Bokeh World, Pop-Up Show, and Cuba

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Trioplan 50 photo by Tamara Skudies.

One of my favorite projects this spring has been supporting my client Meyer-Optik’s Kickstarter for the Trioplan f2.9/50. The Kickstarter seeks to return the legendary camera lens with incredible soap bubble bokeh, as seen above.

This lens has a rich history dating back 100 years, so as a photography nerd I love the project. Apparently, so does the market as we have raised almost $600,000 from 900 backers with less than seven days remaining in the campaign!

As part of our efforts we ran a photo quest challenge on photography social network 500 Pixels called Bokeh World. The theme celebrated the lens’s soap bubble bokeh. To participate, 500 Pixels users were encouraged to incorporate bokeh into their photography with the three best pics winning new Trioplan f2.9/50 and f2.8/100 lenses.

The Bokeh World contest received an overwhelming response. More than 35,000 photos were submitted! It was pretty hard whittling down that selection to just three winners. Here is my favorite, Lilia Alvarado’s Life Is a Carnival. What an incredible photograph!

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The Trioplan 50 Kickstarter continues through next Wednesday. I hope you decide to back it.

Pop-Up Photo Show this Saturday

The Pacific Ocean at Night

For those of you in the DC area, I am co-hosting my first photography pop-up show at Broadway Galleries in Alexandria, VA this Saturday. The event will be held from 4 to 6 pm, and will feature some really big prints of some of my more well received night photos.

Refreshments will be served, so have a snack and a bite. If you come, you’ll have the opportunity to provide feedback and tell me which types of photos you like most. Or just come and talk shop with me. I hope to see you then!

Cuba

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Image by mokastet.

Now that Obama has formally established relations with Cuba again, artists and photographers are flocking to the Caribbean island. Just look at the big deal National Geographic made last week about being on the first U.S. cruise to Cuba in 60 years.

The hype and fury comes with good reason. In five years Cuba will not be the same, especially after U.S. interests invade and establish businesses.

Well, guess what? I’m going to Cuba this June as part of a larger project with six DC Focused photographers. We’ll be announcing our project after Memorial Day so stay tuned!

What’s new in your creative world?

Citizen Journalism Trip: Day of the Dead

I had the great honor of traveling to San Miguel de Allande this weekend with my client and photography mentor Cade Martin (who took the featured portrait in this post). We went to shoot the Day of the Dead, or Di de Muertos festival as it is known. What we witnessed was a joyous celebration of life.

Aztec Warrior Pic

We set up a mobile photography studio right in the middle of the city center to capture the very best of the costumes. It was crazy with people teaming around us, and tourist paparazzi taking pictures at every opportunity.

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I think when Americans consider the Day of the Dead, we do so with a bit of trepidation. We don’t really understand that it’s not ghoulish faces we are seeing, rather people dressing in costume to embrace the memory of their past ones.

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The celebrating transcends face paint with parades, live performances, beautiful alters, marigolds everywhere, fiesta flags, parties, trick or treating, and prayers and services. It’s quite an uplifting experience.

Courtyard Pic

The town itself is just stunning, filled with gorgeous courtyards teaming with vegetation and flowers. It seemed like every block had an open doorway with a courtyard, many with Day of the Dead decorations and alters. The restaurants took the art of the courtyard to the highest levels, too, but many banned photography (boo!).

Church of the Immaculate Conception Light 2-2

The churches throughout the city are prolific with beautiful architecture (see the Catedral de Arcangel below). In some cases, you will find humble interiors, but then the above Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was remarkable.

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All in all I hope our photos captured the spirit of the city and event. Cade posted a series of his portraits here on Flickr. You can find mine here. Both of us will update our albums over the next couple of weeks with new pictures.

15 Ways to Restore Your Creativity

Demand Success was a blast, and running Tenacity5 through its inaugural year has been exciting. The work has been intense, and I am starting to lose my creative edge. It’s a challenge all communicators face sooner or later.

Fortunately, I just went on vacation in the Outer Banks, and am likely restoring my mojo. That being said, I really am struggling with writing a significant post on work/rest/life balance, a la Arianna Huffington’s Third Metric. So I mailed it in, and instead am offering this BuzzFeed-esque pictoral, 15 Ways to Restore Your Creativity.

Here we go!

1) Take a Vacation

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Nags Head Fishing Pier by Northern Tony.

2) Explore a Different Creative Path

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Painter’s Palette by Eli Goren.

3) Meditate

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Meditate by Arinna.

4) Go to a Live Event

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Natitude and Penants by me.

5) Watch a Movie

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Cinemark by Richmond Confidential

6) Hike in Some Place of Natural Beauty

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Patagonia River Valley by me

7) Take a Nap

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Family Nap by Maciej Dakowicz

8) Watch the Sun Rise or Set

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Sunset Over Cameron Run by me.

9) Journal

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Journal by Kanghee Rhee

10) Play with Your Kids (if you have them)

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Soleil Climbs the Awakening by me

11) Admire Someone Else’s Work

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El Ateneo by me.

12) Visit a Museum

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Gugenheim Museum Bilbao by Bastian Sander

13) Play a Game

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Cards on Parade by Magnus Lundquist

14) Work Out

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Image by Ron Sombilon

15) Enjoy Time with Your Partner

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Siluetas al amanecer by Juan Paradeda

What would you add?

Brutal Economic Reality of Fiction and Those Reviews

People don’t make money from writing novels. Some bestsellers generate just a little north of $10,000. That’s why writers find jobs working as marketers, teachers, lawyers or journalists.

Some can make a living on fiction. They are the few and the lucky.

Don’t kid yourself. If you commit to writing novels do it because writing is your art. And if you need to make a living for family or lifestyle reasons, don’t quit your day job.

I don’t think Amazon and its $0.99 cent independent author world has helped anything. You are basically encouraged to price a book at $0.99 or $1.99 if you want to sell anything as a first time novelist. Guess what the royalties are on that? $.33 a pop, boys and girls.

The Book Hustle

They tell you to market better. Go blog, and build a social media following to sell books. Yeah.

Really, you sell books en masse via speaking engagements, direct marketing, media relations, virtual and live blogging tours, and third party reviews. So the social aspect is really out of your hands. The other people in your network have to rally behind the book. Even then, you are looking at only a few books that go 100% bananas. By the way you can buy some peanut butter and jelly afterwards with the royalties. Or if you also have a day job, you can use the money for a massage to relieve you of sleep deprivation induced stress.

Coincidentally, to be included in many blog-driven social email lists that refer independently authored books, you must 1) pay and 2) have a minimum level of reviews to be included (on Amazon, of course). That in turn creates another need for reviews.

I hit this wall last week when I tried to get Exodus into a few of these lists and didn’t have enough reviews. It really turned my stomach having to basically beg for reviews. My brand of blogger ego comes in the form of self reliance, but in the end I needed your help. I asked my community for help, and you delivered. For that I am grateful. It’s moments like this request over the weekend that I learn real humility, and an appreciation for others.

I used to poo-poo authors who asked for reviews. If there is anything I have learned over the past three years with the Fifth Estate, Marketing in the Round, and now Exodus, it is how necessary reviews are. Books must be discussed publicly and frequently, good or bad, if they are to succeed.

I have been rejected by two of the four blog/email sevices already, one based on the number of reviews, the other on subject matter, but at least I am in the game. And if I breakthrough and have a big social email? I might make a few hundred bucks.

More importantly, I will be read by more folks. For me, the book is my art. And that’s what I care about.

You Can Make Money as an Author

Now look, you can make a living as an author. Thousands already do so in the United States.

By the way, more than ten thousand people make a living as pro sports athletes in the United States. That includes the minor leagues, and some minor league players only earn $1100 a month.

To succeed, you have to build a repertoire of books, more often than not a series, which creates a back catalogue. Each new work helps sell the older works. Movie rights and big breakthrough moments create a macro effect on an author’s entire catalogue. Prolific successful authors make money.

The rest of us, well, it’s what we do. Until (or if) our time comes.

We live to be read, make a few extra bucks, and most importantly to have our art read and seen by the world. The currency to get there is word of mouth conversation and reviews.

For those of you who have helped me this past week, thank you. I am so grateful, you have no idea. It’s what this business is all about, and to have so many folks who have read Exodus come out of the woodwork and drop a review, well, it overwhelmed me. Thank you!

What do you think about the fiction ecosystem?

Featured image by sbluerock

Writing with Negative Space

In graphic design and visual arts, artists use negative space to emphasize their subject. The same could be said of words, in particular stories where you leave enough to the reader’s imagination so they can enjoy the novel, essay, short story, or whatever it might be.

I received this nugget of knowledge at WorldCon last August. Stina Leicht mentioned applying the negative space principle to words during a panel on how to write yourself out of a corner.

Some writers will be quick to say negative space represents the show, don’t tell meme that is driven into every writer’s head who ever attends any sort of workshop. I’m not so sure I agree, though.

While no one wants to read a ton of drivel and boring details from the writer’s perspective, I’ve seen enough authors tell and get away with it. Great writers, in fact, like Philip Roth, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Some go as far as to say the show, don’t tell rule is the great lie of writing workshops.

In reality, “show, don’t tell” seeks to eliminate weak writing. Telling often fails to captivate, and leaves nothing to the imagination. “She was pretty,” for example.

Instead, we show. “Johnna’s brown eyes held my gaze gently. Her full lips curled into a small smile as auburn locks moved slowly backward toward her ears. I tried, but could not stop looking at her.”

However, note the absence of detail there. I did not show you what color or style her clothes were, what her body looked like, what her hands were doing, etc., etc. No, that is the reader’s purview. You assume she is pretty because of the narrator’s reaction, but she may not be.

Over-showing, in my opinion, does as much damage as flat-out telling. Like the straight forward tell, it robs the reader of negative space to imagine.

In considering tellers, the celebrated ones unveiled their stories in straight forward terms. I am stuck by their uncanny ability to do so in an interesting manner. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson gives us whole chapters dictating the scientific laws of the 2312 world through how-to manuals. It’s insane, but delicious, tickling your mind! When you finally understand who is narrating those chapters, your mouth drops open.

Robinson succeeds because he fuels the imagination with negative space instead of robbing the reader of an imaginary journey. It’s the art of grabbing enough to draw, while hiding details so the reader can fill them in with their own opinions, hopes, views and beliefs. A story that grabs the reader engages them in a form of mental interaction, even if they are observing through straight-forward telling.

That is the power of negative space in conjunction with a well-delivered written image.

Personally, I can develop my own expository style further, continuing to move away from tell to show. However, I don’t think a complete yield is the full answer, rather a commitment to tickle the reader’s imagination.

What do you think?

The Battleground of Creativity

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Image by Cinematography

Without creativity we cannot differentiate and excel, and yet sharing creative ideas inevitably leads to a mockery at times.

The worst thing we can do is simply call a creative spirit a failure. It’s amazingly hard to remain creative if you listen to outside voices. This is particularly true in a world where declaring fail with a pic and a hashtag seems to generate lots of laughs and comments.

Creativity requires a resilience in the face of “fail,” “that sucks” and firm “nos.” It’s not that the every creative idea deserves to be praised. Truthfully, many inspirations make you want to run for the woods.

To successfully create you need to produce a consistent flow of ideas that fail because it’s part of the process. Success requires failure. At the same time, you also need to know how to optimize creativity, and also when to stop creating, and simply work through and polish concepts off.

Sure, silver bullets arrive, but in actuality most decent ideas require refinement, further innovation, and polish.
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