Posted on May 28, 2018
I’ll be headed to LAX at 9 AM Thursday, two days. Not much time suddenly. I’ve already starting packing, the big one we have. Yes, I’m trying this bigger suitcase approach out for Iceland. … why…
If I’m staying in a country for 2 weeks, in Iceland, with the near constant weather changes — and clothing changes, all the photography equipment, a tripod, and all the just plain stuff we each feel we need to keep close. There’s no way all that’ll fit in a pack and a carry-on bag.
And with the Iceland Ring Road, a big suitcase isn’t a problem. You’re driving with it most of the day, stowed away but easily accessible. You only need to drag it into the guesthouse. You keep your camera gear in a well chosen day pack. And it’s just more pleasant with the big suitcase to have everything you might need.
It turns out that it’s generally fairly easy having a tripod along the Ring Road. I hate bringing a tripod on a long hike — like the hike up to Subway (Zion NP) from below. It’s a steady 4 mile hike up a wet rocky creek bed (and then back). And that tripod get’s heavy by mile 2.
But in Iceland, there’s an amazing number of photographic possibilities that can be reached with no more than a short hike. And let’s remember that two of Iceland’s most popular photo landscapes are waterfalls and seascapes. And that means tripod.
Not to say you can’t thoroughly enjoy the country with only a tablet or phone camera. I shoot a lot with my phone camera, those shots are part of the social media communication and a useful record of GPS location and even what Apple’s algorithms made of the at that shoot location.
Shutter speed is fun to play with… even if tripods are a pain in the butt. The thing is, time duration, i.e. the open shutter, is an essential tool for presenting the dynamics of nature. How much blur to you show for a hummingbird wing, how gossamer to make the waterfall or tidal pools. Those choices resonate in the creative mind.
Thinking about itinerary
So here are some of my current impressions for those planning their own Ring Road walkabout.
Research materials. Given my location and image research, I know a lot about potential landscape locations. I know (many) of the spots the photo tours go to, a lot of equally cool locations too far for a Reykjavik day tour to bother with. I’ve read the travel articles, guidebooks and Pinterest. And I know what Iceland spots show up on a spin through Instagram, 500 px or ViewBug. And because I did all that stuff and saw where it all was on the map, I started to know my itinerary.
Staying on the Road? Research these photo locations and you realize they aren’t all on the Ring Road. How could they be, it’s a whole country. Godafoss and Skogafoss waterfall are (basically) on the road, Lake Myvatn is, Hofn, Joklaross Glacier Lagoon, Black Sand Beach, etc. Lots of important sights and fun pull-offs.
The Golden Circle is within the Ring Road, a one day mini tour. Snaefelsness Peninsula and the fjord areas are but unique unto themselves and worth the detour. So to capture the full flavor of the place, I’m making several detours — done purely to satisfy my own creative interests.
What to see? I’ve spent a couple of weeks now going through the guidebooks, Pinterest and web for anything Iceland. All to help me see this place more fully in my mind’s eye: for interesting little Ring Road towns, black sand beaches, coastal shot locations, waterfalls of some distinction, connections to the past, connections to the Icelandic DNA, whatever that means.
Where to stop? I’ve also had to nail down my BnB/hotel/AirBnB stops. Iceland isn’t a place where you just drive up to the motel that has the Vacancy sign lit up. Thirty miles beyond Reykjavik what you have is little towns, tiny towns mostly compared even to a Mayberry. They’re spread thin along Rt 1 and do not have much capacity, not if you’re visiting during the warmer season.
Plus, whatever lodging research you do gives you a sense of how the sights and the towns line up along the road. In two days, I will know that information directly but for now I’ve got an internal framework.
Route 66. The Ring Road is kinda like the old Route 66 in ways. You have these quite small towns strung out across a tough landscape. Most owe their existence to agriculture/ husbandry, fishing and more and more, tourism and culture. And the Ring has a kind of culture of its own, a way the traffic moves, the way businesses engage with the tourist visitor and the way that Iceland as a country exists in it’s own day to day rhythms — along that same Ring Road.
An itinerary. And at this point I’ve put together a day to day itinerary with all my potential shot locations, all the (maybe) interesting towns, public pools (hot spring fed), museums. I even have the gps coordinates for my lodging and photo sites so I can just dial that in to the car’s system.
A sense of place. I’m starting to get to the character of each area. The island has enormous diversity with each area, whether city, Westfjords, South Coast, Golden Circle. I need to attend to the textures of each. Even in the short week I spent in March there, I was constantly being surprised at how the landscape and feeling of place changed as the kilometers slipped by — from the higher elevations of Thingvellir to the low farmland of the South Coast.
Planning vs. Improvising
I really have done far more travel planing than usual for this trip. The motivation was the project, the excitement about shooting this unique landscape, this igneous, black pebble resting between the Atlantic and the Arctic. And because my focus is so geared to creating an Iceland portfolio, I’ve asked myself (and the internet) what parts of this country appeal to me creatively and personally. For me, the less tamed, less visited places have a strong pull. But these places don’t show up on screen 1 of Google.
For me, up front research was essential. The danger is that the extra research and the filled-in itinerary get in the way of the enjoyment. That’s the “…if it’s Thursday, this must be Belgium” approach that happens on highly planned tours which rushes people from place to place — till battle fatigued sets in. Uhh.
A road trip itinerary. This “death march” approach to travel is painful. And it can happen all too easily when you’re doing a road trip. You generally figure you need to get to the next BnB every night. But for me it’s better to mix it up, take an extra 2 hours here, don’t go there till tomorrow morning. And really 14 days is a fairly easy pace for the Ring Road, as long as you don’t do too many detours. Even with the longer excursions I’m doing, my next lodging I will be (on average) about 100 miles away, about a two hour drive with no stopping. Doing the Ring Road in a week — that can be a death march.
That’s the point of me knowing the more interesting cultural and photographic spots along the way. I don’t need to stop at any of them, just stay in the hotel till it’s time to drive to the next one. I can also spend all my time at a waterfall or sea stacks. I won’t know how things will go until I see what the weather, road conditions and light are like.
The light. And, since the next lodging is only 50 or 100 miles, I can do a quick drive by of a shot location and then double back later in the day or the next morning. That’s important. Because my whole approach is to visit photo spots when the light is good, otherwise why shoot it?
This doesn’t mean I don’t shoot a spot when its overcast or not Golden Hour, just the opposite. Many of my best Iceland photos from March were shot at Snaefelsness Peninsula when we had a foreboding sky and 30 mph winds. I was cold and rushed on the tour but capturing those waves blasting against the black sea stacks was delicious.
But the one criteria for most of my BnB choices was to stay close to the landscape locations I most wanted to visit. It’s a bit more expensive to stay close to the marquee sights. But that proximity allows you to wander over in the evening or just after rolling out of bed in the morning — when the light is perfect and there’s not a tour bus to be found. Sweet.
For the next 2 weeks, Facebook will be my main social outlet.
Posted on January 13, 2016
Lots happening right now. In October, I did a research trip for a new book idea that would cover the classic Navajo Nation parks, Monarch Valley and Canyon de Chelly, and several Pueblo reservations in New Mexico. Going in the October/November time frame allowed me to get shots you can’t get at any other time of the year:
But in the middle of that work, I had a conversation with one of the self-pub/epub vendors., ExLibris. Their sales rep caught up to me when I was on my way to Arizona. I’ll get to that later….
Print On Demand & eBook Publishing
Some of these self-pub companies take a fairly aggressive approach. And I have no issue with them for being sales-driven. There are probably a hundred competent publishers in the US self-pub/ebook marketplace now. The biggest publishers are subsidiaries of Amazon and Ingram, the print distribution giant. The rest of the publishers do what they can to survive.
For a narrow-cast writer like me, working with a big-five publisher can be a bad match (and yes, an improbability). So I need these independent publishers. I like the variety of business models they use. Some publishers who’ll do it all for you (except the writing). They do copy edit, layout, cover art — the stuff that gets the book in print, in eBook format, on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Nobles ebook site, etc.
And the full serve folks don’t stop there. They will do the press release and distribution. They do marketing, special events. And if you pay them enough, you can get the royal treatment — and never cover your initial costs.
Or you can work with Amazon’s or Ingram’s folks. And they want you to do almost all the heavy lifting. Though they are slowly expanding into the more full-service approach now.
I do have years of background in business marketing and have no trouble calling and emailing media outlets for book PR. But I also want to off-load much of the grunt work to focus on the fun stuff, writing, travel and foto shoots.
So I’ve ended up talking to the more full service folks and leveraging specific services if they offer a good price.
Talking to Antonio
Anyway, Antonio’s company had my number from before my first book was published (eBook only) by Bookbaby.
And Antonio got me talking about my experience with Bookbaby. I didn’t go into all the ways Bookbaby screwed up. Not a pretty story. But I wanted the ExLibris guy to suggest how I could do a print version on my Sacred Southwest book project that would be cheaper than the $50 Bookbaby had wanted for my Utah book — the reason I never did a print on demand version of my book.
Antonio listened to my crankiness and suggested we start by fixing the problem with the first book — since it never got a print edition. “The first book on the Utah National Parks was too long (180 pages) to do on photo-grade paper. But if you had split it into two, maybe 80 pages each, well that’s the sweet spot.”
That got my attention. The writing and photography were already done. Covering the 5 Utah parks in two books gets the price down to $20-$25 each. Two books means double the total possible sales. (I’m still in the hole, kids.) And a glossy photo-paper version is way more likely to get newspaper and Internet exposure.
So I’m stoked to be able to finally get my book out in a print version. The challenge is now I need to do more copy editing and get the content into the correct format.
How the Sausage Gets Made
Now the question comes up, how to get the two Utah photo/guide books ready for a full print treatment. The basic cut and paste thing is what ExLibris and Antonio prefer. They just want to get it out and move on to the next project. And with a basic approach, the obvious choice is Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in book one:
Then, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef (and Moab locations like Fisher Towers) end up in book two. That approach fits geographically, the two in Southern Utah and the three in central-east Utah. Plus that breakdown gives me books about the same length.
Both books will have a pile of iconic locations. And even splitting the content in two, I have tons of details on the best shoot locations, trails, composition, lighting.
The plan is to keep the wording of the Intro section almost the same for both books. That’s mostly general info on landscape photography and the book format. The content for each park is totally different, so that part’s easy. The Lightroom section can be repeated in both but the example used will be appropriate for that specific park.
But I don’t want these new print versions to be just like the old book. Doing a quick cut and paste for book one and two wold be way easier. But I’ve been moving more and more into a more personal blogging style in the last six months (especially with my Sacred Southwest writing) and I want some of that thinking to inform my Utah book edits.
So in the last month, I’ve done a full copy edit on the text of both new books, an adjustment that is making the writing cleaner and more personal. And instead of that “explainy” guidebook style, the writing is getting more descriptive and personal — even in the photo captions.
I’ve also been doing a re-edit on some of the Utah photos. Very minor touches in terms of Lightroom, a few little tweaks that give the shots more of a 3-D feel. And I’m thinking how these shots will need to display in a print book that’s landscape mode.
I should be able to keep both books in the $20 range even with 80-90 pages to the book. And if you’ve got great photos, why not sprinkle in as many as you can. I’ll probably add a few more trail shots as illustrations.
And in the end, these first two books could become my first steps into a new style of blog post. Kinda exciting.
Posted on July 28, 2015
Here we are, the end of July. Summer days here in SoCal still going till 8 PM with temperatures in the low 80s. And I’m starting to plant myself more deeply into the work now that I’m back from a month and a half of travel.
By now, most friends have heard the elevator speech I give when they ask, What did you do in 1 ½ months of travel: We started with the idea of a Greek islands cruise. The ship was leaving from Venice so we spent a week there in the city. The cruise took us to most of the usual Greek cruise stops: Santorini, Mykonos, Athens (Acropolis), Kusadasi, Turkey (ancient Ephasus), Nafplion, Naples (Herculaneum), and then Rome where we disembarked. We stay there for a week. Marina, out of vacation time, had to head back to work and I spent a week up in Florence and one in Paris.
It was a great trip. I took several thousand pictures all in Raw format. In fact, my laptop ran out of disk space a couple of times. The idea was to spend longer in Europe but save money by staying in AirBnB places. It takes a while to do photos and research at a place if you’re doing a book. You have to achieve a higher level of understanding than someone who jets in and only hits the marquee locations. So the 1 1/2 months was barely enough time to start work on a travel/photo book for each of these spots.
And now it’s time to plant myself and get serious about the new career. The first book, on photographing the Utah parks (now on Amazon), was done while I was still working at Cars.com and finished when we were planning the Euro trip. But now the transition seems fairly complete, now I’m really ready to settle in.
And in the two weeks since I’ve been home, I’ve been defining the shape of my days and the approach to each book — the fact of being a full time writer, photographer and traveler. (It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.)
For those who don’t know my history, my professional career has been on the writing side of things — business writing, marketing and product management for high-tech companies like IBM, Lexus, Cars.com, etc. The travel and photography have been long term passions (with pro photo projects mixed in). And now I’m getting back to my creative roots with writing and photography focused on travel and culture.
Luckily I know much of Europe, the literature, arts, culture. I’m not an expert on any of these places, far from it. But I’ve explored these issues more deeply than any of the travel guidebooks. And I know that no travel or photography books get to the core of a place in the way I’d like to see.
So after all the months of getting ready and then traveling, I’m trying to put it all together. And that’s with this blog is all about, a scratch sheet for the full length books.
Hopefully I can continue to share pieces of my travel notes and experiences into these pages and get feedback from people. And of course, just posting new blog pages, there for all to see, gives me a fuller understanding of what will work in a book, what will grab people, what tiger I’ve got by the tail. Because I’m trying to do something different with my work and that takes a bit of exploration.
So in the next weeks and months I’ll be adding more photographs and notes about travel to these pages starting with my shots and notes on Venice, our first stop.
Posted on May 19, 2015
So after spending weeks and months photographing the Utah parks, months and months fine tuning each paragraph, the eBook is out. I feel like most of it is good, sometimes very good. But each time you reach high, you take a risk. And there are always folks who will point out the mistakes and miss the good stuff. That’s part of the deal. But let me go over what the book’s about before getting into the comic details.
The book pulls together what I feel are the best photo locations at the Utah parks. It’s written for photo enthusiasts and amateurs — these parks are considered premiere landscape photography parks after all. And I think this book will be a fun and useful read for anyone who’s making the trek.
Quoting What’s In the Book
- The best photo locations in each park
- 60+ representative images
- Details on each trail
- Specifics on settings, lenses, lighting, composition
- Landscape photography tips
- Lightroom post-production chapter
- In-depth writing on related issues
The photos will speak for themselves. But the thing that surprised me most about this project was the writing, the creative exploration. I’ve been a professional writer in the high tech world for years — and I got paid nicely for it. That’s your deal with the devil when you do corporate work.
I’m not saying working on corporate projects is “evil” in any way. Adding Lexus GX specs to a web site or creating a software brochure isn’t deceptive. It doesn’t screw anyone, at least at the companies I was with. It’s just boring. And for the longest time, I did my creative work when I had an hour or two on weekends.
But nothing is wasted. And the ad copy, brochures, corporate interviews I did over the years allowed me to master a range of writing styles. That came in handy when I was interviewing Seth Hamel about Zion or describing the scene at Mesa Arch — photographers nursing their coffee as they wait for the dawn.
Good writing should be about human experience and software functionality isn’t that. So my goal has been to take all the elements of a photo/travel book and make it personal.
Now, people will see my Utah book and think, guidebook for photographers. And it is — one of the few that’s out there. But guidebooks tend to be kinda boring too. And if I were satisfied with that kind of writing, I’d still be working for The Man.
My choice was to make this book personal, something I would enjoy writing and reading. And my hope is that people realize the value of that. These days artisanal beers (and cheeses and even butters) are the rage. And there is something cool about a flavor that’s more personal. So maybe this is an artisanal guidebook.
Writing, of course, is a far more flexible tool for communicating human experience than the brewing of beer. (I know, but it’s true.) At its best, writing communicates thought and feeling. And I’m starting to see that a more personal, travel writing style of photo guidebook can deliver insights that the typical Fodor’s can’t come close to. We’ll see if that can get communicated.
eBook Conversion: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The challenge of writing is you want it seen. So I hired Bookbaby, a print-on-demand and eBook conversion publisher. Their approach is to take all the grunt work off your hands so you can focus on the good stuff. And sometimes it actually worked that way with Bookbaby.
Getting the cover art worked as you’d expect. I’ve worked many good designers. If you can communicate well, these folks can be miracle workers. So I gave Bookbaby some specifics in terms of color choices — this is a book about Southwestern parks, after all. And I asked them to include my shot of Mesa Arch in the design as an example of the kind of landscapes we’d be photographing.
Their first cover design had about 60% of what I wanted. And I spoke with a designer there on ways to tweak things. We ended up with a look (see above) that reflects the thrust of the book beautifully.
The biggest challenge was in the conversion process. I sent them the manuscript with all images embedded. When they sent me their first proof, the doc had about 30 spelling errors that hadn’t been in the manuscript. OK. Well, I had stuff I’d written that needed to be tweaked as well. So I put it all into the list of fixes and they started work on proof #2.
A week later, proof #2 comes back. A bunch of links were suddenly broken. And there were 20+ spelling errors that weren’t in my manuscript. Six of these mistakes had been on Fix List 1. I guess no one checked the fix list before sending it back to me. So, does Bookbaby not have spell check?
I called and asked to speak with the conversion team. Can’t do that. Bookbaby doesn’t want you to speak with the folks who do the actual work. So Plan B, I explain that I keep getting new mistakes in the document. I mentioned that every mistake means that my manuscript goes to the back of the line, an approach that will add an additional 6-8 business days to my launch date. And I pointed out that many of these were mistakes that were on the Fix List I sent. She promises that they’ll look at my fix list more closely this time.
A week and a half later, proof #3 comes back. Same number of spelling errors, the links that had been broken were still broken. I sent them back Fix List #3. No point in calling.
A week and a half later, proof #4 comes back. Now there are only 3 errors, the links are finally fixed. The process has taken a month longer than expected but there are only 3 mistakes. BUT these are obvious mistakes that a picky reader like myself will notice. That’s why writers sweat those details.
I figured, “Hey, three mistakes. They can do those in 10 minutes and then we have a pristine document ready for Amazon.”
So I called the nice customer service folks. “Sorry,” they said, “you can’t talk to the conversion team, they don’t have phones.” (Wow, no phones. That’s harsh.)
But I persevered. “It’s just three little mistakes. Should take them 10 minutes to make the tweaks, we can do it right now, over the phone.”
Nope, nope, nope. No-can-do. The project goes to the back of the que, that’s corporate policy. “But we promise to get it back to you within 6-8 business days.”
“But, hey, these are all mistakes your team added. Why push my launch date into June for mistakes your team made?”
Their customer service person explained nicely how much they cared about my book and that they would be sure to get the fixes done within 8 business days.
At that point I realized, this is as good as it’s gonna get. With these folks it seems that another proof is another chance for errors. It’s mid May now. And by June 2nd I’m on a plane and starting to work on another book. There is no time. So I pulled the trigger, approved the proof and filed the whole experience under lessons learned.
And now the book is out there. Not perfect, but then nothing ever is. You do what you can and let go of the rest.
Here’s the Amazon link. The book is also on all the other epub sites.