the site, improving design and navigation, and creating areas for the reviews and the photo of the day postings that make both accessible and easier to find, both in terms of organic search and for those casual viewers that follow a link and happen to land on the site to read an article. The ultimate goal of this is to create a site that does well in the search engines and allows people to decide to buy things via the Amazon affiliate links without turning the site into something that looks like Las Vegas threw up on the pages or which gets in the reader’s face and in the way of their reading the content and trying to force them to do things I want instead of what they came to the site to do.

I think I’ve succeeded — site activity is up since I started all of this, but beyond that, people who visit this site are staying longer, looking at more pages, and I’m happy to note, buying more through the affiliate links. Not exactly paying the rent, but in the last few months it’s gone from < $10/mo in affiliate funds to what looks like my third straight month at $50 or more. That means the site is effectively paying it’s hosting fees now (I am still working for free, but at least now I’m not paying to let you read this stuff). This is nice, and it’s something that over time I can try to grow further. It’s nice to validate my business ideas that you can do this without flooding the pages with ads until it looks like a low-rent brothel or trolling for zillions of pageviews with slimy headlines and borrowed content. (I do wish I could figure out what I tripped that’s causing that “meet thai singles” web site to stalk me across the sites showing me advertising, and why I can’t convince it to show me kitten adoption ads instead….

I’m also working on an e-commerce setup — still in the planning stage — because I’ve long wanted to create some form of tip jar (that doesn’t include PayPal if I can avoid it), and to allow me to start offering “things” for people to buy, whether those things are signed custom prints or ebooks or whatever. I’ve figured out how I want to build this, now I just need to actually create it. And the things I want to sell… That, I’m sure, is the easy part.  (Yeah, right) (Oh, shut up) — I’ve settled on Shopify for this, FWIW.

Still a lot of work to do on this, and I probably won’t ship anything until after Thanksgiving, if not into the new year. We’ll see. I’d like to do it a bit earlier, because I’m considering printing and selling a calendar, but I don’t want to rush it and mess things up, either.

Striking the word Amateur from my CV?

I’ve always wanted to see about turning my photography and writing into an income stream, but I’ve also tried to be realistic about what I ought to do given the time constraints and other commitments in my life. It’s easy to get things out of balance and either screw up your day job or burn out in the attempt, and one thing I always knew was that I didn’t want to make photography not fun, or the writing I do here a grind, and not want to do it any more. My primary goals are still to keep improving my craft and enjoy what I’m doing, and my hope is I’m building a base of images and content that I can use and build from when I have more time to focus on the  content creation and sales and marketing side of things. Right now, I’m happy that it’s generating a bit of cash and that it’s trending forward.

But that said, I always look at potential opportunities or new things I might do that might fit into my goals, everything from a writing gig as a columnist elsewhere to building out new sites and commercializing them to going into site design and maintenance and wordpress geeking to restarting my fiction career to jumping into writing mobile apps for IOS. I’ve ultimately rejected all of those (and some other things) and time has proven to me that was the right decision. Instead, I finally circled back to putting the time and energy into the camera and into this site and the blog, and not split my attention across too many things – hence some of the things above I’ve just talked about.

But in the last couple of weeks I ran into what I think is an interesting opportunity that syncs up nicely with all of this, and I decided to give it a try, and so I’ve signed up and submitted to submit images to a stock house to see if some of my images might fit their needs and find a market. I looked at micro stock early on and realized I didn’t want to play in the bargain basement with my imagery, so I’ve avoided places like iStockPhoto (not a criticism of those who do, but feeding that monster images that do well in that market isn’t what I want to do with a camera); I’ve looked at a few stock houses and always came away feeling that my imagery would get loss in the masses and that the kind of work I do is in enough of a niche that it would be hard to make it work in a large, general topic stock house.

But I recently ran into a stock house that is a specialty house in nature and outdoor/travel work, and I liked the people involved and their terms and attitudes, and when I searched through their stock library, I felt like my images fit into their library well, that it complemented what was in there and was either as good as or better than what they had. More importantly I also felt like my images would add some unique images to the library and not just be one of thirty copies that were all variations on the same  theme and location.

So I decided to go for it, signed up as a contributor and submitted my first batch. I’m waiting to hear back the technical review to see how many (if any) get accepted or what technical fixes I’ll need to get things accepted. If that works out and this moves forward, I’ll see about submitting other work, and if that happens I’ll talk about this in more detail. For now, it’s still in the exploration phase and I don’t want to toss names around and risk making them look bad if we agree to not move forward for some reason.

That said, prepping images for this took some time and made me start thinking about what I need to do to my lightroom collections to properly support this endeavor, and that’s led me to realize I need to add some meta-data to my images to track certain things. An obvious one is whether there’s a model release, which for 100% of my catalog is currently “no”, but if this moves forward I would expect that to change.

But one of the things they track is whether or not an image is manipulated or not, and right now, that information is handled in my collection by my ability to remember what I did to an image. That’s bad, so I’m starting to track what my processing acts were in my lightroom metadata as keywords so I can easily search on whether an image was processed only in lightroom, whether I ran it through my extended plug-in processing, whether an image is manipulated beyond normal processing, and whether it’s an HDR or a Stitched Panorama. Those last two I was already tracking, actually, so this is an extension of that.

The way I’m defining “manipulated” is this:

  • Any kind of cloning and removing or adding a content.
  • Any kind of content-aware patching
  • Any kind of filter beyond a light basic vignette or a digital equivalent of a Grad-ND (or similar effect that simulates a physical filter)
  • Any compositing
  • Any image where I feel someone will look at the original and the final processed and think that the image was manipulated in some extreme way
  • Any HDR  with processing intended to give the final image a “not photo-realistic” final look (i.e. grunge)

In reality, I’ve run into this a couple of times with images I’ve given to groups to use where they’ve come back and asked for me to remove a filter — when Lightroom 5 came out, I fell in love with the radial filter and built up one that used a combination of exposure and clarity tweaks to build what I felt was a rather nice “vignette on steroids” effect that I really liked, but also turned out to violate their “no modification” standards; when I took a step back and thought about it, I realized they were right so I’ve backed off from using it. If I’d had these modifications clearly flagged in the image metadata, I could avoid handing over an image that wouldn’t fit their publication standards or waste both of our times in a back and forth as I do a revision of the processing for them.

As I work on images, i’ll start tagging these keywords onto them, and once I’m sure I like the design I’ll write about it in more detail because I think this is an interesting technique others might want to adapt into their workflows. Of course, this means I’ve opened up the hood of my Lightroom environment, and we all know what happens when you do that… There are always a dozen other things you might as well fix while you’re there, and down that road lies…

I do suppose that if this stock thing happens I ought to stop presenting myself as an amateur. We’ll see.

In longer range planning, Laurie and I are about a month before we head to Lee Vining for our fall foliage workshop. Beyond that, I’m not sure what my plans are, although I’ve decided one of my winter trips will be up to visit the Lower Klamath and tule Lake refuges. I’ve hesitated about that because for the second year in a row, Tule Lake has been hit by Avian Botulism because the drought is restricting water availability into the refuges, pushing the birds into more crowded conditions where an infected bird can spread it into the flock, and again this year they’re losing up to a thousand ducks a day.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to head up into that, but with the drought currently looking to continue into this fall (and probably beyond), this kind of event in the refuges isn’t well documented and really needs to be, and that ties into the work I’m doing on the refuges in general, so even if it’s not exactly travel photography at some tourist location, it’s important work that someone should be doing, and the refuges don’t get that kind of attention normally — so I’m going to go and see if I can change that a bit.

I’m also looking at my normal trips up into the Lodi/Galt area (Cosumnes, State Island, Isenberg) and out into San Luis NWR and Merced NWR. I’m probably not going to try to visit Colusa or Sacramento NWR because of the distance unless I turn it into more than a day trip. Instead, I’m looking at a number of other refuges I want to visit to start building a library of work with them as well — That includes some of the locals like Don Edwards and Salinas River, as well as some south of here like Pixley and Kern. there are a couple in the delta area I’ve never visited as well like San Joaquin and Stone River. That should keep me more than busy.

I’m looking at my refuge work into the longer term, and in a few years I’m going to want to approach the fish and wildlife folks about gaining access to the closed refuges because ultimately I want to be able to document every refuge in the state, not just the ones with public access. A larger number of refuges in the the library and a better number of published collections of these refuges are going to be necessary to be seen as legitimate by them, so I have my work cut out before I go try that (and frankly, the stock sales aspect won’t hurt my legitimacy, either). And I really do have plenty I can do before I feel I need to take that step, and I should get going on it.

I’m going to keep trying to write regularly.If I disappear again, it’s probably because I’m in Lightroom ticking checkboxes on keywords again… Such fun activities… (or playing Elder Scrolls) (Oh, shut up…)

(note: why not PayPal? I’ve known too many people that have had accounts locked or otherwise run into issues with PayPal’s fraud team where it was incredibly difficult to get straight answers, much less get it resolved. and while I’m sure these are a small minority of the users of PayPal and I know fraud protection is a seriously difficult thing — I’d rather avoid the risk of running into that stuff if I have reasonable alternatives. I don’t have that comfort/trust level of using PayPal as a piece of enabling people to offer me money)