6 Photo Tips Gleaned from the 365 Full Frame Project

It has been five months since I started the 365 Full Frame project. Here are six lessons learned from my immersive photography experience to date:

1) Framing is Everything

Waterfall Way for Google+

You can edit a photo all you want, but it’s much easier to produce a good photo when your original capture is solid. Find your story and focus on it.

In some settings there can be many eye catching things to include in your photograph, but these can distract the viewer away from your message. Whenever possible try to frame your photo so that it focuses on your subject. Leave out as many distractions as you can. If you cannot frame the photo while capturing it, crop and if necessary (or possible), edit out distractions.

2) Don’t Take the Rule of Thirds Literally

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The rule of thirds is very helpful to new photographers. For those that don’t know, the rule of thirds suggests framing your picture by dividing the frame in thirds vertically and horizontally. You then frame your subject in the middle square and capture the shot.

At the same time if taken literally, the rule of thirds can create formulaic photos with every subject in the dead center of the image. Over the past couple of months I have tried to break away from perfectly centered images. So long as my subject touches the primary center — even if it just grazes the rectangle — then I am good.

3) Edit Your Photos

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There are purists who say photos shouldn’t be “photoshopped” or edited. They are wrong. Some of the most iconic film photos of yesterday were significantly altered in the darkroom. If the no filter crowd likes bad photos then God bless them, but the more time you invest in processing quality shots, the better they will look.

4) A Take-Away from the Minimalist Crowd

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That being said, some photos can be overproduced. And God knows sometimes I intentionally create light intense photos because that’s the look I want. This Capitol Building shot is one where I did that to emphasize the scaffolding and the lighting.

Minimalists like images that are edited as a touch up only, instead focusing on the capture. They edit in LightRoom, but just enough to make clean, crisp photographs. My thoughts are make a great image, and when possible, do so with as little editing as possible.

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This dawn image features very little editing. Per the minimalist link, 80% of the work was in the Basic Light Room panel. I opened the shadows and reduced the highlights. I sharpened the image and punched up the color contrast. Then I enabled lens correction. And that was it. The same is true of the Frosty, the Snowman image that opens this post.

Do only what you think is necessary to create a good image. Follow your heart. Every photo doesn’t have to be an over-wrought 500 Pixels gem.

5) Sunsets and Sunrises are Like Bait

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I stopped taking as many sunset and sunrise shots recently. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I have found them to be less challenging as of late, in large part because I have shot all the local vistas in my immediate neighborhood. While sunrises and sunsets are photo bait for likes and what most people seem to enjoy, it’s not necessarily the most challenging subject.

There are a couple of short trips that may yield an opportunity this month. But I will likely revisit sunrise and sunset pictures in earnest this January when the earth’s tones are muted by the dead of winter. The harshness of the land in this light interests me and presents a challenge. The soft oranges, pinks and reds are less of a challenge these days.

6) People Are Difficult Subjects

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Photographing people is hard. I am not talking abut the smiley pics you see on Facebook. In many ways those are easy, but they don’t strike me as good or sincere. In fact, I see most smiling pics as fake, unless they are in the moment.

Capturing people’s spirit, their true essence, is the challenge, and it’s one that I fail at often. Every month, I rent some studio time and photograph someone, usually a friend who volunteers. There is much to learn with retouching here, but I hope to get better at photographing people over the next seven months.

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What tips would you add? Or, what are your thoughts on the 365 Full Frame Project to date?

Falling in Love with Writing Again

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In its purest form, writing offers artistic value to our world, inspiring people, making them think, debating ideas, and challenging norms, even in marketing. The creative side of the profession, the part that speaks to the soul, demands better than a top five list or a mechanical landing page.

A blog post should contribute a small nugget to a professional’s life. An essay should revolve around an idea and debate its merits, pros and cons and leave the reader spinning with their own interpretations. A book should leave a reader enchanted with dream and vision.

And by books, I’m not talking the trade books many of us bloggers tout as our professional mantras, rather books of grander scale and intent. For example, a novel that offers societal commentary. Or even a great history or nonfiction accounting of some facet of life or place.

Writers achieve full potential when they touch others, catalyzing minds with ideas, conviction and passion. That requires effort and thought on the part of the crafts(wo)men.
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Dwindling Paragraphs

Image by Manchester Monkey

Image by Manchester Monkey

Today’s digital web threatens the very existence of expository style. Consider the plight of the traditional paragraph.

What makes a good paragraph? The expression of a complete idea.

Though writing experts acknowledge that new media cause the ever diminishing paragraph, they still recommended writers communicate one idea per block of sentences.

However, the destruction of parenthetical form continues, pushed forward by the increasing presence of smaller mobile screens and blogs.
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Just Thank and Serve

Thank you
Image by Judy Carson

Many styles of engagement exist in social media. From pure content marketing to commenting on every post, we see many companies and personalities successfully market. I gravitate towards thanking and serving.

There is no absolute right way.

One thing I have learned over the years about social: The most important thing is to represent your personality authentically.

The more manufactured the interaction, the less likely your personal presence or corporate culture will resonate with online stakeholders.
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5 Marks of a Great Writer

Writer
Image by Alan Weir

After writing professionally for two decades in a variety of media and roles, several key attributes clearly distinguish a great writer. Some of these are ideals that others are better at, some of them are personal strengths. Here’s a look at my top five:

1) Transcending Medium

Great bloggers, strong journalists and fantastic authors impress us with their words. But the writer who transcends medium, style, tone and even first, second and third person narrative just amazes me. The ability to easily work with varying media and styles demonstrates a master wordsmith’s skill.

In college as a literature major, Thomas Hardy was my idol. He wrote fantastic important novels, then became one of England’s most influential poets. He even wrote a play.

2) Tight Active Style

Growing up, my father was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. I learned from him that Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style was a writer’s bible. “Cut the fat (editing out unnecessary phrases)!” “Punch up the verb tense, make it active!” These were the constant reminders my Dad imparted on me. Impactful sentences deliver great thoughts with as few words as possible.

Because of Strunk & White, I fell in love with Hemingway and Turgenev’s works in college. To this day, I still appreciate good crisp copy.

3) Headlines Make or Break a Story

Stories, book titles and blog posts all rely on headlines to captivate a reader. Another great lesson from my Dad, who wrote epic headlines like “The King Is Dead” when Elvis passed, and “We Win!” when the Phillies won their first World Series in 1980, 97 years after the franchise was founded.

If you want to see great headline writing, read the ads in top magazines. Advertising copy writers live and die by their headlines. There is much to learn from these master craftsmen.

4) Fun Keeps Them Coming Back

Great writers entertain us, regardless of the topic. That’s why so much of today’s boring business copy — regardless of medium — indicates a general focus on delivering messages in a safe manner instead of the reader. Too bad.

This one I learned from Mom, who has been one of the country’s preeminent syndicated astrologers for the past 30 years. Her big differentiator was the ability to make the stars fun and campy, something traditional astrologers were unaccustomed to in the late 70s and 80s. In the past 10 years, we have seen a similar shift with the rise of blogging and funner copy writing.

5) Grammatical Frameworks

Without grammar, writing loses its cornerstone. Many masters of the written word regard Twitter with horror because some updates undermine the very rules of “good English.” Without grammar words lose meaning and become bastardized shells of their former selves.

Grammar has always been my weakest point. Yet as my career progresses, my appreciation for the “Eats, Shoots and Leaves school” of grammar increases. Proper punctuation, tense and word use aren’t the death of writing. On the contrary, they indicate a truly great writer’s (or editor’s) touch.

What aspects of writing do you appreciate?

How Not Talking About Myself Doubled Blog Traffic In One Month

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In an effort to increase writing quality, one month ago this blog took on the Me, Myself and I Challenge. The behind the challenge assumes that by eradicating obvious references to blogger narcissism via the words “my, myself and I,” people would find the content on the blog much more interesting. Indeed, the above results overwhelmingly confirm the theory.

Traffic increased by 100%! And it was the first time this personal blog surpassed its predecessor — the professional communications blog, the Buzz Bin — in traffic.

One post went semi-viral — How the Grinch Stole Green Christmas — bringing in a vast majority of the traffic. In addition, overall traffic to main site URL increased by roughly 20%. RSS subscriptions increased by 12%. Retweet and Facebook shares also increased.

At the same time, the additional traffic also brought a dramatic drop in read time (Grinch averaged 1:22) with the a 60% drop in read time. People left quicker, also demonstrated with a slight decrease in page views (7%). However, the bounce rate improved slightly by (3%). Traffic increased, but the type reader also expanded, and the content was less compelling for these new readers. The old quantity versus quality debate could be waged at this point (Metcalfe’s Law).

Subjective Writer Observations

Overall, removing first person pronouns increased the quality of writing on the site, as evidenced by the generally positive trend of statistics. It also increased from the writer’s perspective.

While slightly more challenging, opinion is still obvious as the author. If one states it, then they must think it. In fact, the tone seemed more authoritative, relying on links and facts to justify opinions rather than conjecture. In context, losing the words me, myself and I were not so hard.

At the same time, it was not easy to stray off topics outside of business and activism. So parenting and personal activity posts were removed because of the Me, Myself and I challenge. While such posts can be written without the first person pronouns, they are not easily done so, perhaps a sign of how personal these matters are. Facebook provided an easy substitute medium for such conversations.

Moving forward, the experiment seems worth continuing. Beyond the traffic, the posts just felt better with the less self-centered tone. And building a blog — whether one for personal purposes or a client’s site — is always a fun challenge. As readers did you enjoy the blog more over the past month?