I didn’t plan on this being the topic when I went into do this show with Leo Laporte, but this is what it turned into. I hope you find some bits and pieces in here of use to you!
Daily Photo – San Francisco Golden Gate by Night
I’d had a very long day up at the TWIT studios with Leo Laporte and gang, where I recorded TWIT Photo and MacBreak Weekly recently. After all that, I drove down south to find a place in Sausalito for the night with Tom. We planned on waking up early the next morning for photos. Since we were so close, we decided to take a small hike up the trail near there to see the bridge in the evening… and that is when I grabbed this shot.
I’ve thought about this a while before writing it. There were many jumbled thoughts and the shapes of certain truths, and I’ve done my best to sculpt them into something tangible.
So I had a lovely dinner with Vic Gundotra at his home. I actually wasn’t going to mention it at all until he did first. I don’t know what to do in these situations since there doesn’t seem to be any protocol, and I didn’t want to see internet-gauche. And so, here I am, after the seal has been broken, telling you some interesting things about our dinner.
We talked about everything from aesthetics to technology to time dilation to sociology to string theory to channeling emotions into creative output. Along these lines, I found out many things I never would have suspected, and it made me think more deeply about these notions of talent and curiosity.
Vic sat on the couch (after sending his well-trained son to the wine-cellar!) with some cheese and crackers, and vest and wry smile, and began to tell me something I never knew. It turns out that he has taken years and years of guitar lessons. He’s even had a private instructor come over to his home time and time again. He played proficiently, but one day after a straightforward question, his teacher gave him the bad news. Vic shifted in his seat and looked forlorn when he said, defeated, “I have no talent for it.”
And then later, towards the end of dinner, he told me about all the camera equipment he carries with him when he travels. He has more lenses than a Nat Geo crew jammed into his backpack, which means he is well beyond a “serious enthusiast.” Again, there is a tiny sadness in him that he can’t quite create the kind of images he really wants. There’s no doubt he’s got many winner-shots of his family in there, but I can tell there is more he wants to do with all that equipment. He has been unable to achieve the excellence he wants. Then, the topic turns to me, and he finds out that I’ve been at this for only a short time, and he chalks this up to the ever-intangible “talent.”
The conversation meanders naturally from subject to subject as we travel down various paths. He talks about time and people and the internet and the tendrils that connect them all. It’s more of a poem than a technical dissertation. He puts ideas into the shape of a cloud, shapes them with his hands, and then floats them across the room, only to offer up another.
His son comes down and Vic starts sharing some of my photos with him. He tells his son, with eyebrows high, “Trey has only been doing this for five years.” His son’s eyes get big, but I do my best to dismiss this by saying, “You can do a lot in five years if you’re curious enough.”
And then Vic goes back to talking about the connections between all of us, and how he and the team want to, essentially, enhance the humanness and connectivity of everything. He jumps between metaphors that bind together the theoretical and the practical. While he speaks with placid erudition, I can see glowing lines connecting the words and ideas that stretch into the future.
And while he shapes thoughts, I feel the edge of an idea. He has, in essence, a “talent” — but certainly not one with which anyone would be born, as talent is normally assumed to be divinely implanted. No one would ever be born with a “talent” for building social networks; there is no inborn talent to naturally work with a team to re-organize the web from pages to people. But certainly, one could say, that Vic has a talent for it. And maybe this is where curiosity comes into play.
Curiosity may be another word for “playful work.” I think all of us kind of stumble through life until we find something that resonates. And then, maybe, if you’re lucky, the curiosity will kick in and let you create what has never been created. The curiosity can help you find disparate parts of a whole and re-synthesize them into something that’s unique, unexpected, and wonderful.
So, Vic is “interested” in playing the guitar and photography, but he hasn’t let his curiosity run wild there yet. Over the past few years, his curiosity has been using up all his brain cycles over in the human-connection tech space. But a curious mind will wander, and maybe someday he’ll be able to release and explore other areas. The curiosity does require letting go and becoming one with the flow of the universe. I don’t mean to sound too Zen or anything, but you do have to let go of existing structured thought in order to let the curiosity blossom into something new. And I imagine this is exactly what he and the team have done with Google+ — in that they have let their minds go wild with every possible universe. And when you can see many universes in your future, you get to choose the one you want to be inside.
So I left his home later that evening and had a long ride home, thinking about everything. I can’t help but get excited like a little kid at these sorts of things. I’m not ashamed to say it. To me, these are the greatest conversations of all – those that deal within the spheres and magisterium of ideas. The notion of Vic’s mind running wild with the possibilities of what can happen when people are connected is like a waking dream.
I think about his family with him just before I left him for the night. It occurs to me that the root of all these people is that little network he holds most dear — his family as they buzz around him with ideas and thoughts and voices of their own.
And there, just inside the warm home, I see this family move about here and there, and I come to understand him even more. I feel why he is happy and curious. His wife’s smile shapes his day and his gentle kids set his mind to the dreaming realms.
As this future becomes more and more plain to me, I see a rapture of sorts, where old-school photographers clinging to the old-fashioned ways of doing things will be “left behind.” So much of the irrational behavior and anger is usually based in fear (fear-of-change, specifically), but it doesn’t have to be that way.
When it comes to sharing your photographs online, you can go in two directions. You can put small images online, watermark them and then spend some or all of the week chasing down people that have used them inappropriately.
Or, you can be like me.
Offer up all your creations in maximum and beautiful resolution to the will of the web. The web, and the universe, has a certain flow to it. You can become one with that flow and enjoy the ride. You can let the opportunity of what-can-be motivate you rather than the more poisonous fear-of-loss.
Join Me on Pinterest
I’m at pinterest.com/treyratcliff/. I have boards with my stuff, places I’d like to visit, other favorite photographers, and design ideas. Link to yours in the comments if you want to share.
The Big Picture – The Now of Sharing
Sharing isn’t the future; it’s the now. Before we talk about Pinterest in particular, let’s discuss an overall digital sharing strategy. Forming a solid philosophical foundation will help keep you from feeling like you’re always flapping in the latest digital breeze.
A pure artist has two motivations: creation for the sake of creation and sharing for the sake of connecting with the world.
In this recent talk at Google, I talk about the importance of sharing as an artist. Skip ahead to 7:22 for my sharing strategy or 11:50 to hear about Creative Commons.
Sharing your artistic creation with one person is better than zero. Sharing your artistic creation with 20 people is better than 10. And so it goes. Furthermore, if you want people to see your work in all its glory, it needs to be available at maximum resolution with no watermark. This is my opinion. Personally, if I see an image with a watermark, oftentimes all I can think about is that annoying watermark. Maybe this is just me.
The Results of My Open Sharing
I’ve been doing this for over five years under the Creative Commons Noncommercial license, which means anyone can use my images for personal reasons such as blogs, wallpapers, etc., but they must contact us for commercial licensing. It has resulted in my images getting 100’s of millions of views in the past few years; and emerging in the last six months in Google+, where open sharing has helped me to get over 3 million followers. When I share images there, the results go crazy because of the multiplication effect. For example, the “End of the World” image below has been viewed more than 35 million times.
This photo has over 35 million views thanks to Google+. When Google+ got started, many photographers were also upset about copyright issues. But not me.
None of this would have happened if I had the opposite attitude towards sharing. There are many other photographers that know exactly what I mean and get a lot of pleasure out of people seeing their work. It doesn’t matter if it is 100 people or 1,000 people that see your work. The point is that sharing (aka communicating your vision) with others makes the artist feel more alive.
What is Pinterest?
Pinterest is window-shopping on steroids. It is said, in a generally dismissive manner, “Oh, women really like Pinterest.” Fool! Women rule the world! In the great interwoven networks of our Dunbar 150s (wikipedia) , it’s the women that form most of the connections between and across groups.
> Techcrunch sites that Pinterest has over 10.4 mil users and 97% of the likes are from women. Article.
I say it is like window-shopping because it is a very visual and eye-darting experience. Women have a particularly good eye at finding something that is “interesting.” Now that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad necessarily, it just means that they are interested in it. They have an ability to “gather” interesting bits – a skill that still baffles my befuddled male-hunter brain. Then, almost effortlessly, they can “pin” it to their own board — their own “window.” This window-shopping then spreads at an algorithmic rate as different users with different Venn-diagrams of interest start building their own windows, all of which adds to the growing meta-mind-share of interesting images.
> “My wife used to have an interest in my interests, but now she only has an interest in her pinterest.” – Trey Ratcliff on a lonely night…
Why are some photographers anti-Pinterest?
Many photographers fear Pinterest because anyone can “pin” an image of theirs and all copyright is stripped away. This isn’t necessarily true, because the link to the originally pinned location is still there. So, you can think of it as a hyperlink that just happens to be a visual thumbnail instead of boring text like “Awesome Photo of Disneyworld.”
Instead, now I think of Pinterest as sort of an amuse-bouche. If people are interested, they will follow links to find out who actually took the photo. Perhaps they want a print. Or maybe they would like to license the image to use for an advertising campaign or on a commercial website. Either way, people that are willing to pay you money will do their best to track you down.
Free traffic leads to real revenue
Most people in the world are good people. If they find digital art they want to buy for a print or use in a commercial campaign, they will figure out a way to get you money. 99% of your traffic is truly “window-shoppers.” They will look at your goods, take note, enjoy them and move on. But 1% will want to make a personal or business transaction with you.
Despite what fear-mongers have told you, everyone will not steal your images. Most legitimate companies will work out a proper licensing arrangement with you. Even though I use Creative Commons Noncommercial, I still license my images with the Copyright office. This enables us to sue companies that do not go through the proper channels. There was a well-publicized case lately where we sued Time for using my images in an ad for their iPad app. But that is another story. The point is that most people do not steal, and on those edge cases where it does happen, you have many reactive options.
Pinterest accounts 15% of our Traffic
StuckInCustoms.com has healthy traffic that grows every year thanks to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. We don’t advertise or buy links or any of that stuff. So I depend on the Internet and nice people like you to link back to the site and tell your friends that you find something unique and cool.
Last month, we had 714,143 Pageviews and 234,107 unique visitors. 15% of this traffic came from Pinterest. Amazing! If Pinterest didn’t exist (a reality some photographers would prefer), then our traffic would be 15% less. Choosing to switch-off innovation is a fool’s errand, especially in today’s world. It reminds me of the scene in Anthem where the council of candle-makers becomes rather upset at the invention of the light bulb.
New Styles of Human Communication
Increasingly, we have a new way of talking to one another. It’s not through voice or text — it’s through photos. They are like Chinese characters taken to the next order of magnitude. It’s strange to think about, but I can quickly show you five photos and communicate an idea, a story, or a complex thought. There wasn’t an easy way to do that 5 or 10 years ago.
Someone on Pinterest can make a board called “Feeling a bit blue,” and they can fill it with cool-colored melancholy photos. Isn’t this just another way of making a poem? If I built up this pinboard and sent it to a friend, it’s nothing but a visual poem in a new medium. It’s just as powerful, and, in many ways, more accessible.
Pinterest is simply another way (a newer, evolving way, mind you) for humans to communicate with one another. It is increasingly the job of digital artists to inspire, share and bring more beauty and communication into the world.
Discussion of your opinions on the matter
Whenever I discuss the subject of copyright in the evolving Internet, there is more than enough vitriol that gets spewed into the comments. That is fine. I leave comments here open – so, what do you think?
“‘To take an interesting photo, some may choose to carry around a lot of metal and glass and mirrors and silicon. I choose to carry around less metal and glass and silicon. Oh, and no mirrors.’ – Me, quoting myself.” – Trey Ratcliff
Interview about the Sony NEX vs. Nikon in July of 2013
I know the update above has been a controversial decision, so Frederick Van Johnson, host of This Week in Photo, wanted to get me into this interview. Now, here’s a cool thing. If you go to This Link For the Interview, you can scrub forwards and back in the video until you see the question you want answered. Man, it is a long interview, but everything you ever wanted to know is in there!
I can’t picture myself investing any more money in DSLR bodies and lenses. The new Nikon D4 that is coming out? Not interested.
3rd Gen Cameras are already here, and they will only get better according to all the laws of size and speed we’ve come to know and love.
What are 3rd Gen Cameras?
These are the new line of cameras that don’t use the 20th century technology of a mechanical mirror inside that flips up and down between photos. In a few years, we’ll all look back and smile, having fond memories of using these Da Vinci-esque mechanical devices. Charts of how cameras used to work with their flipping innards will look like some of Leonardo’s unrealized steampunk inventions.
Example Camera – The Sony NEX-7
I’ve recently reviewed a mirrorless camera I bought and really like – see my Sony NEX-7 Review.
Video: Watch this video below by Scoble, and jump ahead to 35:25 to see me talk about this new generation of cameras…
Naming: Mirrorless = Horseless Buggy
Some people have called this evolution “mirrorless” cameras. In my judgment, that is a ridiculous name. You don’t name a category of technology by what it is not. I suppose we did use to call an “automobile” a “horseless buggy,” but now we look back on that quaint term and laugh. So, of course we will not call these cameras “mirrorless” for long.
And so the term “3rd Gen Cameras” is much better for this new phase of digital photography. It also encompasses the other nonsensical names out there like “Micro four-thirds” and “EVIL” monikers. Gearheads talk too much about the tech, and it simply confuses the common man. The “3rd” bit pays homage to the first generation – those innovative but weak first forays into digital. It also puts all the current DSLRs into the “2nd Generation Cameras,” since that’s when digital photography really got its legs under it. Heck, even most of the old-school film curmudgeons have crossed the Rubicon. To think that DSLRs with gesticulating mirrors and spinning gears are the future is to have one’s head in the sand.
The Pain of Choice
Look, I hate to say it! I’ve spent loads of money on DSLRs and lenses for my Nikon. I’m not going to be using any of it in five years.
This is why the first decision is always a big one. Canon or Nikon. I don’t really get into that argument. But, I do agree that once you commit to one, you’ll be buying a lot of lenses and just swapping out the body. That’s why that first decision is so key — and it is the reason that I won’t buy any more Nikon bodies or lenses — because I won’t be using any of them in the future.
If you’re not familiar with these 3rd Gen Cameras, you may ask, “Why can’t I use my current lenses on these new camera bodies?” The answer is because those lenses are designed for bodies with a mirror that flips up and down. Those bodies need to be _extra-thick_ to make room for that medieval reflective trapdoor. So, your current lenses focus the light too deep for the new supermodel-thin 3rd gen cameras. Yes, there are converters that let you use them, but it defeats the purpose and advantages of having an ultra-small flexible lens system.
Caption: I didn’t use a DSLR to get this. In fact, in looking at this site at StuckInCustoms.com , it may be hard to know which images I got with a DSLR and which ones I didn’t.
I won’t go into all the tech about these cameras, since this is an article about the trend rather than the finer points of the tech. If you want to talk tech and learn more, head over to one of the best sites on the net for learning all this stuff, CameraLabs.com. It’s run by the brilliant Gordon Laing, and he is one of the world’s foremost experts on this stuff. Plus, he creates amazing camera reviews and everything — written and video. Think of it as Top Gear for cameras!
But, look – it’s not all roses. Let’s talk about some disadvantages before we talk about the advantages. I’d like to think I’m pretty objective about it. By the way, Nikon doesn’t pay me or anything. Neither does the camera industry, whatever that is. You can make the case that Best Buy is in cahoots with TV manufacturers to “hype-up” 3D TV just to sell more TVs… or to make people feel like they really need to own a 3D TV. In reality, most of us know that is just marketing nonsense and not necessarily the future of all TVs (maybe just a strain of them).
Disadvantages of 3rd Gen Cameras (note: all will be overcome with time and iterations)
Sensor Size: You can’t quite get “Full Frame” sensors yet, like those available on the more expensive DSLRs. The current 3rd Gen Cameras, like the Nikon V1, will have a cropped sensor. What this means, in the case of the V1, is that the 10-30mm lens will actually be 27mm to 81mm. So, that’s not the end of the world, but something to consider. *Most* DSLR users are currently on cropped sensors, by the way. Only the high-end pros use full-frame sensor DSLRs.
Gordon Laing from CameraLabs.com chimes in: Sensor size. Most mirror-less ILCs have smaller sensors than pro DSLRs. The exception is the super-expensive Leica M9 which does squeeze a 36x24mm full-frame sensor into a relatively small, mirrorless body, but the rest are smaller than full-frame.
Of these, the largest are the APS-C sensors deployed in Sony’s NEX and Samsung’s NX ranges. These are the same size as most DSLRs, including Nikon’s DX range. After this come Micro Four Thirds models from Panasonic and Olympus, followed by Nikon’s CX format in the J1 and V1, and below that the Pentax Q. As the sensor gets smaller, it typically becomes less sensitive to light and easier to saturate – so less dynamic range and more noise. It also typically means a bigger depth of field, which is no good if you like your out of focus bokeh effects. But on the upside, the smaller, the sensor, the smaller the lens.
Of all this, the important thing is to remember a Sony NEX or Samsung NX has the same sensor size as a Canon APS-C or Nikon DX body.
So, for the vast majority of DSLR users, this is not even a consideration, as they are used to these sensor sizes.
For the high-end pro DSLR users that want the equivalent full frame sensor, well they will only need to wait a little while. Maybe, like me, you already have good enough equipment to wait until those full-frame sensors are on the 3rd gen cameras.
Now, the current 3rd Gen Cameras have 10+ megapixel cameras. It’s not full-frame, but you’re certainly not skimping on image resolution. I know sometimes beginners get these things confused (frame size vs. resolution), so, don’t worry about that.
Gordon Laing from CameraLabs.com chimes in: Resolution. Be careful here, as some ILCs have the same or even higher resolutions as DSLRs. The Nikon 1 may only be 10 Mpixel, but Panasonic have a 16 Mpixel micro four thirds sensor, and Sony uses 16 and even 24 Mpixel sensors in its latest NEX models. So resolution is comparable to DSLRs.
BTW, I can say this with certainty: a full frame sensor will not necessarily give you a better photo. I can show you hundreds of thousands of amazing photos from beginner to advanced photographers that are not full-frame sensors. Anyway, don’t complain. Just wait — it’s coming – obviously.
Gear-heads will really give me a hard time about this. Let them. Most fully-formed artists know that the goal is to create an _interesting image_, and that has little to do with sensor size and resolution.
Caption: I took this photo with my Nikon D3X, but I could have captured the exact same image with the Sony A77, for example. There is nothing about this image that required a DSLR.
No Optical Viewfinder: This is a good one. The path to getting around this disadvantage is a tricky one, filled with misconceptions and habits/baggage.
Here’s the thing. I, like you, am used to looking through the optical viewfinder. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is when you peer through little window on top, and the light you see is reflected off a mirror. So, you’re seeing what is really there – real-time.
Many new 3rd Gen Cameras also have a viewfinder window up there (sometimes as an attachment), but it is an electronic viewfinder. That means you’re seeing a little LCD display at extremely high resolution.
Many DSLR people have an irrational fear of this based on lousy, slow, laggy LCD “live” displays on current DSLRs. I agree! But this is not a fair comparison because it uses a different rendering tech than the 3rd Gen Cameras. These new cameras have very y fast LCD displays. It’s as real-time as real-time. You may see some slowdowns and tearing during panning, but those disadvantages will be overcome soon enough.
And, remember, you don’t have to hold out the camera in front of you to see the back display like a tourist at Trevi Fountain. You can still pin the top of the camera to your eye, old-school, and get a nice little dark, framed, area for taking your photo.
So, it will actually be kind of awesome — you know, like those binoculars that Luke used at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back to see the droid. You can have all kinds of read-outs a HUD information.
Hardcore action-photographers (which is a small percentage, btw) may choose to stick with DSLRs until the electronic viewfinder gets even faster. But that won’t be much longer.
You Won’t “Look” like a pro: Imagine showing up to a paid gig with a little camera. Won’t that be a little embarrassing? Yes, I suppose. But, if you have a killer portfolio, who cares what people think? Ideally, clients will chose you based on your portfolio, not on the size of your camera.
Caption: This Smithsonian photo was taken with very early digital technology — many years ago with the Nikon D70 – a camera with arguably less functionality and features than this first wave of 3rd Gen Cameras.
Scary FPS: Do you know how many frames per second you can shoot on these 3rd Generation Cameras? OMG. I know I sound like a teenage girl when I use that acronym, but I kind of feel like one.
Of course, the reason they can take so many frames per second is because you don’t have this old mirror flipping up and down all the time. The Nikon V1 can do 10 FPS with autofocus or 60 FPS (!!!) with fixed focus, and that’s now in the beginning of 2012. Just wait for the end of 2012! I used one of these for a few weeks from BorrowLenses.com.
And, for those sports photographers that really need the action, maybe this will outweigh the optical viewfinder situation above. These cameras can buffer a lot of frames before you first push the shutter button. So, that means you’ll get a bunch of extra frames before and after that decisive moment.
Of course, this changes post-processing a bit more… you’ll just spend more time in Lightroom finding the best 1 image out of 200 instead of the best 1 out of 20. But, to me, this is a good problem to have! Maybe it’s just me, but I love hanging out in Lightroom, drinking good tea or coffee, and flipping through the day’s shots to find my favorites. Good times!
Size: 3rd Generation DSLRs are smaller, thinner, and lighter. So are the lenses. A possible disadvantage of this is you won’t look like such a stud anymore in front of clients. Anyway, I won’t say any more about this topic. Smaller is better. There’s nothing noble about carrying around a bunch of heavy equipment.
Cleaning: Since the mirror doesn’t flip up and down any more, you’re not flinging a bunch of dust and junk around the inside of that barn. After each trip I take, the sensor on my D3X and D3S needs a good old-fashioned cleaning. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to do that any more. Call me lazy.
Nikon and Canon (and big magazines) won’t tell you what I am telling you
Why? They want to keep selling DSLR bodies and lenses. It’s not a conspiracy or anything – it is just good business.
Also, big camera manufacturers are all in cahoots with magazines to continue to sell products. Magazines will continue to talk about them too, since their advertising is the lifeblood of the magazine. I have a longer article on that topic: “Stop Advertising in Magazines – Head West to the Web” – enjoy!
Personally, I’m not going to buy any more DLSR bodies or lenses. I’m waiting on the descendants of this first phase of 3rd Gen Cameras. Even though you can make a good case for great cameras like the Sony A77, the new lines of Nikons, Panasonics, etc etc — I want to wait for a few more iterations — but I won’t be waiting long.
3rd Gen Cameras are the clear future category for digital photography. Objectively, these cameras have more advantages than disadvantages. As Moore’s law clicks along, the disadvantages will dissipate like fog in the sunrise.
Final Note: The above below was taken with…. drumroll… the mirrorless camera (the Sony NEX-7)! And the kit-lens, no less! For more, see my Sony NEX-7 Review.
This is a little presentation I did at the Apple store here in Austin.
Now, many of you have heard different flavors of this talk before. But, there is some new stuff in here (at 22:08) , particularly about workflow and how I keep track of my digital assets. I also have a more thorough Digital Workflow eBook that even comes with a video.
Want to see a full timecode / description? Visit this one on my YouTube page.
Daily Photo – Glacier in the Fog
Yesterday’s photo was of Glacier National Park, and today we have another glacier – but this one is from Argentina.
The glaciers in Glacier National Park are really quite boring. I’m sure that’s not a nice thing to say, but it’s true. The only ones I saw were quite far away and not very epic-looking. Maybe I was in the wrong place, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!
Have you ever been on a PhotoWalk or PhotoWalk curious? I find that MOST people that come to these have never been on one before. So, it’s still a new thing to everyone. It’s generally my plan to come to YOUR city (or area!) to do one of these some day.
Daily Photo – The Cheerful Austin Christmas Dragon
It was a great PhotoWalk in Austin last night! Remember to tag your photos with #gplusaustin — and click around to see some stuff. We had over 100 sign up on plancast, and it got pretty crazy because a lot of people brought friends and family. It was a lot of fun to meet people.
We had one guy come in from South Africa, a gal Karen Hutton come in from California, and many more from all around the Texas area. Everyone we very nice and fun as usual.
I had an autographed 2012 calendar to give away, but I forgot! Sorry that was lame of me… I had it on the floorboard of my car and everything, but with getting the kids out and everything, I forgot – you know how it is.
How I took the shot
Paul Terry Walhus was taking a video the whole time. You can see a bit more about the PhotoWalk and how I took this shot in the video below! Thanks Paul!
Let's all look at a pretty picture and zen out before we go down this path of no return...
A Great and Embarrassing Experiment
I did a scientific, controlled experiment in 2011 and here are the results.
This is a sad story and embarrassing in many ways, but it turns out there is both a happy ending (thanks to Scott Kelby) and an overall moral to the story. It’s also quite exciting for all the bloggers out there.
Video of the situation
Here’s a video where I talk about my findings and add many additional thoughts.
First, you might be interested in any kind of bias in this report, so let me alleviate any suspicions. I am completely independent of the mainstream photography world. This blog is not owned by any bigger media company, and I have no kind of incestuous relationship with any advertiser whatsoever. I am completely independent.
For example, when I mention Nikon, it’s because I like and use Nikon equipment. Nikon doesn’t pay me or advertise on the site. I am always suspicious when anyone mentions any brand, unless they are clear about the relationship. You should be too.
I know full well that most traditional photography magazines will hate me after this, but that’s okay. I expect that my findings in this will help to take millions in advertising dollars that are wasted on traditional magazines and funnel some of that to the online world in the future.
What is this little blog anyway
Daily photos fluctuate but the numbers increase year after year as friends and families tell one person at a time. Thanks everyone!
And let me deflect a few spears right away from the naysayers. They’ll probably begin character attacks or say this blog is insignificant. It’s not. As you can see from the chart on the left, it shows that, on average, we get over 150,000 photo views per day. Per Day. I might have a slight touch of sensitivity here, since magazines often make such a big deal out of how important they are, claiming over 100,000 subscriptions per month. As you’ll see from the results below, I don’t know how many of their readers actively open the magazines every month. And, of those that are opened, I doubt many ads are given substantive consideration by the reader. In other words, the vast majority of people just flip through the ads to get to the meat.
So, perhaps you can keep this sensitivity in mind too as you read the results below. Of course, we all know that the web and Internet content is the future and that traditional magazines are dying. But, strangely, the magazines are still able to attract the biggest advertisers with very high rates. Now, even though I am sensitive to this issue, I’d like to think I am still objective about the whole situation. I hope you’ll agree.
This year, in 2011, I decided to try an experiment. We have a great product we sell here called the HDR Video Tutorial and I decided to experiment on “traditional” media. We know it is a great product because it already sells like hotcakes, HDR is popular and we have less than a 0.5% return rate.
I allocated about $30,000 to buy ads in magazines.
As for the advertising specs, I did the following to keep things consistent:
Full Page Ad
First third of the magazine
3 months (1 full page for each month, for 3 months in a row)
I chose these three magazines with the following total advertising spend over the three months:
Popular Photography - $12,000 – April, May, June
Shutterbug – $6,000 – April, May, June
Photoshop User (NAPP – Kelby Media) – $8,000 - May, June, July
How I Tested
This is the add that went into Kelby's magazine with the special code "THANKSNAPP" to track sales.
We built a custom full-page advertisement for every magazine. Each one had a special discount code on the bottom for 10% off so we could measure response. For example, the Scott Kelby’s magazine got “THANKSNAPP”, and Popular Photography magazine got “POPPHOTO”. Note that it is possible that some people bought the product without using the code. However, we did not see an increase above our normal baseline sales for those months, with the exception of people using the code. By looking at the stats, it appears that 95% of people that could have used the code did use the code. Therefore, I believe this is a fair way to measure the results.
Here are the results. Note the asterisk on the last result because it is important.
Popular Photography: 10 Units sold = $870
Shutterbug: 11 Units sold = $957
Kelby Media*: 206 Units sold = $17,125.75
As you can see, Popular Photography and Shutterbug were a disaster. This was actually embarrassing to me. I have a business here, and it is embarrassing for those two magazine deals to lose a combined $16,000+ on a failed advertising campaign.
Now, I know I should not take things personally in a scientific test, but I did. You know, as a small business guy, I have to choose whether or not to save money for my kids’ education or to risk it with a giant magazine with an ad campaign. Just like Walter Donovan, I chose poorly.
But, thanks to Kelby Media, I ended up almost back in the black overall.
*Why did Kelby Media do so well?
There are many reasons, but the overall reason is they seem to really care about getting results for their advertisers. Their head of advertising was in constant contact with me, making sure things were going well. They also have ad rotation on their website, which is part of the package. I’m convinced that this is the reason that they did so well. Scott Kelby and his team are smart – they know that online is the future and they’ve always been fully diversified.
Other possible problems with the ad
Now, maybe people just don’t WANT to buy the video tutorial and that is why sales were so low. Well, of course this is a possibility, but very unlikely for these two reasons:
1) Objectively, HDR is a popular technique, and there are many people that want to learn it.
2) If you compare Popular Photography and Shutterbug to Kelby Media, you’ll see that the product was indeed in-demand. If no one wanted the product, then the campaign with Kelby Media would have also failed.
Ron Martinsen’s Blog – Who???
Okay, how many of you big advertisers have ever heard of Ron Martinsen’s blog?
Ron is an example of the thousands of bloggers out there generating real traffic and real sales, but advertisers largely ignore this and instead continue to put much of their money into paper magazines.
I bet not many of you. However, would you be surprised to know he has sent us $8,920.51 in sales this year through our Affiliate Program? He doesn’t have a big blog, but look how many sales he generates! He’s just an example, and there are hundreds of blogs out there with amazing content.
Now, I’ve never talked to Ron about this, but I bet he has trouble selling advertising on his blog. Or, if and when he does sell, I bet he gets very low rates compared to these big magazines.
So, Ron is one of our thousands of affiliates. I don’t pay him to advertise there, but he gets a percentage of every sale. It doesn’t cost the buyer any more money, and, to me, it is the most fair way to do it. In a true meritocracy, people get paid on performance, not on guestimates that appear scientific.
So, Nikon, Canon, Epson, Sony, and the rest of you – what are you doing?
Why are you big advertisers wasting money on these big magazines? Is it just “branding,” or are you actually trying to drive sales? Or, perhaps it is more a function of, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done things.”
I know that there are smart advertising people out there in these companies that are trying to put together campaigns. There is something to be said for “Brand Awareness,” but I think this is losing the value it once had when Ogilvy wrote his masterpiece. Brand awareness was more important in the days when there was a big gap of time between when the viewer sees an advertisement and then makes the purchase. For example, in the 50’s a family might see ads in their newspaper talking about Whirlpool washing machines with no call to action. That brand would get into their heads, and the next time they went to Sears, they will remember that brand and logo. It was the same way with Coke and Chrysler and Braniff. But nowadays, the time between seeing an ad and making a purchase is very very quick. In many cases on the Internet, it’s instantaneous.
Look at what Ford has done in the online marketing world. They now advertise on Leo Laporte’s forward-thinking network; they advertise on many blogs and with social media stars; they sponsor fun reality-shows on the Internet. While other big companies might have a small “play fund” for Internet experiments, Ford has jumped in head first. They get it.
Another vector is that big product/service companies have bloated advertising departments with established relationships with magazines. Magazine editors give them all kinds of statistics so they can prepare nice monthly reports for their superiors that makes it look like their true reach is significant. But it’s all built on old, predictive guesses on the nature of the behavior of the audience.
Believing the readership numbers of these magazines makes about as much sense as believing Nielsen ratings. You don’t have to live in that old world of biased “guesses” any more. Now we live in a world where we can see website stats, YouTube views, and Google+ ripples. Also, the vast majority of people with disposable income spend more time on the Internet. They are more likely to make that purchase off the Internet after seeing an ad or reading a review from some place like CameraLabs.com.
If I was consulting for one of these product companies that puts significant funds into magazine advertising, I would challenge them to try something new for six months: Try taking 50% of that money and put it into several hundred blogs, podcasts and review sites and measure the results. Cut the worst performers and find new ones.
New Video – New Google Talk! Artists and the Internet
Okay, it seems the WRONG video was uploaded by my clever friends at Google! Those guys… hehe… the previous one had all the photos totally blown out and they looked horrible dot com. Anyway, here is the PROPER video… Enjoy
Daily Photo – Great Wall in Evening Light
When I was at the Great Wall that evening, I kept hiking along the old wall as the sun set. I also had a zoom lens (28-300mm) with me, so I was able to get in tight on far away structures and shapes. Not too long after I took this shot, I walked along several lengths of the wall to get to these ruins. I stood there for a long time listening to music and taking photos.
I’ve recently updated this list… so I thought you might like the new version and explanation since i get this question a lot.
I know my opinion is different than many other photographers, and that is okay.
As you may know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to http://www.StuckInCustoms.com, can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially. Every day, I upload a HUGE 6000+ pixel max-resolution image to the Internet. I do not have any fear at all… Believe me, it’s quite liberating living in a world without internet-stealth-fear.
People that want to license our images regularly contact our licensing team – we get many of these every day of the week.
So why don’t I use watermarks? It’s a multi-part philosophy –
1) Watermarks look ugly. Whenever I look at a photo with a watermark, often times, ALL I can think about is that watermark! It’s so distracting. Maybe this is just me.
2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there.
3) There are other services, like Tineye (and Google) that can help my team easily find bottom-feeders.
4) We do register our images with the copyright office, so if someone uses an image commercially without a proper license, it is an easy lawsuit.
5) I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without.
6) NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun, which increases traffic and builds something I call “internet-trust.”
7) As image search and image recognition get better and better, there will be no need to watermark things. In 1 year+, we’ll be able to r-click an image and choose “Google-find the original creator” — there is a bit trail to first-on-the-internet.
8) Yes, last, there will be bottom-feeders that steal your stuff. I call this the cost of doing business on the internet. These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11. It is impossible to maintain 100% of your digital inventory, so wanting “perfection” in your online strategy is an illusion.
Daily Photo – The Alps in the Afternoon
The more rugged the mountains, the better they look with a low angle of incidence of the light. Of course, they also look great in the middle of the day, but since the rugged peaks are in three dimensions, you get many extra angles of contrast when the sun is low.
These kind of shots help me remember the fake symbology built up in my head of the shape-of-mountains. I got a bit of this when I was learning to draw… when drawing a human face, it takes a long time to get rid of that thing that is drilled into you as a kid — that the eye is sort of the shape of a football. If you try to do that with a good drawing, it never works. And, it’s sort of the same way with mountains. In my head, I still have to stop thinking of them as a rugged 2D line. It’s thousands of 2D lines, crawling this way and that, but I can usually only see one of them. But, on late afternoons like this, you can start to see hundreds of more lines.