Use Your Smartphone to Train Your Eye

If you want to think more visually, you may want to consider photography. Perhaps you aren’t sure where to start and don’t want to invest quite yet. Good news! You can begin with your smartphone. The exercise is simple: Take a picture every day with your phone for 90 days.

You will automatically train your mind to think about the world from a visual perspective. After 90 days, you will understand what makes a good subject as informed by your interests and tastes.

Here are some suggestions to help get you started:

Rule of Thirds

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Frame your photos by using the rule of thirds (check out Digital Photography School’s primer, also the source for the above image). The rule of thirds creates a basic frame. Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines create a tic tac toe box.

Ideally, you want your subject to fit in the middle square. If it is a landscape, you’ll want the sky in the top third, the foreground in the bottom third.

Remember, rules are meant to be broken. You have to interpret scenes as you see fit.

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In this photo the subject is the couple cuddling by the river. But the river’s rapids dominate the scene, a wavey series of white rapids created by a time lapse. While the couple is cute, the real visual treat is the river. I decided to keep the rapids, and leave couple on the right rather than cropping them into the center.

Your framing of a photo is the means to tell a story. That’s true even if you are reaching with a selfie or a pic of your husband’s lousy chili. Use the rule of thirds to inform your thinking.

Post Your Photos on Instagram

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Before Instagram cropping…

You should post your photos on Flickr (here’s my profile) or Picasso so they are found. But you should also post on Instagram to get feedback on your photography — your visual thinking — from your friends.

If you don’t have an Instagram account, get one. Make sure to update your follow list to match your Faceboook and Twitter communities. You can find me at geoffliving on Instagram, and I will follow you back.

Instagram forces you to post a photo that eliminates approximately 1/3 the width of a standard 2×3 photo. In doing so, your subject matter is placed front and center, and the rest of your image context is left behind. That has it’s own issues, but for a budding visual thinker the square crop forces you to consider subjects deeply.


After Instagram.

See how your photos fair. You will come to understand what works for your stakeholders — your friends and colleagues — and then adjust naturally.

Edit and Filter Your Photos

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There is a social media movement towards no filter photos centering on authenticity and journalistic integrity. For the record, I don’t see any of the no filter crowd getting published by National Geographic or licensed by Getty Images.

In the old days, adjustments where made in the dark room to film. But they were made. Today, every professional photographer uses Lightroom or Aperture at a minimum to process their raw files and make small adjustments. Yes, even those National Geographic photographers edit their photos. I know, I’ve attended two National Geographic sessions, and photographers are asked to submit their Lightroom/Aperture adjustments with their photos.

The ones who get that pure capture are also using Nikon D4s or the equivelant, a $7000 camera body. Your smartphone can’t compete with that.

Why do all photographers edit?

Cameras are machines that attempt to capture light as it is animated on a subject area, and record it. They often have a) hidden information about that light that is only revealed through editing and b) misinterpret light scenes.

That’s why most photos don’t turn out like you remember seeing them. Your smartphone is a good pocket camera, but it is very limited compared to a DSLR. Most images come across as flat. Your camera misinterpets tungsten lit (light bulbs) scenes for shade. It can’t figure out which light it should focus on, the sunset or the light on the foreground, on and on. Even a DSLR or 4/3 camera has challenges interpreting light.

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This photo in its edited form is a classic example. It was a slow capture taken at twilight. The sky was not plain white as depicted in the original raw image. The sky and street were not royal blue as it appeared in the tungsten white balance version of the shot. The combination of sun and electric light fried my Nikon white balance sensors. A Lightroom edit restored more of the actual look and feel of Larimer Square during a cloudy dawn.

Use tools and apps to help restore your photo to memory. If you want to go beyond and get artistic with it, go for it. But realize when you do that, you are exceding the conservative journalistic approach to photography. I don’t pay too much attention to those rules, but you have to find your own comfort point.

There are several apps I recommend. The first is Lightroom Mobile. It is fantastic, and will introduce you to a very important concept: Interpreting light in your photos. Lightroom is a Photoshop app, but it is less intrusive than the traditional app.

A simpler app is Google’s Snapseed, which I still use for my smartphone takes. It’s quick and easy, and has nice auto sizing for cropping photos.

Conclusion

Once you finish the 90 day challenge, you will find yourself taking more artistic photos that tell better stories. In doing so, you will be able to better understand some of the visual media trends that are occuring. You may even be ready to use your photography on a select basis with your own communications.

Good luck, and please share your results. Do you have any tips for would-be smartphone photographers?

The Permission Trap

After reading the Age of Context (read my review here), I could not help but think about how this era is removing most concepts of privacy. In turn, it is causing an incredible amount of intrusive spam. A tension builds between brands who market to the niche, and consumers who unwittingly gave them permission to do so.

The Age of Context theorizes that successful companies will need to taper their shotgun approaches to marketing. I admired Robert Scoble and Shel Israel‘s hope, but at the same time I had my doubts.

Then I interviewed Robert. He made some interesting comments about filters possibly resolving invasive marketing, and providing an end ceaseless spamming.

Before diving in further, let’s discuss the permission trap.

Permission Abused

Most companies and nonprofits don’t care about permission marketing. When individuals sign up for a list, it’s an exchange for a free piece of content or another one time transaction. Permission also assumes the ability to unsubscribe.

If an organization’s ensuing outreach is so annoying that you feel compelled to unsubscribe or remove yourself from said list, then that means remove. The moment an organization fails to obey an unsubscribe request, it becomes a spammer. But organizations will gladly sacrifice good will for a 2% growth transaction rate.

This is the permission trap. Someone gives a company permission in exchange for free content or a deal, and then receives unwanted spam for the rest of their email account’s or phone number’s life.

Even as media and data allow brands to become more precision oriented, I see the trap holding steady. And that means spam not only on the dektop, but on all media devices.

I have given money to the DNC during the past two presidential elections, only to find myself added to an unbelievable amount of Democratic email lists and the occasional phone call. No matter how many times I unsubscribed, I found myself continuing to receive emails. After years of hitting remove, I still get the periodic Democratic email. Al Franken has been by far the worst of the lot, with the Obamas a close second.

The political example highlights my point, but I have had the same experience with many companies. Unfortunately, because there is so little choice when it comes to political parties, I am likely to donate again. That means I will be ceaselessly spammed for the rest of my life, even though I would do so without prompting.

One would think that yielding results in the single percentages isn’t worth the negative equity and bad word of mouth. But tell that to corporate leaders, investors, owners and Wall Street who all need or want to deliver maximum ROI.

Until there are enough alternatives out for customers, we’re screwed. In this new era of contextual media driven by automation, pinpoint marketing and permission, most companies won’t do the right thing. They’ll still damn the 98% of uninterested stakeholders for that two percent who buy.

Can Filters Combat Spam?

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I took the opportunity to ask Robert about this issue in my interview, “I remember giving the DNC permission to email me, and I still get spammed despite opting out from their lists numerous times. Is giving permission really just the death of “quiet?”

His answer was insightful, “Google and Apple are working on contextual operating systems. These will know what you are doing. Who you are doing it with. Are you in a meeting? Google knows, it’s on your calendar. So it can shut up any of these lame advertisements.

“In fact, look at the new Gmail. That DNC email already is going to the promotional folder. It knows about the context of that email and that it’s not from a trusted friend. So, no, I think context is the rebirth of quiet.

“You’ll get these kinds of messages when you want or need them, not earlier. Marketers will need to learn to be far better about serving these messages out, too. In a perfect world the DNC would add a feature to its emails like Facebook has “show fewer of these messages” or “show these messages only during the month before an election” or something like that. But marketers don’t think about customer service so Google will force the issue, just as it has with Gmail’s promotional folder that removes this kind of stuff from the inbox.”

Robert brings up a good point. Soon filters will get more powerful and smarter, allowing us to block specific types of conversations and keywords. To some extent these filters already exist.

For example, you can filter email by keywords. I have a special folder for Google+ updates (that I almost never look in). Other filters include the ability to mute people and conversation topics (such as presidential elections, please?).

Once algorithmic intelligence picks up on preferences, we can expect to see filtering happen wholesale. It’s likely a tug of war will occur with marketers figuring out loopholes around filters, and software providers developing new protection mechanisms. And one can expect all sorts of filtering mistakes, too. For example, I might want to read my client’s Google+ emails but can’t because of the filter.

Perhaps we will reach a point where it is just easier for brands to garner permission, and treat customers well. Wouldn’t that be grand?

What do you think?

Featured Image by WhatWhat, Scoble pic by NEXT 13.

Is Instagram Ruining Photography?

Tree Silhouette in the Last Vestiges of Sunset

Some globally respected photographers and critics think Instagram destroys the integrity of quality images.

Others feel the rise of Instagram pollutes traditional social network streams.

Critics decry the mobile photo network because it filters most images with a vintage Poloroid look, the resulting widespread proliferation of Instaphotos across social networks, and/or the additional doctoring that occurs through a variety of apps like Snapseed and Camera+.

Overall, critics feel that consumer access to cheap imaging technologies makes the general state of photography stale, repetitive, and watered down.

Continue reading

Filtering Out the Hashtag Economy

At the epicenter of Twitter marketing (and bad jokes) are hashtags. Hashtags have become dominant in the stream, depicting events, twitter chats, initiatives, and more. Yet, much has been said about how Twitter has become too noisy and commercialized.

Enter the hashtag filter, compliments of Tweetdeck.

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And what happens?

The signal increases, and the marketing blah blah recedes. Real conversations appear in the stream again. How refreshing!

But what about missing out on important conversations?

Never fear! Adding a column based on a search term like IgniteDC or that favorite hashtaged term du jour provides a direct view of relevant conversations.

Conversations

“But, but, but,” sputters the marketer, “What about tracking and monitoring Twitter conversations?”

There are two ways to look at this: 1) Search is easier with the hashtag, yes. So if you can get people to use a hashtag, great! Monitoring is easier.

2) Twitter users don’t care whether hashtags make your marketing work easier. They only use hashtags if it is relevant to Their Conversation. And if hashtags have become a form of marketing pollution without context then less and less people will pay attention to the almighty # sign.

Filters only allow people to act on disinterest. But make no bones about it, people are increasingly filtering out the noise with tools like Tweetdeck or with glazed over eyeballs. And in the case of hashtags, yet another communications tool has become over-marketed and devalued.

What do you think of the proliferation of hashtagged conversations on Twitter?