Chicago Pics: A Demonstrative Evolution

I spent last week in Chicago at the Cause Marketing Forum. Before the show and after the first day was done, I had the opportunity to take a couple of photo walks, which produced some of my best work so far in the 365 Full Frame Project, including the header image for this post.

It is nice to see the progression in my skills via the project over the past 11 months. But what was really amazing to me was how far I’ve come since I picked up my first DSLR in 2009, a Nikon D90. In that year, I visited Chicago and took quite a few pics. I think those images showed some good framing, but overall they were classic tourist shots.

I returned a couple of times in 2012, and took some more pics. This time I was shooting with one of the first micro 4/3 cameras, an Olympus PEN 3. There was clearly a progression, but perhaps at this point I was what is called a casual enthusiast.

In 2015, I published fewer shots and took them with a Nikon D810. In my opinion, these newer photos are clearly better in framing, capture and post production.

It’s a clear evolution. Really, it shows what happens when you stick to something over a long period of time. And of course better equipment helps. But I’ll let you be the judge. Here are three shots from each set.

2009

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2012

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2015

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Flickr 4.0: PR Hype versus Reality

Flickr 4.0 launched 11 days to much hype and fanfare in the consumer tech media. Some pubs went so far as to say that Flickr was now relevant again, ironic for a photo sharing social network that consistently ranks in the top 10 networks.

The new interface certainly is beautiful. But as well hyped as the new Flickr 4.0 is, it suffers on a few levels. For starters, the new interface seems to stifle interaction. I have noticed a 25% decline in favorites and comments on my photos.

Perhaps I am in a slump. I have been posting fewer landscapes and cityscapes, which tend to perform better for my following. But at the same time, when I have posted decent landscapes — landscapes that perform well on 500 Pixels and Instagram — they still garner quite a few less favorites and comments on Flickr than in the past.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the slump began the day the new interface launched.

As a viewer, I find it harder to favorite and comment on Flickr 4.0, too. The mobile apps are clunky. If someone publishes a series of photos, to comment you have to tap on a photo twice.

The traditional web version suffers as well. It gets stuck and fails to show you past favorites. In some cases, the responsive design prevented me from even seeing the favorite and comment icons on photos like on this image from Jan de Corte.

Responsive Fail

The new Uploadr has been wonky, timing out periodically. Flickr has acknowledged this new feature has issues and is working on repairing it.

Flickr 4.0 is not all bad. Some of the new features are great, like Camera Roll. Now I can view my photos chronologically, which is a pretty cool way to see how your work is progressing over time. It’s also a great way to get a timeline view of your life. This new feature also lets you organize your photos by type, e.g. landscape, portrait, etc.

Competitive Balance

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Flickr launched its new version to make it more competitive in the mobile era. In some ways, this makes Flickr more consumer-oriented, allowing people to store thousands of mobile photos automatically as they go.

In the context of Instagram versus Flickr, I really see Instagram as a more valuable consumer network. The land of selfies is fluid and dynamic, allowing for quick and easy feedback. Friends see how their lives are evolving in the moment. In comparison, Flickr 4.0 makes quick and easy feedback a bit harder.

As a photo storage site, it works (when the Uploadr is functioning). However, if people struggle to interact with your photos then you are publishing strictly to keep the images in the cloud.

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Similarly, 500 Pixels benefits from a strong critical group of professional and serious amateur photographers who only like the best images. While this can create homogenous photographer pool where certain images do better than others (think landscapes and pictures of models), 500 Pixels makes it very easy to like, love and comment on photos. Exploring popular images on 500 Pixels is also much easier, with segmentation by image type.

For a work-validation standpoint, I have been as reliant on Flickr as I have been on 500 Pixels to see what other photographers thought of my work. Now I am leaning towards 500 Pixels more often than not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Flickr, always have, and won’t abandon the network. I just wonder if in its attempts to become a consumer photo network, Flickr shunned its existing power users.

In my mind, Flickr owned a niche as a photography site that catered to both pros and amateurs. The stream was good. It become a resource for many who searched for great images to fill out their stories. While adding mobility is a natural evolution, sacrificing interactivity and function to get there may become a long-term weakness compared to more specific-use oriented photo networks like Instagram and 500 Pixels.

What do you think of the new Flickr?

12 Happy Holiday Pics for Your Use

It’s that magical time of year when all of us get to spend time with our family and friends. Personally, I hope to rest quite a bit and have fun with some personal projects during the holidays.

You may be like me and have forgotten or did not have time to send holiday cards. Never fear. I’ve been taking lots of holiday photos for the 365 Full Frame Project. You can take one of these photos, download it, and then use the image in Canva (a free image creation app) to send a personalized card to your friends.

The 12 images include the opnening featured image of the National Christmas Tree with the White House in the background, which you can download here. And here are the remaining 11…

MerryChristmas

Download the Christmas tree sans text here.

Tenacity5
Download the Old Town holiday lights image sans text here.
lights here.

Happy Chrismukkah
Download the Chrismukkah image sans text here.

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Download the Hanukkah lights here.

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Download the Christmas Carollers here.

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Download Yoda here.

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Download the Nativity scene in ice here.

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Download the Winterberries photo here.

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Download the Union Station photo here.

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Download the Star here.

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Download Frosty, the Snowman here.

Whatever you decide to do during the next couple weeks, have a great time. I will resume blogging on January 5. Happy holidays!

P.S. The 365 Full Frame project does license photos. If you like the work and want to see more, please consider a license. Your money is used to buy more photography equipment.

5 Tips to Liven Up Long Stories

We live in the tl;dr (too long; did not read) era of the Internet. How do you make traditional text stories and content succeed in an online world where attention spans are dwindling and success necessitates visual media?

Over the past year at Tenacity5, we’ve learned a few tweaks to drive more traffic to text heavy copy. Here are a five formatting methods and writing tips to liven up long stories.

1) Build Modules

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We know stand-alone long copy doesn’t perform well. Instead of writing essays, build out posts and white papers with sections or modules. In the old day this was creating subheads to break up a story. In a well engineered content piece for the current visual media era, I would say each section must be its own multimedia module.

Each module has its own mini-thesis or message and can stand alone as a small content piece on the Internet. Modules have both a visual communication of that message and supporting copy. Every module works together to tell a story or support an overarching thesis. Individually, they are unique. Together, they stand as a powerful piece.

Note the architecture of the visual in context with the text. Ideally, the picture, video or infographic can serve as the lead for the story or even tell it. They should work hand in hand. Do not make “snacks” here. There are many resources on the Internet to find free pictures.

Bleacher Report does a really nice job of building module-based feature stories.

2) Architect Visuals from the Beginning

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One of the biggest issues with content today is simply slapping on visual assets to create a multimedia or rich media post. There’s more on content strategy in point five, but when you add visuals after the fact, you are creating content that serves the words. And that may be OK if you are great photo researcher and can clearly understand your thesis and message.

However, more often than not when visuals are added after the fact, they have tangential meaning. When visuals are bolted on haphazardly, they don’t help content discovery and the overall meaning is less understandable.

When you know what you want to say, figure out what the right visual media is from the beginning and build it with the text in mind.

In some cases, you may illustrate points in the text after the fact, like Gaping Void did with Brian Solis’ What If PR Stood for People and Relationships. Nevertheless, GapingVoid was part of the content from the very beginning, and the content was created knowing that we needed sound bites that could be illustrated.

If you don’t already have a visual media library, start building one or research photo libraries for relevant images before you begin creating content. Drawing from a wide variety of assets makes life easier.

3) Use Lists

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When building modules, or at least creating subheads and sections, number and title content with a list. A list signals an easier more digestible content experience to your reader. Should every piece of content you write be a list? Probably not, but lists make long content pieces much more likely to be viewed and read

I used to sneer at list posts as the “BuzzFeedization” of the Internet. That was until I dug deeper and started re-engineering BuzzFeed posts. Then I built a few of them. I titled some with the numbers and others with a traditional headline. Then I watched the numbered post traffic go crazy.

I was little disappointed in this, but the fact of the matter is we are living in the tl;dr era. Breaking up long content into digestible lists and bullets just makes it easier. Or, you can run the gauntlet and try to architect the perfect long business essay that will actually be read.

(Original image by Ian Muttoo)

4) Write Ad Copy

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A writer with advertising training will fare better in the current content environment than a PR or literary writer. Ad writers focus on tight punchy headlines, snappy subheads (or module titles), and short compelling short body text.

If you go my the maxim, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” then your copy is going to fail more often than not. People don’t have time for long blathering posts. Write short, tight compelling copy.

When I analyzed Buzzfeed’s style, more than anything it read to me like ad copy. In that regard, it is concise and brilliant.

In the same vein, do your readers a favor and edit the bejesus out of sections. Make all copy as tight as possible.

5) Composition

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Last but not least, composition is becoming a critical focus for communications, in my opinion. Some would say it always has been. In large part this is because of data. We have so much data, we are either lost in it and don’t know what to communicate or we are over-informed by it, allowing our communications to become scientific and lifeless.

When we have more data — or even better — precise data, we can inform composition. Creativity infused outreach provides the opportunity to wow people. Or we can fail, amused with our data-inspired bells and whistles. Let me give you a photographic example.

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I liked the above photo when I took it. I thought it was so cool to get all of the Cleveland Flats industrial grid iron works AND also include the bright fountain, too. After all, people love bright colorful lights in night settings.

Except one thing: Though it hit all of the data points that I know people love in night shots — long exposure, color, industrial details, bright luminescent orange fountain, etc. — the composition sucked. The fountain overtakes the rest of the photograph, and because the fountain is not well placed in the image, it doesn’t work. The composition failed in spite of the elements.

We cannot fly blind with our communications just because we know people like certain aspects of them or because we satisfy some data requirement or messaging requirement. Any communication — written or visual — must have meaning. That is why we must be intentional about composition.

What is the thesis — the message — of the conent? What are we trying to achieve with our outreach? How are we accomplishing that goal? Does the data we have support that the approach will work? Does the approach inspire our intended recipient? Composition is an area that can always evolve and improve.

What tips would you add?

Other posts you might like:
4 Storytelling Methods
12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance

Dangers of Algorithmic Sourcing

The increasing pervasiveness of algorithms in everyday life disturbs me.

At the behest of many friends, I finally joined the 500 Pixels community and have begun uploading some of my better photos there for licensing. It’s an awesome place filled with pro photographers competing for the highest scores on their photos.

Yet, scores are determined by the amount of likes, favs and comments you get over a short period of time.

For all intents and purposes, you have a homogenous community of primarily male photographers who are either very good enthusiasts or professionals voting on photos. What gets top ranked? The general popular stream is dominated by surreal landscapes and pics of almost nude models with the occasional wildlife pic thrown in for flavor.

500 Pixels Popular

If you want a top rank of 99 on 500 Pixels, bring epic photoshopped scenes and beautiful scantily clad women. These are amazed photos, and deserved their popular ranking. But you can look at the categories to dig deeper. Some of the lesser ranking photos strike me as a better representation of the many things you can do with a lens (and Photoshop).

Here’s the thing, I stopped posting anything I don’t think can get a peak rating of 80 or higher on 500 Pixels. I just won’t do it. Because I don’t shoot almost naked women for a variety of reasons starting with respecting my peers and wanting to stay married, I post landscapes. Since I shoot more than just landscapes, for that reason alone the site is limiting in its artistic and creative scope.

Algorithmic Determination

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Image by aloalo.

Algorithms impact our news choices, too. And our clothing choices. And what we read. And the movies we like.

It seems like algorithms are everywhere. Here are just a few examples:

  • Huffington Post and Mashable sourcing their news based on rising social media memes.
  • Colors and types of shirt you are most likely to buy (based on past purchasing history).
  • Books you should buy on Amazon.
  • Movies and TV programs you are most likely to enjoy on Netflix.

Is this healthy?

It depends. If you like the same type of thing over and over again, then perhaps algorithmic determination is OK.

Afterall, if you participate on the same sites and buy from the same vendors, then your general behavior will match your peers. As such the algorithms are likely to be correct most of the time.

Consider that 60 people eat the same seven meals every week.

Yum, pizza.

Crazy People Like Orange

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Image by balotto.

Because I am crazy, five percent of the time I’d like to buy an orange shirt. Yup, it makes my skin look like shit, but I like orange.

Orange was my favorite color as a child. I had orange and green dinosaur wall paper, and one whole wall was painted exclusively orange. I still remember it fondly.

The algorithms don’t know that, but based on what they see online they have predetermined that I will buy black and red and maybe blue. I do like my black T-shirts, but I also like splashes of bright color. And 5% of the time that means I like orange.

What to do?

No Growth

Manny-Moe-Jack

Image via View from the Blue Ridge.

How do things become popular? Someone has to try them first, and then they tell friends. Soon early adopters flock to the product.

Perhaps it becomes popular within a niche community (More surreal interior architecture shots, please). Enough people in the community participate in other social networks, and not just online. Work, family and neighborhoods count, too. People tell their friends, and show them the the new thing they like.

Suddenly, it is safe to try something new. But maybe it won’t be new. Because an algorithm already saw that seven percent of your friends tried something, and it knows you buy items as an early adopter. The site sources you an ad telling you your friends Manny, Moe and Jack bought it already.

Boom! You react and plunk down your credit card.

What’s so daring about that? Where’s the growth?

Cool to be Weird

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In a world where anything can be customized to a unique taste, niche stores are popping up all over the Internet to serve the terminally weird. Now it’s cool to be weird.

As database technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, niche stores will be able to serve a customer with algorithmic offerings. Even the daring will find themselves served with the predetermined.

And the algorithms will only get smarter.

How smarter more accessible algorithms impact the inevitable break from the norm remains to be seen. Perhaps that same percentage of the population will be able to resist precision marketing in this form. Or maybe we will all simply accept the endless stream of data driven sales pitches, some subtle, some obvious.

It’s a change that will happen whether we like it or not. The train has left the station.

What do you think?

Show and Demonstrate, Forget the Tell

Sometimes marketing reminds me of rap with brands bragging about themselves and their wares. As we move into the visual age of marketing, there will be little tolerance for those who posture and pontificate, telling people what to experience rather than showing them.

Marketers need to show people what a product or experience does for them. Increasingly customers only pay attention to stories told with visual media and through their actual product experience.

Consider last weekend’s holiday. I can’t tell people to remember deceased veterans on memorial day. I have to show them that the ultimate sacrifice was made by real people, the losses their families have suffered, the great freedom they have provided us, etc.

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The above photographs from Memorial Day both received several thousand views via my personal networks. Why? They were dramatic and timely, showing the Korean and Vietname memorials late at night with flowers lining them. The flowers with their patriotic plastic wrap highlighted the very real pain and remembrance of loved ones. Tens of thousands of men and women who died in action in those wars were remembered decades later.

Want to go corporate? Here are a few Instagram examples of brands (I was inspired by Thomas Hawk to search here) that nail it:

Whether it was clothes, food, or industrial wind turbines, each of these Instagram photos captured an experience of the brands’ respective products. You could see what its like to wear these clothes, take that first bite, or feel the wind create energy.

Show me, don’t tell me is a basic storytelling maxim. Good fiction writers (and I am not saying I am one of them) focus on revealing a story. A reader sees how each experience and event evolves the narrative. Emotion is not told, it is felt.

During the initial wave of social media, marketers were able to get away with simply telling their story. While telling was brand centric, but it was new and different, even unfiltered. So it worked for a short while.

With visual storytelling entering the online media mix in force, revealing stories and experiences is essential. Head-to-head, text-based marketing doesn’t stand a chance, particularly when it is focused on pontificating. Usefulness, entertaining, and yes, perhaps simply turning the eyeglass around to present information from the customer’s perspective are necessary methods now.

And what about those who tell people what their company thinks customers should do through text based updates, instead of showing them?

I’m afraid it’s about to get much tougher. The issue isn’t simply a lack of visualization. It is also the storytelling method.

What do you think?